Knife Sharpeners

Pride goeth... My best gal pal Bernice has a niece, newly engaged and eager to learn the secrets of domestic bliss. Bernice sent her to me for an introduction to the kitchen. I was pleased to be of service. “The first thing,” I began, “is to have good tools. The most important thing is good knives.” Then I set about a demonstration, and that’s where things got sloppy. Nothing performed quite the way I would have liked because all of the knives need sharpening. They’re all good knives, but I’d neglected them too long. Every couple of months, my husband runs them through an electric sharpener, but I decided to see about getting a professional involved.

“To sharpen properly, you have to have the right equipment,” said Kevin McNutt of Professional Products & More in Clairemont Mesa (858-277-3615; proproductsandmore.com). McNutt is an Andis & Oster certified technician — meaning he’s had to “sharpen 45 blades and have them analyzed by their engineers to make sure they’re within the tolerance of what Oster requires when blades come out of the factory. We sharpen all our blades by hand. We start with an aggressive rough-edge on a flat-hone machine. If you went to Home Depot and bought sandpaper, 400- to 600-grit is the finest you could get. Our machine is at 30,000 microns — it’s really fine. The machine looks like an old 45 record — a spinning wheel. The rough edge removes all burrs, pills, or gouges on the blade. Then we follow that with an even finer grit to get the edge on the knife. Finally, we use a polishing compound — some people call it jeweler’s rouge — to get that shiny, smooth look.”

Serrated knives are a little trickier, said McNutt, because “you can’t reapply serration. It’s a very proprietary spacing. What we do is run an edge on the opposite side — you still have the serration for sawing, and the other side of the edge is sharpened.”

How long a knife holds an edge “really depends on what you’re cutting, how often you use it, and how you care for it. Do you throw it in the dishwasher, blade side down, so that it hits hard surfaces, or do you hand-wash? Do you throw it in a knife drawer or do you put it in a sleeve? It also depends on the steel. If it’s an inexpensive knife made from porous steel, even if we put a nice edge on it, it will stay for only a relatively short time. If you spend the extra money on a German or Japanese knife made from compact, 440C stainless steel, the blade will keep the edge longer.”

Not surprisingly, McNutt was not overly impressed with my home sharpener. “I think, basically, that it can give you a rough edge. They can’t come close to the microns, the super-polished edges that we can give you.” As for mobile sharpening services, “there are some good ones, but I think the training on some of them can be hit or miss. And when you used fixed machines, as opposed to mobile ones, your performance is a little better. Ask if they have insurance, in case something happens to your knife during the blade sharpening.” McNutt charges $1 an inch to sharpen and offers a two- to three-day turnaround. He also sharpens scissors (some of which require a special technique) and clipper blades for both barbers and animal shearers.

My next call was to someone at one of those mobile services — Fred Field at True Sharp Mobile Knife Sharpening (760-801-2600; truesharp.com). “I’ve been doing this for a year and a half on my own,” said Field, “but before that, I did it with my father, who’s been a sharpener his whole life. We sharpen kitchen knives, pocket knives, garden tools, and scissors.” Like McNutt, Field noted that “scissors are finicky. You have to have an exact angle. I match the edge, and then the blade gets dragged across a rotating stone disc.”

“I use a belt sander with a very fine grit for the first edge,” said Field. “Then I use a true hone for the final edge — it’s a machine with a series of ceramic discs that rotate in opposite directions. When you sharpen a knife, you push a little bit of the metal to the other side of the knife. The true hone knocks that little bit off.” On weekends, Field sets up outside Major Market in Escondido, where he charges $2 for knives up to five inches and $3 after that. He also makes house calls. “They’re free with a $50 minimum order. If you have only kitchen knives, the job usually takes about an hour. Most jobs don’t run more than two [hours]. The price range is usually $50 to $75.”

Other places around town:

Pro-Edge Knives in San Carlos (619-265-0402) mainly sharpens knives for the restaurant industry, but they also offer a walk-in service for kitchen knives with a one-day turnaround ($4 a blade).

Greg’s Sharpening in La Mesa (619-469-9019) charges $3 per blade, $4.75 for serrated.

There are mobile services outside Henry’s in Poway (858-486-7851) on Tuesdays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Henry’s in North Park (619-291-8287) on Fridays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Windmill Farms in Del Cerro (619-287-1400) features a mobile service on Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Bristol Farms in La Jolla (858-558-4180) will sharpen your knives for free while you’re shopping. “We have a machine here in the meat department,” a representative told me. “Drop your knives off. It’s free, and it comes with a smile.” Sur La Table in Carlsbad (760-635-1316) will sharpen two knives for free while you shop, using a Chef’s Choice electric sharpener ($100 to $149 to purchase) — anything more than that is $1 an inch. In addition, saleslady Cheryl told me that the store has a waiting list for an inexpensive ($48) home sharpener from Minosharp. “It’s just a little plastic thing with two honing things in it. You put water in it and pull your knives through. People love it.”

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I have personally used Pro-Edge Knife for knife sharpening in Allied Gardens. They still charge $4 a knife, with same day service. The only thing is remember to bring cash, no credit card.

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