Andy Gladish spends most days manipulating hot metal on an 1890s anvil in his outdoor studio on Guemes Island. A blacksmith and the owner of Element Fe, he creates beautiful, sharp, and durable cooking knives daily, in accordance with his philosophy that preparing food should be as fun as eating it. “I realized my love of cooking fresh local food and metalwork could intersect,” he said.
Although Gladish did metal work all his life, he didn’t begin blacksmithing—the art of heating up metal and working it while it’s hot—until 1998. It started when he had trouble achieving a certain shape for a project. His friend gave him an anvil and forge, and Gladish never looked back. He joined a blacksmith group and took classes to learn the craft.
Element Fe knives are made with carbon and stainless steel. The combination, when made to the right hardness, can be ground to a very thin edge without chipping or bending. Gladish explained that making the edge “is the real trick in getting a good knife.”
First, he’ll cut out the knife’s shape using a template and sharpen the blade on a sanding belt. Then the metal gets heated in a temperature-controlled furnace and is quickly cooled with a dunk in oil or water. Now the metal is brittle and can shatter easily—it needs to be tempered. Tempering creates just the precise hardness and is done by heating the metal slightly. Gladish tempers his knives using a regular kitchen oven heated to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
When the blades are ready, Gladish gets to work on the wooden handles. The wood comes from a variety of places, including specialty wood suppliers, and even people Gladish meets during art shows. Raw wood handles are sanded down to a desired shape and smoothness, then attached to the blade. Element Fe knives are full tang construction, arguably the sturdiest type of knife.
With years of blacksmithing experience, it takes about a week from start to finish to create a good knife, he says. “You have to know all the processes.” He says a well-made knife is worth the investment. Gladish advises using a ceramic hone knife sharpener to keep edges sharp. Drag the blade at a 10- to 12-degree angle across the hone. Use a whetstone once or twice a year, but keep in mind every knife needs professional regrinding eventually. The frequency of sharpening depends on the frequency of use, which, with a well-made knife, could be quite often.
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