On the Cheap: Stoddard's Cutlery

Kitchen knives getting dull? Sharpen up at this blade emporium  
By CASSANDRA LANDRY  |  November 22, 2011

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Stoddard's Cutlery is tucked into a leafy little avenue in Newton suburbia, its storefront boasting a purple awning and a big brass doorknob. While it hasn't always occupied this location, it happens to be America's oldest cutlery store, dating back to 1800. Clearly, they have an inkling about what they're doing. After all the chopping, carving, and mincing of Turkey Day, it's no surprise that your knives are going to need a facelift. Owner David Marks is about to be your saving grace.

"Most people's knives are dull most of the time," he says. "You can buy the most expensive knife in the world, and if you don't maintain it, it will get dull — sometimes as quickly as in a week. It's kind of like someone buying a brand new car and running out of gas: it's just part of the structure of the knife.

"For the home chef who wants to be able to come to the table and dice and chop, it's a simple matter of learning to use a steel [also known as a honing steel]," he continues. "There's no reason that somebody can't learn to sharpen their own knives."

The most important thing to understand when it comes to wielding your own steel is the angle, Marks says. Holding your knife at a 20-degree angle to the steel is the best bet for maintaining a balanced edge. The experts at Stoddard's steer clear of electric sharpeners, and instead work on all knives by hand, using up to 12 different stones to achieve that good-as-new sharpness.

Along with holding instructional classes and workshops on steel or stone use, the store sells both instruments for beyond reasonable prices — stones start at $28, steels at $18. You've already laid down a hefty sum for the knives: no need to do the same just to maintain them.

"There's just something nice about sharpening that way," Marks says after a few seconds of peacefully running the knife over the steel. The knife lets loose a perfect schiiiing — crystal clear in the hum of the busy store. "I can't quite explain it, but it's something about that sound. It's a kind of pause."

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As Marks shows me the various stones used to hone high-end Japanese and German blades, he rummages through a stack of packages on his worktable. One box is postmarked from Iowa City. Stoddard's regularly receives boxes of kitchen drawer knives not just from all around the country, but around the globe.

"It's a very big compliment," he says proudly, puffing up a bit, completely in his element surrounded by dull blades. "We had a $5,000 sushi knife come in the other day. . . . That was very cool."

STODDARD'S CUTLERY, located at 360 Watertown St., Newton, is open Monday-Saturday, 10 am-6 pm. Call 617.244.4187 or visit stoddards.com.

Other knife-sharpening options:

MKS DESIGN | 84 Rice St., Cambridge | 617.876.0103 | MIT-grad-turned-custom-knife-maker with a James Beard award under his belt. Repairs and sharpens any knives with a quick turnaround.

KITCHENWITCH | 671 Centre St., Jamaica Plain | 617.524.6800 | Sharpens knives for only $1.50, with a 24-hour turnaround, plus the place is chock full of browse-worthy kitchen goodies.

Related: Review: Food, Inc., Taste of the town, Review: Scallops and lamb soar at Havana South, More more >
  Topics: On The Cheap , food, Newton
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