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Knife sharpener likes his ‘stand-up’ job; raising job to artform

Dan Coleman sharpens a knife for a customer Saturday in Park Rapids. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

BY Sarah smith

As an over-the-road trucker, Dan Coleman noticed that in several oases, knife sharpeners had set up a booth.

Truckers always use knives, he said, for cutting pallet cargo.

He watched in fascination as truckers lined up for knife sharpening services.

It didn’t take long before his Eureka moment struck him.

Twenty-two years later, the Park Rapids man is going strong. He’s built his customer base into two seasons with 150-160 customers.

He doesn’t keep exact track, but he does track his repeat customers, all 150 to 160 strong.

Summers restaurants and hospital work keeps him busy. Then he concentrates on fall sports, hunting and fishing.

By fall the filet knifes are dull and those about to go into the field need a tune-up.

He works through Delaney’s Sportis Center in Park Rapids.

“Most people catch me here,” he said. Nice days he sets up outside the Highway 34 store, moving indoors if necessary.

Weekdays he takes one of four routes on the road that sends him from Grand Rapids to Bemidji and all over the north country.

“I have to fire myself for hunting,” he chuckles.

He travels three to four days a week and stamps customers’ calendars so they’ll know when he returns.

The summer tourist season wanes, but winter business picks up.

A survivor of a triple bypass, “I do this to stay vertical,” he maintains. “Sitting in front of a computer drove me nuts.”

Restaurant knives need sharpening every two to three weeks, he said, because they’re in constant use.

Home cutlery can be sharpened every six to seven months, he said, and remain useful. It depends on the quality of the knife.

His grinding wheels use a siliconized grit to file off the rough edges of a blade and then a buffing compound for the fine work.

Once finished, he tests them on cardstock. They should move through it like butter - without any drag.

A perfectionist, he moves back and forth between the wheels and the cardstock until he’s satisfied the knives have executed the perfect cut.

“I’ve raised it to an artform,” he acknowledges.

His fingers are worn from the heavy work, but he only sports a few scars of the trade.

“I try not to” cut myself, he said. “But I do once in a while.” And because the weapons are so sharp, they usually go to the bone before they stop, he said, wincing in memory.

Knives of all sizes, along with an occasional sword, lay across his open pickup tail end.

If it’s not a hunting emergency, for now hunting and fishing are his priority, he said. But he’s happy to work that Thanksgiving carving knife in.

He will come to the knives if there are a lot of them that need TLC. Otherwise he can be found at Delaneys or at 732-4134.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

(218) 732-3364