With his picturesque red-wheeled cart and hand-rung bell, knife grinder Tony Delciello is a familiar if fleeting presence on the streets of Evanston. Since 1980 he has been plying the byways of suburban Chicago, practicing an Old-World trade he learned from a friend.

His workday begins with a “commute” from his home in Oak Park to a place he can park his van for the day and revisit year after year – like Brookfield, he says, and Clarendon Hills and Western Springs. He allots a week or so to Evanston.

His bell is a magnet for customers bearing dull cutlery.  Most try to make small talk while he works, though their eyes are glued to his hands on the foot-operated grinding wheel. Mr. Delciello delivers his crusty replies in an Italian accent undiluted by 51 years in America.

The actual sharpening does not take long, he says, holding a serrated knife at just the right angle to press each notch against the grindstone. “Most of my time is spent finding customers,” he says to the two who wait their turn. “Nobody’s home anymore. They’re either working or on vacation.”

His is a fair-weather vocation, its association with sunshine and summer part of the knife grinder’s allure. Asked what he does in winter, Mr. Delciello has a curt reply: “I rest.”