Foodies’ Ultimate Kitchen Knives: Chef Bob Kramer’s Custom Crafted Knives

If you are not already familiar with Former Chef Bob Kramer, he is the only Certified Master Bladesmith in the U.S. who has, with few exceptions, devoted his art exclusively to producing gorgeous, unique hand-crafted kitchen knives.  If you are not familiar with how extraordinary this title is, below are excerpts from the American Bladesmith Society which explains the process.
A bladesmith who joins the ABS must be a Regular (Apprentice)  member for three (3) years before he or she is eligible to present knives to the judging panel at the annual Blade Show in Atlanta or ABS Expo in San Antonio, with the anniversary based on the date of that semi-annual ABS business meeting or event.  Once the Apprentice has met the rquired waiting period, then the Apprentice is eligible to submit knives for testing to become a Journeyman Bladesmith.  The Journey test consists of 4 parts:

1. ROPE CUTTING: THE PURPOSE OF THIS TEST IS TO TEST THE EDGE GEOMETRY AND SHARPNESS.  The rope is to be hung in a safe manner, so that the end of the rope to be cut hangs loose without touching the floor or any other object.  The cut must be approximately six (6) inches from the end of the free hanging rope.  If neither the applicant nor the Master Smith successfully cuts the rope, the applicant fails.

2. WOOD CHOPPING: THE PURPOSE OF THIS TEST IS TO DEMONSTRATE EDGE TOUGHNESS.  The chopping test is to be conducted with 2×4 construction grade pine wood stud.  A chopping motion (no whittling) is to be used.  Any nicks, chips, flat spots, rolled edges, or other deformations of the blade will result in failing the test.

3. SHAVING HAIR: THE PURPOSE OF THIS TEST IS TO DEMONSTRATE EDGE RETENTION.  After the Master Smith approves the quality of the edge, the blade will be returned to the applicant. The applicant must then shave hair using the section of the blade that was most frequently used in the cutting and chopping portions of the test.

4. BENDING: THE PURPOSE OF THIS TEST IS TO SHOW THAT THE APPLICANT IS ABLE TO HEAT TREAT A KNIFE WITH A SOFT BACK AND A HARD EDGE.  The bending of the blade is the final test.  The blade will then be inserted into a vise, tip first, such that the blade is placed into the vise up to the mark on the blade.  The applicant will then bend the blade ninety (90) degrees. The supervising Master Smith will signal the applicant when the ninety (90) degree angle has been reached. The blade is allowed to crack at the edge on bending but not beyond approximately one third (1/3rd) the width of the blade leaving two thirds (2/3rds) of the blade intact. However, if any part of the blade chips or any part of the blade or tang breaks off, the applicant fails.

Assuming that the candidate has held the rating of Journeyman Smith for a period of two years or more, he or she is now eligible to enter the testing phase for Master Bladesmith.  As you might imagine, the knife construction testing to rise to the ranks of a Master Bladesmith is even more stringent and detailed, and you can find those requirements by clicking on “Master Bladesmith” here.

If you look at his website link below, you will see a range of knives from semi-custom to fully custom knives.  His knives are in such overwhelming demand by culinary professionals and foodies, that many people sign onto the literally years-long, waiting list knowing they may never reach it to the top of the list to get their own fully custom-crafted, knife created.  So, to help out those people on the lengthy waiting list, Bob creates some knives from scratch and puts them up for auction.  To keep it fair, he select names from their email list both chronologically and randomly on a regular basis.  Plus, for every auction, 10% of the proceeds from these auctions go to the charities listed on his website.  However, don’t get too excited about the auction as an alternative to the waiting list.  The last auction I watched, I saw the for a 6″ utility, 8″ chefs plus custom cutting board go for over $50,000 dollars.  Yes, that’s right, no typo.
Also note that when I say custom knives, I’m not referring to just a pretty custom wood handle with your choice of blade size.  I’m talking about making you a knife totally from scratch.  This means choosing the metal you want him to forge the blade out – of high carbon or hundreds of layers of damascus steel, type of blade pattern (over a dozen), knife style – Japanese or European, kitchen purpose & length – 10″ chefs, 8″chefs, 6″ utility, etc., and your choice of exotic wood for the handle.  When last I checked about a year ago, those lucky few who do get to place their order for a custom knife, were paying for a little over $400 per inch.
For the mere mortals wishing a have a Kramer knife at a less than half the cost, there are some Limited Edition (only 250), ready-made, high quality, hand forged and hammered knives constructed to Bob Kramer’s exacting standards available through Sur La Table.  And the least expensive option for a knife that carries the Bob Kramer name and quality are made by Zwilling J.A. Henckels to his specifications in both damascus stainless and high carbon steel.  If you ever get the chance to see him in person, do take advantage of the occasion.  Especially if it is his knife skill class.  I was fortunate to meet the former chef and Master Bladesmith, learn his life story, get an autographed book, and a discount coupon for 10% off the purchase of his knives.  I hope you enjoyed my little blurb, and please let me know you “Like” it at my facebook page.

5 Responses

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