In mid January, just before our 2022 schedule of cookery courses got back up to full speed, I spent a couple of days making a kitchen knife of my own with my friend Dan Maltwood of Pareusi Knives.
Dan is a former chef who made the transition from using knives to making knives several years ago. He still puts on his chef’s whites from time to time to cook at his partner’s family’s hotel, which gives him a great insight into what chefs and enthusiastic home cooks need from their knives.
The Pareusi workshop is in a beautiful location, in a historic farrier’s workshop next to the National Trust café (meaning easy access to great cake) at the foot of St Agnes Beacon, just a few hundred meters back from the cliff top and the Atlantic Ocean. His workshop is set up for Dan to not only make knives himself, but to host people keen to make their own on one of his knife-making workshops. Dan has a range of knives in the Pareusi range, so for the two-day workshop it’s a case of selecting the style of knife and the handle material, then getting to work.
I chose to make a Nakiri knife, a historic cleaver style shape from Japan designed for chopping vegetables. This is the style of knife that I reach for most often in the kitchen, so if I had to choose one knife that I was going to keep and use forever, one that I’d made myself, it’d have to be a Nakiri.
Nakiri knives are designed for (fast) straight up-and-down chopping, rather than the rocking motion of chef’s knives. The straight edge of the blade means that they cut cleaner (less chance of not cutting all the way through something) and the thin blade makes for thin and uniform cuts.
Dan’s knives are all full tang, which means that the steel shape is the same as the complete final silhouette of the knife, handle included; the handle is made of two wooden (or other material) “scales” that sandwich the steel and are held in place by epoxy and pins, leaving a strip of steel visible the full length of the top and underside of the handle. Partial tang knives mean that the part of the blade that attaches to the handle (the tang) is shorter and is inserted into the handle.
Dan collects all sorts of interesting wood for his knife handles and had some very old pieces of Rosewood (a tropical hardwood that you can’t buy anymore) that I chose for my knife.
The outline shape of the knife is pre-cut (a long, laborious, difficult and fairly unpleasant job best left to experts or automation) so it was a case of tempering the blade under Dan’s expert supervision (which involved heating the steel and then quenching it in oil), cleaning the outline shape up, grinding the profile of the cutting edge into the blade, and then setting the handle scales on either side of the tang and securing them in place with brass pins whilst they set.
I wanted my new knife to have a patina on the blade rather than being mirror-finish shiny. Dan showed me how to make a mustard and vinegar mix that I “painted” onto the blade and left overnight to let the acid eat away at the surface of the steel to leave a randomly patterned black finish.
The next day was all about shaping the handle with progressively finer grades of abrasive paper until it was a comfortable fit in my hand and nice and smooth, then sharpening the blade. Sharpening is something that I teach on our knife skills courses, but then it is all about maintaining a keen edge on a blade. This was starting from scratch, taking the ground profile and using various wet stones (starting quite coarse and getting progressively finer) to final profile both sides of the blade and get it devilishly sharp.
The final step uses a leather strop to get it really sharp, before the ultimate test of slicing (not tearing) a sheet of paper. The handle is treated with a beeswax that makes the beautiful grain of the wood pop out and makes the handle shiny whilst retaining a nice texture and not becoming smooth and slippery.
I’m so pleased with the knife that I took away from my time with Dan at his workshop. It’s proper sharp and is going to see a lot of use in the kitchen classroom here at Philleigh Way.
Over the course of the two days Dan and I discussed offering another combination experience weekend, offering you the chance to make and use your own knife with the two of us, and with the two of us cooking for you. Drop me an email if you’re interested and want to be the first to know when we get some dates in place, or keep your eyes peeled on our newsletter and social media channels for an announcement.