At the top of Gary Gordon’s website is an illustration of a knife crossed with scissors and a quote: “I can sharpen almost anything except your wits.”
He means it, too.
Gordon, 58, sharpened his first knife when he was 5 years old, under the tutelage of his grandfather.
Fifty-three years later, the Charlotte resident runs his own knife-sharpening side business, A Finer Edge, in addition to working full-time as a computer-aided drafting tech at Harrell, Saltrick & Hopper, an architectural and engineering firm.
He specializes in pet salon’s shears and clippers, household knives, paper cutters, lawn mower blades, hedge clippers, hand saws and surgical instruments for animal hospitals. Customers go to him, or he’ll drive to them if their order is a minimum of $25 in sharpening.
But Gordon didn’t get serious about entrepreneurship until he was laid off from an architecture firm that was struggling in the recession. A former colleague (also laid off) who knew of Gordon’s sharpening skills, asked him to work on his grandfather’s Boy Scout knife.
When Gordon returned the knife – sharpened, cleaned and buffed – the architect, impressed, suggested that Gordon make a business of it.
“And as soon as he said that, the proverbial light bulb went off in my head,” Gordon said.
It took $40,000 (which he pulled from his 401K), but Gordon now has a Japanese-style hand-sharpening certification and a van outfitted with countertops, outlets and a $4,500 generator to run his sharpening equipment.
Gordon says he serves about 2,000 customers a year, most of whom have orders ranging from $15 to $30. He charges by the knife – $4 for a regular kitchen knife, $5 for a serrated blade.
“They’d be tired of their favorite tomato knife not cutting worth a hoot anymore, or their lawn mower was having trouble cutting the grass, or they’re cutting their finger because they’re trying to slice a potato and their knife is so dull,” Gordon said.
And after Gordon sharpened the knives for a handful of Johnson & Wales University’s culinary students, the university asked him to sharpen all of the school’s knives twice a year, Gordon said.
Teenage entrepreneur: Gordon’s hobby became a gig when he was a teenager in Boothsville, W. Va., sharpening his family’s lawn mower blades with his grandfather. A neighbor saw them and asked if Gordon could sharpen hers as well.
“Then she said, ‘By the way, I have a pair of hedge clippers that are really dull. Think you can do anything with them?’” Gordon recealled.
Word of his skills spread.
“Next thing you know I might be watching television Saturday morning...and my dad would give me a holler and say, ‘Gary, somebody else on the phone wants you to do some sharpening for them.’”
Before he even graduated high school, Gordon had sharpened hundreds of blades for neighbors, family friends and even some of his teachers.
Motor skills: As a computer-aided drafting tech, Gordon has worked on a range of projects, from schools to courthouses, county jails to cooling systems for nuclear reactors.
It’s the same attention to detail that helps him work with knife blades, he says, and his other hobbies: making stained glass and building wooden model ships, plank by plank.
‘Throwaway’ society: A couple of years after he started A Finer Edge, Gordon was hired at Harrell, Saltrick & Hopper. He drives his white van with the “Mobile Sharpening” sign on the side to work.
Though Gordon aspires to either expand his business or franchise it, he also says he’s not sure if he’ll ever have enough clientele to do his sharpening full-time.
In fact, he says, many knife sharpeners left the business in the 1980s and ’90s because, when the economy was flourishing, people would just toss the old blades and buy new ones – a “throwaway” mentality.
The recession has generated a little more demand and many satisfied customers. “Whenever I sharpen something, whether it’s a knife blade of a lawn-mower blade...it’s better than brand new.”
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