The Art of Knife Sharpening as a Business and The Methods They Use
April 6, 2013
The Art of Knife Sharpening as a Business and the Methods They Use
I have been intrigued by knives and how to make them sharp ever since my granddad gave me my first knife, sat me down and told me if I was going to own a knife, I needed to know how to sharpen it. He taught me how to sharpen on an old oil stone. As I got older, I had to use the skills I learned back then regularly. Most of the time, I could get a pretty good edge on a knife, but it never seemed to last very long. It could sometimes take hours to get the edge I wanted on some knives, others I could do in just a few minutes. Knife sharpening can be a versatile and lucrative business, but it takes more than stones. You need to have modern equipment to do it accurately and efficiently. Knife sharpening is definitely an art, but with today?s modern equipment, and a strong desire to succeed, anyone can start their own successful sharpening business.
It is unknown how long the art of knife sharpening has been around, but it probably started shortly after the first knife was invented. The first knives were made of stone, chipped away to expose sharp edges. Knife sharpening has come a long way since then. (Master Grinding Service, Inc., 2008-2009) There are many methods of sharpening, with each one attempting to achieve the same results. You can sharpen on a whit stone, oil stone, water stone, ceramic rod, steel rod, just to list a few of the manual methods. It is a good idea to learn at least one of the methods to manually sharpen your knife. In a pinch, you can sharpen your knife to at least cut. This type of sharpening is extremely slow unless the blade is still somewhat sharp.
Most people wait until their knife is seriously dull before they try to sharpen it. Take a brand new knife for example. They assume that because it is new, it is sharp. That is usually not true. Factories don?t spend the time to put a good edge on a knife. Factory edges can get much sharper. In general, people buy a new knife thinking it is sharp and use it until it will barely cut anything. They also think that if a blade will shave hair, it is sharp. How long will that edge last? It all depends on how that edge was ground. There are several different types of edge grinding. Below are the most common with the good and bad points about each.
Type of grind
This is the sharpest of all of the grinds. Usually sharpened on a wheel, each side of the blade is ground until the edge is sharp. Most of the time, this is done freehand.
The hollow grind is weak and flimsy. The edge will roll at the slightest resistance, making the blade dull.
Single or V-bevel
This is the type of edge that most people try to achieve with a stone. This edge is stronger than the hollow ground edge
Although this edge is stronger than the hollow ground edge, if ground at a low angle, it too will roll easily.
Double or Compound bevel
This is the strongest and most durable edge combination. You cannot achieve this edge properly without a guide to hold your knife at the same angle each pass. Start with a V-bevel at the desired angle, and then add a second bevel, 2 degrees higher. This gives you the compound bevel. This first bevel gives the second bevel more support, making it very durable.
It takes precision equipment to accomplish this edge. This edge cannot be achieved properly freehand.
This is a good chopping edge but is not as sharp as the other grinds. Usually created on the slack portion of the belt between the idler wheel and the platen. This is the most durable grind.
This edge is not suitable for kitchen cutlery except for cleavers. Will not cut well except in a chopping action. Good grind for hatchets, axes, and machetes.
Many people would rather pay someone else to sharpen their knives, either because they don?t want to spend the time required to achieve a sharp edge, or because they don?t know how. Freehand knife sharpening is an art, and very few people have the skill to get a knife as sharp as they would like it to be. The professional knife sharpener or cutler will have the equipment and knowledge to give you a quality precision edge.
The professional cutler usually has years of experience sharpening knives using a variety of techniques, including power sharpeners. Depending on whether you want to work full or part time, and how much effort you put into it, will determine how much money you will make. ?There are many good sharpening systems available today, each with its own particular strengths? (The Sungold Group, Inc., 2011). It is up to you to decide what type of sharpening system you prefer. Some of the options available include cardboard wheels coated with abrasive, usually mounted on a bench grinder, flat hones (grinding wheels mounted horizontally), standard belt sanders, and specially designed low speed belt sanders with guides to help you get the proper angle.
There are several variables to consider when purchasing your equipment. How well a particular machine performs, how versatile it is, how much training you need and price are the main things to look at. You can buy a standard 1? x 30? belt sander for as little as $40. Other machines cost over $3000. Then there are a lot of choices in between. Some require very little training; others require you to go to a specialized school. The equipment that you choose will also depend on exactly what you want to sharpen. I mainly specialize in knife sharpening, but I can sharpen other things with the equipment I have. Once you learn how a particular edge is ground, how that edge effects the way it cuts, and how to achieve that grind, you should be able to sharpen a variety of things. Hatchets, axes, machetes, garden tools, and general purpose scissors, for example. You can get set up for this type of sharpening for less than $3000.
If you want to specialize in sharpening expensive Japanese stylist?s shears, you will want the best equipment and training you can get. The equipment needed to do this type of sharpening can cost thousands, and require extensive training. This type of sharpening is not for everybody. The difference between knife sharpening and salon sharpening is like the difference between getting a bachelor?s degree and a master?s degree. If you just want to sharpen knives, there are sharpeners that you can get that require very little or no training. It is easier to get a knife sharpening business started than a business sharpening salon shears. Without credentials, very few stylists will just hand over their scissors, especially the good ones costing as much as $1,000. With knife sharpening, you can sharpen a cheap knife for a customer, and if they like the edge, they will bring you their good knives.
Over the last 45 years, I have tried many different methods to sharpen knives, with varying results. As Steve Bottorff says, ?What is really needed for knife sharpening is a low speed belt sander.?(Bottorff ,1996 and later). High speed belt sharpeners remove too much metal and overheat the blade. If you get a blade so hot that it changes colors, the knife will lose its temper. Tempering is the method knife-makers use to harden a blade so it will hold an edge.
Of all the different methods, I have found The Sharp Machine to be the easiest method of all, and it achieves the best precision edge I have ever seen. You can sharpen a knife in 3-5 minutes, and get the same results every time. It is a low speed belt sander with a clamp and guide system. No higher education is required to learn how to sharpen with this machine. Written instructions are included with the system, and an instructional video can be viewed on my website www.thesharpshoponline.com. It only requires knowing how to safely handle a sharp knife. So far, the youngest person that uses a Sharp Machine to make money is 8 years old. The price of the Sharp Machine is reasonable, with starter packages starting at $559 plus shipping. You can get the best package available for $749, plus shipping.(Hoffpauir, 2006) I don?t know of very many businesses that you can start for under $1,000. You can expect to make an average of about $60 per hour or more if you have the steady work available. You can expect this only if you put the effort in to get the customers. Just be friendly, do quality work and diligently seek out new customers and you will succeed. Knife sharpening is a versatile business. You can work from home, in your local area, or you can travel if you want to. Your customers are everywhere. Locally, you can sharpen for restaurants, at the farmer?s market, flea market, or even the grocery store. Visit any businesses that typically use knives. Any event that draws a knife carrying crowd is potential business for you. I like to work motorcycle events and gun shows in addition to my local events. Rodeos and livestock auctions and shows are good places to find people with pocketknives. I also sharpen for some fundraisers.
My goal is to start my own business sharpening knives and scissors, selling knives of all kinds, both factory made and custom, and to continue to market the Sharp Machine on my web site. If you have a passion for sharp knives, enjoy providing your customers with high quality workmanship, and are willing to work hard to seek out new customers, you might have what it takes to start your own knife sharpening business. With the proper equipment, persistence, and hard work, anyone can achieve success as a professional knife sharpener.
Revised Aug. 2015
Bottorff, S. (1996 and later). Belt sanders. Retrieved from http://sharpeningmadeeasy.com/electric.htm
Hoffpauir, G. (2006). Store. Retrieved from http://www.thesharpshoponline.com/apps/webstore/
Master Grinding Service, Inc. (2008-2009).History of the art of knife sharpening. Retrieved from http://mastergrinding.com/history/
The Sungold Group, Inc. (2011). Professional sharpening equipment.. Retrieved from http://www.sungoldgroupinc.com/equipment.html