SURFSIDE — Jack McClellan first learned to sharpen knives during summers spent in Canada as a youth.

Today, McClellan, 73, a retired truck driver, operates a mobile sharpening business from his Surfside home serving commercial and residential customers from Seaside to the Long Beach Peninsula.

Summer experience leads to sharpening service

In seconds McClellan can make a dull knife capable of slicing paper with the slightest pressure, a skill that he first honed as a teenager.

“When I was 15, I used to spend summers in Canada with friends,” McClellan said. “The guy that I lived with was an absolute fussbudget when it came to sharpening a knife. He taught me how to sharpen with a stone.”

In college, McClellan worked as a meat cutter. While working nights, he practiced sharpening on a tri-stone sharpener. The next day butchers immediately noticed the difference the sharper tools made.

“Pretty soon I was sharpening knives for the customers,” McClellan said.

For years he continued to sharpen for friends and family.

“It’s been a hobby all my life,” he said.

In 2017, he officially launched his mobile Coastal Sharpening Service business.

“Up until I started this, I did everything with hand sharpening,” McClellan said. “But it’s not fast enough to make any money doing it with hand equipment. Customers aren’t going to want to give you their knives and get them back in a couple of days, so I decided to set it up mobile.”

McClellan retrofitted a mini bus to include all the necessary machines to sharpen a variety of blades, from barber shears to chainsaws. Knives, scissors, clipper blades, rotary blades, slicer blades, yard tools, lawn mower blades, chainsaw chains, axes and most flat blades are among the possibilities.

McClellan received specialized training in sharpening scissors and grooming tools in California and Sand Point, Idaho, where the Shop Clipper Blade Sharpening Systems is manufactured.

“I spent three days there just learning how to do clippers,” he said. “The machine does the sharpening but you’ve got to learn how to put everything together and test them.”

McClellan took seminars and became friends with a small circle of other sharpeners.

“I have one friend up in Seattle that only does dog grooming,” he said. “So if I run into a problem with grooming scissors, I call Rick. I have other friends that just do beauty salons.”

The shears for groomers and barbers have different angles of the blade, some concave or curved, requiring a special machine to sharpen each.

“Regular shears have a German cut. The barber and hairdresser shears have a Japanese (concave) cut,” McClellan said.

He currently sharpens for three groomers in California through his mail-in service and three locally.

“I haven’t been able to get into a lot of hair dressers or dog groomers yet,” he said.

Restaurants account for 80 percent of his business, including sharpening for The Depot, Lost Roo, Hungry Harbor, Castaway’s, Long Beach Tavern, The Cove Restaurant, Ole Bob’s, The Salt, El Compadre.

“I do almost all the restaurants in Long Beach and Ilwaco,” he said.

McClellan is hopeful to get more business across the river, particularly restaurants, groomers and hairdressers in Clatsop County.

“In Seaside, Astoria and Warrenton, I haven’t had much luck,” he said. “I’ve only five in Astoria and two in Warrenton and Seaside. It’s been a tough place to break in for some reason.”

A good point

The old adage that a dull blade is more dangerous than a sharp one resonates with McClellan.

“You’ll cut yourself easier with a dull knife than a sharp one, because a dull knife will slip when you’re putting pressure,” he said. “A lot of chefs want a clean cut on their meat and vegetables. People working with dull knives can come down with carpal tunnel. I’ve heard of meat cutters who have it severely. At the end of the day, a sharp knife is just a whole lot nicer to work with.”

McClellan sells and endorses Victorinox knives, but offers simple advice when making any selection:

“If you go to buy a knife and it’s really thick, don’t buy it. A good knife isn’t going to have a thick blade. You can feel the difference in the steel.”

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