Paul Opperman, knife sharpening

How did you learn to sharpen knives?
I learned to sharpen knives as part of making boots. Leather cutting requires razor sharp knives to be able to cut the pieces out, especially when they are things like small flowers or letters in script. As for sharpening at the market, the second year we helped to coordinate it (Paula and I have been on the committee the whole 7 years since it started) I brought my sharpener down to have something to do between moving all the tables and chairs at the beginning and the end of market.

Do you have regular customers that visit frequently?
Yes. After 7 years at the market most people are repeat customers. Although I still get the new person who will bring me one cheap scissors or knife to see how I do. Then the next week they will bring a bunch of really nice ones that they did not want to risk on an unknown sharpener. My most regular customers are a few guys who use their pocket knives at work and I touch them up pretty regularly.

What’s the strangest thing anyone has asked you to sharpen?
Wow, there have been a few. A cane sword where the sword is hidden and looks like a cane. Once a machete that the owner wanted razor sharp. There have been a few ulu knives that are weird to sharpen, but not super unusual. I guess that is it. Maybe having to bring the item to a public venue cuts down on the amount of truly odd or creepy?

What kinds of boots are you working on right now?
Right now I am finishing two pair of modest cowboy boots for a couple in Chicago, plus drawing up two more pairs for other customers. For something different I am making a pair of leather house shoes for my mom. She has balance issues so this pair will have some stability features built in to help balance. Ideally, they will be stable without looking clunky and orthopedic. As for fun things, in June I am going to Sweden to take a class on making traditional equestrian boots from Janne Melkersson (a maker who is well known in boot making circles).

To see the super-cool boots that Paul makes, check out www.paulsboots.com

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