“Dress as if you’re going to a construction site. Everything here can hurt you,” said the voice on the other end of the phone line.
I showed up at Geoff Edges’ knife-sharpening shop wearing boots and jeans. He greeted me sporting Crocs and an apron over a hot pink T-shirt and shorts. Not quite construction site attire, but, hey, it’s Georgia in July. Or, maybe, it’s just Geoff.
Later, I learned that the fuchsia shirt with matching logo is part of his calling card. He buys them by the dozen and wears one every day as he drives around town to service knives, food processor blades, slicers and other sharp implements for metro Atlanta restaurants. “Best & cheapest advertising money can buy,” he texted me later about his uniform. The neon pink shirt might be a gimmick, but Geoff Edges is an original.
I learned about Edges the way I learn about a lot of things in the food world: word of mouth. Some weeks ago, I was with Atlanta-raised and now retired chef Tenney Flynn, one of the most persnickety chefs I’ve ever met, and we got to talking about who to trust with our knives. After all, knives are one of the most important cooking tools.
Flynn’s answer: Geoff Edges, aka the Blade-Smith.
Establishing a name in the blade trade
Edges is not his real surname. He said it for me one time, wouldn’t repeat it, and told me it was too long and, at this point, does not matter, because everyone knows him as Geoff Edges.
It was 1984 when Edges fashioned himself as the Blade-Smith. He’d already worked in the landscaping business and real estate, then found himself feeling unfulfilled in a sales position. “I have a three- to five-year tolerance working for somebody,” he said. “The first six months is fun, but, once you’re past that, the learning curve is pretty much the same in the corporate environment. I didn’t fit the mold at all.”
He decided to trade corporate life for one that would allow him to start work at 4 a.m. and Zen out to the sounds of whirring wheels and grinding steel. There were a few caveats: He had no equipment, no experience, no industry contacts and never had visited the back of a restaurant. With nothing but a business card, he peddled himself as a knife sharpener, and learned on the fly. “I just had an idea,” he said.
After nearly four decades in business — the first 25 working out of his home — Edges has carved a niche in the field of sharpening, repairing and renting knives, especially for Atlanta’s independent restaurants. With some 5,000 knives in his inventory, and about 300 commercial clients in the metro area, he tootles around town, dropping off sharpened knives in exchange for dull ones that he’ll bring back to his shop in an industrial complex just north of Spaghetti Junction to clean, grind, buff, polish — and put back in working order by the following week.
The Blade-Smith also handles those finicky customers from around the country who, like Flynn, ship their knives to Edges, because they don’t trust them with anyone else. Walk-ins are welcome, too, although only on Mondays, because that’s the only day that he and his three-person staff can handle knocks at the front door. That clientele has doubled in the past year, Edges said, as more people cooked at home because of the pandemic.
Honing a craft
You know you’re holding a loaner knife from the Blade-Smith if the heel of the blade is cut off at an angle. Why? That corner is the sharpest part of the knife and “everybody cuts themselves on it.”
Edges’ signature cut might prevent cooks from needless injury, but he’s suffered his own share of bloody nicks and slits. One of those proved revelatory, leading to another of Edges’ signatures.
About 10 years ago, he was making a service call to Alon’s Bakery & Market when a knife severed a tendon in his left hand. Surgery put that hand out of commission, so Edges experimented with working one-handed, only to discover that pointing the blade up instead of down produced better results, because he could see the blade clearly. He continues to sharpen that way to this day — albeit, with two functional hands. And, he does it without wearing gloves.
You’d think that slicing off the tips of two fingers while servicing a meat grinder at one of chef Anne Quatrano’s restaurants finally would have prompted Edges to cover up his digits, but he refuses. He needs bare hands to “feel” the knife. Touch, sight, sound, smell — “sharpening involves all the senses,” he said.
Edges has been in the business long enough to become a knife sensei of sorts.
When you need a bladesmith
When should a knife be professionally sharpened? “What you will hear: at least one time a year,” he replied. But, frequent use will dull a blade more quickly. Edges’ rule of thumb: “When the knife stops doing what you want it to do, get it sharpened.”
How sharp should a knife be? There’s a difference between a demonstrably sharp knife and a functionally sharp one, he told me. He can make the blade extremely sharp, but it won’t last long, because the edge is too delicate.
Also, sharpening antique knives with other blades, such as pocketknives or axes, is a no-no. It will strip them of value.
Edges is unimpressed by expensive price tags. “People are spending a fortune on knives,” he said. The knife he reaches for the most at home is a mid-range 10-inch slicer that’s now 40 years old. He keeps it in working order by sharpening it daily with a honing rod. His wife’s favorite is a paring knife he bought for $10 at a tackle shop in 1972.
“Buy something in your price range. At a certain point in that range, all quality is the same,” he said. From there, it’s a matter of comfort.
I pulled out the 8-inch chef’s knife from the stash of steel I’d brought for sharpening. It was the first quality knife I’d ever purchased. Some 25 years later, it remains one of my favorites, because it suits this lefty so well.
“If your knife doesn’t fit your hand like a glove, don’t buy it,” he advised.
Edges had plenty to say about other knives in my collection, especially the two family heirlooms — a rusty cleaver and a carving knife with a deer antler handle. Just by looking them over, he could tell their life story.
“I’ve been doing this 35 years,” he said, “and I’m still learning.”
He pointed to a hulking 1917 buffer that had arrived just a week earlier. He hopes to refurbish the vintage machine.
But, he said, like everything else in his knife career, it’s going to happen with “a lot of trial and error.”
KNIFE HOME CARE
Only use a knife on a wooden or plastic cutting board. Never cut on a plate.
Do not wash a knife in the dishwasher.
Wash a knife thoroughly after use and wipe dry. A knife will get rusty sitting in water.
To sharpen a knife at home, hold the blade against a honing rod at a 20-degree angle. Swipe the blade along the hone from point to heel five times on each side.
The Blade-Smith. 3731 Northcrest Road, Suite 1, Doraville. 770-458-3102. Walk-in knife-sharpening hours: 7 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays. Cost per knife: $5 and up.
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