Ceramic sharpeners are very popular, due to their relatively cheap price and very good performance. Main problem with them is cleaning. Other than that, they cut quite fast, although not as fast as Japanese Whetstones, but they last very long time, unlike whetstones. Pretty much every single sharpening equipment manufacturer has more than one ceramic sharpener in their line. Ceramic sharpeners come in variety of forms, rods, benchstones, triangles and whatever else. Main limitation with them is the limited grits. Never seen very coarse, <700 or very fine > 8000 grit ceramic sharpeners. On the other hand, they cover mid-range pretty well. Although, not the same variety as whetstones. Ceramic sharpeners, be it a rod or a benchstone, tend to get clogged by removed metal particles. Unlike whetstones you can't simply wash it off. So, eventually you end up with the blackish sharpener. Looks aside, that does affect sharpening ability of the stone. Though, nothing too serious, using a simple eraser solves the problem, although it can be a little time consuming. Dave Martell of Japanese Knife Sharpening sells dedicated ceramic sharpener eraser. I got one on order, once I get my hands on it, I'll post results here.
Ceramic Rods- Couple of the ceramic rods I have are from Edge-Pro Apex sharpening system. Both rods can be seen at the bottom of the picture. The blue one is 800 grit, the white one is finer, 1000 grit. Main use for them is the touchup work, which is a edge maintenance type of work. Although, sometimes I do use them as light sharpeners. When the simple touchup won't do and I need something quick. Also, fine grit rods are the last step of Edge-Pro sharpening process. They are used mainly for fine burr removal, left after polishing tape. Because I have a lot of other sharpening equipment, I don't really sharpen things with ceramics. Although, I'm seriously considering larger ceramic rod, probably 12 or so inches. Mainly for the reasons described below - ultra-hard(63HRC+) blades.
Yet another use of the ceramic rods is the role of the smooth steel, for the ultra-hard knives. E.g. Japanese kitchen knives, which mostly tend to be above 63HRC, or Phil Wilson's CPM-10V and CPM S125V are too hard for the smooth steel, which is 63HRC at best. While commonly available grooved steels are much less than that. So, the recommendation is that you don't smooth your edges on the softer steel (63HRC is softer in this case), instead very light strokes on the ceramic rod.
Spyderco 320UF Ceramic Benchstone- I got this one long ago, when my finest benchstone was DMT ultrafine :) That corresponds to 1200 whetstone grit and 2000 US/ISO. Anyway, this is a very fine grit benchstone. Particle size on it is 3 micron, which equals to 4000 grit for the whetstones, or 8000 US/ISO. Gives very nice polish to the edge. As far as using it as a sharpener for any serious sharpening it's not gonna work. However, it wasn't designed for that either. One of the design goals for this stone is honing razors :) So, you get the idea. I personally would choose even finer grit for final honing, but this one is fine as an intermediate step, before going to sub-micron abrasives. As mentioned above, major problem with this and other ceramic stones is clogging. Other than that, it's a fine benchstone.
Last updated - 09/01/11