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Old 12-02-2010, 09:31 PM   #1
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Professional sharpening questions

I'm considering buying some knife sharpening equipment, and doing knives at farmers markets. Who here has their knives professionally sharpened? How much did you pay and for what size and type of knife? How often?
My friend started doing this last summer, he has done very well. He did my knives, including a never used chef knife right from the restaurant supply, they are way sharper after he got done with them. Any other input most appreciated. Thank you.

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Old 12-02-2010, 09:40 PM   #2
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I used to get my Henckels sharpened for $3 per knife at a store here in Quebec. Now I do it myself.
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Old 12-03-2010, 01:36 AM   #3
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Originally Posted by oldrustycars View Post
I'm considering buying some knife sharpening equipment, and doing knives at farmers markets. Who here has their knives professionally sharpened? How much did you pay and for what size and type of knife? How often?
My friend started doing this last summer, he has done very well. He did my knives, including a never used chef knife right from the restaurant supply, they are way sharper after he got done with them. Any other input most appreciated. Thank you.

You probably realize this, so I don't mean to point out the obvious, but first question is: Do you know how to sharpen at a professional level? That can be a complicated question to answer. For example my favorite local kitchen & foodie store has a Tru-Hone machine for sharpening knives. It's a pretty expensive sharpener, and depending on the model can run between eighteen hundred and three grand. They charge two bucks for sharpening. It takes skill out of the equation but does a pretty mediocre job. It's also incapable of doing anything but the simplest jobs- it can't fix chips, it won't regrind a tip and it won't do a single bevel.

Most professional sharpeners tend to use belt grinders. I'd say a 1" x 42" is the most common although some use smaller ones and some use very large & pricey machines from Burr King or Coote. You can do amazing things with those machines but you have to know what you're doing. The cheaper grinders like the Harbor Freight 30" run at over 2,500 rpm. You can "burn" the temper out of a knife, especially at the tip, in just a few seconds on a machine like that. It's also easy to remove more metal than you intended to, and it's not like you can put it back on. At a minimum plan to practice on a few beaters. Try to have it down pretty well before you work on paying customer's knives.

A few professional sharpeners use stones. I would say that unless you're an accomplished sharpener it's hard to make any money doing it that way. Do you plan to do this as a hobby or as a business? If the former you can price wherever you feel comfortable. In the latter case you'll have to look at the cost of equipment, travel and you're time and determine how many blades you'll have to do a day at the price you choose to break even- then plan on doing more or raising your prices from there.

Once you have the technical aspects down you can set prices. If there's no one sharpening in your area you'll basically have to determine the price. If you have competition you'll have to look at their rates. You can then choose to compete on quality, price or both. Can you afford to do the job for less than they do? Or can you provide a service that's superior to theirs by a wide enough margin to justify a higher price?

There are a few basic rules of thumb in my area. Commercial sharpeners that do knives for restaurants and meat packers tend do sharpen for $3 per knife, regardless of size. This is invariably done on power gear of some kind (normally a belt grinder). Another common rate for better knives is $1 per inch, normally with a $5 or so minimum. I'd say that's a decent base point for you to look at. Restaurants will probably balk at being charged by the inch and it's pretty quick to do a Forschner or Dexter. Hunters and fishermen will have different expectations. They'll probably expect a little more polish and a more careful finish.

There are a few things to be aware of. Some segments of people are very price sensitive. Yeah, that's a polite way of saying they're cheap. They may balk at your rates. Remember the old saying- If a man calls you a horse, punch him in the nose. If another man says it, walk away. If a third guy calls you a horse, best start shoppin' for a saddle! That's to say you'll always run across a few tightwads, pay them no mind. But if you're too high for your areas you'll quickly figure it out.

Also, carefully consider what services you'll offer before you even get to rates. Decide what will be included at what price and spell those things out very clearly from the outset. I'd strongly advise you to have set pricing for things beyond a simple sharpening. Will you fix broken tips? I do, but it's usually extra. If a knife is bent, or the edge is rolled or badly chipped, this is usually considered a repair. Repairs should generally cost the customer extra because I can guarantee they'll cost you extra in the time it takes to fix them.

Lastly, realize that everything changes when you start charging. If you do a knife for a buddy for no charge he'll be appreciative, but his expectations will be elevated when he's paying. Be sure to under-promise and over-deliver. The only way to learn is by doing, so if you want to stretch your skills you'll have to experiment on customers knives, but have a policy in writing about how you'll address complaints. You may occasionally ruin a customers knife, and if you do you'll have to replace it. At least consider what type of warranty or guarantee you'll offer.

Sharpening can be a rewarding hobby and a good business. Just make sure you've done your due diligence before you set out on that road. Best of luck to you.
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Old 12-03-2010, 09:51 PM   #4
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I intend to start with a Tormek T-7 sharpener, and a bench buffer with paper honing wheels. I did a bunch of knives recently, they came out good. There is a jig to hold the knife at the correct angle, it seems anyone can do a good job with it. I did a bunch of low quality knives with a friends equipment, and I bought about 20 knives at Goodwill for $2 to practice on. I also used the Razor Sharp paper wheels from Woodcraft, they do an amazing job. Thank you for the input.
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Old 12-03-2010, 11:27 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by oldrustycars View Post
I intend to start with a Tormek T-7 sharpener, and a bench buffer with paper honing wheels. I did a bunch of knives recently, they came out good. There is a jig to hold the knife at the correct angle, it seems anyone can do a good job with it. I did a bunch of low quality knives with a friends equipment, and I bought about 20 knives at Goodwill for $2 to practice on. I also used the Razor Sharp paper wheels from Woodcraft, they do an amazing job. Thank you for the input.

Do you already have the Tormek? While you can do a good job with it I think it's overpriced and not all that versatile. There aren't really a lot of different abrasive wheels for it and it's messy. It's also slower than a belt. I'm really down on paper wheels! Yeah, I do some guys that can get great edges from them but you can also burn the blade. And for the love of Pete, don't ever try to sharpen edge-on!

I think the best tool out there for the money is either the Kalamazoo belt grinder or the Chipping Away. A Delta is superb with a few mods as is the clone by Grizzly. Of course this is just my personal opinion.

You seem to be on the right track! You were smart to pick up some junkers to play with. If the Tormek does what you want, great. It's a well made machine with enough jigs and accessories to do about any kind of sharpening. And you're very unlikely to ever burn an edge on one- the water reservoir ensures that. The one thing I don't like is that a wheel like that makes it hard to get a precise "V" on a full flat grind, you'll end up with a micro-concave edge. A belt will give you a good "V" if you sharpen on the platen or a nice convex if you sharpen in the slack just above it. But it's horses for courses, both can do a good job. I don't recall much detail about the angle jig...is it adjustable? Different types of knives are generally ground at different bevel angles. Japanese knives are usually around 15 degrees per side (double bevel). Germans are typically around 22.5 (some newer ones are less). Sporting knives will vary by purpose.

All in all I think your approach is solid. You're wise to go with what you know best.
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Old 12-04-2010, 01:56 PM   #6
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One thing I would suggest in addition to what everybody else has said is to get some cheap waterstones and practice sharpening by hand before setting up shop with a machine.

Doing sharpening by hand is at a much slower speed than on a machine and you will see how the edge develops much more clearly.

Please note I'm not recommending that you sharpen by hand commercially, except maybe as a premium service, but simply that if you know how to sharpen by hand that will improve your skill set.

Another source of work you might want to look into is providing a service at some of your local knife stores. I know a couple of knife stores around here offer a once a month sharpening service, so on a time basis that could be very efficient for you as you go in once a month pick up a bundle of knives and do them in one sitting without all the standing around waiting and yakking with tyre kickers.
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