The Sharp Brothers for our series Know Your Knife Sharpener.
1. How did you start your knife sharpening career?
The Sharp Brothers began sharpening knives in Southeast Wisconsin in 2004. Starting as a father (Lee) and son (Austin) duo, we have trained trained many master sharpeners, have locations in California and Wisconsin, sharpened tens of thousands of knives each summer at local farmers markets and even traded sharpening for supper all over the world.
Lee began as a young boy growing up on a farm in southern Illinois and now sharpens the knives of top chefs, frivolous home cooks, and unusual yokels. He possesses a certain finesse and wisdom which can only be accumulated with decades of care and respect towards maintaining the functionality of our favorite edged tools. Austin with fine eyes and nimble hands has been sharpening since he was 14 and has trained with Master Bladesmith Bob Kramer in Olympia, WA.
2. Can you tell us more about your sharpening technique?
The Sharp Brothers use a three step process starting with a belt sander. Our standard grit is 400, though we always have many belts available depending on the job at hand. Our current belt size for knives is 2×42 and we have several other sanders that we use for specialty items. We always adjust our platen and belt tension to suit our style. We like to call ourselves the pacifists of powered knife sharpening
. Every time we hear the word grind, we wince. Once we have a burr, we remove it with an 8 inch leather wheel. Finally, we finish with a cotton buffer to polish the edge.
3. Do you strop your knives?
Instead of a strop the Sharp Brothers use a leather wheel spinning at 3600 RPM and green rouge. When we first started we used a slotted paper wheel but upon discovery of a quality leather wheel we switched. It produces a very fine edge and is consistent in burr removal.
4. How do you test knives for sharpness?
We use standard recycled computer paper. Visual cues are often obvious but we tend to be most interested in the sound the knife creates when slicing or pushing cutting through the paper. Slicing paper also offers a chance to catch any microscopic chips that we may not have seen otherwise.
The Sharp Brothers team.
5. Are sharpening angles important to learn and understand?
Angles are important but can be tricky to learn. We sharpen freehand so it isn’t an exact science. We use our eyes and hands to strike a balance. On a new, well cared for knife, we’ll try to stay true to the original angle
. Older and abused knives often need blending to create a finer taper. Every single knife is different, understanding what the knife needs takes practice. Questions we often ask ourselves when settling on an angle are.
– What is the quality of the knife?
– What is it’s intended use?
– What was the original design? Could it be improved?
– Has it been abused?
– How hard is the steel?
6. Would you recommend using cheap knives to start sharpening?
Not necessarily. We like to start our trainees with a myriad of knife styles so they can begin to learn the diversity of knives. Bolster or no bolster? Flat blade into a quick, steep edge (K-mart $2 special) or a nice gradual taper. Hard or soft steel? Each knife presents it’s own unique challenges. A great starter knife would be the Victorinox 8” chefs knife. It has a fine taper, medium hard steel, no bolster, and can take some abuse.
7. Are you still improving as a sharpener?
The abstract thought process that occurs during sharpening is fascinating. We’ll sharpen hundreds of knives without incident and suddenly a new technique or something we didn’t notice will present itself. The Sharp Brothers are always looking for these moments. Every knife is unique, there is always a lesson to be learned.