Peter Nowlan knows kitchen knives and he knows how to sharpen them.
What started as a hobby when Nowlan joined the navy 35 years ago has blossomed into a growing business that will keep him occupied when he retires from his naval career.
"Every sailor has to have a knife on a ship, and 35 years ago I walked onto a ship with a dull knife," he recalled. "I was always interested in steel, I don't know why. There's something intriguing about sharpening knives and about knives in general."
He began experimenting, sharpening his own knives and those of his fellow seamen. In the days before YouTube and self-help books, he relied on experimentation and information passed on to him from his father and grandfather.
"The only way to sharpen a knife is to remove metal on both sides of the knife from side A and B until it meets in the middle. It's called a burr," the naval officer explained.
Nowlan describes knife sharpening as an art form. He relies on high quality Japanese water stones and a top of the line precision guided device to achieve the desired results.
"It's a never ending journey where you continually learn and progress," he said. "There's no end to it, that's what makes it so cool."
The Lower Sackville resident sharpens about 100 knives in an average month. An average knife takes about 20 minutes to sharpen, although he has spent as long as three hours on a single knife.
His customers include about 20 chefs, cookware stores and home cooks looking for that extra edge.
"I have a passion for this, I didn't even advertise. The reason I took it from working on knives for friends and family to doing it professionally is because the products I use are expensive, and most are not available in Canada," he explained. "They are from Japan, and they do wear out with use. I thought if people pay me to sharpen their knives, I can restock my supply of stones and get better stones."
Chef Craig Flinn of Chives Canadian Bistro and managers from both the Bayers Lake Paderno and HRM's Cucina Moderna stores are among those who provide testimonials on his website.
"It's a very rewarding feeling to take a knife that you could give a child to play with and turning into something extremely sharp," he said.
"Even after about 1,000 knives I still get that thrill. There are one million knives in Nova Scotia and I'm going to sharpen every one of them, that's my goal."
To learn more about kitchen knife sharpening, or to read his blog, go to www.halifaxknifesharpening.com.
Information and tips from Peter Nowlan:
•The sharpening steel rod you get with your new block of knives doesn't sharpen your knives, it is designed to realign the edge
•Hardwood cutting boards are the best for cutting food. They help knives stay sharp longer.
•The best way to store knives is encased in a block or on a magnetic strip
•Japanese chefs sharpen their knives daily. The average person might need them sharpened every three months, foodies every two months. Nowlan sharpens his own once a week
•In most cases a new knife, factory sharpened out of the box, won't be as sharp as it could be
•Nowlan sharpens the most expensive kitchen knives and simple $10 knives
•His sharpening costs are $1.25 per inch for a normal blade (an eight inch blade would be $10). Serrated blades require more work, so the fee is a bit higher