by Bill Batson
Utilizing a panel truck that doubles as his workshop, Scott Jennings brings knife sharpening services to several neighborhoods, including Nyack at the Thursday Farmers’ Market. A life-long metal worker, Jennings has welded boats and ultralight wheelchairs, and installed ladders that scale 180 foot grain silos. But he’s happiest when grinding the perfect bevel on a dull blade.
How did you become a knife sharpener?
I have been sharpening my own knives since I was a kid. I have always found it therapeutic. Soothing. Throughout my many years of working as a welder, I continued sharpening. So, five years ago, I decided to do it professionally.
How do you sharpen a knife?
You have to develop a feel for the angle of the bevel of each knife. Japanese knives have a thinner bevel, about 16 – 20 degrees. The standard bevel is between 28 -30 degrees. I freehand the bevel, but once I get the angle that I want, I use a tool called a knife guide to standardize the edge and I use my grinding wheels, made from ceramics and leather, to polish the blade.
I always liked swords and knives and stories of Medieval times.
Do you have a favorite sword?
Do you have a favorite knife?
Do you remember your first knife?
My father gave me a curved dagger that looks like the sword that Azeem, the Moorish character in Robin Hood carried.
What is the best thing about working at a farmer’s market?
I enjoy the people, being outdoors and being my own boss. I like that people seem interested in what I am doing. They ask a lot of questions.
What is the biggest challenge?
Getting people to know that there is a knife sharpener at the market. And then, getting them to remember to bring their knives.
Tell me about the vehicle?
I’ve had the truck for a year and half. I use it for house calls. It’s also my workshop
How many house calls do you make?
I make about two house calls a month. I visit salons and tailor shops.
Have you always worked with your hands?
My father was a Commander in the Coast Guard and a carpenter, when that trade involved building houses from the ground up.
I was always trying to impress him, which was hard. I started off with wood and built my own lathe. But I took metal shop and found that I could do more working with metal than wood. Metal can be stretched and pounded and is more flexible than wood.
I welded for over thirty years. I started designing and building aluminum boats. By 17, I was installing ladders on grain silos. I would have to go to the top of 180 foot silos, pulling the cable for my arc welder.
Eventually, I started working in factories that built wheelchairs. I have worked for two companies that make ultra-light wheelchairs, Invacare and Action Technology. Some of our chairs were used in the Special Olympics. That chair was called the Quickie.
How many neighborhoods do you service?
In addition to Nyack, I attend the Farmer’s Market in Van Vorst Park in Jersey City and in Bayonne. Recently I have been invited into several Whole Foods stores, first in Brooklyn and then in Edgewater and Paramus, New Jersey.
Are people surprised to see a knife sharpener?
I think the sight of my work bench makes some people nostalgic. I hear their stories about a time when the knife sharpener traveled door to door leading a horse-drawn cart. They talk about the days when everything was brought to your door, your milk, your laundry. Now its just me, and the two old guys in a van in Brooklyn I’ve been hearing about. But maybe that way of life is coming back?
What do people need to know to take better care of their knives?
I tell people never to put them in a dishwasher. I recommend a good cutting board, I prefer maple. And always steel your knives after major usages. The steel is that round metal file looking tool. After you wash your knife, you should run it down the length of the steel a couple of times, in even sets, one on one side and then one on the other. Then wash the knives by hand and dry them right away.
What is the strangest thing you’ve ever been asked to sharpen?
A 94-year-old women at the Booton, New Jersey market brought me a scythe, like the one you see with the grim reaper. I tested it before I gave to her. You would be amazed how effectively a hand-held scythe cuts grass.
Other than knives, what can you sharpen?
Hair sheers and scissors, and for this time of year, I can get garden tools ready for yard work.
It seems dangerous. How often do you cut yourself?
How about the risk to owners of freshly sharpened knives?
I had someone come to compliment me on a job well done and I noticed that they had bandages on their finger tips.
What are your business plans?
I want to make enough money so that I can work just five days a week and have weekends off. I wish my wife didn’t have to work so hard and could just handle the books for the company.
Are the knives in your kitchen sharp?
Scott Jennings is at the Nyack Farmers’ Market every Thursday from 8a-2p. Bring him your dull, broken metal blades yearning to be keen. Or you can contact him at (551) 206-5705 or visit x-caliburknifeandscissorssharpening.com
Visit Nyack Farmers’ Market for more info.