This Hermosa Beach Teen May Be Sharpest in the South Bay
- Written byJessica O’Brien
- Photographed byMonica Orozco
During last year’s quarantine, 16-year-old Max Saetia taught himself to sharpen knives using the traditional Japanese whetstone method. After honing his talent, he decided to found his own ambitious small business: Maximus’ Knife Sharpening.
Max was never one for the kids menu. Growing up in a culinarily inclined family, he has enjoyed fine food since childhood and enjoys experimenting with cherished cuisine from all over the world.
One aspect of cooking that is respected in all cultures is the value of a truly sharp kitchen knife. Not only is a well-sharpened knife safer and faster to use, it also improves the experience. For example, Max explains, “You’re crying when you’re cutting an onion with a dull knife because you’re breaking down that onion.” A freshly sharpened blade solves that problem.
After being laid off from his restaurant job during the pandemic, Max noticed that his own kitchen knives were dull and ineffective. He decided to tackle the issue himself. He began by watching introductory videos online but has achieved his current status through intensive practice. It takes tremendous dedication to learn the nuances of knife sharpening. “A lot of troubleshooting, a lot of trial and error, and a lot of resilience are needed to do this,” he shares.
The Japanese whetstone itself consists of a mixture of fine silicate grains within a softer clay base. The technique requires swiping a blade on the water-soaked stone in swift, consistent and accurately angled motions. The process removes bits of metal, or burrs, on each part of a knife’s edge. The more grains within the stone, the more subtle and precise the sharpening.
Max spent countless hours in his garage, strengthening and refining his abilities. “I knew I had something going when I took a tomato and I was able to slice horizontally without holding it.”
He’d found a perfect opportunity to begin Maximus’ Knife Sharpening—a service that picks up and sharpens knives all throughout the South Bay, with a quick turnaround of 48 hours. Max’s sharpening technique is characterized by the extra focus put into honing, or refining, the fine detail of blades. This extra step makes all the difference.
As his business has gained success, Max has been able to purchase two mechanically spinning whetstones. He’s found that using traditional methods with modern tools yields the highest sharpening quality and efficiency.
He also uses technologies like the BESS test, which measures the force required to slice a synthetic wire. The lower the number, the sharper the blade. “We’re huge on testing each individual knife,” he says with confidence.
Maximus’ Knife Sharpening has also expanded to sell its own unique Japanese knives and other kitchen utensils, featuring beautiful calligraphy created by Max’s grandmother.
Max can now feel for unique imperfections along the edge of a blade and intuitively adapt his sharpening technique and angle for the best outcome. “As you practice, you develop that sensitive touch where you’re able to notice slight changes,” he expresses, as he masterfully senses a burr and immediately goes to fix the small imperfection. The thin metal creates a singular sweeping noise and appears to almost ripple under the water.
“Knife sharpening is really soothing to me,” Max explains. Not only is it a hobby and business, it’s also a method of relieving stress and reflecting inward after a long day.
Every Sunday Max and his father, Tong, work a booth at the Brentwood Farmers Market. “We sharpen standard knives that you would have in your kitchen, but we also do scissors, serrated edges, Japanese knives and other specialty blades.” Since kitchen knives need to be sharpened at least every six months, it’s certainly worthwhile to keep the expert in mind.
Max estimates that he’s sharpened more than 1,000 knives since he learned the skill, and he isn’t slowing down. “I took knife sharpening head-on, and I live with the saying, ‘The moment you feel like you want to give up, success is at your fingertips.’”