If you know anything about a blade, there’s a big difference between a sharp one and a dull one.
That’s a problem Mark Bradshaw says he knows how to take care of. Working for Eaton Aerospace since 1996, Bradshaw is the sole sharpening specialist for his company’s tools. With skills like that, it’s no wonder he began a hair shear honing service, Better Edge, LLC, late last year.
It didn’t hurt that there’s a salon on every corner. Or an encouraging girlfriend nudging Bradshaw to take the leap. And so he did, attending the Sharpener’s Jam in Atlanta last July where he observed and sat in on seminars. He met the man he now calls his mentor, the man who certified him on his equipment, Dennis Brooks of Decatur, Illinois.
Bradshaw, who lives on the north edge of Fondren and still works for Eaton, wants his neighborhood to be his hub. Better Edge’s first customer was Bradshaw’s own barber, Shelly, at Acey’s Custom Hair Designs. Owner Elisa Acey followed and pointed him toward other salons who could use his services. “I want to wrap up every one in Fondren,” he says, “because it’s my home.”
Working on site, Bradshaw usually works specific areas on different days. Looking at his calendar, he stays busy four days a week. “In one afternoon, if one salon locks me down and has me sharpen for everybody, I’m not going anywhere else that day,” he says. On average, it takes about twenty minutes per pair.
While there’s no hard and fast timeline between sharpening, Bradshaw says 90 days is a good rule of thumb. “I try to leave it up to my clients as to the time between appointments, but it all depends. How dirty is the hair you cut? How banged up do your shears get? Do you open envelopes with them?”
If that’s the case, Bradshaw doesn’t look down on the stylist. “They come to me, head down, backing up, with not the best pair, after being told their shears aren’t salvageable,” Bradshaw says. “I don’t sell shears so I’ll keep theirs working as long as they can.”
Honesty and integrity goes a long way, Bradshaw asserts. “They get solicitors all day,” he notes. “I’ve been told, ‘Let customer service be your priority,’ and that’s how I’m going to be.” He backs that up with free cleaning, lubrication and evaluation. “I’ll take there shears apart, clean all that old hair out, set the tension and hand them back, no charge. I look at it like this: I’m investing in a future customer.”
On the southern edge of the neighborhood, you’ll find Jim Burwell sharpening too, but his specialty is a different one. A restaurateur by trade, the lifelong Fondrenite is sharpening kitchen knives for foodies and professional chefs alike.
Burwell started Burwell Blades in March 2013. Since that time, the business has grown to include more than twenty restaurant customers like BRAVO!, Sal & Mookie’s, The Manship, Walker’s Drive-In and Local 463, among others.
Cooking professionally since 1978, Burwell says he’s always had a good set of knives. “But I didn’t really know how to sharpen them well until I began researching it,” he explains. Burwell uses five different systems to sharpen knives including a set of five Japanese Water stones.Â “I also have a new belt grinding system, designed for knives, that has seven different belt grits. The result is a mirror finish edge that can shave you.”
Business has grown slowly, but surely. The challenge, Burwell says, is building a large customer base. “When I sharpen knives for a home foodie, I don’t need to do it again for six months or a year if they treat them correctly,” he says. “When I sharpen for restaurants, I need to do it every four to six months as they use them constantly many hours a day.” He also has a relationship with William Sonoma, the gourmet cooking store, sharpening for their clients, and hopes to continue that service with repeat customers.
Sharpening isn’t Burwell Blades’ only service. “I sharpen gardening tools and I can also fix bent and broken tips on knives,” Burwell says. “Most people don’t know where to go to get their knives fixed when this happens.” It’s also something near and dear to the place this business grew out of. “A blacksmith friend, Jim Pigott, taught me to make knives in 2012. If I can build up Burwell Blades enough, I hope to return to making kitchen knives soon.”