Blade runner: the man on a mission in Hitchin
What do your kitchen knives say about you? I have learned something valuable about myself, and it’s nothing to shout about. My kitchen knives were pronounced ‘Entirely average’ by Tim Hitchin Sharpening Keegan, when I rocked up at his workshop with a car load of embarrassingly blunt knives. Leaving your house carrying a knife is illegal by the way, just to be clear. The reason I score ‘average’, is because, according to Tim, ‘Every blasted knife in this country is blunt.’
Tim looks rather marvellous when he is angry. He gets a steely glint in his eye. He is on a one man mission in Hitchin: to make sure that every single kitchen knife in the town is sharp. He recently gave up his job as a retail space analyst to become a knife sharpener. This Damascene conversion happened last summer when he was on holiday in Italy. He saw a man on a bike, cycling from door to door sharpening people’s knives and he observed that the man always looked happy. Tim has subsequently trained to become a bona fide knife sharpener. He has a certificate and everything.
A desire to eliminate waste in the world has fuelled Tim’s make do and mend philosophy. He toyed with the idea of having a stall at Hitchin market, but this was scuppered by the fact that it’s illegal to take your blunt knife to market. So for now, Tim is sharpening at home, but he will also travel to collect knives from SG4 and SG5 free of charge. And the biggest market for sharpening? Scissors for dog grooming and clippers for horses. Who knew? I bet you’re wondering how much it costs to sharpen a knife like this one? Well, I’ll tell you. Tim charges 50p per inch. And he doesn’t just sharpen knives! Oh no. He’ll do garden tools and shears. And scissors! Building a brand is, as we know, all about brand stretch and diversification. I worked in branding and retail design before I became a journalist. Just saying. Tim and I had a good old chinwag about gondola ends and footfall.
Tim is clever. His ‘A’ Levels include maths and physics which now help him to understand the atomic structure of metal. He talks about quenching and tempering and obsidian and volcanic glass. Apparently the Aztecs and Incas used obsidian, which has a very regular crystalline structure, to do appendectomies. Listening to Tim, I was very nearly blinded by science when all I’d been hoping for was to be empowered to cut a clean slice of onion. Tim is evangelical about knife sharpening: ‘If it can be made sharp, I can make it sharp,’ he vows.
And just in case you’re wondering whether your knife needs sharpening or not, Tim taught me a handy trick. All you need is your knife, and a Biro. Other plastic pen brands are available and just as good. You hold the pen on a table vertically, and rest the blade against it. If it slips, call Tim immediately! If it grips the barrel of the pen, stand down. You and your knife are OK, at least for a while.
Tim likes carving and whittling and wood turning. He tells me that he’s studied massage. Oh, hello, here we go. Then he confesses that he can’t play the piano. Tim, you’re already multi-skilled and talented. Enough already! Oh, and he can juggle. Well, that’s just showing off. Tim, we get the message. You like working with your hands. We manage to get back on track with my knives. Tim uses a water cooled stone to sharpen. It’s a very gentle process. I was expecting sparks to fly, but instead, it’s a soothing kind of whirring sound, with a light splish splashing.
After the knife has been sharpened, it’s time for the paper test. It makes a delightful schoook! sound. It’s clean and smooth to the eye, but most of all, to the ear. I don’t think I am exaggerating to say that the sound alone gives me a shiver of pleasure.
And then it’s the plum tomato test. Now, I’m not saying that a tomato is necessarily putting a newly sharpened knife through its toughest test, but that’s not the point. The first cut is the sweetest. Tim tells me that he loves being able to give everyone that feeling of ‘Blimey, that was better than I ever expected’.
Tim has also been helping some foodie people in Hitchin to sharpen up their act. There’s Emma from Cookery Eatery, and chef Martin Burke. Both are now converts, and in the Hitchin Sharpening fan club.
What can I say. I have seen the future and it is in sharp focus. Later that day, in the evening, I cut a carrot. And it is a glorious, beautiful experience. The carrot is blissfully butter soft and melts into batons. I text Tim. Now I understand, I tell him. Yes, he replies. It is genuinely pleasurable to use a sharp knife. We need to convert everyone! So gather up your Globals. Shepherd your Sabatiers. Make a pledge to transform your knives into a bevel of beauties. Contact Tim and come over to the sharp side. It’s just a happier place to be.