When you use something repetitively everyday, after a while you seldom seem to wonder who made it. For chefs and home cooks alike, a great knife means everything. The durability of the blade, the weight of the handle in your hand as you are slicing and dicing away, and the sharpness are major factors when handling a knife. You want a knife to best fit you, and Moriah Cowles, of Orchard Steel does just that. I had the pleasure of being introduced to Moriah recently and chat about her love for being a blade smith and creating the perfect balanced knife.
Name: Moriah Cowles
Job: Bladesmith and Owner of Orchard Steel LLC.
Where did your love of knives come from and what made you get into creating knives?
It is sort of a round about story. I have always been in love with art and food. I grew up on an apple orchard in Vermont in a community of farmers and food loving people very connected to the land. I also have always loved art and had a need, not just a desire, but a need to make things with my hands. I found blacksmithing by accident while fulfilling an art credit at Colorado College. In the class I was able to sculpt red hot steel into table legs and hinges, providing the perfect marriage of art and function. I fell in love.
After college I went back to Vermont to work on the family apple orchard. Over the next three years I acquired a forge and anvil, took a couple classes in blacksmithing and spent 6 weeks apprenticing with a bladesmith during a bicycle trip through Mexico. It was during one of those moments of limbo, trying to work out my next step in life when I received an email from a friend living in Brooklyn. She connected me to another friend of hers, Joel Bukiewicz of Cut Brooklyn, who makes beautiful high end kitchen knives in Gowanus. A month later I was in my truck, apple boxes packed with clothes, heading to Brooklyn. I worked with Joel for two years, learning so much from him and having a blast. I now have set up my own metal shop in Sunset Park where I make my own kitchen knives from start to finish, all in house. I forge, heat treat, grind, sharpen, make and fit and sculpt the handle pieces, epoxy it all together and finish the knives in the shop.
A lot of knives are sometimes too heavy to handle accurately. How do you find the perfect balance?
I don’t have a formula, I think it’s just been a matter of practice and feel that only comes with time. Since my knives are all forged, each is a bit different, even the handle wood and its weight affects the balance. At first I had to work with each knife’s handle and blade weight to balance them piece by piece. Somehow after working through many designs and just making knife after knife, I have come up with a design and handle to blade ratio that produces a balanced knife. There are so many people out there with different preferences for knife designs, styles, weights and handle sizes. All I can do is make knives that feel good to me, that is my constant. Using my own preference as a base, I am then able to shift the design and add or subtract weight and bulk to the knife and handle upon request.
Does your love of food effect how you construct and build a knife?
I think it would be hard to make a good kitchen knife without loving to cook; there would be too much disconnect. Food has always been a part of my roots, as well as my family’s livelihood. Since there’s not enough time in the day to be both a chef and a knife maker, I had to choose one. Fortunately I have been able to get friends and customers who take my knives into the kitchen with them and give me their feedback. It is a unending learning process, which I love. Plus, now when I cook at home, I have a great supply of sharp knives to use!
Where can the readers purchase your amazing knives?
There is an online shop on my website where I post knives I have made already. Folks can also order knives from me by sending me an email with the size and handle wood preference. For now, my knives are on my website www.orchardsteel.com. If I decide to sell at any retail stores in New York or beyond, I will post it on the website as well!
Where do you go for a no fail meal?
Honestly… home. If I can make it home when both of my roommates are there, without saying more than a couple of words about what we’re going to make together, we dance about the kitchen, talking about the day, chopping veggies, sautéeing onions, baking pastries...you name it. Somehow an incredible feast lines our table every time, and that blows my mind.
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