During a visit home, just before the 2015 new year, I was summoned by my mother into the hallway of my grandmothers house. Lots of interesting artifacts and memorabilia hang on the walls in this hallway and I was curious if there was a new addition I was to inspect, or perhaps an interesting anecdote I had missed.
However, she had in her hand a odd wrapping of cloth and plastic and when I arrived she hurriedly put it into my hands. Unclear as to my obligation, I was fascinated by the clandestine nature of the exercise and squinted my eyes a bit more than usual in suspicious of being watched.
She whispered something about fixing this thing I was now in possession of. Just then my aunt peeked around the corner and I frantically looked for excuses as to why we were loitering in a very unusual place.
To my relief, I received a slight nod from my mother to indicate she was okay and then I learned she had been one of the moles designated to extract this piece of hardware from the central command. I wasn’t sure if this was the side I wanted to be on, but the commitments build quickly and soon, I had no choice. I decided to work out a team code name at my earliest convince.
With a peek into the package, which was now well concealed by the huddle around it, I learned that I was holding a high-carbon kitchen knife. I was rusted in spots and it’s blade had a periodic curve to it, as if it had been sharpened by the same hands identically, every time, creating a perfect harmonic shape across the length of the blade.
The real crux of the puzzle was the handle however. The scales were tough and black, riveted three times down the full-length tang. But it was broken and pieces were selectively deserting their duties and the tool was perhaps past it’s useful life.
As a child of consumption, devouring global resources is in my nature. However, I was reminded that some people still relish a favorite tool and connect emotionally with a trustworthy thing, used reliably for a long while. I recanted my disbelief and took the charge, noting a friend who may be able to help us out.
Several days later I left with the knife with my belongings and headed home where I slowly redistributed all my wares back to their natural resting places. Since this process can take multiple days, it wasn’t until about a week later that I rediscovered the tightly wrapped knife.
Without a home in my home, yet, I unwrapped it and placed it on my desk as if I were going to open letters with it, or defend myself in case of treachery and the sort.
A few days later I photographed my new companion and sent it to my associate in the custom knife business… yes, he really exists… good guy, you should meet him someday. He evaluated the photographs and encouraged me to have a look at some resources he uses. He also gave me a break down of some of the finer aspects of knife customization and the various styles of attachment and their pros and cons. He did not offer to do it all for me, so I had to eliminate that solution from my list.
Following these conversations, I hatched my plans for reconstruction as I concurrently and meticulously disassembled the knife. I placed an order for a brass pin (which I now understand I significantly overpaid for) and scoped out the various qualities of handle material.
Without many tools at my disposal, wood seemed the most workable, elegant, and least expensive to experiment with. After poking about in knife-specific shops I decided to forego the expensive prepared matching scale blocks and instead explore the scrap bin at our local lumber house, PALS in Oakland.
With bins of exotics, hards, softs, and unclear woods, I selected two pieces that I would chop to bits. Each piece was enough to produce five or six scales for the knife so when I escaped for less than ten dollars I clicked my heels together, just a bit.
With the wood now along side the knife, I enjoyed visions of a beautiful smooth perfectly crafted new set of scales. However, without more than a screw driver at my local disposal, I sulked for the next few weeks on the matter.
Fortunately, a boat builder friend of mine (also real) suggested I venture to his workshop some evening and my passion was reignited!
Just one night in his shop, followed by a day of detail work put me right in line with finishing the project. However, there were a few flaws that plagued my dreams and I consulted the knife-man and the boat-man and various connoisseurs of art, wood-working, and kitchen knives. The voice was unanimous, “do what ever you want.”
Shortly there after I delivered the knife to my mother, the original purveyor of this clandestine project and identified the errors. Knowing her sense of perfection, but also her inclination for the wabi-sabi. I charged her with making the decision for me, which she did.
She packed the knife into her belongings and delivered it the following day to my Grandmother, with all the flaws fixed.
Shortly after, I learned the immense value of the thing I had casually toted with me, applied chemicals to, used tools against, and generally put at risk for destruction under the guise of experimentation.
As I learned:
My grandmother had recently married my grandfather and they had received a few wedding gifts, which included a set of stainless steel kitchen knives. Soon after, my grandmother set out to cook her first chicken dinner for her new husband and called her father to help her with the foreign feat. Brandishing her new shiny knifes, she was promptly scolded by her father and reminded that a well trusted knife is the chef’s best friend. And a knife that will rust will remain sharper longer than one that will not †. He then presented his kitchen knife, a splotchy knife with a long blade and short athletic handle and proceeded to teach my grandmother to prepare a chicken after which he encouraged her to keep the knife so she would always be a reliable cook (and presumably think of him every day she used it).
Since that day, she has kept the knife and held it close, seeking it out for all matters of kitchen cutting until one day, late in 2014, when in her unusual forgetfulness (as she presumed), she had misplaced it while a mere few feet away a clandestine meeting was taking place.
† The higher level of carbon increases the strength of the metal, retaining the shaper edge but oxidizing more easily, while chromium in the alloy will help to prevent oxidization, he breaks up the molecular matrix and weakens the steel