A shrill rattling noise penetrates the narrow street of Blenheim Grove, consisting of brick houses. It comes from the train, which comes to a very slow stop on the tracks of the nearby Peckham Rye Station. Here in Peckham, a district in the south of London, Jon Warshawsky, James Ross-Harris and Richard Warner have set up their own small knife making factory. If you want to view the workshop from the inside, you first have to go through an impressive, heavy iron gate. Behind it there are high walls, all kinds of tools and of course, wooden cabinets full of high-quality knives. What motivated three young Englishmen to make their own knives? “It was kind of accidental,” James confesses. “Jon, Rich and me are friends and we started messing around in the garden and made a couple of knives,” James explains, well knowing how naive his words sound. But they kept on and turned a crazy idea into a hobby, a hobby into a passion – and the passion into their profession. “And now, a couple of years later we’re doing it full-time.”
After graduating from Goldsmith College in London, James initially focused on custom-made furniture – but was not satisfied with his work. Together with his roommate Jon, he ventured into this great experiment: With the help of YouTube videos, the hobby craftsmen produced their first knife – and soon realized that the initial success was due to luck rather than skill. From then on, they spent every weekend reproducing the once successful knife, usually rather badly. Then Richard, who had previously worked as a miner in Australia, joined in and the trio was complete.
But what the three needed was a workshop. They finally found it in Peckham – and the foundation was laid. However, the next hurdle was already waiting for them. “When we first moved in here we only had very basic equipment,” says James. “So in the first two years of running Blenheim Forge, basically any money we made went back into buying tools, because without the right equipment you just can’t make knives.” Since then, the three have steadily improved their skill and have developed from pure craftsmen into artists and made a name for themselves – in one of the hardest disciplines that steelwork has to offer: the production of high-quality Damascus-style kitchen knives.
Inspired by Japanese design, Blenheim Forge knives shine in splendid silver, deep grey and dazzling copper. But appearances are deceptive – because they can do much more than just look good:
The term Damascus steel – or damask – originates from the city of Damascus. In the 12th century, this was an important place for the trade in arms. The material itself designates the bond of one or more steel grades. Up to 400 layers can be welded together to achieve a particularly beautiful effect. If the material is then polished or etched, the structure of the different layers becomes apparent.
Legend has it that swords made of Damascus steel are unbreakable, breathtakingly beautiful – and above all, they make their owners invincible in battle. The material is sharper and harder than any other type of steel in the world – and Blenheim Forge knives confirm this even today.
Heat, dirt and corrosive liquids are ever-present companions of the three craftsmen. So they quickly realized that this profession is not for the faint-hearted. But the three Londoners still don’t want to have anything to do with mechanized production. They have dedicated themselves to traditional knife making. “There’s a lot of failure, but we’ve developed a process that is fairly consistent,” he says. For every good knife, there comes at least one that does not meet the requirements and therefore has to be sorted out. However, giving up has never been an option for the three friends and so they have remained true to themselves. The entire production is still done by hand. Every piece is unique – to the delight of their customers. “We didn’t know when we started that there was a market for it. We just thought maybe people would like a nice knife. Now we send them around the world,” says James, “to lots of chefs, enthusiastic home cooks or collectors. All sorts really.”
Traditional production methods, selected materials and genuine craftsmanship make the knives popular worldwide. The waiting period for an order is currently around three weeks. For the production of a knife, the trio plans around 30 hours – with a weekly production of 20 to 30 pieces. In order to ensure optimum quality despite the large workload, the three have developed their own quality assurance. “We try to spread the work around, so you’re never doing the same thing for too long,” says James. And that’s worth it. One thing the three self-trained cutlers are sure of: “with care, a handmade knife from Blenheim Forge will last a lifetime.”