Sharpening Made Easy
Knife Sharpening Information and Equipment
Sharpening As a Business
I am often asked about sharpening as a full-time or part-time business. Part-time sharpening is indeed a business that offers flexible hours but income depends on how hard you apply yourself. I specialize in culinary knives and enjoy dealing with chefs and other foodies and I derive satisfaction out of doing something for them that they cannot do for themselves or that others have failed to do. You may find your motivation elsewhere. Many of my customers have had bad experiences with commercial services and with hardware or culinary store sharpeners. I also offer scissor, garden tool and salon shear sharpening but do not pursue that business. Every knife or tool presents some challenge and I enjoy the variety and the problem solving. Just a lot of knives, like a knife rental service, would be boring for me but could be lucrative in the right market. Based on my experience here are my recommendations:
Check with the restaurants in your area first to make sure a commercial outfit does not have the market already cornered. Don't forget about delis, butchers and food stores. Is there a food processor in your area? They use lots of hand knives.
Even if the food industry has a commercial sharpener, there is still plenty of business to be found. To find homeowners, go where foodies gather - farmers markets and food fairs. Check places that sharpen other things - lawnmower shops and hardware stores - and ask if they sharpen cutlery. Chances they don't, or do a poor job, and you can pick up referrals from them. Try flea markets and gun and knife shows. One of my best venues is a culinary store where I go for one afternoon every month.
Consider adding household scissors right away. Later you might want to do beauty shears (bring out your feminine side) or saws (bring out your masculine side). These latter two are good money makers but require more specialized training and equipment.
First and foremost, you need to learn the skills. My book, Sharpening Made Easy, is a good place to start. See sharpeningmadeeasy.com for details. For more book suggestions, see books.htm If you can, attend a sharpening school.
For examples of prices, open http://sharpeningmadeeasy.com/receipts.doc For an example handout card open http://sharpeningmadeeasy.com/card.doc (Requires Microsoft WORD or equivalent software.)
For learning the business aspects, I recommend Robert Young's How to Start Your Own Knife Sharpening Business. You may also want to look at the free Internet course at www.myownbusiness.com There are a few other resources out there, but none that I can recommend. R. C. Cook's $6.95 "How to build a Knife Sharpening or a Knife Making Business" is 12 pages of platitudes on business that can be summarized as "be professional, have a business card, a business phone and address, do good work and treat the customer well." Graham Stuckey's 96 page, $30 "Trade Secret Revealed" tells the story of how he started his Knife Sharpest business. Otherwise it is essentially the instruction manual for his $3000 Grambo sharpening system.
If your sharpening interests include beauty shears and clippers, consider subscribing to On The Edge newsletter by Jim O'Donnell http://www.otenewsletter.com
If your interest also includes saws, router blades, etc., check out the Sharpeners Report monthly newsletter by Judy Brenner at Sharpeners-Report.com or email: firstname.lastname@example.org Both newsletters advertise new and used equipment. You may also enjoy the discussions at http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/HowToSharpen and http://groups.yahoo.com/group/tormekusers
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Videos tend to be limited to one system. Spyderco, Razor Edge, EdgePro and Tormek make good videos that describe how to sharpen using their systems.
Second, you need to pick your equipment. I use two different types of equipment. Slow and/or wet is shirtsleeve equipment. Safety glasses and other precautions are a must for any of the high speed equipment. I always grind with the media moving away from me, contrary to the usual practice. Also, belt grinders are safer than wheels. You can shred a 1" belt without it even taking the tool out of your hand, while a wheel spinning at 3000 rpm can throw a tool 60 feet (away from me, of course, but you also have to be aware of others). Ventilation is only an issue if you work in a small space like a van or trailer. I usually work outdoors or in large spaces. Also, most of my grinding is wet. I only use coarse abrasives, 120 grit or lower, when dry grinding. The dust is large and settles out of the air readily. Smaller dust is more likely to stay in the air. Finer abrasives and/or belts or wheels that grind upward can put more dust in the air and a mask is desirable.
If you only want to sharpen knives, the Chef'sChoice commercial sharpener is a possibility for about $400. Ask them about their small business setup. They also make a scissor sharpener. http://www.edgecraft.com/
A lot of knife shops use the TruHone, which starts at $650 for the LC model, or $1000 for the heavy duty model. I find it inadequate by itself and prefer the systems below.
For the best manual system, consider EdgePro. You can charge a premium for a hand sharpened edge. See http://www.edgeproinc.com/
If you are comfortable working with a power grinder, there is nothing faster and easier than a set of paper wheels on a bench grinder. They will not do the heavy work of reducing bolsters, repairing broken tips, or sharpening really dull knives. See paper.htm Use the reverse rotation setup I describe in my book and my website for greater convenience and safety.
If you want to add scissors and woodworking tools, consider a Tormek. It is the most versatile system on the market. and it can handle the heavy work of reducing bolsters or repairing broken tips. The Tormek costs about $750 with knife and scissor jigs. Much general sharpening (knives, scissors and garden tools) can be done on the Tormek with a few pieces of inexpensive additional equipment (belt sander and paper wheels). I have added specialized machines for the final honing of knives and for sharpening scissors, mainly because they are faster than the Tormek. You can be well equipped for about $3000, and I carry about $4000 of equipment to the markets. My salon shear sharpener stays at home, another $2500.
My setup when I do a farmer's market is a Tormek, Twice-As-Sharp scissor sharpener, F. Dick RS-150, Dick RS-75 modified for serrated knives and a belt sander. Knife sharpening starts on the Tormek and ends on the RS-150. Most of the grinding is done by the Tormek, and the honing an stropping on RS-150. This provides a consistent edge for all my customers. The belt sander is used for reducing bolsters and repairing broken tips.
I still do an occasional pair of scissors on the Tormek with the scissor jig, but rely on a Wolff Twice-As-Sharp for most scissor work, including grass and hedge trimmers. Although it is a dry grind and you have to be very careful of overheating, it is much faster than the Tormek. I added a few specialized scissor tools - a scissor screw tool and a fine hone to polish the inside surface of the shears and scissors - both from Wolff Industries.
The belt sander is used to reduce bolsters and sharpen shovels, etc. Some garden shears can be sharpened with the small hones but most have to be taken apart and ground on the Tormek. Screwdrivers and wrenches are needed for disassembling and adjusting scissors and shears.
In my shop I can take more time and my F. Dick SM-111 is used more. Although it can do 400 knives a day when they have stamped blades or have been previously sharpened, it can take up to 10 minutes to sharpen a large forged blade for the first time.
This page has a price list that you are free to copy and use, or download the Word document at receipts.doc. These prices are middle of the range. For more pricing you can go to http://sharpeningmadeeasy.com/links.htm#services and check the sharpening services listed there.Click CARDS to download the card I hand out at markets (Word Document)
Please modify and use these documents for your own business.
For more comments on sharpening at farmer's markets. click here.
Updated April 7, 2012