WHO ELSE THINKS OF STABBING INSTRUMENTS WHEN THEY HEAR THE WORD “KNIFE” INSTEAD OF THE TOOL ALL OF US USE ON A REGULAR BASIS IN THE KITCHEN? IT IS WEIRD HOW SOME WORDS CONJURE UP UNINTENDED MEANINGS. LUCKILY THOUGH, WE SPOKE TO CRAIG AT MAHER KNIVES ABOUT HIS CRAFT AND HOPEFULLY AT THE END OF THIS, THE NEXT TIME YOU HEAR THE WORD KNIFE YOU WILL THINK OF HIM AND HIS CRAFT.
Special invitation to the craftsman’s shed, I broke Craig out of working for an insightful chat about what he makes, inspirations, the culture of what he does and a quick hint on how to find his wares.
How are you doing?
Good, how are you? Come in, sorry. Found the place alright?
Yeah, easy run.
Yeah, all sorts of different things.
I guess two things. I was always exposed to knives as a child with camping and I guess as an adult or through school, I sort of found woodwork and metalwork as a creative outlet. Then from there, as I grew up, interest in Japan and Japanese culture and then turned to food. So, cooking, so then it became kitchen knives.
The Japanese have got almost a knife for all tasks so that led me to looking at making knives and I had a lot of tools because of the woodwork and metalwork aspect and this combined the two because I loved timber and then the metalwork, so I got to combine the two things together.
And just a love of creating something. Taking something as a piece of - you know, starting out as bits and pieces of timber and a bar of metal and then ultimately turning it into a knife or a tool that someone can use.
Is it that making something creatively that also has an outcome, like getting to craft something that you know someone will use for years to come?
That and I think also in terms of a job, you're making something. You've got something tangible at the end. I mean, the other job I do a couple of days a week I'm an engineer, but you don't always necessarily see something at the end of what I do.
This to me is you create but you also see a product and you do get to shape and build that product or you take it from an idea in your head and then turn that into a product as well.
That's a big part of the attraction, that I can sit around and sketch a knife and draw a knife and then ultimately make that knife or whatever it happens to be that I make.
Do you make a lot of things outside of knives? Is that where the specialty is?
Yes, I do knives, but I also do some woodcarving and timber spoons and I've done other metalwork and metal spoons. I like working with copper. Copper is a very interesting sort of medium.
You mentioned a fascination with Japanese culture. Where did that come from?
I don't know. I think I've had hobbies that have sort of been bonsai related and I've always liked Japanese food and I think it's ultimately, I guess the perfection in what they do. They map out every process and I guess they appreciate the handmade.
The attraction for me I guess too is that I get the ability to make something by hand in a world today where we're mass produced and everything has to be instant, it's nice to be able to do something that takes time and you know where all the materials have come from and the processes that have occurred in making that product.
Do you think we're shifting back to that?
I definitely think there's a shift back towards handmade. People appreciate handmade. People are seeking out handmade and people want to know how things are made and they want to have a control over aspects of their knives and their tools. I think people want to be able to choose a particular type of handle or a particular steel or a style.
I think there's definitely an appreciation for the handmade and the move away from the mass-produced. I think there's also a big surge in interest in cooking - home cooking as well - and that cooking means knives and people want nice knives.
Yeah, they last longer, and you know what to do with them potentially.
Yes, and they want something different. I guess everything I make it - even if I try to make two of the same knives, they're never going to be exactly the same so again it links back to that creativity. So, nothing ever - nothing is that true mass produced.
I've made steak knives for restaurants and I've made 20 knives but they're all subtly different. Different timber handles, different pieces of anchor on the handles, that sort of thing.
Do most people seek you out? Do you they see you at the markets?
Instagram is the main thing at the moment but yes, markets. I've just set up a website as well which is working now as well and ultimately, I want to have a webstore, so I can put some things up there. My ultimate aim is to make something I want to make and have someone appreciate it, enough to buy it.
Rather than just making an order, I think it's the ultimate level is if you make something and it's good enough for somebody to want to own it, then to me that is the pinnacle of that creativity process.
Is there a knife making culture? Do you watch other people and see influences?
Definitely. There is. It's not as large in Australia. It's getting larger. In America and other parts of Europe and other countries, it's much bigger where knives are more accepted in terms of everyday use, but certainly it's definitely growing in Australia.
You know, there's quite a number of Australian people making knives. You can look at the internet, YouTube. I do a lot of reading of books. I was basically more or less self-taught through trial and error and learning for your mistakes and building and not making those same mistakes twice and just through experimentation.
I guess it's the science base for me as well, the engineering and the science base is that experimentation process as well.
Yeah, you've got to play off those things. You said knives are not so commonly used. Do you mean people don't have the same relationship with them in Australia?
I think so. I think there's - people see a knife as a knife or given where the culture is leading, they might see them potentially as dangerous as well. Whereas I think a knife in most aspects are basically a tool. It's no different to a saw or a chisel that I use something with a sharp edge.
I guess there's a bit of a stigma, I guess is the word for it, and that's unfortunate. Whereas I guess in other countries, they're more accepted, particularly in the handmade side of things.
Some people appreciate the fact that you want to make knives. Other people go, "Why do you make knives?" It's that each way - I guess it’s human nature. Not everyone appreciates the same thing.
What's the average timeline? How long would you estimate making one?
If it was a larger kitchen knife, if I could just work on that knife and there was no delay between the processes which there isn't because things have to dry and there's always wait time, it could probably take me two days to make a large knife. There's a lot of hours that go into a knife. I could finish a knife in a couple of days, a larger knife. A smaller knife, I could probably knock out a couple in two days or maybe two and half.
I tend to do processes in batches for that reason.
Talented craftsman, check out @maherknives or www.maherknives.com to shop, follow or hunt him down at a market stall. Christmas gift for that special foodie/ chef in your life?