If you’ve ever driven through the parking lot near the McDonald’s at U.S. 41 and State Road 54 in Land O’ Lakes, you’ve probably seen a sign leading to Fred Wilsky’s shop.
“Sharpening Service” the sign proclaims, pointing east onto Carson Drive.
If you head east on Carson Drive, you’ll see a series of signs — each getting you closer to the shop where Wilsky has been plying his trade for the better part of four decades.
You’ll go a mile or more before turning left onto a winding road. You’ll discover that Wilsky’s shop is well off the beaten path.
Inside the shop, it’s like taking a step back in time.
Wilsky is in the business of sharpening stuff.
He gives lawn motor blades a fresh edge.
He makes steak knives sharp again.
He’ll give a second wind to a saw blade, a new lease on life to a chainsaw and will make garden tools work as good as new.
“I sharpen almost everything — except a dull wit,” said Wilsky, who set up his shop in the late 1970s, after retiring from selling insurance.
While selling insurance, he said, he had several customers who were in the sharpening business. He thought to himself: “That’s something I would like to do.”
So, he went to a school in Minneapolis to learn how, then bought some used equipment and set up shop.
Now 90, he only does occasional jobs. But, he still has high standards.
“I try to never turn out a job that isn’t as good or better than the original,” he said.
“There are some things that I don’t sharpen because I don’t have the equipment to do it well enough that I am willing to do it for someone else,” he said.
For instance, he said, “I will sharpen my own router blades, but I’m not going to sharpen them for someone else because the finished job is not like it should be,” he said.
Most of his business comes from word-of-mouth, or referrals from local hardware or lawn mower shops, or from passersby who see his signs, he said.
He charges per the piece, and he generally needs to see the piece to determine if he can do it and how much it would cost.
Lawn mower blades, for instance, are normally around $3.50 each. But, sometimes they are too bent to repair, he said.
Many jobs can be handled on the spot, he added.
“To do a carbide saw would take 15 to 25 minutes, depending upon the size and the configuration of the carbide,” he said.
Generally, he said, it’s more economical to sharpen a tool, than to replace it.
“Almost always my price would be less than half than buying a new one. I can feel good about that,” he said.
He also gets satisfaction from helping people extend the life of a favorite tool.
Often, they are unaware, Wilsky said, “that it can be sharpened and be better than it was new.”
He likes to keep his shop open, he said, because “I’m helping myself a little bit. I’m also helping people take care of their tools.”
He recalled an instance when the owner of a lawn business — who had been sharpening his own blades — brought one into Wilsky’s shop.
Later, the man returned and asked Wilsky how he got such good results.
Wilsky responded: “No. 1, I’ve got the right piece of equipment. No. 2, I know what I’m doing with it. No. 3, cutting grass is your job, sharpening blades is mine.”
Over the years, Wilsky said he’s heard some common questions.
For instance, people ask: “Is this worth sharpening?”
Wilsky’s standard response: “Are you going to use it? If you’re going to use it, it’s worth sharpening, and it certainly will be a lot easier to use, after I sharpen it.”
People also want to know how often to sharpen steak knives.
“The answer is, ‘When they get dull,’” Wilsky said.
By the same token, a good set of steak knives can last a long time, he said.
“It’s not at all unusual to see a set of steak knives 50, 60 years or older,” Wilsky said. “I’ve got a knife in there that I believe is at least 80 years old.”
And, when it comes to steak knives, it’s the quality of the steel — not the name brand — that matters, Wilsky said. If the steel is soft, it won’t hold an edge, he explained.
There comes a point when a piece of equipment won’t benefit from sharpening, he said.
“The limit is how much steel there is,” Wilsky said.
If someone needs his services, Wilsky said, it’s best to call ahead.
“If I’m not here, there’s nobody to help them,” said Wilsky, whose shop is behind the home he shares with his wife, Hilda.
He also noted that he doesn’t work on Sundays.
If you would like to reach Wilsky, his number is (813) 949-4851.
Published August 2, 2017