Taking my walk through the streets of Brunswick during lockdown, I noticed a sign out the front of an old Victorian cottage that caught my eye “Knife Sharpening” written eloquently on a black chalk board.
Intrigued by this, and armed (quite literally) with my treasured but blunt Japanese chef knife, I returned the next day between the hours specified on the sign to meet Tristan Laker the man behind Albert Street Sharpening.
Knife Sharpening located at 355 Albert Street
Offering a drop-off and pick-up service for the neighbourhood, Tristan will hand sharpen any blade in need, and have you slicing tomatoes like butter in no time! I asked Tristan some questions while he expertly got to work on my knife.
How did Albert Street Sharpening come about?
I would sharpen my sister’s knives or a friend’s knife here and there, and after a while I was getting semi regular requests. I had been thinking of ways to earn some extra money on the side so last year during the second lockdown I went for it. My partner used her artistic talent and drew up a great sign for me, and I set myself up in the front yard trying to get foot traffic customers. It took about a week to get my first customer and I did have my doubts about it, but once the first customer came the rest followed and it’s been going well ever since.
Tristan’s grandads sharpening block and wooden case
When did you learn the skill of sharpening?
I was gifted my grandad’s old sharpening block which got me interested. In 2013 I bought myself a great little Norwegian outdoors knife and realised I had to learn how to keep it in the best possible condition. I did a lot of research on sharpening techniques and got myself a set of Japanese water stones. I didn’t really know what I was doing at first but slowly got better and better and I’ve now developed a pretty solid understanding of how to sharpen a knife.
Left: Water stones used for hand knife sharpening. Right: Tristan’s Norweigan knife in fine form.
Tristan displays all his tools on the table and explains the importance of each one and how different techniques are used depending on the knife.
What do you use to sharpen knives?
I primarily use water stones to sharpen knives, but I also rely on a diamond stone, a couple of steels, an oil stone and most importantly my leather strop. It really depends on the condition and type of knife which tools I will use.
For my Japanese knife he uses a water stone, and delicately applies pressure back and forth and then moves to the strop hanging up. After two or three strokes I can see it’s already taking shape. Seeing the love that Tristan is putting into my blade I ask him
How should I look after my knives?
The most important thing is to store them safely either in a knife block, a sheath, a magnetic holder or something similar. When in use just treat them gently, don’t drive them hard into the cutting board and avoid using them on hard surfaces.
What has the response from the community been like through the pandemic?
It’s been tremendous. Every time we go into lockdown business absolutely surges, and every single customer interaction I have had has been joyous, everyone is so happy to support me and equally happy to have new life in their knives.
The ‘nail’ test, not for the faint hearted!
The final step Tristan takes to ensure he has sharpened my knife to the best he can is by catching the blade on his finger nail. I stand in nervous amazement with his ability and skill.
Lastly, he demonstrates by slicing a piece of paper with such ease, it’s like watching a trick from a magician! Check out this fantastic video of Tristan slicing a mandarin mid-air! If you want your knives to be this sharp – you know where to go!