The Apex comes in different kit configurations, with mine being kit number 4. Which includes:
Apex Model Edge Pro Sharpening System
120 Grit Coarse water stone
220 Grit Medium Fine water stone
400 Grit Fine water stone
600 Grit Extra Fine water stone
1000 Grit Ultra fine water stone
1 Pack of 2000 Grit Polish Tapes (15 per pack)
1 Pack of 3000 Grit Polish Tapes (15 per pack)
2 Polish Tape Mounting Blanks
8" 1200 Grit Ceramic Hone
Black Cordura Carrying Case
In addition to the Apex kit three more items have been added to make the Apex an even better system: a side guide, retractable magnet, and a bench mount. These accessories are a great way to enhance your Apex system and they can be purchased separately from Edge Pro's site.
The carrying case is made from Cordura, it's a nice departure from the typical hard cases used for storing sharpeners. The Velcro holds well to keep the bag closed and storage is well thought out. Your pivot shaft and stone arm are stored in a long pocket under the main flap and the Apex's body is stored in one of the provided main pockets. The Apex system comes with an instruction book that shows how to put the unit together. It's also full of useful information such as how the system operates and how to achieve the best results with the system.
Getting the Apex assembled is as simple as folding out the front legs and taking the pivot shaft and placing it in the hole at the rear of the sharpener. When putting the pivot shaft in it's important to note that the pivot lock needs to be in the center of the sharpener. Otherwise, the sharpening arm will not be centered, and your angles will not be correct. Normally that would be it, super easy to set up. Let's add these additional accessories I mentioned earlier to get the full benefits of the Apex system. To install the slide guide, you'll need to unscrew the wing nut that's holding the guide in place. The stock guide is a plate that's moved to support the spine of the blade as your sharpening your knife. The guide works really good on knives with relatively straight backs or spines. Installing the slide guide will allow sharpening of things like Spyderco knives easier as it allows for better support. After pulling off the old guide, you keep the bolt and install the new slide guide and screw on the included nut. The design of the slide is quite ingenious, allowing you to easily support different blade shapes by sliding the center support.
Next addition is the magnet that will go under the blade table. Its friction fit and you simply push the magnet into a square shaped recess under the blade table. It's another easy-to-use accessory that's well thought out by the team. Engaging or disengaging the magnet is done by moving the plunger on the accessory. The addition of the magnet allows the blade to be held in place and keeping it steady. Without the magnet you'll need to steady your hand to keep the knife on the blade table, the magnet helps make that task easier. The last addition is the bench mount, it allows the Apex system to be anchored to your work surface. Sometimes the included suction cups on the rear of the Apex may not stay in place due to surface texture on your table or other factors. Installing the mount is done by taking the angled wedge and putting it towards the back of the system and insert it into the channel. Securing the mount is done by a wing nut similar to the slide guide
To get sharpening you place your knife on the blade table with the edge facing you. I make sure about a half an inch is coming off the blade table with enough of the blade being supported by the table. With the included stones ranging from 120 to 1000, you want to make sure you select the right one for the task. I've got a knife that's ok sharp but definitely needs a touch up. Rather than starting at the lowest grit I chose 400, it's abrasive enough to touch up my edge. If my blade was pretty dull, I would start at the lowest abrasive stone to bring the apex of knife back into shape. Putting the stone in the stone arm is done by pulling back on the spring-loaded stone holder and inserting the stone with the aluminum base in first. The stones are cleverly designed so the aluminum base is angled and locks into the holder.
Now that we're ready to sharpen we need to find our sharpening angle. The Apex can adjust angles from 10, 15, 18, 21, 24, and 27 degrees and infinitely in between. This can be done one of two ways, we can either do it old school with a magic marker or using an angle cube. The magic marker method is great for those that wish to find and maintain the angle set by the factory. You take your marker and run it along the edge marking it from heel to tip. Set your angle on the Apex by raising or lowering the angle block to the desired angle. Most knives are around 21° and Edge Pro recommends this as it's the most commonly used. You'll take your stone and run it along the edge to see how much marker is removed. Movement of the stone is recommended to be only on the push motion of the arm with your pull stroke not touching the edge of the knife. It's very much a see saw type motion with the stone not being in contact all the time. As your working the edge you'll go from heel to tip, checking on that markered edge. You'll raise or lower your angle so that when successful all the marker should be removed. If your angle is too high only the marker on the very edge would be removed. If too low the shoulder of the edge would have market removed. This will tell you the correct angle of your edge, be sure note this somewhere for future reference. Using an angle gauge is more for folks who know their angle from a previous session or if they plan on changing the angle to a desired one. I plan on doing it old school and using the marker method. I do plan on getting an angle cube though for those times I wish to touch up a blade, making it easier to find my desired angle.
With the angle set, I'll work this side of the knife to create a burr on the opposite side. You'll take the stone arm and use that slide motion, moving the stone from heel to tip. After I feel that burr developed across the full length of the edge, I'll turn the knife over and work the other side. When I feel the burr again, I'll flip my knife over one more time with a gentle touch of the stone to try minimizing the burr. Next, I'll grab the 600-grit stone and do a few passes on one side and then the other. From this point to the highest grit stone, you're no longer repairing the angle but refining it. After progressing to the 1000 grit, I like to check my edge before I go any further. Usually at this point I'm able to shave with the edge, or maybe even use newspaper to check how smoothly it cuts.
Having been a Sharpmaker user for over a decade I didn't have any experience with these stones. The Edge Pro uses Aluminum Oxide water stones, I found they performed similar to the medium stone on my Sharpmaker. I've sharpened several knives and I'm impressed with the performance of these stones. The lower grits adequately brought the edge back with little effort, while those higher grits really helped refine the edge. The Apex kit included a water bottle, the manual says you don't need very much to lubricate the stones. This creates some slurry as a result and can make things a little messy during your sharpening session. The only negative I can think of when it comes to these stones is they need to be leved from time to time. This is not unique to Edge Pro but something that's required of high-performance stones. Leveling is done via glass plate and an abrasive. I don't sharpen a ton of knives, so I won't need to perform leveling on these stones for a while.
Now that my edge is where I want it, I want to take things further and add a mirror polish to the edge. Polished edges are all the rage now, while there are some heated discussions whether this gives any real-world benefit. The polishing tapes are literally that, thin film that's fixed to an aluminum blank using an adhesive backing. These tapes must only be used on a pull stroke, which is the opposite of how the stones are used. Using tapes in an incorrect fashion will damage them. I have inadvertently messed up my first set by not being careful and catching the heel of the blade on the edge of the tape. The tapes do bring a nice polish to the edge, it's not completely mirror but it's close. In my testing I feel the polished edges didn't give me any benefit to cutting performance. Due to the medium I use my knives on the most, cardboard, zip ties, etc., they didn't help but sure did look pretty.
I really like the Edge Pro Apex system, it's intuitively simple and produces quality results. Everything is well thought out from the storage to the extra accessories. I like that it's not a one trick pony that can only be used for one type of knife but rather highly adaptable to a large variety of cutlery. Guided systems are all the rage, and the Apex is highly regarded for a reason. If you're looking to up your sharpening game, you might want to consider adding the Edge Pro Apex to your sharpening regiment.