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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Posted by Suzanne McMinn on January 18, 2013  

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27 Responses | RSS feed for comments on this post

  1. 1-18

    Suzanne! Your timing is perfect. I was searching for something very special to give my hubby for our anniversary. Larry’s knives are beautiful and would be something both memorable and useful. I have already emailed Larry for pictures as I am too far away to visit. Thank you for pointing me in the right direction. Your boys are going to love these.

  2. 1-18

    Those are Damacus knives. They are made my layer the metal. That is how you get the beautiful pattern in the blade. They are a very strong knife and will last forever! Larry has done a beautiful job on the handles and sheath as well. You got quite a bargain there for your two. The time it takes to make just one knife blade is hours and hours.

    My husband does a bit of black smiting and we are in a club with others who have learned the craft and anyone who wants to learn. It is sad that people do not realize the time it takes to make just one piece from scratch by hand.

    I am going to get Larry’s information. I know my husband would love to visit his shop if we get a chance to get down that way. :)

    I”m so excited for your boys. Those are lovely.

  3. 1-18

    Those knives are beautiful. $200 for a quality, handmade knive with sheath is very, very cheap.

  4. 1-18

    WOW! I just wanna reach out and touch ’em, they’re so beautiful. And I agree, that’s a fair price, maybe even a little low.

  5. 1-18

    Wow! These are beautiful. Folks pay big bucks for stuff made in other countries (phones, TVs…) that have a limited life span. These knives can be passed on to loved ones. I know these are not for chefs, but a really good kitchen knife can cost as much. Thanks for sharing.

  6. 1-18

    wow!!! 26year old son’s bday is April – if he doesn’t come up with an idea in the next few weeks, he is getting a knife from West Virginia. THANK YOU Susan! and if Larry decides to make a kitchen knife or bread knife, let me know, I will be second in line. :D

    Thanks for the post. Deb

  7. 1-18

    Those are beautiful! I’m working of thinking up a excuse to buy one. Or two.

  8. 1-18

    What beautiful simple contrast between the two steels. Just lovely. Did Larry give you instruction on taking care of these wonderful knives? We get so used to stainless this and stainless that — but these knives are carbon steel and they do need a little extra attention. So worth it, though. And they will last forever and take a great edge. Lucky boys!!

  9. 1-18

    What a find those are beautiful.

  10. 1-18

    those are BEAUTIFUL San mai blades. and yes, he’s undercharging. thanks for the information, Suzanne. i’ve been looking for something like this.

  11. 1-18

    Wow. Those are arguably the most beautiful knives I have seen. I can imagine a paring knife and a short bladed chefs knife being gorgeous as well….maybe Larry just needs a Little more encouragement to expand his line! Of course, it would be more like work than a hobby then…. Great gifts Suzanne!

  12. 1-18

    These are beautiful! What lucky boys you have. My son loves knives as well & I agree – that’s an amazing price for a handcrafted knife.

  13. 1-18

    Wow, the boys will LOVE those knives. The handles are absolutely gorgeous. Those knives are the type of treasures to be passed down to future generations. :yes:

  14. 1-18

    Ooooh… Thank you, Suzanne!! My husband said that these knives are way under priced! And they really are beautiful!

  15. 1-18

    Great post, lovely knives, your boys will be very happy methinks! :dancingmonster:

    I followed the link to Travel West Virginia, and I emailed the videographer and said he should come see you. I hope that’s ok. There’s a link on his site for sending him suggestions. You don’t mind, do you?


  16. 1-18

    I also have a man child. The boy people are very hard to find gifts for. You have given me a great idea. Thank you. My son has several knives from various places around the world he has collected in our travels. He will love these!

  17. 1-18

    No, I don’t mind, thank you!

  18. 1-18

    Just, WOW! Thanks for posting about this knifemaker. What a special gift for your boys. I just emailed Mr. Withrow and enquired about buying a knife for my son too. You are right about the difficulty of finding good gifts for adult sons. These knives are perfection though.

  19. 1-18

    Those knives are beautiful! I think he is absolutely undercharging. When you state the price I did a double take. I’m definitely going to keep him in mind for the hubby. I’m sure your boys will love their knives.

  20. 1-18

    Absolutely gorgeous!!! I think my hubby needs one of these beautiful knives.
    I love things made the old fashioned way and am more than willing to ‘invest’ in one of these beauties!

  21. 1-19

    There is an old superstition that if you give a knife as a gift that you should include a coin (often a penny) so that the recipient of the knife can “pay” you for the knife (with the included coin); it is then no longer a gift as they “paid” you for it.
    The knives are gorgeous and a wonderful gift for a man. Good choices on your part.

  22. 1-19

    Beautiful workmanship!!

    For some great kitchen knifes, you might check out Warther Cutlery in Dover, Ohio. All handmade on location and free sharpening for life. These knives last forever.
    Here is a link to a bread knife.

  23. 1-19

    I’m with princessvanessa about the penny. In my version of the superstition the penny keeps the knife from ‘severing’ the relationship between the giver and the recipient. It also shows that the giver means no harm to the recipient. And those are beautiful knives, just beautiful.

  24. 1-19

    Suzanne, Larry must have bought a new computer with the sale of the knives to you. LOL I wrote him and he told me he’s trying to get his new computer set up and Windows 8 was giving a bit of a problem. As soon as he loads the pictures he’ll get back with me.

    I too, sent an email to Traveling WVA and told him that he needs to check you out with your workshops of many skills that are being lost today.

  25. 1-21

    Well, Larry sent pictures and before I could get back to him, he sold my first choice as well as several others. Luckily, my second choice was still available and will be shipped tomorrow. Don’t waste time if you want one, they are selling out fast (Good Job Suzanne). Of course, he will make more but then you will have to wait. Don’t you just hate waiting?

  26. 1-21

    His knives are works of art. In our fast food, Walmart lives, it is hard to get people to understand what goes into something handmade and why these objects of art are worth the prices being asked for them.
    Good luck on being featured. I hope you get that call!

  27. 1-28

    Got my knife today and it’s absolutely gorgeous! The workmanship is amazing and it’s well worth the money- I honestly think his prices are excellent and these knives are worth much more.

    I think I was the first one to order once he got his computer up and I got my first choice- ti’s amazing and something we will treasure.

    Thanks Suzanne for sharing!

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