Q&A with Jim Hunt

June 12, 2013 

City of Residence: Kathleen

Occupation: Owner-operator, American Saw and Grinding

QUESTION: How did you become a knife and tool sharpener?

ANSWER: I retired from the Air Force in 1987. I served with a tactical communications group at Robins Air Force Base -- the 5th MOB. For a while after retiring I was in the construction business building and remodeling houses, but I got fed up with it. Not so much the economics but the headaches: non-payment, chasing contractors, stuff like that. I was remodeling a house and ended up trading work for sharpening equipment. I’ve been doing sharpening for 20 years now.

QUESTION: What kind of sharpening do you do?

ANSWER: It’s a bit seasonal. In winter, a lot of chainsaws and that sort of thing. Maybe hunting knives and machetes. In the summer, lawn mower blades, clippers, shovels and other lawn care equipment. Other items are steadier through the year.

QUESTION: Such as?

ANSWER: Year around there are always saw blades, various knives and scissors, hair cutting blades, animal clipper blades -- really anything with a cutting edge on it.

QUESTION: What are the economics of sharpening?

ANSWER: About half of my sharpening is saw blades. We live in a throwaway society, and a lot of people just wouldn’t think of getting something sharpened like they used to. But if you consider a good saw blade that can be sharpened for $20 rather than buying a new one for $80 or $90, then that’s a savings. On the other hand, a cheap hand saw that you can buy for next to nothing might not be worth it. A shovel works a lot better when sharpened, probably better than new. Just $3.50.

QUESTION: So you don’t do a lot of hand saws?

ANSWER: Now and then folks will bring in their great-granddaddy’s. You can cut new teeth in it and get a new edge. People like them for a keepsake. I do various restoration work every now and then.

QUESTION: Are you a go-to guy for ceremonial swords?

ANSWER: I get some swords or large knives from our deployed military who might want something sharpened before they put it on display at their house, but as far as ceremonial blades, they’re rarely sharpened. When you sharpen something you remove material from the blade and most ceremonial swords are chromed or have some other fine finish. You don’t want to take that finish off. Even for some blades that are brought to me that will just be for display, I recommend they not be sharpened. It could increase the chance of rusting.

QUESTION: So you turn down business?

ANSWER: I do. I’d rather do the right thing than just make a few dollars.

QUESTION: How about antique items like Civil War swords and the like?

ANSWER: Again, if you watch shows like the Antique Road Show you often hear them say these things are more valuable left as is, dull and with a good patina, rather than sharp and shiny. Leave it alone.

QUESTION: You don’t have a brick-and-mortar shop, how do you go about getting business?

ANSWER: When I got the equipment, I contacted the manufacturers and did a lot of learning. One thing I found out was it’s a good idea to get business from hardware stores and places like that where people can drop off work. It just so happened about that time my wife had a gym-bag zipper break and I took it to Mark’s Shoe and Luggage Hospital. I talked to them about taking in work for me and they agreed. There’s a sign there in the shop. I also have work dropped off at Circle Ace Hardware on Commercial Circle and Houston Hardware in Bonaire.

QUESTION: You don’t take work directly at your house?

ANSWER: Rarely, just through special circumstances. Through the drop-off points I generally promise two-day service. If someone isn’t happy with the work, I’ll re-do it. If they’re still not happy, they get their money back. It’s not worth quibbling over.

QUESTION: Does sharpening take all your time? Has it been a good retirement career?

ANSWER: It has been, but a great deal of my time is taken up with my position at my church, Sacred Heart Catholic Church, where I’m an ordained clergy member, a deacon, and serve in pastoral ministry.

QUESTION: In your sharpening, is most of it done purely by hand or machine aided?

ANSWER: Usually it’s a combination. For instance, I’ll likely start a knife using a belt sharpener, mechanical and hand, and then finish by honing it on a stone, which is purely by hand.

QUESTION: What are some of the things a sharpener needs to know?

ANSWER: Know their limitations, and that ties in to when to say no to a job. And know you should treat each piece as if it was the only one you have to do, no matter how many are waiting to be done. Give each piece your best effort. Treat each one as the only one you have to do.

Answers may have been edited for length and clarity. Compiled by Michael W. Pannell. Contact him at mwpannell@gmail.com.

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