May 18, 2011

A cut above in the kitchen

Professional knife sharpeners see a demand from cooks to give their essential kitchen tools a keener edge.

By Meredith Goad
Staff Writer

When David Orbeton first started sharpening kitchen knives at the Brunswick Farmers Market this winter, he was just looking to build a little side business he could do in his spare time.

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Sharpener David Orbeton likes to keep his knives on a magnetic holder, "because I can just wipe them off and hang them right up." He recommends storing kitchen knives in sleeves if they're kept in drawers.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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David Orbeton sharpens a knife on the machine he bought for his new business, Wicked Sharp. He will be using it to sharpen customers' knives at farmers markets in Freeport and Cumberland.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below



Use your knife for its intended purpose. Never cut frozen foods.

Always cut away from your body.

Use a wood, bamboo or polyethylene cutting board. Never use stone, glass or your granite countertop.

Wash each knife individually. Never put your knives in the dishwasher. "Chemicals are really bad for the metal," Orbeton said. "If you have wood handles, it will destroy them."

Sharpen your knives regularly.

If you drop a knife, do not try to catch it. Watch your feet.

Store your knives in a block, rack or sleeves available at kitchen stores. Never drop them into a drawer unprotected. "I like a magnetic holder because I can just wipe them off and hang them right up," Orbeton said.

If you use a knife block, put it in upside down so you're not dragging the edge along the inside of the block.

Don't drag the cutting edge of your knife across the cutting board to scrape up the herbs or vegetables you've just chopped. Flip the knife over and use the dull edge for that.


Suzie Rephan, manager of LeRoux Kitchen in Portland, recommends the regular use of a steel to maintain the edge on the knife. "We recommend using a steel really often," she said, "like maybe every time or every other time you use your knife. It just keeps it nice and clean, and keeps the little burrs that form on the edges cleaned up."

Jane St. Pierre, owner of Kitchen & Cork in Scarborough, suggests home cooks consider using an end-grain wood cutting board so the knife isn't cutting against the grain.

WANT to learn more about how to select, use and care for your kitchen knives? David Orbeton recommends this book: "An Edge in the Kitchen: The Ultimate Guide to Kitchen Knives" (William Morrow Cookbooks, $34.95) by Chad Ward.


HERE are a few places in the Portland area where you can get your kitchen knives sharpened:

LeRoux Kitchen, 161 Commercial St., Portland, has a Wusthof representative visit once a year, during the Harvest on the Harbor Festival in October. The first knife is free, and customers can get up to two more knives sharpened for $3 each. The money is donated to charity. 553-7665.

Freeport Knife Co., 181 Lower Main St., sharpens knives Monday through Saturday. For a paring knife up to a 10-inch chef's knife, it costs $2 per blade. If the knife has to be reground, nicks are taken out or the blade is retipped, the cost is $3 to $5 per blade. Serrated knives cost $3 each to sharpen. 865-0779.

At Kitchen & Cork, 400 Expedition Drive, Scarborough, knife sharpener Andrew Bohrmann visits the store every three months or so. Up to two knives can be sharpened on the spot. If you have more, you can leave them for later pickup. The store allows customers to drop off knives ahead of Bohrmann's visit. 885-5727.

"People would bring one or two knives in, and I think they were testing me," Orbeton said. "And then the following week they'd come in with (L.L.) Bean bags of knives, whole chef rolls. It was overwhelming. We actually had to turn people away."

Orbeton, who is calling his new business Wicked Sharp, will be taking his wet grinder and diamond wheel to the Freeport Farmers Market beginning Friday, from 2 to 5:30 p.m. weekly on the L.L. Bean campus.

He'll be at the Cumberland Center market on Tuttle Road from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturdays, biweekly beginning May 28. He's also trying to get into the Portland Farmers Market, but estimates his chances at 50-50 because of the city's regulations. And he's trying to set up a rotating schedule at area kitchen stores.

It doesn't appear he'll be lacking for customers.

Some kitchen stores already offer knife sharpening services, usually on an irregular schedule that ranges from once a year to every three months or so. Freeport Knife Co. offers sharpening Monday through Saturday.

Still, the demand never seems to go away.

LeRoux Kitchen on Commercial Street hosts a representative from Wusthof every fall during Harvest on the Harbor so customers can get their knives sharpened in time for the holidays.

The events are so popular, the store started giving out numbers so people didn't have to stand in line for too long -- and even then, some people refused because they were worried about losing their spots.

"They're popular," LeRoux manager Suzie Rephan said. "We'll keep two knife sharpeners busy for a full three hours."

So how long has it been since you've sharpened your kitchen knives? And why have you waited so long?

"I think people are timid around their knives," Rephan said. "First of all, they're afraid to sharpen it incorrectly. They're worried they're going to ruin their knife. They also think that no sharpener is going to work" because their knives eventually get dull again.

Some experts say they should be sharpened professionally once a year; others say twice a year.

And, of course, it depends on what kind of knives you have, how often you use them and other factors.

"With sharpening, there are a lot of variables," said Matt Cayer, who sharpens knives at the Freeport Knife Co.

"It can depend on the cutting surface that you're using. Plastic and wood tend to be less damaging than a granite countertop or something like that. And it depends on how people are maintaining their knives between sharpenings.

"I've seen some people wait until the edge is completely rounded over, and then they say, 'I can't sharpen it.' Well, no kidding, you can't sharpen it. It needs to be reground.

"So there's no good answer. If you feel your knife starting to drag a little bit, that's when you need to touch it up."

Why not just buy a home knife sharpener?

While there are some good knife sharpeners out there, Orbeton said, most of them simply don't do the job that a professional sharpener can do.

"They really put a coarse edge on the knife," he said. "If you were to look at the blade underneath a magnifying glass, it would be almost serrated. What happens is, the high points take all the wear on the knife, and because only a fraction of the knife is in contact with your food, it wears down a little quicker."

Orbeton learned how to sharpen knives in the early 1970s, when he went to Europe to ski for a couple of months. It never snowed, so he got a job in a fancy hotel in Munich instead.

One of the chefs there taught him how to sharpen knives the traditional way, using a stone.

When he came home, he became a carpenter and cabinet maker, and sharpened all his own tools.

Today, he uses an $800 machine that he takes with him to all of his sharpening venues (more information on where to find him may be found at

It is true what they say about a dull knife being more dangerous than a sharp one.

"Dull knives would be more prone to slip and cause an injury," Cayer said.

"If it did come across your hand or something, a dull knife tears rather than cuts."


Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

David Orbeton learned his trade from a chef he worked with in Munich, Germany. He says it's best to use a good knife only on a wood, bamboo or polyethylene cutting board – never on stone, glass or a granite countertop.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer


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