Meet the Maker: Horl

It’s no secret how much we love Horl knife sharpeners. By creating a two-piece sharpener that adopts the gentleness of a whetstone – but the efficiency of a pull-through knife sharpener – Horl has, quite literally, revolutionised knife sharpening for millions of home cooks. (To read a full breakdown of how and why Horl sharpeners work so well, read our review here.)

Since Horl rolling knife sharpeners (and their range of accessories) are so unique, we spoke to Horl’s founders – father and son duo Otmar and Timo Horl – to learn more. Below is a condensed version of our talk with Timo.

As a father-son team, what drew you to working together to create Horl?

My father worked as a construction manager in a mechanical engineering company for many years, and I was employed as a designer in various agencies. When I discovered the initial product concepts by Otmar, I realised that many people can sell, but not everyone has a genuine invention. So, together, we further developed these initial concepts and created the first rolling sharpener, which we launched in late 2016. We believe the combination of technology and design is what makes the product exceptional – it functions perfectly, while providing an amazing user experience.

Horl products are manufactured in Germany’s Black Forest. Can you tell us more about this decision?

It naturally evolved for us to manufacture our products mostly in the Black Forest region of Germany. The excellent infrastructure, fast communication channels, and the resulting personal connections with partners and suppliers became unbeatable arguments for us in the development and production of our products. We love our region, and being able to visit the majority of our partners within two to three hours allows us to have constant influence over the quality and production. The continuous and intensive exchange with our partners is incredibly important to us.

What would you say is the main difference (or differences) between Horl sharpeners – which are original – and similar rolling sharpeners that have cropped up in the market?

Fortunately, we don't spend much time focusing on other products that are inspired by ours. We concentrate on ourselves and our own standards. When we develop products, we approach them by imagining what the best possible solution could be, within our capabilities. Then, we involve the entire team and don't stop until we achieve that goal, until we are so impressed with our solution that we want to recommend it to our friends and family and speak about it with pride. That is our minimum requirement for all the products we develop. For us, it is important that our customers enjoy using our sharpeners because they look good and feel good. We want them to be happy with our sharpeners for decades, and therefore we do not make any compromises when it comes to quality.

You have compared the process of making the Horl diamond stone to making jewellery – such is the level of detail and precision required. Can you go into more detail about this process, and why it requires so much care?

The technology of diamond coating is fascinating and requires extensive experience. Each supplier or manufacturer practices it under various parameters. In Germany, we have an extremely experienced partner with whom we continuously develop the surfaces and coatings. The basic principle of the coating is always the same and is comparable to the process of gold plating, a galvanic process. The exact details of the process are closely guarded by the suppliers. However, one can roughly imagine that the stainless steel base discs are immersed in a bath of electrically conductive liquid and left there for several hours. The process is electrified, and the diamonds adhere to a nickel bed on the stainless steel disc. When these diamonds are approximately 55% nickel-plated, the process is stopped, and the disc is finished. This is how our extremely durable diamond grinding discs are created.

What’s next for Horl? What can fans expect in the coming years?

We are, of course, big fans of sharpness ourselves, and continuously research and develop new technologies and improvements to existing products, as well as completely new product ideas with our team. In our research, we delve into every detail, allowing us to build an incredible knowledge base when it comes to sharpening materials, knives, steels, and cutting techniques. You can be sure that great new ideas from HORL will be coming in the near future. We can't wait to introduce them to you.

And finally, what are some of your favourite dishes to cook at home (using freshly sharpened knives, of course)?

I love barbecuing over open fire in the garden for my friends and family. Personally, I adore fish and shrimp in all variations, but I also enjoy preparing the perfect steak with the ideal doneness and serving it finely sliced and presented (with my favourite, sharpened knife). It's an absolute delight.