Setting up his make-shift stall under a parasol umbrella and wearing his trademark straw hat, Lam Kok Sing, 62, is ready for business for the morning. Offering sharpening services for all kinds of tools from the kitchen to garden, from knives to scissors, machete, hoe and garden shears, Lam, who learned the art while working in Singapore more than four decades ago only decided to establish this business about four years ago.
He said, “I worked in a fresh meat company in Singapore since 1972 for more than ten years. My job included cutting meat and we had to learn to sharpen our knives. I would say it was just part and parcel of work.”
Lam who returned home to Ipoh to start a family did not immediately offer sharpening services. Working as a refrigerator repairman covering the whole of Perak, the hardworking Lam subsequently started a second business for additional income.
According to Lam, there are only three people in Ipoh offering manual sharpening services but he is the only one who would move his stall to a different location on a weekly basis so as to serve a larger community, particularly in new villages and suburbs.
However, Lam is not a traditional knife sharpener. Combining modern technology with the conventional method shaves at least thirty minutes off the time required to sharpen a tool such as a knife.
The first step is by using an electricity-powered grinding wheel, which means Lam also has to transport a generator in his car. It may look easy but one needs to devote full concentration on the task at hand as any slip up may cause the loss of skin or worse.
Once that is done, the tool that is being sharpened will have to go through the water stone, called such because it should be used only after having submerged in water for at least 15 minutes. As the stones come in different grit sizes, only an experienced sharpener like Lam would know which stone, medium or fine grit, to use. The motorised grinding wheel has already replaced the coarser whetstone.
Said Lam, “It’s important to stroke the blade over the stone to remove metal contaminants that had been passed from the grinding wheel. Depending on the thickness of the blade, one must also know what degree angle to put the blade against the stone and how much pressure to exert on it, firmly but gently. Continue to moisten the whetstone with water as you move your blade up and down it.
“When one side of the blade is done, flip to the other side and sharpen it in the same way and at the precise angle. Once done, the final step would be to slide the blade against a honing steel to realign a curled edge, if any.”
A job well done, with plenty of patience and heart, doesn’t only grant blunt tools with a new lease of life with a sharper edge but extend their lifespan significantly. An average household knife that has been sharpened well can last for at least another year but professional chefs usually sharpen theirs on a weekly basis.
Lam, whose four children are pursuing their own careers and have no interest in the trade, hopes to recruit an apprentice to pass on his knowledge. However, he is faced with difficulty looking for the right candidate.
Note: An edited version of this article [Cutting Edge Bladesmith] was published on 15th August, 2015, in the now-defunct The Malay Mail.
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