DIY gadgets in Africa: the knife-sharpening bicycle

The excellent Afrigadget blog has a post up today about a man named Peter Kahugu, in Banana Hill, Kenya (near Nairobi), who makes a living using his bicycle to sharpen knives for his neighbors:

AfriGadget reporter Afromusing and I had an opportunity to interview Peter who has modified his bicycle with a belt, a set of tensioning pulleys and a grinding stone to make it a knife-sharpening machine. By kicking the bike up onto its stand and engaging a gearing system, he is able to use “leg-horsepower” to drive a grinding wheel and sharpen knives while “on the move”.

Peter has been at this for 2 years now and he makes about Kshs 500 ( app. 10 US$) a day by riding his mobile workshop from client to client sharpening all their knives as he goes. The grinding stone he uses has lasted an astounding 2 years and he has had to replace his drive belt a couple of times but that is as simple as cutting up a long strip of rubber from an old car or bicycle tire inner tube.

Link, with some awesome video.

Reader comment: Mauro says,

Xeni, when I was growing up in Brazil, that's exactly how you would get your knives and scissors sharpened... the guy on a bicycle like that would ride around through your neighborhood every now and then, blowing on a kind of whistle so people would know he was coming, the housewives would get their cutlery out and go to the front of the house to flag him down as he passed by.

This profession has pretty much disappeared nowadays, though, as far as I know. It's kinda sad, I think, in a nostalgic way.

Discovery Gerdes says,
I live and work in Buenos Aires. Every week or so, the man with the knife sharpening bicycle makes his pass on my street. Similar to Mauro's description, my sharpener blows on a blue plastic pan flute as he goes down the street. He consistently blows the same tune as he approaches, I imagine it's his signature tune. If I work from home one day and get lucky, perhaps I'll hear him, run out with my knives, and get the full experience.

There are a lot of reasons I love living here, but the fact that things like this still exist is one of them.

Thanks for the blog.

Fernando says,
The same technology is used in Mexico, these guys are called "afiladores" which means sharpeners.

They would ride around neighbourhoods on their bikes, making a peculiar and easily recognizable whistle with some sort of flute. Any housekeeper who would have cutting tools in need of sharpening would come out and ask to have them sharpened for a low price.

On a silly note, there are other ways of sharpening your tools, like these guys on the SUV demonstrate: video link.

Richard says,
There's a fellow named Chuck that lives at the end of Zion Road in Gambier, OH. He's crazy about bikes... loves building recumbent chop-jobs, including a tandem recumbent for him and his wife. Anyway, I went over to his place one day to see about getting a spoke replaced, and I saw this most peculiar contraption... the bike powered belt sander... a stationary recumbent bike with that powers a sander at arms-reach. He uses the sander to take broken pieces of mirror and fashion them into rear-view mirrors to clip on bike helmets, among other things. A lot of people around here say that he invented the clip-on mirror. I choose to take that statement at face value.
Kate says,
I'm 40 and have lived all my life in Dublin, Ireland. When I was a very young girl I remember an old man coming round to offer the exact same knife sharpening service with the same bicycle contraption. I distinctly remember bringing him out a glass of water because my Mam asked me too. It was a hot afternoon. Unfortunately, I also remember that he didn't do a very good job - something I only found out much later in life.
Soumyadip says,
Similar bicycle-bound knife sharpeners are quite common in Indian cities and villages. Such devices serve a dual purpose as it is both the equipment as well as a mode of transportation. There are variations of it in different regions of the country. In the hilly regions where cycling is not possible, the contraption is modified so that it can be easily carried on the head or shoulders.
Max says,
In Australia we have our own knife sharpener... (well, some time ago, the actual 'trailer' is now in our national museum). It's the Saw doctor's wagon. Some pics and info here: Link. From memory it's about 30ft long and was pulled by a ute (Australian pickup truck).

In the flesh it's quite amazing, with different options for saws, knifes, kitchen blades, machetes, sissors, really anything with a blade. If anyone is in Canberra it's worth the visit.

Sailesh Ganesh says,
I have seen the same things in Mumbai (Bombay), India, the city where I grew up. These things existed as recently as three years ago, but I have been in the US ever since and I dont know if those guys are still around. These guys often sell their owns knives that have been sharpened on the bicycle. I have used those knives and while the blade is somewhat flexible and can be bent by hand, the edge is pretty sharp, and it is very effective in cutting vegetables.
Avi Solomon says,
Bollywood has the best paean to these knifey heroes in Jaya Bhaduri's knife-sharpener cameo in the 1973 hit 'Zanjeer.' Video Link.



  1. Back to Pedal Power is a big help to ease the Global Warming problem… In Philippines, BIKERS, FIREFLY BRIGADE and other bicycle commuters are massively promoting the “Back to Pedal Power and STOP Global Warming Advocacy” -Thiking Globally, Acting Locally.

    This Afrigadget helps a lot in bike commuters’ endeavor to STOP GLOBAL WARMING. Good model.

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