This week on All Points West I introduced listeners to Seth Burton of Cosmo Knives on Salt Spring Island.
I’ve collected a few knives over the years…my bread knife, my filleting knife, various paring knives, a cleaver, and a bunch of knives commonly known as chef’s knives, the all-purpose sort that can be used for most chores in the kitchen, slicing, cutting, chopping. I have my favourites, but I am always on the lookout for the next great knife, one that might feel better in my hand, keep its edge longer, slices a tomato better…so when I heard about Seth Burton’s shop on Salt Spring Island, I had to go visit.
Seth’s Cosmo Knives are made pretty much from scratch. He starts out with raw hunks of steel, heats them and presses them and rolls them and cuts them and grinds them and seasons them and so on, until he has a finished product. His shop, not far from the Fulford Harbour ferry terminal, is jammed with grinders and presses and a forge, much of it built or designed by Seth himself.
Seth just found a 6,000 pound metal roller in Quebec, bought it and had it shipped on the train to Vancouver, where a friend with a BIG truck picked it up. This device helps him take layers of heated metal and flatten them out so he can cut the raw form of the knife out of it. It really helps him make his special line of Damascus steel knives.
Damascus steel was originally created in 900 or so AD, but the Damascus steel we know today consists of many layers of steel laminated onto a central core. The way the layers are folded and processed and etched with acid creates incredible patterns on the blade of the knife. If you like knives, you look at this kind of knife you want one…the picture here is of some of his first efforts in making knives from the steel he can now roll out.
Seth started off as a cabinet maker, thought that was what he wanted to do, then dabbled in blacksmithing and making tools, a friend of his asked him to make a knife, and then he and that same friend shared a little voyage of discovery, where he came across a famous knife maker in the U.S. Southwest. He spent just an hour and a half with him, but by the end of that time he knew what he needed to get into the business in a serious way, and more importantly, that he could make a living at it.
As I walked around the shop with Seth, I realized just how many steps it takes to make one of his knives…forging, rolling, cutting, grinding, handle making, polishing. He’s approaching the 1500 mark now, every knife has the name of his company, Cosmo, stamped into it, and the number of the knife. Prices range from about 200 dollars, all the way up to say 800 depending on the complexity of the construction. When you consider how much work goes into each piece, though, and the quality of the metal and the assembly, it’s not really that much more than a factory-made knife. I think it would be a great Christmas gift for the foodie in your life who has everything. Hint, hint, hint! But order now, as these are truly made to order. Go to his website for more info.