I’m a very very very very very picky person. Especially when I want to be. So, when it came around to reviewing professional knife sharpening services, rest assured, I did not take the mission lightly. I hunkered down.
Three Top Services
First off, know this: All three of the finalists — Seattle Knife Sharpening, D&R Sharpening Solutions, JustKnives101 — have history. They’ve all been doing what they do for over a decade and one of them has the lineage of a family business going back to 1922. None of them are newbies or fly-by-nights.
Secondly—although they are all well-established bricks-and-mortar businesses, they have substantial experience in mail-order as well. They’ve all shipped and received a whole lot of sharpened metal. They have clear instructions and procedures as to how to send them your kitchen knives. And they’re all dependable and highly competent.
Thirdly—I have personally tried them all. Yes, pinky promise (as my 8- year-old says). I am not simply parroting what I’ve heard or read about or garnered from multiple websites, but sharing my own personal experience as a fellow consumer.
Very Important Note: I do not receive a cent from any of these professional knife sharpening services for referring customers. It’s a freebie. If for some reason this changes, I’ll be the first to let you know!
Seattle Knife Sharpening
I first found out about Seattle Knife Sharpening by accident from a YouTube video. Early on in my knife-sharpening education, I stumbled onto a clip of a very satisfied Seattle Knife customer showing off his newly sharpened set of Global knives. He sliced off slivers from a sheet of paper with ease and raved about the sharpitude. I was entranced.
I went to the Seattle Knife website and liked what I saw (literally as well as figuratively—it’s a nicely designed site). The business seemed to be a small operation by one guy, Bob Tate, which I found attractive. Personalized service. He had learned his craft from Bob Kramer, one of the most well-known and high-quality bladesmiths alive. And—judging from what he wrote on his site—Bob (Tate, that is) seemed open, friendly, personable. I wrote him an email or two with questions about his craft, how he ground his edges, and he answered back quickly.
I zipped through a tomato—the first time in years without a serrated in my hand.
His method is unorthodox, but wickedly sharp. He explained that for each knife he started from as sharp an angle as he dared as his primary angle, and then ground the rest of the blade down so that it smoothly segued from the edge up to the spine. It sounds thorough, and it is. As he mentions on his site, it’s a 6- to 7-step process using belt sanders and polishing wheels along with sharpening compounds. On a German-style knife this often means thinning down the blade and creating an edge angle much sharper than usual. Fine with me!
I boxed up a bunch of my knives as per Bob’s instructions and sent them off to Washington state. Almost two weeks later I got them back (unfortunately, I live on the other side of the country). I was a little disappointed at the turnaround time—but the knives, the knives! They looked sharp. I took my chef’s and immediately tried what I’d seen the guy in the YouTube video do. Oh, yeah. Right through paper, not only without resistance, but not leaving any roughness either. The cut edges of the paper were perfectly smooth—like I’d used a pair of scissors. I zipped through a tomato—the first time in years without a serrated in my hand. This was true for the Henckels I’d sent him as well as my Japanese-made Global.
As if this were not enough, Bob was also big on follow-through. He recommended the best type of hone to use to keep my knives sharp as long as possible (see My Favorite Honing Steels), and even gave me honing instructions over the phone. What a guy! I was off to a great start with my first professional knife sharpening service.
D&R Sharpening Solutions
I first heard of Dave Martell—the owner, chef cook, and bottle washer of D&R Sharpening— from my favorite kitchen knife book, An Edge in the Kitchen by Chad Ward. Dave has been building a reputation in professional knife sharpening for over a decade and has a special passion for Japanese blades. Actually, he’s divided his business into two separate sharpening services—one for Western-style knives, the other for Japanese.
Having no Japanese knives that needed sharpening, I chose the more standard Western-style service. I queried him about his sharpening process and he confirmed that it was the usual combination of belt sander followed by polishing wheel. But, unlike Bob in Seattle, Dave prefers to sharpen Western knives at the traditional angle of 20–25 degrees. Although he feels it’s not as “pretty”, he’s found it to be the most durable angle for this style knife. Different strokes for different folks.
The poor bread knife had been seriously abused over the years, sawing through frozen bread among other things. . .
I packed another box, not quite so many this time, and the knives were returned in one week. Yes, half the time of Seattle Knife, but then Fleetwood, PA, where D&R is located, is only a 5-hour drive away. The bevels (the part of the blade that Vs in to the cutting edge) were impeccable—as even and straight as if they’d come from the factory and the sharpness matched factory standards as well. They cut through tomatoes, sliced cucumbers nice and thin. They slivered paper—just like the YouTube video. That said, if I were to be persnickety (and that is my job as KitchenKnifeGuru), they weren’t quite as searingly sharp as Seattle Knife. But more than sharp enough for my kitchen or any other that’s not filigreeing radishes a mile a minute.
One of the knives I sent D&R was a workhorse Henckels—a wedding present—that not only had many years of faithful service to its name (decades, really), but many sharpenings of mixed-quality that had left it with an ugly, uneven edge. If you chopped parsely on a flat board, you’d miss sections with every chop. Sure enough, when I got it back from D&R, the edge was straight and even. No more gaps on the cutting board. Hurrah!
I also sent them one of my serrated bread knives which they sharpen for an extra charge. Not every knife sharpening service can handle serrated, but both Seattle Knife and JustKnives101 (the next service I review) do as well. The poor bread knife had been seriously abused over the years (another wedding present), sawing through frozen bread among other things, and really needed an overhaul. It came back refreshed, but not fully restored—which may be the best one can hope for a serrated blade, I know they’re challenging to fully resuscitate. (Though I might send my other bread knife to one of the other two services sometime and compare.)
D&R’s website is not quite as stylish as Seattle knives (not that it really matters), but they do have a mailing form you can print out for totaling up your charges (Seattle does not, you must create your own). They also have a very convenient payment system where they email you a Paypal invoice when the knives are ready to ship back. Very fast and easy for the customer to process—a big plus in my book. All-in-all, a top-notch operation. Next. . .
JustKnives101 rose to the upper reaches of my list of professional knife sharpening services from a simple Google search for “knife sharpening service.” What attracted me right off was:
- their professional-looking and informative website
- the fact that they were a family business that had been around a long while
- the fact that they sounded like they knew what they were doing and were into quality.
My impression of the blades was similar to D&R’s—they had smooth, even bevels and were plenty sharp.
The only thing I was a little wary of at first was that they might have a large crew doing high volume and thus be more of a grinding service than a professional cutler (see my article Finding a Sharpening Service). But after talking on the phone with Paul, the owner, my concerns evaporated. He assured me he, personally, did 90 percent of the sharpening, all on a very expensive belt sander imported from Germany. Among things that made it unique was the fact the belt ran over a hard rubber wheel as well as through water which helped protect the knife edges from overheating. It was the only machine of its kind he knew of in this country. Paul usually sharpened to about 20 degrees, but was flexible to the demands of each knife. He also mentioned that a lot of his customers were chefs from near and far—just what a quality-conscious kitchen-knife owner like me wanted to hear! I packaged up three more and mailed them off.
A week later they were back in my kitchen (JustKnives, like D&R, is located just a half-day drive away). My impression of the blades was similar to D&R’s—they had smooth, even bevels and were plenty sharp. They sliced beautifully, but still not quiiiiite as effortlessly as the knives from Seattle. (I told you I was picky.) They came sheathed in cardboard knife guards which was a nifty touch. And like D&R, JustKnives had a mail-in form you could easily print out to figure your invoice.
Three up, three down!
Money, Money, Money
Right about now you might be asking, what about price? Did they all charge the same? And the short answer is a definite, No.
D&R and JustKnives structure their prices in a cost per size-range—for example, $4 for blades 1- to 4-inches long. Seattle does it differently and charges a flat $1.25 by the inch (except for single-bevel which are $2). On top of that, Seattle charges a standard processing fee of $10. (Thus, it pays to send a bunch at a time.)
So, say you sent off three knives to each service—an 8-inch chefs, a 6-inch chef’s, and a 4-inch paring knife. What kind of bill would you ring up? (Not including shipping.)
|Sharpening Service||Three Knives||Six Knives|
|Seattle Knife Sharpening||$32.50||$55.00|
That’s quite a spread, isn’t it? With Seattle Knife over twice the cost of JustKnives. If you double the amount of knives, Seattle’s cost comes down proportionally because the $10 service charge averages out more. And the distance between Seattle and D&R also gets much closer—but there’s still quite a gap between Seattle and JustKnives. Which begs the question, why would Seattle be worth it?
I don’t view my job as KitchenKnifeGuru as someone to talk you into using one sharpening service over the other, but simply to shed as much light as possible so you can make your own educated decisions. But there are two obvious reasons why Seattle might be worth paying more for:
1) Their knives are sharper and more refined. The edge has been ground, buffed, and polished to a higher degree than the other two.
2) Their knives will probably stay sharp longer. This is mainly due to the simple physical fact that Bob’s process of creating a long gradual bevel from spine to edge tends to make the blades thinner. As the edge wears down, it’s still pretty darn thin and will continue to cut better. We are talking Western blades here. For Japanese, where the blade is already thin, this might be a different story.
There is one negative to Seattle’s sharpening method though, and that is, because the knife edges are thinner, they are more delicate. They won’t take as much abuse. So if you plan on slamming into frozen cookie dough (don’t laugh, one of Bob’s customers did), or if you just can’t afford the mental energy to think about protecting your kitchen knives, then Seattle might not be the best choice for you.
Bottom line moneywise—Seattle Knife Sharpening is pricier, D&R Sharpening in the middle, and JustKnives101 quite a bargain.
To fill out the list, here are a few more sharpening services I have not had a chance to take out on test rides yet, but seem promising:
The Epicurean Edge [EpicEdge.com]: Recommended from ChowHound website; looks very impressive; expensive though.
Accurate Sharpening [accuratesharp.com]: Uses the Edge Pro sharpening system, one of the finest sharpening systems out there; unusual because they sharpen by hand, not using any machines, and yet are quite reasonably priced. Recommended by kitchen knife master Norman Weinstein. Appeared in a Wall Street Journal review, but knives did have a problem finding their way home.
Precision Knife Sharpening [precisionknifesharpening.com]: Very pro website, explains a lot and sounds very competent; recommended in a Wall Street Journal review.
KySharp [kysharp.com]: Compelling history and modus operandi; no other references.
Perfect Edge [perfectedgesharpening.com]: Impressive website. It talks the talk—can it do the walk?
As far as I’m concerned, you could not go wrong with having your knives sharpened by any one of the three professional knife sharpening services I have personally used and reviewed. They are all masters of their craft, consistent, and well-organized. They all produce sharp knives. If you love and appreciate handling a sharp kitchen knife, there’s no reason to put it off any longer. I have done the homework for you. If you don’t have a clear preference—relax, close your eyes, and pick whichever one your finger falls on! You really can’t go wrong.
Postlude—Japanese Knife Sharpening Services
Every knife sharpened (with one exception) in my knife-sharpening odyssey was a Western/German-made knife. But there’s a whole world of Japanese-made knives out there that need sharpening as well. Most traditional Japanese knives (which Global is not) should only be sharpened by a specialized service in the Japanese tradition using a water stone (usually a combo of motorized and manual). I do not currently own any of these thoroughbred Japanese knives, so this particular market is outside my personal experience. This much I know though:
– Seattle Knife sharpened my Global knife beautifully and I’m sure would do an excellent job on other Western-styled Japanese blades as well, such as Shun and MAC. Just ask.
– JustKnives101 on their website says they are “factory-authorized” to sharpen Global, Shun, and Masahiro knives. Although I could not confirm their “factory-authorized” status with the knife importers for those brands, judging from JustKnives’ reputation and their work on my knives, I’m pretty confident they would do a fine job.
If you own a traditional or high-end Japanese blade, here is a list of Japanese knife sharpening services with impeccable credentials. The first three have huge reputations and the fourth is up-and-coming.They are not cheap—but you are probably getting a half hour or more of a master sharpener’s loving tender care (and expertise). If you value your Japanese knife and wish to use it for years and years, do not skimp!
Japanese Knife Sharpening [japaneseknifesharpening.com]: As mentioned earlier, this is Dave Martell of D&R Sharpening Solutions’ other sharpening service (his true love, really) that specializes in Japanese blades. He is passionate about his craft and a longtime master. Check out this quote from his website: “Dave still continues to hone his skills everyday. He strongly believes that the most intriguing part of sharpening is that you never achieve pure perfection no matter how long you work at it.”
Korin [korin.com]: Written and talked about everywhere, Japanese master Chiharu Sugai is the name brand in Japanese sharpening. Recommended by the The Wall Street Journal and, apparently, everybody in the world.
Carter Cutlery [cartercutlery.com]: Created by another legendary bladesmith, Murray Carter, the twist being he’s an anglo who studied in Japan 18 years. He mastered age-old Japanese knife making and sharpening techniques and became a 17th generation Yoshimoto Bladesmith. Fascinating story. Still sharpens everything himself.
Tosho Knife Arts [toshoknifearts.com]: Not as well-known as the first three, but both partners have solid credentials and much promise. Located in Toronto, Canada.
Post Postlude—Knives List (what knives I sent to each sharpening service)
Seattle Knife Sharpening
Henckels professional S chef 8-inch
Henckels chef 6-inch
Global G-48 7-inch
Sabatier slicer 8-inch
Calphalon santoku 8-inch
Henckels paring 4-inch
Henckels paring 3-inch
D&R Sharpening Solutions
Henckels 4 star chef 8-inch (worn down)
Henckels professional S chef 6-inch
Henckels professional S bread knife 8-inch
Henckels chef 8-inch
Henckels slicer 8-inch
Calphalon paring 4.5 inch
(Photo credit: sharpening wheel courtesy of Bob Tate of Seattle Knife Sharpening.)