Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Running a Sharpening Business - My Up's and my Down's

First of all, it is mostly UP's, in fact there are very few downs.

   My business has been up and running for six years now, I was sharpening for decades before that but in all honesty, I have learned more about sharpening in the last five years then in the first 30 years. It really is an endless journey, a fantastic endless journey.

 I will talk about the CON's first, the things that I don't like about my business:

CON # 1 - If you are interested in this, it is important to understand that by nature I am a very sensitive individual and I think I am actually getting worse. It has taken me many years to gain the trust of some very knowledgeable people in the culinary industry, heavy hitters, Canadian top chefs. That trust came on the heels of a lot of very hard work, work that I loved but nevertheless it was tough. A lot of nervous nights wondering if the if "I passed the test". Now, I have passed many many tests so I have all the confidence I need now to not worry about any more tests. That is not boasting, it is likely a very common feeling that people have who work hard at things, athletes, musicians etc.
   So that means, I become very attuned (sensitive) to anyone who would criticize my work, and I mean anyone, as I said, I passed the tests and nobody is going to tell me I didn't do a good job of sharpening their knife, unless of course I actually didn't do a good job, I am human, and I suppose that could happen and maybe it has.

So the CON here is a pretty insignificant one but since I am sensitive to any criticism, it is a something worth mentioning. I think it is this way because 99% of people are very happy.

However, when I know I have done a good job, fixed a broken knife and returned it sharper than it has ever been and the owner looks at it as if it was just another sharpening job, that gets under my skin and bothers me.   I feel like saying "do you know how many people in Nova Scotia could do what I just did?" However, I don't say that, I just walk away and get over it.

Nobody has ever actually complained, nobody in the six years so there are times when I just imagine problems, that is what happens when one is over sensitive :)

I guess the real crux of the matter is that often times, when I have agonised over a knife and returned it to an owner knowing it is very likely that sharpest knife that person has ever seen and I never hear back from the person. (What I mean is that often, I don't see the customer, he/she uses a drop off and pick up spot so we don't connect in person.) So if I don't hear back from the individual, I often think to myself, "did he like it, or didn't he?"

I think that this is actually the only thing I don't like about my business, I don't know always know what people think. Now a smart person may say, "what does it matter, you did your best, you always do, you've proven yourself, you've been in the paper 3 times, on the Radio and on TV, do you really think they have anything to complain about?"

It is still nice to hear, get a "Thank You"  at least, and I do get them a lot. I suppose that people just don't think about that. When I get my car back from the garage I don't call the mechanic and thank him so why should people let me know?

It's a minor problem but again, it is  CON and there is no fixing it, and that is because my personality won't allow that, I can't just write it off so to speak, it's just something I have to deal with, paranoia perhaps.

CON #2 - Dealing with cooks who don't understand edge retention and what influences it.  This problem arose a couple of years in, after I had landed some restaurants. I was sharpening many cheap knives, knives that in a normal household kitchen with normal use wouldn't stay sharp for more than 3-4 weeks.  So in a professional kitchen where that knife is being used for 8-12 hours straight, there is no way it would keep it's edge. So dealing with that problem "the knives don't stay sharp" was frustrating and it made me angry. I don't do those knives now as result, unless the folks using them understand this and many do.

Now on the other hand, it was a learning experience, it forced me to understand how to fight edge retention issues, about grits and angles and what works best and so on. After all the frustration, I am a better and smarter sharpener as a result.

Okay, now the PRO's, now we're talking because they greatly outnumber the CON's, greatly.

The thing I worried most about when I started my business was getting a complaint, what if someone was not happy with their knife, what if they didn't think it was sharp. So during the first year I kept waiting for the inevitable. Even though I would never return a knife that wasn't as sharp as I thought it would be, what if someone didn't agree. That never happened and still hasn't happened.


PRO #1 - There is an overwhelming sense of satisfaction when you can take a dull knife and make it sharper than it ever was before and that is because you worked hard to be able to do that, it has paid off, over and over. I know lots of folks feel this and understand it but it is a sensation that doesn't go away. Countless times people have brought me knives, they've heard about me, and brought me their knives that they thought were lost. Some have been wedding presents sixty years ago that have not been sharpened beyond the original factory sharpening so it's cool to see their faces or just know that they are going to be happy with their knives.

PRO # 2 - I get to see and handle some really beautiful knives, knives I would never afford to buy for myself, $2,000-$3,500 beauties that were shipped to me from other parts of Canada. So it is very cool to be able to work on them and to establish connections across the country. This in turn often gets me other customers just through word of mouth, in fact all of my business has been via word of mouth.

PRO # 3 - The business allows me to see so many knives all of which are in various conditions, this is how I learn.  I know some business and some people who do not sharpen anything but premium knives, hand made Japanese or other high quality knives, Henckels Twin Cermax just for example.

If I did that, I would be half the sharpener I am now. Who do you think becomes a better sharpener, the person who sharpens 10 Masakage every day or the  person who sharpens 6 beat up Wusthof, a couple of no name knives and 1 or 2 Masakage?  We learn by sharpening the knives that we don't really love to sharpen, but they make us better and by doing so, when we do get that Masakage or Fujiwara, it is a breeze to sharpen and it becomes sharper than new.  You want to be the best sharpener you can possibly be? Then sharpen the knives other people won't.

PRO #4 - I got to meet some of Kings of the culinary industry and that has been very nice. I have gained the respect of gifted chefs like Normand Laprise, Michael Howell, Craig Flinn, Jason Lynch Mark Gray, Ivan Chan and Luis Clavel. This is huge for me and they let me into their worlds where I learned to gain so much respect for people in the business. I can't believe how hard these folks work and how talented and passionate they are. Having the privilege of sharpening their knives is something I never take for granted and will always be grateful for.

PRO # 5 - Obviously, I get to do what I love to do most every single day and I get paid for it. I get to have a lot of nifty Japanese Water Stones.

PRO # 6. I have had the opportunity to meet some fantastic people on the Chef Knives to Go Forums, people I will likely never meet but folks who are willing to share information and are just friendly and fun to "hang out with". Sharpening is a lonely world, so it is nice to have this.

PRO # 7 -  I got to meet a man in Italy named Roberto who contacted me about an interview for Knifeplanet and we have since become friends and he has encouraged me to make videos and write articles. All of these have been stepping stones on my sharpening journey by the way, all of these made me a better sharpener. People all over the world have read and watched what I produced with the help of the incredibly friendly and professional Roberto from Milano.

PRO # 8 - Although these are in no particular order, this one is very special.

Through my Blog and my website I have got meet some very nice people, people who have taken up knife sharpening influenced by what I have done on my Blog. I don't think it is just of course, I have always said the men, especially men, but women as well, have a primal urge to sharpen knives. I hear it from people all the time. So they have it in them already but this Blog and my joy of sharing information just gets their ball rolling I think, it gets them started perhaps and they have a place to come if they get stuck. This alone, this one thing has made all of my efforts worthwhile.

PRO # 9 - Everyone is good at something, really good.  I just happen to be good at sharpening so it is a sense of pride, it is a great feeling to know that I can do something well, better than a lot of people. This is no different than a person who is good a guitar for example, I  know this but it is still a nice feeling.

PRO # 10.

I get to make knives sharp for people :) While this is quite obvious, it is so damm important, we all need sharp knives and I get to make people happy every single day. I am providing a needed service and although there are a lot more people using dull knives than sharp ones, at least I am making some improvements, as are all the other sharpeners out there.

PRO # 11.

I get to teach people how to sharpen knives. I have always enjoyed instructing, the Navy taught me how to do that. Now I get people, every day people who just have to satisfy that primal urge, to take lessons and help them on their own journey.  I also get some Executive Chefs, well one so far but it is very satisfying to see someone who has never even seen a water stone to go home with the ability to make their knives sharper than new.

I think I have pretty much covered everything I can think of at the moment but in all honesty I have probably only covered half of what I consider to be positive aspects of New Edge Sharpening, my business.

The final PRO is that I know people are here, people like you, reading this.

Thank you that.

Peter Nowlan
New Edge Sharpening

One of the first knives I sharpened when I opened my business. You can see how the bevel is wider near the tip and the angle is much to acute for this knife but it was an experiment. It was razor sharp but the edge would not last long at that 10 deg angle.

Monday, 30 January 2017


Hi Folks,
Recently, Mr. Kevin Kent, the President of Knifewear in Calgary (and other cities) sent me the film called Springhammer.

To be honest, I did not know what Springhammer meant but now it is all clear to me.

     The Springhammer is the big automated hammer that blacksmiths use to shape their knives, we have all seen them on YouTube of course, they used to do that all by hand but the Springhammer is the way to go now.

     The film is much much more than that though. It is a very well made journey through the world of the very well known Master Blacksmiths in Japan. You get to see them work and they talk about their craft and their lives.

     My personal hero, Shibata San is in the film as well and he does a lot of sharing of information. This movie filled some gaps for me. We hear about these mysterious Japanese artisans, we may get to see and use their knives but for me, that is where it stopped. So to see Fujiwara San talking is very very cool

     It is a very enlightening film and I highly recommend it. I am sure it is available through Knifewear in Canada for $10.00 and if not they can tell you how to get it. I have a copy here in Halifax and Kevin may be sending me a few more.

Different stuff now:)

      The stone on the left is my new 1,000 Naniwa Akamonzen, XL. This thing is massive, and it's awesome. This is my sharpening area where I spend so much time. The two knives, Moritaka and Fujiwara belong to the Highwayman restaurant in Halifax. One of the few restaurants that I sharpen for regularly.

The knife on the top is a Masakage in VG10 and sharpened by Shibata San and of course the stone is the Naniwa Chosera 400 and it is one of my favourites.

The bottom beauty is a Rainbow Saji, only 25 or so of these made, it is quite exquisite and very heavy, feels like a cleaver.

I get a lot of nice emails from folks who have watched and enjoyed my pressure videos but feel free to let me know if there is something else you want me to discuss. I don't pretend to be the authority on sharpening but I can find out what I don't know.

Peter Nowlan
New Edge Sharpening

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Beginning the Journey video

The purpose of this video is for novice sharpeners to take note of the importance of prioritizing their approach to learning to sharpen.

In our world of YouTube and other social media and various forums, folks have a tendency to watch video after video and get hung up the wrong things.  Yes, it is important to understand the process of course but at some point I think you need to stop watching and just try it out, start building that muscle memory and just as important to that, start building CONFIDENCE.

You will learn a lot by just attempting to sharpen a knife. It is far more important to understand Steel for example than topics like whether a toothy edge will last longer than a polished edge. All these collateral elements of sharpening will come together in clarity after you get the fundamentals down.

This video is about learning the fundamentals first, get that down and then learn to manipulate pressure at four levels, just start with two:)

Thanks for looking

Good Times

Yesterday was a very nice day for me as it provided me the opportunity to teach a man that I have known and respected since I started by business how to sharpen, beyond the basics.

Chef Craig Flinn of Chives Bistro Halifax Nova Scotia

     When I started up my business in 2011, one of the first things I tried to do was to attain the respect of some of the local Chefs in the area, this to me was key in growing my business and it would also put me in touch with other Chefs, restaurants....more knives basically. 

     However, that was much easier said then done. Just having face time with the Executive Chef of a restaurant is a major hurdle to climb over. Until then I had little knowledge of the culinary industry, I just saw it as a continuous source of knives and income for me.  Also, these folks didn't know me, so why would they trust their knives to a stranger and why the hell would they take 10 minutes out of their 14 hour day to talk to me? This is what I was dealing with and I was okay with that but I was determined as well, I knew that if I just got the opportunity to sharpen one of his knives then I would be in. That is how I felt, I was confident. 

I got lucky, very lucky. 

     In the meantime, I had already proven myself to the manager of a major kitchen store here so I was getting customers through that store which became and still is, a drop off/pick up point.  A lady that I sharpened for told her friend, a retired sailor who is Chef about me. He was starting up his own gourmet hamburger restaurant called Cheese Curds. (Now he owns several of them, he is doing fantastic). The Chef contacted me and asked me to sharpen for his new restaurant, once I had passed the test of course, once I had run the gauntlet and proven to him that I could sharpen.  I did that and low and behold, his good friend is Chef Craig Flinn so the next thing you know I was running the ultimate test (at that time) and proving myself to Craig. 

      That was five or six years ago and I sharpened for him many many times but I always encouraged him to learn to sharpen himself, I mean beyond the basics. So yesterday he finally took 3 hours out of his extremely hectic life and had an absolute blast. He was thrilled with his Fujiwara when he was finished.

    I really learned to respect people in the industry, I have seen many many times how frantic their life can be.  

     Chef Craig told me when he was stressed, just through normal business, we have all been there I know but he told me if he had to go cook something when he was feeling that way, if he was using a dull knife, it just made it so much worse.  I have heard this from other chefs as well. How having sharp knives in the pro kitchen can reduce stress and increase morale.

   Nowadays I don't sharpen for many restaurants, I found that in some cases, the inability of some folks to understand edge retention just made it disheartening for me.  I just prefer to sharpen for the Executive Chefs and for folks who just get it.

   The goal that I used to have of gaining the trust of the Chefs in the area has changed. I have been around long enough, proven myself over and over so I no longer seek them out, they know where I am. It is the home chefs and just regular folks, the folks that have been supporting me for years now that I really appreciate. 

   There are several Executive Chefs in the area that have remained loyal and I will never stop appreciating that, I just don't out hunting anymore :)

Thanks for looking and reading.

Sunday, 15 January 2017

Takeda Sharpening using Takeda hand held water stones.

     Hi there, I just wanted to share an experience, something I have done for the very first time today, a different sharpening method. (This is not about me changing my technique or anything, that is not going to happen, it was just for this particular knife, the Takeda)

     Takeda knives, made by the famous Takeda San are quite something, they are known for their height, they are high, the quality of the steel, blue Aogami super and the incredible thinness of the blade. They are also very light, surprisingly light. They look, as a friend who sells them says, "They look like they were forged in Mordor".

   Takeda San uses a different method than any other sharpener, he uses a stone combination that he holds in his hand, so the knife is kept stable and he runs the stone over the knife edge, completely opposite to normal freehanding. (You can see him do this on YouTube if interested, pretty easy to find by searching for "Takeda Sharpening"

     Takeda gives great directions in the video so I followed those to the letter and used the sharpie to mark the target area. There is no Angle to worry about here, nothing like that, you just remove the marks by holding the stone and going back and forth over the bevels. The grey stone is 400 grit and the brown is 1200 grit. 

    I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to do, but I was pessimistic about it, not sure if it would end up as sharp as I am used to. So I was ready to go back at it with my normal approach. 

   So it is just back and forth many many times until all the sharpie is gone and you just flip the knife and go at it again. It took me about 15 minutes and was very fun to do, very exciting to see if this would produce an edge that I would be pleased with.

   I completed the process with a natural water stone, a nagura for my full sized stone, the nagura in the photo above is cut from the same full sized natural stone, so it's about 8,000-12,000 grit.

    So how was the edge?........it blew me away, I was extremely surprised at how sharp the knife was, easily shaving arm hair.  Now this doesn't mean I can't make it just as sharp or sharper with my regular stones and method but using this method keeps the knife in it's original state, it looks and feels the same as when it was new.  To sharpen it by freehand, the angle is very very acute but easily done as well..

Just sharing, thanks for looking

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Pressure System updated

I wrote an article for Knifeplanet for the purpose of making sure my video on four levels of pressure is clear. I did this because of the number of emails I received on it saying thanks for putting it together. There is always room for improvement.

Anyway, it is up on Knifeplanet now.

Pressure process explained


I went to Japan in 1987 and all I came back with was this can of coke....if only I could that trip all over again.


Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Happy New Edges-Lesson Learned passed along

Hi all,

      If you made it back here, I can't thank you enough for visiting my site. I really do try to keep the info interesting and as accurate as I can. Most of the information I pass along is based on sharpening related items that I have personally learned and much of them through trial and error and mistakes.

     I want to pass on an important one that I don't have pictures of but I know folks can relate too, people learning to sharpen or in that matter, people who really know what they are doing. It is something I learned a few years ago so I will share it here.

     Naturally I will throw in some random shots that I took, this first one is of three Shun knives that live in a professional kitchen, just some tip work.  I do most of the major tip work on a belt sander, I find that I can actually do a better job and then I finish it off on water stones. I work from the spine of the knife towards the front where the tip used to be and then just keep adjusting the width of the front of the knife to form a new tip.  Some folks work from the edge of the knife and move the blade in a direction that forms a new tip, I don't.

     The lesson I want to pass along is an issue with bevel consistency and how I learned to correct it.  I have seen many many brand new knives sharpened by experts with one of the bevels a little wider than the other side. I have done this myself, after sharpening on one side of the knife to raise a burr and then flipping the knife to form another burr on the opposite side. The bevels were consistent, i.e. running parallel, nice and even but the width of the bevels, i.e. from the Edge up was a little, and I mean a little but wider one one side than the other.   So how is this happening?

    You may have seen this yourself, both of your bevels not being exactly the same width, the knife is sharp of course but it just looks a little off. Again, the Bevel Line so to speak can be nice and even, but just not the exact same width.  NOW,  having said this, this is not a big deal, we are human after all, so perfectly matched bevels are not a significant issue but for me, it was an issue, I didn't like it.

New Water Stone, the XL Naniwa Akamonzen 1,000. This thing is huge, it's fantastic.

  (I got the stone above, the one on the bottom from Knifewear in Edmonton)

Back to bevels:

    A few years ago when I was using the Edge Pro on a knife I noticed that one bevel was a little wider than the other. I wasn't sure how this was happening since I assumed the issue was ANGLES, i.e. I was sharpening one side at a slightly more acute angle than the other, even a degree, that is what I thought at the time and this is what I believe most people think. However, if I was using an Edge Pro with perfectly matched angles on either side, how was this happening?

I figured it  out:

     The problem is not just Angles, yes they have to be close of course, but a degree or two of  difference on either side is not the problem, there are other, just as important variables that need to be taken into account and they are all easy to focus on and work on. 

TIME.....this is the major problem, assuming that your Sharpening Angles on either side match, within a degree or two. (I.e. sharpening one side at 15 deg and the other at 20 is going to make the 15 deg side look wider.)

     You need to equalize the time spent one each side, so even if your sharpening angles are perfectly matched, if you have the ability to sharpen at the exact same angle on either side and I know that you might be able to do this, I am not suggesting it isn't possible at all. But even if you can, if you spend 1 minute on side A and 5 minutes on Side B the bevel widths WILL differ. You are removing more metal on the side that you are grinding on longer. That is not all:)

     PRESSURE is the other culprit. If you are matching your ANGLES and TIME  very closely but not matching the pressure, this can cause you to remove a little more metal too.  I am not saying that the pressure has to be perfectly matched, we can't do that, but we can do pretty well, we are pretty smart people when it comes down to it. I

    However, all these things come into play and I do believe that Angles are the most important followed very closely by Time and Pressure.

     In my case, I noticed this during the Burr forming stage. I would spend some time on one side of the knife with a coarse stone and sharpen (grind) at my sharpening angle until the burr was formed on the other side. Then I would flip the knife and form a burr on the opposite side. HOWEVER, as is often the case, that second burr comes at a faster rate than the first one so I was spending more time on one side of the knife than the other, on some knives. This happens to me a lot actually, I always find that when I am in the burr forming stage and using Pressure Level 4, that it takes longer to form that first burr than it does when I flip the knife.  

     How did I fix this?: 

     When I am just starting with a knife and I am going for that first burr on a 400 grit stone (Just and example, it could be a 220 or 500 grit stone). If I notice after a couple of minutes that the burr is NOT formed I flip the knife and grind on the other side, I do this until the burr is formed, i.e. grinding as evenly as possible on each side of the knife. That pretty much solved the entire problem for me.

TAPS......consistency in Bevel Width.....Time Angles Pressure Skill

Fujiwara and nice strop 

At the end of the day, just do your best and as long as you keep these things in mind I think you will see your consistency levels increase, I did anyway.

Take Care.

Rainbow Saji