Tales from the saw sharpening shop: A modern Maine tinker.


Vern Burke, SwiftWater Edge Tool Works

Long years back, a man with a horse and cart would travel from house to house and town to town. In addition selling and repairing all sorts of metal items, such as pots and pans, the itinerant tinker would also sharpen all the blades found around the house or farm, such as knives, scissors, farm tools, and such. These days, the traveling tinker has become almost extinct.

Since cutting the saw and tool sharpening shop loose from the anchor of a fixed physical office and taking it mobile, I’ve been reinventing the spirit of the tinker. Oh, I still land the mobile sharpening rig in one spot for a day at a time (come visit me at the Arundel Flea Market, Arundel ME every Friday!) but at least one day a week (currently Monday) I travel southern, central, and coastal Maine doing sharpening house calls (try to find anyone except a plumber or electrician doing house calls any more!).

Like the tinker of old, one of the biggest challenges is attempting to efficiently pack a complete (or mostly complete) saw and tool sharpening shop into a very restricted space, as well as make it efficient to set up, use, and repack. Most mobile sharpeners get around this by specializing in only one thing, such as knife sharpening or scissors sharpening.

Since I never know what a customer will hand me (it may be very different from what they asked for when they asked for a visit), I try to carry most of the sharpening shop with me. Almost any blade or edge found at home, on the farm, or at the business may be asked for, and I handle them all. I havn’t figured out how to carry my big blacksmith anvil (196 lbs) :), so there are a few things I can’t do on the road (such as straightening bent saw blades).

The other challenge the old tinker never ran into was power. Not only do I carry most of the saw sharpening shop with me, I carry enough power to run it all day (battery and inverter). Even with all of this involved, after I pull up in the customer’s driveway, it only takes me about 5 minutes to set up and be ready to sharpen almost anything.

Fast set up, fast tear down, completely self contained, and the skill, tools, and materials to accommodate almost any customer sharpening request on the spot. I think the old tinker would approve.

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