As a member of the United States Army military police for NATO headquarters in Paris, France (forget the hard-job-but-someone’s-got-to-do-it jokes—he’s already heard them), Vince Ivarson practiced his knife sharpening skills in order to be armed and ready.
But the craft of knife sharpening had always intrigued Ivarson. Having sold his manufacturing company and with retirement growing old, he took a course from Steve Bottorff, guru of metal honing and author of the best-selling Knife Sharpening Made Easy.
“I’d been sharpening blades all my life and I thought I knew all about it,” says Ivarson, a buff, burly and extremely fit 72-year old with closely cropped blonde hair. “But then I met Steve.”
Armed, so to speak, with his upgraded skills, Ivarson set up a vendor’s booth at the South Bend Farmers Market, where he works three days a week.
“When people come in early in the morning, they drop off what needs to be sharpened, and by the time they’re done shopping or having breakfast or lunch, I get their blades back to them,” he says.
“You have to know the angle the knife takes before you start,” says Ivarson, turning on the Swedish-made Tormek T-7 Water-Cooled Grinder/Sharpener. “There are many angles, from an Asian angle, which is a ⅛th-degree angle, to a 30˚ angle on a hatchet or an axe.”
And, of course, there are many types of blades made of differing metals. Ivarson says he grinds them all, including chisels, scissors, lawnmower blades (please clean before bringing), machetes and cleavers. The edges can be smooth or serrated, it doesn’t matter.
Taking a butcher knife, Ivarson creates a new edge using the Tormak. He then moves on to a two-wheeled buffer, one wheel covered with gritted paper and the other with smooth. The gritted wheel removes the burr—- hair-like patches of metal created during sharpening, while the smooth papered wheel polishes the blade—the final step in the process.
Different blades take different machines. Ivarson has a Wolff’s Professional Twice as Sharp scissors sharpening system, a neat-looking little machine with grit sharpening and grit honing wheels, which is also fitted with an arm and clamp assembly able to accommodate all possible blade angles. He uses a VIEL belt sander for hatchets, loppers and other large and thick blades.
“I sharpened all my things throughout my life with an Arkansas stone and steel,” says Ivarson as I marvel at the equipment. (I will find out later that it’s all high-end and very expensive.) “But when I decided to do this professionally, I wanted the right tools.”
I ask Ivarson when home chefs need to get their blades professionally sharpened.
“When you can’t slice a tomato by just pulling a blade quickly through it,” he says, “instead of having to puncture it first.”
Vince Ivarson is at the South Bend Farmers Market, 1105 Northside Blvd., on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 7am to 2pm. In addition to sharpening knives and other blades, he also sells a complete line of Wūsthof cutlery. For more information, call 574.315.6663.