Memories of a knife grinder in Val di Resia

Sometimes I wish the world would stop just for a little while. Just enough to realize how much society and values have changed so rapidly in the last few decades.

After meeting a retired knife grinder in Italy I could not help feeling slightly moved when he described how a long time ago he started his profession through hardship and hard work. My region, Friuli in “Val di Resia” in the north east of Italy has a history of knife grinders.

Val di Resia in Friuli Venezia Giulia

Val di Resia in Friuli Venezia Giulia

Val di Resia is situated in the Alpine valley about 90 Km from Trieste. As it was an isolated valley people where transport was difficult especially in the winter, people there had to think of a profession that would bring bread to the table to feed their hungry and often big family.

Italian knife grinder

They were called “arrotini”, or knife grinders; it was a profession handed down from father to son. They would leave in the early summer to go all over the region and beyond, sometimes all over the world too to sharpen knives, scissors and to fix umbrellas. Sometimes they would come back after the birth of a son they had never seen as they would stay away for months at a time or even years.  What was typical of these craftsmen was their attitude to hard work, their strong desire to do an excellent job in order to build a name for themselves.

knife sharpener

an earlier knife grinder

It is interesting how the “arrotini” have adapted through times: the first grinders were carried on their shoulders and this was class equipment class later they dragged the machine on a cart through dirty and dusty roads.
In 1929, the grinders used a bike and subsequently they moved to seats of “wasps” and “Lambrettas” or other scooters and also on mini motorized vans where the grinding wheel turned by means of the same engine.

arrotino bike knife grinder

The arrotino bike

Italian knife grinder's bike

Nowadays all their equipment is fitted in the luggage of modern cars and the wheel is turned by a powerful battery. It couldn’t be more different to the old times!

In Val di Resia there is a museum dedicated to the life of the “Arrotino” which is worth visiting if you are in the area.

A modern knife grinder

A modern arrotino

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5 Responses to Memories of a knife grinder in Val di Resia

  1. Dottie Sauchelli Balin

    Dear Alida, What a wonderful and interesting story! I love the photos. Thanks for sharing, Blessings, Dottie 🙂

  2. Alida

    Thanks so much Dottie X

  3. la cucina di Molly

    Il tempo passa e tutto si evolve! Bello e interessante conoscere la storia di questi arrotini! Un abbraccio!

  4. Louise

    When I was a little girl living in NYC, we knew an Italian man who rode something like a bicycle through the neighborhood calling people to have their knives sharpened. I forgot how he use to say it in Italian.

    We actually have an Amish man who goes around in his amish buggy asking sharpening people’s knives here in Pennsylvania. It truly is an art all but forgotten, Alida. Oh to slow down just a tiny bit:)

    Thank you so much for sharing such a wonderful post, Alida. I really enjoyed it.

    • Alida

      Thank you Louise. The job this people do is so valuable. How interesting that there are still many “arrotini” around the world! XX

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