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The email and DM lamentations from Kitchen Detail readers when the Arnolds, who ran Precision Knife Sharpening Service, announced their retirement, fell only slightly short of reaching biblical proportions. My wailing was part of the sad chorus. Sharp knives mean a great deal to cooks, and I completely get it. Nothing makes me crankier when working in my kitchen, or anyone else’s for that matter, than having to chop or slice with a dreadfully dull knife. Oddly enough, nothing cuts your finger faster than a knife that’s not sharp enough. And of course, if you are in someone else’s kitchen, you really can’t say anything, can you? Almost makes me want to bring a steel in a holster. Fortunately for all of us, a new and excellent service run by Paul Seymour, retired police officer and military veteran, has been established at his Fort Hunt Road address in Alexandria.
As you know from my earlier post on knife-sharpening, my experience with one mail-in knife-sharpening service and several sites in Washington, DC varied from disappointing to over-the-top expensive for a decent realignment of my kitchen knives. Paul Seymour has risen well above that low bar. He has spent a good deal of time and care in building his research and his skill to bring your blades back to life. In fact, his website is filled with insightful details on not only the different aspects of knife-sharpening, but also some advice for maintaining them until the next time they need his careful touch.
If you are in the DMV (DC, MD, VA area, not the Department of Motor Vehicles) you can simply drop off your knives at his location at 7814 Fort Hunt Road in Alexandria. Traveling there via the George Washington Parkway takes you on one of the prettiest, below-the-radar fall foliage routes. If he is not present, Paul has a nifty lockbox (and secured to the ground) set up at his side door. Fill out the form on his site, and he will respond with pricing and turn-around time. If you are not local or don’t have the time to drop off your knives, you can arrange to mail them to him.
Not Just Sharpening
One glance at his Instagram account will give you a good idea of the breadth of Paul’s work with knives. You should also realizet, for instance, Cutco knives, contrary to their marketing, do need resharpening. In fact, there is no such thing as a knife that never needs to have its blade reset and sharpened. And yes, sharpening does include shaving off existing metal from the blade – we had occasional customers insist that we sharpen their knives without removing any metal! I think his service would be superior to the one that any knife company offers. He can, of course, reshape your knives to get rid of broken tips and chips. He can refine the edge of your knife so that the original is enhanced even more by giving it a micro bevel, which is a sharper angle at the tip of the knife’s edge. This bit of finesse gives the knife more “tooth” when it slices. As you can see from this simple graphic, there are several ways to create a basic bevel on a knife. Paul can advise you on what best suits the knives you send him.
Now The Extras
His remarkable repair services include sanitizing your blades or replacing the rivet caps, or even bringing your handles back to life, especially if you have been putting your knives in the dishwasher – a major no-no that someone in this house is guilty of, but I mention no names.
Paul’s services even include scissor resharpening — both hair-cutting and kitchen scissors — plus most lawn and garden tools and hatchets and axes. And he provides a much needed monthly service for restaurants. If you have an heirloom knife that needs complete rescusitation, don’t despair and hide it in a drawer. Paul offers an hourly rate and has access to sources to bring it back to its former glory.
Knife Nitty Gritty
When La Cuisine was open, we offered a very basic knife-sharpening service, and our education over almost five decades led us to some of the extensive knowledge that Paul Seymour shares with his clients on his website. He agrees that ceramic knives (which he can miraculously revive by using a series of diamond and water-cooled wheels) are not a good choice, as they easily chip and break. Knives with a high percentage of carbon steel alloys are “softer” than knives with a high percentage of chromium or other super-hard alloys, and they are a joy to sharpen. Usually maintaining the original angle suits most cases in knife-sharpening, but there are occasions when a knife is no longer performing well, and he will advise changing the angle, which removes more metal but will create a better performing edge. According to Paul:
It’s always a balance between sharpness and edge retention and you can make a knife that stays sharp for a long time but its level of sharpness will not be as sharp. Also knives that tend to stay sharp longer are usually harder steel and are more difficult to sharpen. Many people today love Japanese knives because they are super sharp and stay sharp a long time, but the down side is they chip easily and are harder to resharpen than a western style like a Wusthof or a Zwillings Henckles that are easier to sharpen and rarely chip or break if dropped.
He advises also to use a steel or strop at home. And forget the videos of chefs honing their knives on steels as if they were performing an audition for a Benihana steak house. It actually is a series of very slow and precise movements. I hone my knives as I use them. Paul has shared two videos on how you should do this at home. It will make your knife perform its meal time tasks more efficiently, He shared a good video on how to correctly strop your knives.
He sent a second video on the proper way to use a steel. At the very least, purchase a steel and follow this video, and do not use one of the slotted rolling gadgets or preset crossed mini steels sold in many stores or websites.
After owning one of the best cooking stores in the US for 47 years, Nancy Pollard writes a blog about food in all its aspects – recipes, film, books, travel, superior sources and food related issues.