Small Business Spotlight: Chris’ Ideal Sharpening hones cutting-edge craft
Galvanized by work shortages during the Great Depression, Chris Wohlers took a gander on a sharpening business up by Breezy Point. Thirteen years and a location change later, Wohlers is thriving, even during the upheaval of 2020.
Sometimes, when the days seem especially long and life seems like a series of closed doors, all one needs is a change of scenery.
That was the case for Chris Wohlers. In 2008, when the Great Recession was in full swing, he pulled up stakes, left his career as a contractor after 20 years when the pickings got thin, and took a chance on a little sharpening operation up by Breezy Point. The business, founded in 1990, passed into the hands of a Pequot Lakes man who died in a plane crash in 2008, leaving his business — and an opportunity for Wohlers — up for the highest bidder.
Today, the business is Chris’ Ideal Sharpening, an outlet for something of a dying artform, said Wohlers, who serves customers in a 200-mile radius and regularly makes his rounds on Tuesday, where he stops at 35-40 places every week in places like Hackensack, Nisswa, Pequot Lakes, Brainerd, Pillager, Deerwood, Crosby, Aitkin, Emily, Outing, Fifty Lakes and Crosslake.
If it has an edge and it’s designed to cleave, burrow, saw, or cut, chances are that Wohlers sharpens it: Mower blades, carbide saws, drill bits, ax heads, planer blades, kitchen knives and farm equipment, among others. The shop on 3874 16th St., between Backus and Pine River, features 30 different grinders for a litany of edges. Wohlers’ business is so niche and the range of blades so extensive, he said he’ll occasionally come across an edge so unique, specialized, or exotic that he needs some time to figure out just how to tackle the job.
“Every week is a little different. I get stuff from manufacturing and from homeowners and from contractors and from cabinet guys, so I never know what comes through the door,” Wohlers said during a phone interview Thursday, May 5. “My machines can sharpen just about anything. … Sometimes, there are such unique things in the shop I have to sleep on it for a day or two and walk around the shop and think, ‘Can I do it on this machine or can I do it on that machine?’ or
‘Do we have to make a new jig?’ I never know what they’re going to throw at me.”
For Wohlers — who’s compared the difference between a job well done and just OK to the difference between a horseshoe and a hand grenade — a fine-toothed sense of quality is key. He noted his most abundant jobs are carbide saw blades, which are also his main moneymakers.
In 2019, Wohlers pulled up roots again. This time, to leave Breezy Point and establish himself in a quieter, more secluded corner of the world up by Backus.
“Breezy Point was too big, too busy, too much commotion. (Backus) has worked out well for me,” Wohlers said. He noted his solitary business is well-suited to weather the coronavirus pandemic, especially when many of his customers were manufacturing outlets considered essential by the state. “It was kind of crazy the whole year, but I really never skipped a beat in 2020. Some of my industry people slowed down a little bit, some of them closed up. Some of that slowed down a little bit. But then, when people were displaced at home, they started doing projects at home, so I started getting a whole bunch of those people.”
GABRIEL LAGARDE may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 218-855-5859. Follow at www.twitter.com/glbrddispatch .