Healdsburg knife makers bring an ancient art form to the kitchen

Healdsburg knife makers bring an ancient art form to the kitchen

Let’s get the cutlery puns out of the way in which early.

Mike Benz and Chris Fracaro are sharp, incisive guys who solid a friendship round one explicit shared worth: “Chris and I each had that very same distaste for immediate trash,” Benz says, “all these issues that find yourself in landfills, which are not presupposed to survive us.

In February 2021, the artisans fashioned Seral Wooden & Metal. Utilizing reclaimed metal and wooden sourced from Sonoma County, they produce hand-forged chef’s knives and kitchen utensils of exceptional magnificence, instruments that straddle the road between utility and performance. artwork. Their knives are designed to be handed down — “perhaps even fought over,” Benz says, with a smile — from one technology to the following.

Throughout forging, Seral’s knives are heated to 2000 levels, then hammered with an vintage electrical hammer and formed by hand. (John Troxell)

Each are intentional, deliberate, proudly old-school. The anvil of their Healdsburg retailer dates again to 1860. The 7,000 pound drop hammer has been round for a century. “Our desk noticed dates from 1969,” provides Fracaro.

“I really like issues which might be properly constructed and constructed to final.”

Their course of is the alternative of mass manufacturing. “We mapped it out,” Benz stated, “and nevertheless you narrow it” – that pun was unintentional, he later confirmed – “with all of the heating time , quenching, processing and gluing, we won’t make a knife no quicker than about two weeks.However we are able to make just a few knives in that point.

Fracaro grew up with “crappy” chrome steel knives “that bent like a spring” – not a very good factor in his cutlery, he explains. When somebody gave him a high-end Japanese knife, he seen how stiff it was and the way significantly better it labored. He began to prepare dinner extra. His subsequent thought: How can I do that?

The primary automotive he owned was a 1970 Camaro. “I’ve all the time beloved taking issues aside and determining how they work,” says Fracaro, a graduate of Oregon’s South Albany Excessive Faculty, whose program industrial arts featured a powerful steel store class, the place he first welded and labored in a foundry. “I then began to develop a ardour for steel,” explains Fracaro.

The grain of every blade comes from the fusion of two metals: a stainless-steel outer “shell” and a excessive carbon core that may maintain a leading edge. (John Troxell)

Benz is initially from Peekskill, New York, within the Hudson Valley. Whereas working in a brewery in Ithaca, he met his future spouse, Christine, then a viticulture scholar at Cornell College. Their relationship blossomed. After getting her grasp’s diploma, nevertheless, she knowledgeable Benz that she was shifting to California.

Benz had a Sonoma County connection: He had befriended Natalie and Vinnie Cilurzo, co-founders of the Russian River Brewing Firm, on a hop farm in upstate New York. “I principally simply adopted them west,” he says, “they usually stored me, like a rescue animal.”

Benz joined the brewery and shortly grew to become director of distribution and gross sales. Whereas studying to roast espresso, throughout what he calls his “pastime”, he met Fracaro, whom he describes as “one of many first buddies I made that I might spend time to not point out beer”.

Fracaro began educating his good friend blacksmithing and knife making. In December 2019, Benz and his spouse launched into a “delayed honeymoon” in Japan, the place they visited a household engaged “within the historical artwork of knife-making,” Benz recalled.

Witnessing the care and a focus given to craftsmanship, studying how hand forging bolstered the structural integrity of every blade, stuffed Benz with a “new degree of power for the challenge”.

A 12 months later, Seral opened its doorways – having moved Fracaro’s boutique to Healdsburg from Petaluma.

The handles of the knives come from oak, laurel and laurel bushes within the North Bay area. (John Troxell)
A lot of the chrome steel utilized by the pair was left over from Russian River Brewing Firm development tasks. (John Troxell)

Twenty years within the craft beer trade satisfied Benz that there was a rising inhabitants in Sonoma County of people that anticipated excellence, “but additionally needed to know the story of the eagerness behind it.” , he stated. “So many individuals come right here for the beer, the wine, the meals, and we’ve got superb variations of all of these issues. We needed to create one thing made with supplies from this area.

A lot of the chrome steel utilized by the pair was left over from Russian River Brewing Firm development tasks. Benz and Fracaro’s forging course of makes use of two thirds of reclaimed chrome steel, which serves because the knife’s outer sheath. The ultimate third is a excessive carbon core within the center, which permits the blade to choose up and keep a high quality edge. Chrome steel is “robust and finicky” and is greatest solid in an oxygen-free surroundings, Fracaro says. “If it oxidizes, we won’t bond the metals collectively.” Thus, the steel is heated to 2,000 levels, then hammered with an electrical hammer “which shatters it on the atomic degree. “

For pattern-welded metal blades, they’re going to repeat the method — reduce, stack, and forge-weld every billet, a small rectangle of semi-finished metal — till the specified sample is achieved. This takes time and ends in a lack of materials of 30%. However the outcomes are gorgeous. The geometry of every knife made by the pair is specifically tailored to its process.

As soon as the billet of metal is the proper dimension, they begin hammering the form of the knife by hand, on the anvil, forging the tip to some extent. After forging the profile of the blade, they form the deal with. And after cooling, the metal returned to the specified hardness.

Fracaro and Benz can solely work on just a few knives at a time; From begin to end, the method of creating a single blade can take as much as two weeks. (John Troxell)
In direction of the tip of manufacturing, Benz attaches a elegant burl wooden deal with utilizing an vintage mallet. (John Troxell)

The handles of the knives come from oak, laurel and laurel bushes within the North Bay area. Benz and Fracaro additionally use offcut walnut from Cali’Co Hardwoods, a Santa Rosa firm that makes shares. The nut that Cali’Co cannot use goes right into a pile referred to as Fancy Rejects, “which can be our band’s identify, as soon as we get began,” Benz deadpans.

The best reward, the 2 say, is the nod of approval from an trade chief. “That is when Chris and I clapped our palms,” says Benz, “as a result of we all know we did it proper.”

It is also very rewarding after they promote knives to residence cooks, “and also you meet them a 12 months later, and their enthusiasm for handmade culinary instruments has skyrocketed. As a result of after you have one, there is not any going again. It is like consuming craft beer. You are not going again to Bud.

Benz concludes with a riff on the place they see one another many years from now. They hope to be established figures, “the cutlers of the town”.

At that time, they is perhaps “a bit grumpy,” he admits, barely hunched “due to all of the handbook work we do. However we’re comfortable. We aren’t making an attempt to develop ourselves, to overcome the world. We do that factor that’s near our hearts. And we do it repeatedly, and properly.

And with a little bit edge.


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