Dull knives? The knife doctor can help
Mystic — Everybody has dull knives.
It’s the first thing Ted Kelley tells customers who bring their blades to him to have them sharpened.
“Even brand new, the manufacturer doesn’t make them sharp,” says Kelley, explaining why his mobile knife-sharpening business is doing such a bang-up business.
“I’m almost so busy, I’d like to get rid of it,” says the 80-year-old, who started sharpening scissors, hatchets, shovels, axes, clippers, cloppers, mower blades, weed whackers and, of course, knives, after his own fiasco four years ago.
“It was Thanksgiving, and my wife, Sue, of 57 years, put the turkey and a silver carving set in front of me and I proceeded to mangle the turkey,” says the retired boat broker, who also had several other interesting careers, including owning and operating a wood-turning mill in Vermont and a stint selling church steeples, before turning to sharpening implements.
After the turkey-carving failure, Kelley decided he would figure out how to get a good, sharp blade on a knife.
He taught himself with how-to books, YouTube videos, and a stone — what he calls Knives 101 — and before long was hooked and invested in a sharpening machine that he bought from a sharpener in Missouri.
By 2015, he was so good at what he was doing, his friends and neighbors were asking him to sharpen their knives, too.
“And I figured, ‘Hey, this could be a good retirement business,’” he says.
Kelley invested in an old aluminum bread truck, circa 1947, that he found in Waterford and custom-fitted the interior with work benches, tool racks, machines and belts and bands to do his work.
Later, he added a solar panel on top or runs off a generator when it’s dark or cloudy outdoors. He parks the truck at a service station off Route 1 in Mystic, opposite Brustolon Buick, and takes his truck on the road to the Stonington farmers market on Saturdays, or to scheduled appointments.
Some customers have hired him to come to their homes for parties, where everyone brings their dull knives. And, he visits a handful of restaurants on a recurring basis, to keep their blades in tip-top shape. Kelley also has a standing appointment with a garden club.
Asked how often knives should be sharpened, Kelley quips, “When they’re dull.”
And what exactly can he sharpen? Well, just about anything that requires it, he says.
He’s done hair clippers and chain saws and fishing and filet knives, and all kinds of garden tools.
“There’s nothing like a sharp shovel if you’re digging up roots and stuff,” he says.
Kelley stops customers who start to apologize because they don’t have fancy, expensive knives. The inexpensive ones cut just as well when they’re sharp, he says.
“I tell them, ‘Don’t apologize, there’s nothing wrong with those knives.’”
And yes, he says, a serrated knife can be sharpened.
He’s named his business Knifes Like New and his mobile workshop has a big sign that reads “By chance or by appointment.” In jest, he calls himself “the knife doctor,” and dispenses knife-care advice like a physician might do for an ailment.
Never cut on glass or anything that’s harder than steel. Ideally, use a wood or plastic cutting board.
While it’s tempting to store knives in a drawer, he suggests using a magnetic strip along the wall, or, if you have a wooden storage block that sits vertically, put knives in sharp-side up.
Do not put knives with wooden or plastic handles in the dishwasher, he says, because those handles are susceptible to the thermal cycle (he used to work at Corning Inc., the glass and ceramic technology experts.) And, never put a stainless-steel knife away wet.
“Even though they are stainless steel, they will rust,” he says.
He charges about $1 an inch to sharpen a knife, or $7 for an 8-inch chef’s knife. On average, it takes him about 5 minutes for every knife, although sometimes, depending on the job, it takes longer.
The most unusual item he’s worked on was a Japanese ceremonial sword that the owner told him he used for cutting brush.
Kelley first cleans every knife with which he is entrusted, examines it for nicks and dings, checks the handle to make sure it is secure, and then sets the blade to the correct angle in his sharpening machine.
“The trick,” he says, “is that whatever you do to one side, you do to the other.” The final step is using a leather honing belt to put a finish on the blade. Every knife is returned in a scabbard.
For some things, like scissors, Kelley does the work by hand, using a tungsten carbide sharpener.
He enjoys his work but wants time for his hobbies, too. He used to be a marine photographer and now enjoys photographing dogs, and another pastime is radio-controlled sailboats.
Asked about his knives at his home these days, Kelley answers, “My wife keeps telling me to leave them alone. They are very sharp.”
Business: Knives Like New, mobile custom knife sharpening
Owner: Ted Kelley
What else: Kelley frequents the Stonington farmers market or will meet customers at his mobile workshop in Mystic.
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