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Newsletter Archive

Carter Cutlery March '08 Newsletter

 
 

Newsletter Topics

New Versions of the Whitecrane knife…

Because of the incredible feedback we've received about the Whitecrane fighter/utility knife, I created a new model called the Junior Whitecrane. It looks and feels like the Whitecrane, but is about 10% smaller in all dimensions. It will be a little easier to conceal for small stature people. I will also make a Whitecrane compact that will bridge the gap in size between the Junior Whitecrane and neck knives.

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Oregon Knife Collector's Association Show, Eugene, Oregon, April 12th and 13th, 2008

I will be in attendance at the upcoming show in Eugene. I will arrive on Thursday the 11th to set up, and will stay at the show until closing time Sunday. This year I will have more knives on the table then ever before. There are several very unique pieces as well, so come expecting to see lot's of 'eye-candy'! For those of you who are not able to attend the show, or want a chance at some of our knives, give us a call as soon as you can: 503-816-6556.

The 2008 BLADE Show & International Cutlery Fair, Atlanta, Georgia, May 30th, June 1st and 2nd

I will be at the BLADE Show again this year, better prepared than I have ever been, with plenty of knives, a few unique pieces, my sharpening DVD's and stones, Blade oil and plenty of information about our Traditional Japanese Bladesmithing School. I'll be hosting a private dinner party Saturday night for those patrons who are interested in hearing my special "Annual Report of Carter Cutlery" and sharing in some fellowship over dinner. Please let me know as soon as possible if you want to attend, so I can determine the location according to attendance. We will be sharing the cost of the meal, but I intend to keep it reasonable.
 

 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 

Howdy everyone!

The month of March just whizzed by, and I can't remember ever working so hard. In an effort to keep up with our growing demand and to fill orders quicker than I have ever been able to do before, I forged 250 knives in March! About 50% of them are kitchen knives and the rest a combination of outdoor knives, Whitecrane knives, neck knives and traditional Japanese sickles called kama. It will take me all of April to finish these knives, but those of you who have knives on order will probably be hearing from us soon.

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"Yours might be in here!"

 

There is always room for improvement…
 

1Recently, some very loyal patrons brought to my attention some disturbing threads on some of the websites dedicated to knives and cooking. Some of these threads contained concerns that Carter Cutlery was perhaps headed in the wrong direction as a business. One of the issues was that customers had to pay a 50% deposit on custom orders and then had to wait several months before receiving their knife. Another issue concerned the bladesmithing school;  some though that I should be making more knives, rather than spending time teaching others the ancient art of Japanese Bladesmithing.

Naturally, I took these concerns to heart and spent some time consulting with some who had posted the threads.  I believe that most of these concerns were a result of a lack of communication on my part. Let me explain.

I receive literally hundreds of phone calls a month regarding knives and related topics. In order to determine whether a caller was really interested in having a knife made or just wanted to "talk shop" I implemented the 50% deposit system. This allows me to spend more time making knives instead of talking on the phone, and it allows me to treat paying customers with the respect and attention they deserve. Incidentally, even though I have a "no refund" policy on the deposit money due to the nature of custom work and the preparation necessary before the actual knife is made, I did indeed return the full deposit to a couple of customers who had to retract their order due to extenuating circumstances.

Another concern was the waiting time between placing the order and receiving the completed knife. It is a mixed blessing that some custom knifemakers have more demand for their knives than they can produce, and as a result, end up with a back-log of orders. Some knifemakers talk of 5~7 year waiting lists, or some stop taking orders all together. I am proud to say that even though the monthly number of orders for my knives is increasing, I have worked to decrease the turn around time on orders. Let me express my appreciation to all my customers who have waited, or are waiting, patiently for a knife

The third concern was about my Bladesmithing school taking time away from my knifemaking. The school has been an incredible addition to my business, and as any graduate can attest, it is an absolutely amazing eye-opening experience.  It does not, however, consume much of my time. Most of the classes are on weekends, and the few longer classes that span a whole week, are only a few times a year. My goal is to share with as many people as possible the traditional secrets of Japanese Bladesmithing, and for the few weeks a year it takes, I feel is definitely beneficial to the whole cutlery industry. If you are curious about the school, you really should call us to find out more, because you simply do not know what you are missing!

A last concern was that my newsletters were getting a little off topic, i.e., knives and knife related topics. I want to re-commit to you to produce a newsletter worthy of your interest in cutlery, and keep unrelated topics to a minimum. Thank you for sticking with me so far, this has been an incredible learning process for all of us
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Custom Cut Cutlery
 

Yanagiba, Debabocho, Usubabocho; these words roll off the tongue of someone fluent in Japanese, but for most, they sound strange. This is a story of how an5 amateur sushi chef found happiness and with two years of patience ended up with a beautiful functional set of knives and display from an ABS Mastersmith and a master woodworker.

In Japan, they say that when a chef selects a knife, it is a lot like a bride, this is a long and loving relationship. Even in the United States, student chefs are admonished to never lend their knives. Relationships between chefs and their knives are born from the importance placed on what is arguably the most important tool for any chef.

I have been cooking for at least 40 years, and my friends call me a "foodie." The fat around the middle certainly speaks to that fact or more likely to the fact that I am an "eatie." I have been a knife collector for almost as long, getting much more serious over the last decade as my income was better able to support the passion.

As a collector, I started with a Boy Scout folding camp knife, a K-Bar, and an electrician's T-38, then expanded into hunting knives, and finally migrated to well made kitchen cutlery. The cutlery has become the most satisfying aspect of the hobby, since I use my collection almost daily. About 3 years ago, my wife created a new monste6r in me when she took me to our local independent bookseller, Warwick's in La Jolla, CA to a presentation by Judi Strada and Mineko Takane Moreno, the authors launching their book "Sushi for Dummies." I left with my signed copy and began reading. Soon an extension of my cooking passion blossomed with a goal of hosting a sushi party for the neighborhood. Six months later, another book or two, a purchase of a small collection of Japanese china, a few sushi making implements, and I was almost ready. I enlisted the help of my neighbor, friend, and fellow sushi connoisseur Tim Stengel, we gathered our entry level yanagiba (sushi knives) and hosted our first party.

The party was a huge success, we sliced and diced our way through a wide variety of fresh fish (sashimi), we made traditional nigirizushi and makizushi (hand-formed sushi and roll sushi). We learned the importance of a good quality sharp knife and learned the importance of prep work that goes into making a fun sushi party.

Since this time, we have held several other sushi events in the neighborhood, and I began to study the better sushi chefs in our local San Diego establishments. In each case, I watched experts with their hands quickly wielding their knives and forming the pieces. I got up the nerve to speak to several of them about their knife selection and training, then used the Internet to get a graduate education on the art and skill of the Japanese sword makers who have evolved into making the artistic and functional knives of the sushi master.

While attending the 2004 Blade West Show in Ontario/Los Angeles, CA, I had the good fortune to meet Murray Carter, who, at the time, was living in Ueki City, Japan. Murray was nearing his 18th year as a rural village bladesmith and had earned the unique distinction of becoming the 17th Generation Yoshimoto Bladesmith. Many of you also know of Murray's work and his recognition in 2001 by being awarded the rating of Mastersmith by the American Bladesmith Society. Today Murray's credentials include personally making over 12,000 knives and hand sharpening more than 40,000 blades of all shapes and sizes.
 

I inspected Murray's work and his extraordinary ability to bring out some of the best maintainable sharpness I have ever experienced in my days of collecting. We started up a conversation that continued until I asked Murray if he would consider making a matched set of sushi chef knives. We continued our discussions via email for about a month deciding on the details of what was to become a true work of art. Three knives, each formed and balanced to my feel, lengths selected for my working style, each blade to be 10fitted with sanbar stag handles with German silver ferrules and butt plates, extremely rare for sushi knives, which are usually fitted with magnolia wood, known for its water resistant qualities and water buffalo horn ferrules. As an aside, sanbar stag horn has come and gone in popularity and rarity during the last decade as its export from Pakistan and India is periodically interrupted. The price varies greatly depending on the quality and the current export status. The material makes a hardwearing and durable knife handle most frequently seen on traditional hunting knives. I like it for its natural beauty, durability and the nice grip even when wet.

I placed my order with Murray just as he and his family were beginning their journey from Japan to Vernonia, Oregon. Finally, in 2006 I met with Murray again at The Collector's Show held in Napa Valley, CA. We discussed finish details, and decided to forego the traditional saya (wooden sheath) as I was considering plans to have Del Cover, a friend and master woodworker build a custom display case to house and protect the blades when they were not in use.


The total time to co3mplete the blades and have them available for the custom case was about two years. Murray was extremely busy growing his business, developing a set of custom blade forging classes, and traveling to Atlanta and elsewhere for collector's shows. My agreement with Murray from day one was that I was patient, I knew I was asking for something very special and was more than willing to wait. As an aside, I have typically have two knives on custom order at any one time with delivery ranging from 2 to 5 years. During the forging process, Murray was disappointed during the cold forging when he discovered a tiny fracture in the 11usubabocho blade. I still remember the day, Murray called me heart broken.  He sent me the first two blades and the broken blade and I agreed to be patient until Murray has the time to dedicate his full attention to perfecting the third blade. I used the yanagiba and debabocho and was thrilled with the quality, of both. As a measure of his craftsmanship, it still amazes me that the blades were forged and assembled about 12 months apart.

This last fall, my patience was rewarded as the final blade was shipped and the set complete. To complete the project, the blades were lovingly housed in a case made from Mexican Bocote (Cordia elaeagnoides), a very dense deeply grained wood from Mexico also know as Barcino, or Cordiawood. The case was finished with Ebony and Purpleheart, inlaid wood embellishments, and a flocked red background. Del Cover, a master woodworker know nationally for his chairs, art pieces and furniture, agreed to build a custom finished case4 with a beveled glass cover, brass hinges and a customized lock to keep prying fingers away from these razor sharp works of art. Each blade drops deep into a custom inlay, cut into the wood base and flocked so that the blades are protected. The fit is just tight enough to protect without touching the razor sharp edges. There are small finger holes to lift the handles without ever having to touch the steel. CWhile cases are not Del's normal range of artistic work, but as a frequent customer of his art furniture, he agreed to accommodate my request.

If you are considering this type of knife, it is important to know that the bevel is on one side only (the side of the blade close to the hand you hold the blade) with the opposite side slightly hollow ground to allow the very smoothest cut to fish and vegetables used in sashimi and sushi. Most factory made and even custom knives are "right" handed, since left handed sushi chefs are extremely rare in Japan. This smooth cut surface is part of the art of perfect sushi preparation, which is never cut with a sawing motion. To learn more about the value of a polished sharp blade, watch Murray's Introductory and Advanced DVDs on sharpening techniques and pay particular attention to his demonstration of slicing an apple. I have repeated his demonstration for friends with paper thin slices of apples that don't oxidize near as fast of slices from dull knives. Because of the single bevel, the blade angle of the yanagiba and usubabocho are about 15 degrees and the debabocho about 18 degrees. These design details are important to quality sushi as it is important to learn how to hold and use the blade, which has a subtle but different feel compared to a blade with a double bevel. Because of the value of these custom blades, I would recommend that you learn to sharpen these blades by watching Murray's detailed DVDs while practicing on a lesser grade single bevel blade until you have mastered the technique.

So, the important question is how do the knives work? They are scary sharp, hold an edge, sharpen easily, balance perfectly in my hand, and fit me well. Plus, they are just awesome to look at. In short, all three blades are exceptional. They are forged from extremely pure Hitachi white steel and hardened to a Rockwell hardness of 63-64. Here is Murray's comment on the steel he recommended, "white steel, my personal favorite, is an amazingly pure steel and therefore the carbides in the steel allow for the keenest edge possible. So, when a surgically clean cut is required, such as in some type of food preparation (Sushi, etc.), or in woodcarving, White steel reigns as king."

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In Murray's usual style, the blades are both hammer heat forged, and then cold forged before the final shaping. Murray has polished the set to a mirror finish for optimal use, and like all high carbon steel, they will darken with frequent and repeated use. The most amazing thing to me was Murray's ability as someone right handed to artistically forge blades that balance and feel so perfect for my left hand. I have been told that professional sushi chefs in Japan are expected to learn to use their right hand due to the flow of work. It makes sense. Left-handed knives are available from Japan at a 50% markup in price and long wait, and I have noticed that many of them have handles that are shaped for the right hand. I even have a couple of these blades, which were never quite comfortable. In my case, I am profoundly left-handed and using my right hand would be dangerous to me and any bystanders.

The thickness and balance of each of Murray's blades is a perfect weight and balance for its intended use. The Yanagiba is perfect for slicing fish and the fine decorative work, the debabocho is much thicker and balanced so the weight makes smooth work of preparing a whole fish, and the usubabocho is perfect for slicing vegetables into fine slices and slivers for use in sushi.

Now I have my bride in the set of knives that Murray has crafted for me, and believe me when I say the marriage is happy, and expected to last for decades. The only problem is that my other bride of 25 years is beginning to think that my knife obsession is a little peculiar. But she never complains about her sharp kitchen cutlery, and she appreciates it when I take a my turn at cooking.

Here are a few images of the blades in display and ready for use. I hope you enjoy the images and can't offer enough praise for the craftsmanship of Murray Carter and Del Cover.

Murray Carter can be reached at:
www.cartercutlery.com

Del Cover can be reached at:
www.delcoverwoodworking.com



That's it for April's newsletter. Be on the look out for an envelope in the mail from us in May with an invitation to the upcoming Blade Show in Atlanta, Georgia.

As you can see from my report in this newsletter, I want to better serve you by listening to your feedback, both positive and negative, and addressing the issues that concern you. As always, I welcome your comments and questions.

Until our next newsletter,

Stay Sharp and may God richly bless you!

Murray Carter
ABS Master Bladesmith
P.O.Box 307
Vernonia, OR   97064
www.cartercutlery.com
phone 503-429-0447
cell   503-816-6556
murray@cartercutlery.com

© 2008 Carter Cutlery


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Be sure to email me with any questions at Murray@CarterCutlery.com
 

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Carter Cutlery, PO Box 307, Vernonia, OR 97064
503-429-0447 - Murray@CarterCutlery.com
©Copyright: 2007 Carter Cutlery

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