This story was originally published in the December 2002 issue of
Sharpeners Report. It has been updated in November 2010.
Material in blue was omitted from the published article
A nearby suburb has a farmer's market on
Saturday mornings in the summer and fall. The market focuses on
locally grown and organic produce, and recently it has been expanded to
include crafts and other home made products. Unlike some other
markets in the area, it has no building or shelter - a street is blocked
off on market day.
A sharpener used to come to a nearby farmer's market twice a month to
sharpen knives and tools. Last spring the market manager called to say he
was leaving, could I take his place? She said that the presence of a
knife sharpener draws people to the market, who then spend up to an hour
shopping while their knives are sharpened. Because this benefits the
market she needed a sharpener and would not charge a table fee. I
gave it some thought, consulted my wife, and we decided to do it. It
has been both interesting and profitable, and I encourage others to check
it out as a possibility.
Since the market is outdoors, I had to think about equipment
portability. I bought two 2-ft. x 4-ft. folding tables from Sam's
Club. They can lie on the back seat of my car - I do not have a
truck. Each of my grinders is mounted on a MDF board, and they sit
on top of the tables. I carry a folding workbench in the trunk,
along with a plastic milk carton and a GateMouth bag for smaller tools and
hones. And, after just one day in the sun, I bought a market
umbrella! (Note: in the second season I added a third table.)
There were outside outlets for electricity, but since the street could be
wet, I decided to add a 4 x 4 outlet box with GFI receptacles to my
extension cord. Since I already had my sharpening equipment I spent
less than $200 to get ready, most of it on the umbrella.
My equipment includes a Tormek
wet wheel grinder, a paper wheel knife sharpener and a regular
bench grinder. The Tormek runs slow and smooth, so I just sit it on one
of the tables. The grinders I clamp to the portable bench so they don't
vibrate and walk around.
I use the Tormek
for scissors, then finish them
with a Wolff pink hone and adjust the screw if needed. The Tormek
also does a great job on pinking shears. I usually take garden
shears and hedge trimmers apart to sharpen them, but sometimes if they are
in good condition so I just use a diamond hone to touch them up.
Before sharpening I scrape the garden residue off with a putty knife, and
when I am finished a drop of oil makes them work like new. (I have
since added a Twice As Sharp
for scissors - it is
I also use the Tormek
to restore a bevel on
badly worn knives, and it grinds chipped blades and broken points without
any risk of overheating the steel. The paper wheels are used for knife
sharpening and burr removal. I wipe each blade with paint thinner to
remove the wax and polishing compound left from the wheels. (A
dedicated commercial knife sharpener like a TruHone (with 1000 grit
stones) or a Chef'sChoice 2000 could take the place of the paper
wheels. I am using an F. Dick RS-150 Duo
which comes with both 220 and 1000 grit stones.)
I just use a file for the shovels and hoes,
so few tools actually need the bench grinder. I don't
sharpen lawn mower blades but refer this business to a local mower shop,
and in return he refers all his cutlery work to me.
On a typical Saturday morning I will sharpen 50 to 60 kitchen knives, a
dozen pair of scissors and a dozen garden tools ranging from pruning
shears to shovels. This brings in
between $240 and $300. On a really busy day I can make almost
Since this is an affluent suburb I charge my full
prices. I often see full sets of chef''s knifes in leather rolls and even
see custom knives made by Dale Walther in nearby Dover, Ohio.
Since this market worked so well I decided to try some others.
Another nearby market operates out of a large pole barn, half of which can
be closed off and heated for winter operation. This market has never
had a sharpener and it started slowly as I build up the business.
Since this market is in a poorer neighborhood I charge about 75% of my
Other markets I tried were seasonal outdoor markets open on weekday
mornings and afternoons. One of these is working out pretty well and
business is growing. It is the inner city and I use the same lower
prices I use at senior centers, etc. Two others could not arrange
for electricity. (One
of these markets has arranged for electricity from a street light and I
will have a generator this coming summer.)
For success at a farmer's market you need to build the business through
promotion and word of mouth. When people first see you they always ask if
you will be back next week, so a regular presence every week or every
other week is important. Once the market understands the
traffic that a sharpener can draw they will be happy to include you in
their promotions. When the markets put an announcement in the paper that a
sharpener will be there I get 20 or 30 more customers. This is more
work than I can handle and I have to take some back to the shop.
People seem willing to pick up their knives later, and often bring me more
work when they come.
Sharpening at a farmer's market is not likely to produce a full time
income due to the seasonal nature of the markets, but it is an interesting
way for a sharpening shop to supplement business or a nice part time job
for a retiree. I have seen a wider variety of tools and knives than I knew
existed, and each Saturday brings a new challenge. I am also meeting a lot
of interesting people.
2010 Update: Since the article
was written I have downsized my car to a Toyota Prius with the
plates SHARP EZ. I eliminated the paper wheels and bench
grinder, which allowed me to drop the portable bench. I tried
replacing the paper wheels with a TruHone but after customer
complaints went with a F. Dick RS-150. No complaints
since. A belt sander replaced the bench grinder. The
belt has the added advantages of convex grinding for heavy knives
and axes, a long straight platen for correcting blade shape and
slack belt that can reach into many garden tools that do not open 90
degrees. The market umbrella was replaced with a 10' x 10'
canopy and now I use up to 4 tables. I use the adjustable ones
so my front table can be at counter height.
My best days are now over 100 knives and over $500, with the help of
my wife and/or a student.