Sharpeners (men who sharpen knives and other tools) and sharpening are as old as the use of metals and are necessary to maintain the tools in the best conditions. The trade of sharpener had its peak in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and practically disappeared in the twentieth century.
The profession of sharpener, who sharpened pocket knives, scissors and other agricultural, ranching, domestic or industrial tools, was different from the knife maker profession. In the sharpening process, the sharpener was as important as the tools used by him (sharpening wheels). As in many other craft trades, this small mobile workshop was an extension of the sharpener’s hands and the testimony of an intense life history that originated in Galicia. From the North of Orense, the trade of sharpener became a complement for the economy of the rural families. Sometimes, the specialization and the expertise as well as the lack of other resources, determined that these craftsmen were devoted exclusively to this activity.
During the nineteenth century, the sharpening wheel was transported on the back of the sharpener. Thereafter, until the mid-twentieth century, it was pushed by the sharpener, due to the increasing weight and the road improvement. From the 50s or 60s to the 70s, the sharpening wheel was adjusted to the bike and, from that time until the nineties, it was adjusted to the motorbike. It was also adjusted to other automobiles and wagons, but it was less common that the bicycle, in which case the driving force was still human.
The street sharpener needed a way to announce his arrival to the people. It was done by a “chifro”, also called “chifle”, “chilo”, “xipro” or “pito” (whistle). His particular melody announced the arrival of the sharpener. The musical announcement of the sharpener was one of the most traditional sounds of the past: “The Sharpener!” “I can sharpen your scissors and knives!”.
The progressive mechanization of the agricultural tasks, the prices of repairs and the cheaper cost of the utensils were some of the causes for the disappearance of diverse itinerant trades and, particularly, the trade of the sharpeners.