Archive for January 18th, 2013

Trip to a Knifemaker


Every week, the local ABC affiliate, WCHS, airs a “Traveling West Virginia” segment in which photojournalist Brad Rice visits “interesting people, exciting places, challenging activities.” (WHY has he not been to Sassafras Farm, hmm? What am I, chopped liver? This is the most widely-read personal website emanating from the state of West Virginia and has been featured in almost every newspaper in the state, but I “can’t get no respect” from the TV people. I’m interesting! The farm is exciting! Milking Glory Bee is challenging! YOU COULD GET KICKED. Okay, never mind.) Last week, there was a segment on a West Virginia knife craftsman. I’m not real interested in knives of this sort (hunting knives), but I love all things hand-crafted the old-fashioned way. The knives were also gorgeous and my mind immediately leaped to the boys’ birthdays. Their birthdays aren’t till May, but I figured I’d forget all about the knives by then, so I looked up the contact info on the Traveling WV page and emailed Larry Withrow, the knifemaker, right away. I discovered his shop was located just around the corner from Mike the horse trainer, which meant it wasn’t far away, I knew how to get there, and an outing could include a bonus visit with Mike.

I figure it’s safe to discuss the boys’ birthday presents since Ross is currently under the ocean on a submarine and Weston is back at WVU and better be studying. Ross is an avid hunter and fisherman, so I knew he’d love a beautiful knife like the ones I saw on the segment. Weston is not a hunter or fisherman at all, but he likes weaponry nonetheless and these knives are real keepsake pieces. And have you ever noticed how difficult it is to come up with a good present idea for boy people? Wasn’t letting this one slip away.

Larry sent me photos of knives he had currently available along with prices, and I made up my mind that it was time for an outing! I brought a friend with me and we set off for the knifemaker’s shop. Larry was just as friendly and laidback as he appeared on the segment.

He showed us around his shop, talking about his equipment and his process.
Larry is a self-taught craftsman. He started making knives after he retired.
He uses layered steel and exotic woods, and also hand-crafts the leather holder for each knife. Here are knives in their yet unformed state. Baby knives!
Knives ready for handles.
Sections of exotic woods he uses to make the handles.
After touring his shop, Larry took us inside his house and I sat down at his dining room table to peruse the available knives. I was so in love with the knives, I asked him if he made bread knives because I wanted one for me. (No.)
Notice that the leather holders themselves are also beautifully crafted. Everything about these knives is special. I asked Larry if he’d gotten a lot of traffic out to his shop since the segment aired on Traveling WV. He said he’d gotten quite a few contacts, but that usually once people found out the price, they disappeared. Only one person had been out to his shop to actually make a purchase, before me. Considering the materials, time, and craftsmanship involved in making the blade, the handle, and the holder, I was surprised his knives weren’t more expensive. Larry says in the segment that it’s pretty much a hobby, and I can believe it because I don’t think he’s making much profit. It’s clearly something he does as a passion more than anything else or his knives would cost two or ten times as much. Eventually, I chose two knives, one each for Ross and Weston, and handed Larry the appropriate number of one hundred dollar bills, which seemed to take him by surprise since he’s used to people telling him he charges too much for his knives. I told him he didn’t charge enough. I took pictures and told him I’d show his knives to a few hundred thousand people, but I don’t think he believed me.

Here are the knives I chose. This one speaks to me and says ROSS. You can see this knife in the segment. The wood is very easily recognizable.
It’s a 4-inch blade, 1095/203E (like I know what any of that means) with a handle carved from maple. I love the pattern in the wood.
This one says WESTON.
It’s a 3 7/8-inch blade, 1095/203E, with a dark, rich ironwood handle.

(No, I didn’t get one for Morgan, though I told her I was going to get the knives for the boys. She wants a new cell phone for her birthday.)

Larry’s shop is in the Kelly’s Creek area in the countryside outside Charleston, for anyone local who might be interested in visiting. Larry will also sell his knives via mail if you can’t visit. I like to see and touch something I’m purchasing, but if you’re outside the area, I can vouch that these knives are awesome and everything Larry says they are and more.

You can view the Traveling West Virginia segment and find Larry’s contact info here, but lest I cause a big waste of Larry’s time, let me note that most of these knives cost about $200 each. His knives are also sold at Tamarack, but trust me, you will pay more there (and the extra money doesn’t go to Larry).
I get to keep the knives till May, so I’m just sitting around fondling and admiring them. They are truly the most beautiful knives I’ve ever seen and the boys will be lucky if I give them to them. I’m getting attached!

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"It was a cold wintry day when I brought my children to live in rural West Virginia. The farmhouse was one hundred years old, there was already snow on the ground, and the heat was sparse-—as was the insulation. The floors weren’t even, either. My then-twelve-year-old son walked in the door and said, “You’ve brought us to this slanted little house to die." Keep reading our story....

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