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From Garage to Mastery: Albert Edmonds’ Journey in Knife Sharpening

Written by:

Carolyn Young is a business writer who focuses on entrepreneurial concepts and the business formation. She has over 25 years of experience in business roles, and has authored several entrepreneurship textbooks.

From Garage to Mastery: Albert Edmonds’ Journey in Knife Sharpening

Welcome to our enlightening interview with Albert Edmonds, the mastermind behind Seattle Edge and the Etsy shop RoadsideKnives. Starting in 2009, Albert has built a reputable business known for its high-quality sharpening services, fine cutlery, and unique blades. His passion for cutlery and sharpening began in childhood and has blossomed into a highly acclaimed professional venture.

Today, we’ll explore Albert’s journey from his early days of experimentation to establishing Seattle Edge as a top-rated knife sharpening service in the country, and his successful expansion into the online market with RoadsideKnives.

Join us as we delve into the world of a craftsman who has skillfully combined traditional techniques with modern innovation, providing valuable insights for entrepreneurs and enthusiasts alike.

Origins and Niche Identification

SBS – What was your inspiration when you started a knife sharpening and fine cutlery business, and how did you identify the niche market? Did you have experience before?

Albert – I’ve been in the industry for quite some time, ever since I was a kid. For some reason, I’ve just been drawn to cutlery. My dad was a woodworker and a hunter, so he was the first person to show me how to sharpen a knife, and it just blew my mind as a little kid.

After high school, I went to work for a local knife store. I was 19 then, so I got into it pretty early. Eventually, I was trained by their sharpener, and then I became the head sharpener for that store.

I ended up leaving, and then I went to school. I left the state. I did a variety of different things. Then, I came back to Seattle, rejoined the knife store, sharpened for them again for a little over a year, and then left the industry and pursued other options. However, I’d always kept up my practice on the side, so I’d always bounce back just because the interest had always been there.

I worked in hotels for almost ten years (I got a bachelor’s in hospitality management, which is essentially a business degree with the last ten classes in hotels). In 2009, I started Seattle Edge as a part-time thing just because I missed sharpening and enjoyed doing it. I was on the path to hotel management. It was clear to management. I made it clear to them that that was something I was interested in doing.

I just hit this fork in the road and saw a glimmer of possibility with Seattle Ledge. I saw I could go for that, or I could pursue this safer yet, of course, incredibly chaotic road — because hotels are just like organized insanity at all times. I looked at all of the general managers I know and realized that these guys always come in on their days off. There’s always something totally bananas happening in the hotel. You have to have that workaholic thing. And I figured — you know what: If I’m going to be working all the time anyway, I might as well do it for myself.

I gave the hotel a month’s notice, thanked them for their time, and left on good terms. That way, if everything fell through with Seattle Edge launching as a full-time business, I could just ricochet back. It started in 2009, and I was just literally sharpening for a couple of local restaurants a couple of times a month, so it wasn’t a really big thing. It was just to keep the practice up, and I enjoyed it.

In 2011, I decided to launch Seattle Edge and go full-time. I just had a very Spartan workshop. It was a garage, essentially, that you rented. People would come up, bring their knives, and I would sharpen them there. It was funny. A lot of people haven’t spent time in a more industrial atmosphere, so it was interesting for the average person to be able to come into a work area where there’s steel dust in the air.

It all bounces back to when I worked in that knife store. To sharpen, you have to be uninterrupted. You can’t constantly be getting pulled away. You have to be able to maintain that productivity. I would come in two hours before closing, then just work after closing into the evening and sharpen. I would shut the doors and pump up the music, and it would be so cool to be in the shop alone. I thought, “Oh, man, I’d love to have my shop one day.” So, that was the catalyst to go full-time because I remembered how I wanted that.

Financial Challenges and Triumphs

SBS – Was it financially successful at the beginning, or were you struggling a bit?

Albert – It was tough. Even though I had a lot of experience in the industry, this was just a workshop. It was not fancy at all. You come in, and there are belt sanders, buffing wheels, and waterstones. It was 270-something square feet; it was pretty small.

There were two other established knife stores within a five-mile radius of my workshop, and they were much nicer. They also had a lot more street cred. So, to every person who came in, I had to prove that they had to come to me. It was tough because everyone else was automatically going to these other businesses. I certainly can’t blame them for that.

That first month was incredible. I couldn’t believe it. People were coming in every day, and then I’d sharpened everyone’s knives in my area that already wasn’t going to these other stores. 

However, it was still tough, and I went back into hotels and did two days a week after pulling full shifts at the shop to supplement that extra income because I had to pay rent there and at home and do all those other life things. It was definitely a sacrifice to get things up and running, but I was determined to do it, and things ended up paying off in the long run. But yeah, that first year was a test.

Expertise and Industry Insights

SBS – Since you have over 20 years of experience in sharpening and everything that revolves around knives, what do you believe is important for someone who wants to be in your industry?

Albert – That’s a big question. Now that I’ve had a chance to think about it, branding, as we all know, is very important. That was something that I had to cultivate to convince all those people to come to me when there were already established shops.

One of the interesting parts about me and Seattle Edge’s brand is always doing things the way that they should be done because this is something that I genuinely feel, and I have a natural passion for sharpening. It’s not just in sharpening; it’s in any craft. Many get it done, get it out the door, get paid, and do the next one. There’s a lot to be said because that’s how you make money at the end of the day. But Seattle Edge has always been associated with doing things as they should be. That is why people come to us, and to this day, that is one of the things that has made us in the industry.

Going the extra mile is worth it because people trust you — and if they trust you, they will bring their products to you. So, you’ve got to earn their trust before you even get them in the door, which is not easy. It’s tough because there are a lot of people who have worked with other services that have just done stuff fast and given it back to them, and then they’ve had their trust violated, so they’re naturally very hesitant to give their property to you.

That was the hardest part about that first year because people would say, “Why should I bring my stuff to you when this other guy’s around?” Cultivating your brand is very important to establish your foundation and get people to come to you. If someone wants to get into knife sharpening, their thing doesn’t have to be like a mirror of what I do.

There are a lot of good sharpeners out there, which is nice. The pandemic changed things a lot. There was a sharpener in my area who was legendary. I had so much respect for him. He was planning on moving anyway, then COVID hit, and then he just closed the shop. There was this massive void in our industry, and there were only a few sharpeners in Seattle. Now, it’s become more balanced because there are a lot of other sharpeners that have opened up, and each one is just a little bit different, and each one has its own brand.

The core of Seattle Edge has always been giving things the royal treatment, but the flip side is it’s tough because to do something and do it really well, sometimes it takes time. Then, as the customer base has expanded, you must still maintain that quality, and then you just get this massive time imbalance. So, I got this huge amount of work to do. I got these, and I got to do this way. It’s going to take this long. Holy smokes! I’ve got a solid wall full of work over there that must also be done. So, I’m kind of zipping off to the side here. But that, in a way, is how the Seattle Edge brand has developed its own subtle complications. The business owner has to be careful about what their brand is because it can end up causing a real shockwave.

It’s a good thing. I don’t mind working all the time, and I consider myself very lucky to have customers because I remember what it was like in the early days when I had nobody. 

Customized Services

SBS – How do you tailor your sharpening services to meet the unique needs of each blade and each customer?

Albert – That’s a good question. A lot of that comes with just experience in the industry. In all these years, I’ve seen a huge amount of different knives. You learn about each blade design or the different types of makers, and you know what methods to use.

At Seattle Edge, we don’t just do one method across everything, and that’s what many people in my industry do. They’ll say, “This is our sharpening method, and we use it for every single knife.” No, not every knife needs the same method. You have to use the right method for the right piece to get the best results and not cause any damage. People who recognize that will come to you. A lot of that comes down to experience. That way, I can see the knife and then get a game plan for that knife.

Generally, this is one of the nice parts about having a physical location. When people come in and drop their knives off, either myself or one of my two wonderful will look at their order in front of them and point out any problems — and because we have trained eyes, we can see these problems. Sometimes, there’ll be stuff that looks like pretty catastrophic damage to the trained eye, but because the knife owner is not as experienced, or it may not be their knives, they won’t see it. We’ve got to identify all the problems and then develop a game plan for that sharpening.

Now, we’ve come to the point where we know how each manufacturer needs to be sharpened. We can generally finish up about 20 to 35 knives every day. So that way, we can have a full stack of boxes, and I can look in each box and know which method we have to use for each knife. 

SBS – Does it mean 25 to 30 per person if three of you are working or in total?

Albert – Well, total blades finished per day. 

SBS – That’s huge!

Albert – It’s not huge enough because our turnaround is pretty long. This is the thing: In the early days, before I had as much education and experience, I could do 50 in a day, but then I started getting complaints from some of my professional cooks, who’d say, “It was sharp earlier, but now it’s not working like this anymore,” and then I had to go back to sharpening school about how to address a specific blade style or blade steel. That willingness to go back and scratch the head was what blossomed into the reality of Seattle Edge. 

Unique Product Sourcing

SBS – What strategies do you use to source and offer products not commonly found in most other stores in Seattle?

Albert – Well, that has been a big part of Seattle Edge in recent years. Like I said, in the beginning, it was just sharpening. At first, I was a mobile business, and it was a 100-foot extension cord of a 30-pound little belt sander and a collapsible mobile workbench that I would throw in the back of the car. That’s how it started (and it was a lot easier than having a physical location). 

It went from that to having the basic workshop I told you about, that 270-square-foot one. Then, on the front of the building where my shop was, they had a larger shop, about 415 square feet. We went ahead and split that shop down the middle and put up a partition wall. On one side, we had a reception area; on the other, we had a work area, so we each set up a big rectangle. It wasn’t very big because the whole thing was around 400 sqft. I was in the shop 2.0 for eight years, and we started selling some products, but it was still mostly sharpening.

With everything, I always try to get something that’s a little more unique, something high quality, or something special for some reason. Now that we have a storefront where people can walk by and come in, I try to get things that you don’t see very much or have very specific qualities. So, even if it’s made by a major manufacturer that offers a variety of cutlery, we may only carry one or two lines from their offerings because those fill a very specific niche. In Seattle Edge, we’ve never just been about carrying every line. Now, I may carry ten different lines with ten different products instead of one with ten products from that series. A lot of the stuff that we’ll get is from Japan.

Another thing that has been very big for Seattle Edge is getting vintage kitchen knives and other types of knives and restoring them for resale. That has actually — side note — been a very good learning process that taught me a lot. If you try to fix something that’s messed up and get it to functional service again, that’s a little bit of school in itself. Working on stuff like that is humbling because sometimes you hit a wall, and you must admit to yourself, “Well, that’s as good as I can get it.”

Tradition vs. Innovation

SBS – How do you balance traditional craftsmanship with innovative technology in your services and products?

Albert – That’s an interesting one because my industry is pretty old-school. Not only a lot of the new sharpeners we’re seeing now are younger people, like 40 and under, 35 and under, but if you go to sharpening conventions, I’m the youngest person there, usually by ten plus years. There have been times I’ve gone to sharpening conventions, and some guys ask me, “So, when are you starting your sharpening business?” I said, “Well, I’ve actually been doing it for twelve years.”

The thing about using new technology in knife sharpening, of course, is just what most people associate knife sharpening with — just using a bench stone, getting the knife, and moving over the abrasive stone to sharpen the blade. We use bench stones, but we’ll also use tools for knife making, like variable-speed water-cooled belt sanders. That way, you can remove steel at a much faster rate and sharpen more knives per day.

As I said, we have bench stones, but then again, we also have horizontal rotating waterstones, so that way, I don’t have to spend 45 minutes just dragging a knife over the stone. I’ve got a really big, spinning stone, and it’s a waterstone, and I can set my angle.

We do everything freehand. That’s another thing that sets us apart. If you go to many sharpeners or farmers markets, you’ll see guys putting knives in jigs. I’m not talking bad about them because there’s a lot to be said for those jig systems because they get things very sharp. But at Seattle Edge, we do all our work freehand to try to bring out the best in a knife and use the right techniques, angles, and stuff. Being able not to use jigs gives us a little bit more flexibility to use different methods, to be able to bring out the best in a knife, and also do it a little bit faster.

You have to be very careful when using motorized equipment, though, because it’s very powerful and can damage things quickly. That’s one of the reasons people are so hesitant to take their knives to new people, because they don’t know what these people will be doing to those knives. 

Collaborations and Custom Designs

SBS – How does collaborating with local artisans for custom designs work, and how did you achieve those collaborations? 

Albert – This kind of zips back to our very first conversation about the shop’s early days because there were other knife stores around where people were bringing their kitchen knives, and they’d already established a relationship with those sharpeners.

I’ve been in the industry for a while, and in the very early days, I had to hunt to find new customers. I joined different forums and stuff like that for many different knife makers, hunters, and people who like to go out and hike. So, the early days of Seattle Edge focused on more utility-style, outdoor, and custom knives.

I had to delve into that target market because the local stores already took up much of the culinary. Much of my initial customer base was mail order. I went to knife shows and stuff with knife-maker friends of mine. I ended up getting to know a lot of knife makers in my industry, which helped me understand the local makers, and it led to some absolutely incredible experiences that I’m still thankful for to this day. That gave me a bit of an in with the local knife-making community.

It has grown significantly over the years, that’s for sure, which I’m happy to see, but I’ve always liked to help support local artisans, and being able to help promote local makers has always been very enjoyable. Again, many of those people have come to trust me with their products, and I’m more than happy to go ahead. It works for both of us, too. That’s the thing. You have to make it work for both parties. It can’t just all be one-sided. You can’t be the only one yielding a benefit. So when they work with me, I help promote their products. There have been times when we’ve also done collaborations, and it’s definitely enjoyable.

Now, I’m not as active in that community because I have such a large base of the local people and so much of the culinary that I don’t pursue custom knives as much as I once did. But I’m still always happy to work with new makers and support the community because the creativity and craftsmanship many of these people are starting to put out is phenomenal.

We got hacked, and I’m basically rebuilding our Instagram profile, so our customer net is not as big as it once was on social media, but I definitely promote products there. Many people and our customers who have been working with us for a while just know that we have unique things, so they’ll stop by or send me an email or a DM asking, “What unique things do you have?”

Social Media Presence

SBS – So, you believe it is important to have a presence on Instagram, Facebook, and other social networks to show those products. You didn’t have to advertise your business more?

Albert – If you look for knife sharpening in Seattle, we’re the first or second one that just pops up in search, so we don’t have to advertise for that, but I am about to launch more of a retail-based campaign. We may do some advertising in that way, perhaps on social media. We’re still developing a game plan because this year has been incredibly busy. That’s like a January-February launch.

Forums in the early days were big because they could be active communities. I wasn’t going to the really big forums but the smaller ones, and there were no other knife shoppers there, so I became “the guy.” That ended up playing to my advantage. I was very active on Facebook. I’m not active on Facebook that much anymore, so Instagram is really where we do all of our promotion.

Customer Relations

SBS – How do you maintain those relationships with your customers, both new and loyal ones? 

Albert – I find a lot of that comes back into my hotel days. If you welcome someone to the shop and even be friendly and honest with them, people will feel comfortable and want to come back. I have some customers that I’ve been working with for a very long time. They’ve been very generous and loyal, and when they come in, I may have knives for the rafters and a huge amount of stuff to do, but I’ll come out of the back and talk to them for ten minutes. I say “Hi” and see how things are going.

I find that the willingness to talk makes people feel much more comfortable because then there’s a fate, and they can see that you’re a real person and that you care enough to talk to them. I find that basic human communication at that point is one of the most important things.

Evolution and Future of Seattle Edge

SBS – How much has Seattle Edge evolved since its inception, and how do you see your business in maybe five years from now?

Albert – It’s interesting because it started out as a hobby and has progressed into having a storefront, and it’s been a very slow process. It did not happen quickly, and when I started Seattle Edge, I didn’t have much of an investment. I wasn’t rolling in dough. Things were tight on my end. So, I had very little resources to work with in the early days. Each step is compounded upon the previous to help make the next one possible. It’s been a very slow process, but it’s been definitely a learning experience. 

My goal and interest have always been to have a shop, even when I worked at the other knife store. Closing the doors, pumping up the music, and getting to work is always rewarding. In the back of my mind, I’ve always just wanted to have my own shop. That had been an end objective, and many of the steps I’ve taken have been to try and make that happen.

In a way, though, not having a physical location or having more of a work-based location makes things a lot easier because your overhead is significantly less, which increases your profit margin. If you don’t have a whole bunch of employees, that also gets things a bit simpler.

It’s been a long progression to get to where we are right now, and it’s great. It’s a lot of work, I won’t lie. A lot of stress is involved, and it’s more complex now after COVID. So much has changed — the way people purchase, the way people communicate, operations, cost, and inflation. Crime has gone up in our area, unfortunately. Everything’s much more complex than before, but it’s incredibly rewarding when you have those small breakthroughs.

As a cliff note, you asked about future plans, and I already covered it — it’s expanding our online retail presence. So, in a nutshell, that’s pretty much it. It’s been nice to talk about this because it takes me out of the day-to-day stuff we do and allows me to look back on Seattle Edge objectively — so thank you for that!


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From Garage to Mastery: Albert Edmonds’ Journey in Knife Sharpening