Chris Tran recently had the opportunity to sit down and interview Albert Edmonds, the mad genius behind Seattle Edge, arguably the best one-man-shop knife sharpening outfit on the West Coast. Albert fell in love with all things pointy and sharp at the age of 8, when his father taught him how to sharpen a fishing knife. This was the beginning of a lifelong love affair with sharpening, and the quest to achieve the perfect edge.
How did you get into knife sharpening not just as a hobby, but as a full time career?
Well, as a full time career I started professionally sharpening when I was 19, that was back in 2000, when I started working at a local knife store in Seattle. I wanted to learn how to sharpen and after pestering the manager and head sharpener multiple times, they decided to take me in the back to train me.
Eventually after a year I did leave, but I ended up coming back at a later date and sharpening for them again. Upon my return, I was able to work with Rob “Caribou” Chapel, an amazing knife maker, and I’m absolutely in debt to him. Rod really changed the way I thought about knife sharpening before, so that was a really important time for me. I ended up leaving again, but continued sharpening on my own, kind of under-the-table stuff and general experimental work trying to find a technique that I was really happy with that gives really good results… and I was never really truly satisfied.
I was offered a career in another industry but I had started Seattle Edge in 2009. I had the opportunity to move forward as a career in the other industry, but I had just started Seattle Edge and started to see it grow, and just came to that… that fork in the road and had to decide between the two. I came to the conclusion that if I’m going to work my tail off, I’d rather just do it for me and do something that I love, something that is a true passion for me.
So how have you seen your business progress from 2009 up until now?
Oh my gosh, so much has changed. It started out really humble, with a workbench and a sander that I would throw in the back of my car and drive to a restaurant or someone’s home… this is dedication: sharpening outside in the winter, 20 degrees plus wind… that’s love! It was a great experience though, because I was able to go into these environments, and talk to these people. I worked in a restaurant before so it was neat to be in that atmosphere in a different way, and really represent something that I was proud of. It was great.
I always knew I wanted more than that, just being a mobile sharper is great, but there’s only so much that you can do driving up in a van. I always wanted to have my own shop. When I worked at that knife store, we had a shop there – only a fraction of what I have now, but it was so great to have everything set up, and I had so many opportunities to do different things and experiment with different techniques, so in the back of my mind the whole time I was really excited to be doing Seattle Edge, but I really wished I had my own shop.
So multiple things in my life started changing, opportunity presented itself and I decided to go ahead and do it. It did increase my operating cost as a businessman, it has, but it’s worth it for me because now I have this wonderful working space where I can offer an incredibly more diverse amount of sharpening services. It has changed things significantly. I’ve had that shop for two years and I’m looking forward to diversifying it even more. I started out with just one little sander and a table, so now having my own shop it’s really great to see it grow. I took some pictures from the first week, which is hilarious, because it was a work table, a sink, one grinder and just a few little odds and ends, now it’s getting a little crowded in there.
Now, you mentioned a range of services, what types of services do you offer – what kind of blades or edges can you sharpen?
I can sharpen just about anything made of metal. I use multiple different techniques for many different reasons; the primary reason being that different types of knives need different types of edges. That’s one of the reasons I really wanted my own shop, now I can tailor the type of edge to each specific knife – one knife is going to need a specific edge compared to another. It’s not like the aspirin of sharpening, “Take two and it’ll be fine in the morning,” and that works for everything… no, it does not. It does not work for everything. The same technique you use on your traditional chef knife is not going to work as well for your Benchmade, is not going to work as well for your bushcraft knife, and it’s certainly not going to work for a sushi knife or a straight razor.
So having more space makes it just that much easier to give the blade what it needs and really bring out the best of each blade. Certain techniques may take more time but it’s worth it in the end because the blade performance goes up.
That’s another reason why I like having my own shop, because I’m able to meet my customers. Now mail order is about half of my business from across the country, but a lot of people come into my shop specifically because they can talk to me. So, if they are a chef I can see what type of environment they’re in; what are they cutting, what are the other people handling their knives like, things like that. Same goes for a home chef. That way, their knife, if it needs a specific type of sharpening, or specific bevel angle, I can do so after talking to them, tailor the edge to meet their needs – because I sharpen freehand, no jigs or angle guides or anything – that gives me maximum flexibility.
For example, I work with a pasty chef who cuts fruits, vegetables, dough… Very delicate stuff. He likes his knives to get to that, you know abnormal vortex weird sharp?
The, “Oh I accidentally cut through the space/time continuum,” sharp?
Yeah, that’s pretty much it! So, I’ve taken his chef knives to extreme lengths where the edges are so clean, and the edges are just so, the edges allow precision, delicate cuts. On the other hand I sharpen for another chef who works in a seafood restaurant. If I sharpened that chef’s knives with that same technique, his edges would be destroyed in one shift. So being able to change and modify the sharpening technique to fit that specific knife makes a really big difference.
All of my edges are convex by default excluding traditional Japanese blades and razors. All of those are sharpened on stones because that’s what they require. I find that a convex edge allows a knife to get extremely, extremely sharp but also provides the edge with more support, because there is a slight bow of metal behind the cutting edge, so it’s better at having stress yield around the blade instead of taking it straight on and running the likelihood of fracturing the blade – it offsets the force. They are still very easy to touch up and hone and you don’t have to worry about de-convexing your blade while maintaining the edge… as long as you’re not doing full re-profiling work, it’s going to be fine.
So why are people seeking you out? What separates Seattle Edge from the shop in the mall or why should someone seek out a knife sharpener with a specific skill set such as yours instead of spending $49.99 for a jig and an off-the-rack sharpening system?
The primary reason why Seattle Edge has started to become known is because I do this because I love it. This is not something you can really do if you don’t care about it. I do this because I love it and quality is very important to me. I’m fixated on quality, I don’t have a choice. I’d have more free time and probably more money if I wasn’t so fixated on quality. Not only personally, but as a businessman – I’m a one man show. If I start getting sloppy I can’t hide behind anybody, and I wouldn’t do that anyway. That’s not acceptable, so if my quality isn’t high, there’s no reason for people to come to me.
That’s what makes me different, that and the multiple methods that I use. I’ve spent a lot of time and money over the years developing methods that I’m happy with that provides the best edges and long-term performance possible.
Now you’re teaching classes now too, is that right?
That’s correct, classes have gotten surprisingly popular. I put the option on my website and it blew up. I’m teaching about four a month, they’re held at my shop for now. I teach two classes; one is the standard class, we go over the basic principles of knife sharpening – you bring in a knife, I’ve got stones there. We go over the basics, and by the time you leave, you will have a very sharp knife and firm understanding of how to sharpen that knife and care for it. That one is roughly two hours.
The intensive class is about six hours long, and it’s A to Z. If it has to do with sharpening and metal, we cover it; blade re-profiling, some cosmetics, and sharpening multiple types of knives. What’s funny is that it’s a pretty even split; it’s about 50% chefs, and the others are just total knife fanatics. It’s funny, you’d think the person who’d really want to learn that stuff is someone who works with knives day in and out 8 hours a day, and then you get that retiree who’s just bananas about blades. So it’s great because we just BS back and forth, exchange knowledge, kick back and just slough some steel! Its fun, I love teaching.
So what’s next for Seattle Edge?
Well, there’s a few different things happening, and unfortunately I can’t discuss them right now. I’m offering sharpening services, some refurbishing services, but Seattle Edge will continue to diversify. I am going to be carrying some knives that I will be selling in the future… I know a lot of custom makers, that’s all I’m saying. I’m not going to have standard things in stock. I will have some really good factory blades in because everyone deserves to have a nice knife, but we’re going to have custom pieces ranging from mid-techs to handmade pieces for your kitchen, to your collection, to in the field. Unfortunately I can’t give out any more info right now, there’s a lot up in the air, but I’m really excited to see what happens two years from now.