Cutting it for the consumer market

ALEADING Sheffield-based research institute is hoping to wow enthusiastic amateur chefs with its first product for the consumer market.

The Cutlery and Allied Trades Research Association has been supplying hi-tech sharpening machines to knife manufacturers around the world, food processors like Bernard Matthews and caterers for years.

Many professional chefs' and consumer kitchen knives will have got their initial cutting edge thanks to CATRA, but, once they lost their sharpness, their owners would have had to rely on their skills with a steel or a specialist knife sharpener to get it back.

Now, the Henry Street company is launching the Catrahone, a diamond-coated, electrically powered sharpener small enough to fit in a kitchen drawer – unlike its industrial models.

The idea came to CATRA director Roger Hamby after the organisation was commissioned by an American magazine to test more than 50 powered knife sharpeners.

The results weren't that impressive. Most struggled to restore the knife to 60 per cent of its "as new" sharpness after being sharpened 10 times, with some failing to make the knife as third as sharp.

Results were no better when CATRA used its specialist knife testing equipment to test the increase in the knife's cutting life after sharpening, with many failing to achieve a fourfold increase in cutting life after 10 sharpenings.

There are limits to the amount of power you can use to sharpen a knife. Too much and you overheat the edge, "draw" the temper and end up with a knife that will not only lose its edge faster but also be more difficult to sharpen.

"The vast majority of knives coming in from China have been overheated and lose their edge very quickly," says Mr Hamby, not that that can't be remedied with CATRA's equipment.

CATRA set to work using its years of expertise to produce its own design for a domestic sharpener that uses less power to produce a better edge that lasts longer in less time.

Using industry standard tests CATRA itself developed, the Sheffield first was able to show it could restore a knife to 80 per cent of its as new sharpness and achieve a six fold increase in cutting life after 10 sharpenings.

"You can use a knife for a lot longer before it needs sharpening again – in some cases 20 times longer," says Mr Hamby.

And, if you are the sort of person who bungs all your kitchen knives in a drawer, or who – and you can see Mr Hamby wince as he says it – uses a glass chopping board, then you are the sort of person that is in CATRA's sights.

Several retailers have shown an interest in the association's invention and the CATRA is also selling the sharpener through its website - http://www.catra.org.

But, whatever happens, the Catrahone won't be taking over from the association's core business of providing testing and technical consultancy services to producers of all manner of knives, blades, tools, cookware and surgical instruments and making testing and sharpening machines for the industrial market.

"It's a bit of fun for us," Roger Hamby concludes.

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