Waterloo man turns hobby into 36-year second career

Burton Stumpf, 94, stands next to the many saw and tool sharpening machines that make up his basement shop in Waterloo. (Corey Saathoff photo)

Even though it has been an enjoyable hobby these past 36 years, longtime Waterloo saw and tool sharpener Burton Stumpf is closing up his basement shop for good on Saturday.

The 94-year-old retired insurance manager has covered up the list of sharpening prices posted outside his Morrison Avenue home with a sign that simply states: “I’m tired, I quit.”

Since 1976, Stumpf has served the community with artful precision, using any combination of 15 different machines plus years of attention to detail to sharpen lawn mower blades, chain saws, circle saws, chisels and any number of hand tools.

“I tell people I can sharpen anything from pencils to (two-man) see-saws,” Stumpf said with a chuckle. “It’s precise work. There’s a lot of different clearances and gauges you have to figure.”

Stumpf said he always liked to work with machinery, having grown up on a farm. He even took a course in machine shop and welding as a youngster.

But the military called him to duty from 1942-46. After that, Stumpf entered what turned out to be a 30-year career in the insurance business.

Upon his retirement from Country Companies in 1976, it was time for a new chapter in life.

“I needed something to do,” he said.

So Stumpf purchased shop equipment offered at an auction and readied for his new hobby.

He credits longtime Waterloo tree-trimmer Paul Kelley for most of the business seen over the years. Kelley brought in some chains to sharpen early on, Stumpf recalled, and must have been satisfied with the results because he gave high recommendations to others.

“He brought me more business than anyone,” Stumpf said of Kelley. “Word of mouth is what did it.”

Stumpf said his second “career” as a saw and tool sharpener was a very welcome change of pace from his days in the insurance business.

“There was always so much pressure and numbers to meet, people to answer to,” he said of the insurance stint. “With this, there’s no pressure to buy. It’s a one-on-one deal.

“It’s not money-making work, but it’s relaxing and satisfying.”

Stumpf said he and his wife, Ruth, wish to thank all the friends for the work they have brought him over the years.

As for what to do with all of the sharpening machines sitting in his basement? Stumpf said he prefers to sell them all to one buyer rather than piece by piece.

“It’s gotta be somebody who’s mechanically inclined,” he said of a (hopeful) successor. “You learn as you go along, I guess.”

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Corey Saathoff

Corey is the editor of the Republic-Times. He has worked at the newspaper since 2004, and currently resides in Columbia. He is also the principal singer-songwriter and plays guitar in St. Louis area country-rock band The Trophy Mules.
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