It was perhaps the coldest day of the year as I headed north to the energetic hills of Cleveland, GA. Ice beards seemed to grow from the mud flaps on my truck as the cold was also some kind of precipitation. I was greeted just north of town by a noisy, active and still somehow desolate feeling lumber mill where piles of fresh cut timber frigidly soaked up the melting ice. Hail turning into rain and ultimately back into a cold sludge. This weather balanced discomfort with beauty and was now the most memorable character of a time and place. I don’t remember the date, though the season will stick with me forever.
After an introduction to the timber processing plant, I felt more connected to and understanding of what I was after. The gruff mill owner had envisioned a second life for the carbon steel used to process trees and had squirreled away old rusty saw blades in hopes that they get their lucky break. They had more life remaining. He had several stashes of lumber mill blades - too much to handle in an organized manor but too useful to get scrapped. I could almost smell the decay setting in on the blades.
It was a long day. Arriving home late, exhausted, cold and wet, all was nourished by the simple joy of a bountiful harvest of reclaimed steel and a home cooked meal to thaw out and comfort my cold, tired body and mind.
My initial hunt, searching to find the primary material from which to forge knives, to me, is similar to digging up a season’s potato crop or foraging for chanterelles after days of rain. Going into it I wasn’t sure if I’d come back to the shop with anything, but it was step-one of a self-inflicted labor of love, knife making. It’d be a hell of a lot less expensive and way easier to order some grade-A virgin alloy from the supplier online, but when you’re making tools that will last a lifetime, it’s never about what is cheap and easy. It’s about the story and the roads taken. The experience.
Cleaning, processing and tasting this harvest won’t come for another few weeks when the lab test results reveal the exact chemical composition of the alloy I wound up with. But in the mean time I experiment with it in my shop. What does it feel like to forge? How does it heat treat? How does it work with my favorite edge geometry? What will this steel excel at? Will it make thin Japanese blades with flying stars? How small can I get the grain? How high is the Rockwell C-scale hardness? A similar plethora of questions is asked when gifted the excess harvest of grapefruit, beans or greens. Or once all of the blueberries hit at once. What are the possibilities? What are my limitations? Should I eat them now? Should I preserve them?
Come February, retreats from my cold knife making studio will be accompanied by heirloom tomato seedlings, on the kitchen counter, under a grow light and by stink bugs that have been overwintering in the house, a small cabin in the rural north Georgia woods. As I anxiously await the promising bounty of spring and summer, I fight to focus on fulfilling orders from chefs and slow-food activists that patiently wait through my process. I think about the future and seek meaning in the task at hand. The culinary celebration of gathering to share food is a seed planted long before any sprouts or ripened fruit. The crafting of cutlery to accomplish these tasks stems from beyond the garden, and is well over a season away. The hundred year old carbon steel lumber mill blades had a purpose before I found them and the handle materials the same.
As certain food reminds me of not only a time, but a place, I can't help to relate the starting materials of my knives to those ingredients used in a meal full of soul. The story of a still thriving but long forgotten regional industry is cultivated and preserved.
As my cutlery designs continue to develop and evolve overtime, I am all too aware that roots are an integral part of not only our food but ourselves. The original inspiration for my knife making hobby turned sickness is still intact as I continue to add nutrients to my soil. I must grow and incorporate my most up-to-date interests of efficient Japanese cutlery with my undying passion for creating quality cooking tools for all who care about food. The fusion of design and technique with materials and their stories is part of my signature.
Balance is a good meal. Balance is health. Balance is not only felt at the fulcrum point but from the tip to the heel. The end goal for most is balance. Bitter and sweet. Utility and primordial spirit. Work and play. Love and laugh. In all design there is balance in contrast & repetition. Similarly there is balance in brute force and delicate finesse when creating a fine grained, keen edged and durable kitchen knife.