OLD SCHOOL, NEW EDGES
KNIFE SHARPENER JULIO TORUNO GIVES NEW LIFE TO WORN BLADES.
Knife sharpener Julio Toruno gives new life to worn blades.
Julio Toruno is intimately involved with knives every day. But he’s not a survivalist, a knife collector or a cutlery dealer. He doesn’t live in a remote compound, and he’s never heard of all the TV survival show actors. He has no interest in Alone, Naked and Afraid or Survivor. Toruno is a quiet man who’s found his peace through the ancient art of knife-sharpening. He’s a peripatetic knife sharpener; “have stone, will sharpen” seems to be his motto. He reguarly sets up shop from the back of his truck at farmers markets and other Southern California enues and sharpens scissors, knives and any edged tools his customers and followers bring.
LIFETIME CONNECTION TO KNIVES
His intellectual lineage comes not from the “big knife” enthusiasts such as “Rambo, but from the culinary world, where a sharp knife is a minute-by-minute necessity. Most of the methods Toruno utilizes com from the long Japanese tradition of knife-making and sharpening.
Toruno worked as a cook in a private school and also as a prep cook in a restaurant. Because of his work in the culinary field, he knew a sharp knife was a necessity in getting the job done.
Additionally, his father had a wood shop in Nicaragua. He made chairs, furniture and anything wood that the customer wanted. Toruno saw that his father had to have sharp knives and tools to convert rough wood into finished products.
For the last four years, Toruno has driven to various locations where people mingle. He sets up shop and practices his trade.
IT’S ALL IN THE DETAILS
When I recently approached him (while he was sharpening a large kitchen knife), I could see he was very focused; I didn’t know at the
me that he was counting his strokes. His concentration was completely on each stroke of the nife on his whetstone. I watched him evenly stroke the knife back and forth and occasionally ut some water onto the stone. His strokes were consistent and even, like a metronome. I aited until he finished—after he wiped the knife clean and set it to the side—before I began o ask questions.
Toruno showed me his Tormek machine, a water-cooled sharpening system he uses mostly or scissors. “That’s the best on the market,” he told me, “and when I began my business, I sed it a lot.” He still uses it for sharpening scissors, but most of the time when sharpening nives these days, he uses flat Japanese water stones. His usual procedure is to take each knife hrough a similar process using five different grits of stone.
Toruno custom-built a mount for his stones. It is a vice that fits into a rectangular stainless teel pan and stays there via friction. With a quick-release spring, he can change out each tone as necessary when he does the sharpening. The pan is filled with water, because the ater he continually adds to the stones drips right into the pan, making this a very neat and ortable system.
I gave Toruno one of my carbon-steel sheath knives so I could watch the process from start to nish. He mounted the coarsest whetstone (it had a grit of 120. The smaller the number, the oarser the grit of the stone) onto his vice. He explained that he would first examine my knife o see how many strokes it needed and to see if there were any particularly bad spots on the dge. He decided to take my little Russell skinning knife through his five stages of sharpening. He placed the knife onto the stone, matching the angle of the cutting edge to the stone. He hen gave it about 70 even strokes.
ULIO TORUNO IS INTIMATELY INVOLVED WITH KNIVES EVERY DAY. BUT HE’S NOT A SURVIVALIST, A KNIFE COLLECTOR OR A CUTLERY DEALER.
“The number of strokes changes as I move from stone to stone and depending on the knife,” Toruno explained. “The further along in the process, the less strokes I use; but on average, it’s about 160 strokes total per side, from the coarse to the fine stone. I apply pressure in the forward and backward motio just like Japanese knife sharpeners do.”
He used to apply pressure in only one direction but found that the Japanese way is more efficient.
When he was done with the 120-grit stone, h moved to stones of finer grit. He proceeded to stroke my knife with a 220-grit stone, then 32 and 1,000. Finally, the finest work was done on an 8,000-grit stone.
He doesn’t concern himself with the degree of angle of the knife, per se; he simply matche
MOST OF THE METHODS TORUNO UTILIZES COME FROM THE LONG JAPANESE TRADITION OF KNIFE-MAKING AND SHARPENING.
the knife to the stone and does his work.
In knife-sharpening literature, one often reads about the “correct” angle for sharpening knives I asked Toruno about how he determines the correct angle when sharpening.
He smiled broadly, and I felt as if I’d asked a stupid question. “I look at the knife, and I sharpen it based on how it was made. I simply lay the cutting edge onto my stone and sharpen it based on however it was manufactured in the first place.”
He pointed out that in some circumstances, he might make some variation to this rule if the knife edge is damaged or if a slightly different angle would improve the knife. “I have to evaluate each knife individually.”
Toruno looked at my knife’s edge carefully and sliced through a piece of glossy paper to show how sharp he’d made it.
He explained that during his 70 or so strokes per stone, he works the blade section by section, and he makes a point to be certain to sharpen the upper part of the knife, because that can sometimes be missed.
“I APPLY PRESSURE IN THE FORWARD AND BACKWARD MOTION, JUST LIKE JAPANESE KNIFE SHARPENERS DO.”
For a beginner just getting started in knife sharpening, he suggests going to any woodworking store and buying a stone with a different grit on each side, such as a 500and 1,000-grit stone.
I asked Toruno about other systems of knife sharpeners, such as Eze-lap diamond knife-sharpening rods, ceramic rods and even electric wheels (see the sidebar on the facing page).
“I don’t know about the other systems that other people use,” Toruno said. “I just know how to get a sharp knife using this method. I’m 'old school,' and perhaps I’m overly complicated by taking each knife through five stages of sharpening. Yes, sometimes, you can get away with three stages, but perhaps I’m a perfectionist so I usually prefer all five stages.”
LET’S TALK KNIVES
Because there is such a vast variety of available knives, Toruno doesn’t have any
Above: Knife sharpener Julio Toruno can often be found working at outdoor markets in the Los Angeles area.
Below: Toruno is busy at work restoring the edge on a customer’s knife.
Left: The Tormek water-cooled sharpening system. Toruno used this m chine a lot when he began his business . and still uses it toda
Below: Julio Torun is shown with a Cold Steel Bushman he ju finished sharpening.
Right: Before he begins his work, Toruno examines a kitchen knife to decide how to bring its edge back.
Far, right: One of the keys to Toruno’s effectiveness is that he concentrates intently on his work.
The sequence of stones Toruno uses for almost every nife he sharpens
A view of some freshly sharpened knives that are being held until their owners return for them
Julio Toruno uses this machine most often for sharpening scissors.
Toruno discusses the benefits and efficiency of his ormek sharpening system.