Jill McFadden, must be the luckiest woman in the Bay Area!
Her husband, Bob Kattenburg has always sharpened her knives at home -- not only "like a pro", he is a pro. He became so good at sharpening Jill's knives that he was called on to sharpen knives for the grocery/deli where Jill worked. That led them to thinking that they could be on the edge of something bigger. Three years ago, Bob toyed with the idea of turning knife sharpening into a full-time business. After studying the economics of the idea, he decided to leave his 25-year career in the insurance business to become a professional knife sharpener. He first outfitted the back of a 1964 Ford pick-up truck with some knife sharpening tools and went out on the road on a part-time basis looking for dull blades. But within a year of starting up, the demand for his services led Bob to convert the enclosed cargo area of a Dodge Karyvan with the full complement of professional sharpening tools -- Arkansas stones, silicone carbide stones and diamond sharpening devices-- and to turn to knife sharpening as full-time business.
How to Sharpen a Knife
To sharpen a standard straight-edged knife, Bob goes through a 3-step process:
- Swiping the blade through a diamond sharpening device to put a fixed bevel edge and "burrs" on the blade.
- Rubbing each side of the prepared blade on a silicone carbide stone to align the "burrs" and to create the edge.
- Finishing the edge on a honing stone. (Bob uses 3 successively finer grits of Arkansas stone, which is known in the industry as the best sharpening tool.)
Bob does the entire knife sharpening process by hand. It's highly labor intensive, time consuming and back breaking work and he's a busy man during the Saturday San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market. Bob sharpens 50-60 knives during the 5½ hours (between 8:00 a.m. -1:30 p.m.) that he's at the Market. Most knives take 5 - 7 minutes to bring to a good sharpness which means he goes non-stop during the entire market time. Jill is equally busy receiving dull knives from customers and lining the work up for Bob.
Bob's truck is conveniently located at the northern entrance to the Market. Drop off your dull blades as soon as you arrive and by the time you've finished your shopping, Bob and Jill will have sharp knives ready for you to take home!
Bob is available at the following locations:
* First and Third Tuesday of each month: Sur La Table, 1806 Fourth Street, Berkeley (8 am - 5 pm)
* Every Saturday: San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market, Embarcadero at Green St (8 am - 1:30 pm)
* Sundays: Walnut Creek Farmers' Market, Broadway at Lincoln
(8 am - 1 pm May - Nov; 9 am - 1 pm Dec - Apr)
* Twice a month (one Wed and one Friday): Andronico's Market, Danville (8 am - 5 pm)
|8" - 12"||$6.00|
|Serrated Knives||$1.50 added to base price|
|Food Processor Blades||$7.25|
|Scissors||$7.00 and up (depending on length)|
|Garden clippers & pruners||$4.75 (standard sizes)|
Bob does feel justified in charging a little extra charge for profoundly dull knives. So bring them in for sharpening every 3-4 months to avoid the extra charge.
Tips from the Pro. . .
Bob reminded me that the only function of a steel is to put back into line the microscopic burrs that are put onto the blade in the first step of the sharpening process and that get out of line through use. Swiping the knife blade over the steel will bring those tiny burrs back into alignment and make the knife feel sharp again. But that's all it will do. Trying to use a steel to sharpen a knife -- to actually create the tiny burrs onto the blade -- will cause a lot of frustration and yield no sharper results.
About Electrical or Mechanical Sharpening Machines
Bob says that using electrical or mechanical sharpening devices at home will create the tiny burrs on each side of the blade and "sharpen" the knife, but can substantially shorten the life of your knives if you don't know how to use the machine properly. Not only do these machines typically take off much more metal than the hand process, but the burrs they make are shallow and short-lived, which means knives must be sharpened more frequently.
Although Bob is not keen to recommend home use of electrical sharpening devices, he's investigating the logistics of installing an electrically-driven professional machine in his truck so that he can keep up with the volume of business on a typical market day.
The Critical Edge was featured in the June 1996 issue of Focus Magazine.
Updated February 2002
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