Monday, February 29, 2016

Chuck Stapel – Knife Maker to the Stars

Chuck Stapel began making knives at the age of ten, when he discovered that he didn’t like the handle of a paring knife he got as a birthday present, and decided to make his own! He already had some training from his father, who had dabbled in knife making most of his life as well. His father’s interest began in the Navy during World War II, when, while stationed on a LCS in the Pacific, he began taking old hacksaws and files, and making them into works of art. He later presented some of his works to his son, which helped inspire Chuck to shape creations of his own. 

Taking the craft of knife making seriously after high school, Chuck continued to hone his skill, and after building his own workshop, spent every available moment working on new designs and techniques. Living his whole life in Los Angeles, California, only a short walk to most of the Hollywood Studios, Chuck’s knives soon found themselves not only in movies and television shows, but in the private collections of many of Hollywood’s biggest stars.

After becoming a champion trap, skeet and sporting clay shooter, Chuck began to be invited to many celebrity charity events, wherein he was asked to make “Trophy Knives” for the top prizes and for charity auctions. He was embraced by the world of Country/Western music stars as well, who also became great fans of his work.

Chuck’s knives have appeared in dozens of movies such as “Quigley Down Under”, “Switchback”, “No Mercy”, and “Little Nikita”; in hundreds of commercials; and in countless television shows such as “Wild side”, “Magnificent Seven”, “Thunder In Paradise”, “Walker: Texas Ranger”, “Knightrider”, “Jason and the Argonauts”, and “Magnum P.I.”

His knives are prized as works of art, and collector’s items, and are displayed at many museums, such as the Roy Rogers Museum, and Gene Autry Western Museum, and in the private collection’s all over the world, including such celebrities as Robert Stack, Tom Selleck, Roy “Dusty” Rogers, Jr., Chuck Norris, the Mandrell Sisters, Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton, and John Milius.

Chuck had made to order and donated knives to over two hundred charities, including Paralyzed Veterans, Quails Unlimited, Ducks Unlimited, Wild Turkey Federation, California Waterfowl, Irlene Mandrel’s Wish Upon A Star Charity shoot, the Boy Scouts of America, St. Jude Hospital, the Hollywood Celebrity Shoot, the Charlton Heston Celebrity Shoot, Ben Johnson’s Celebrity Rodeo for “Little Britches”, Pike’s Peak Charity Rodeo, Roy Roger’s “Happy Trails” charity, the Holy Cross Children’s Hospital and Free Clinic, to name just a few.

As an investment, Chuck’s knives are traded, sold and exchanged all over the world. In fact Chuck holds the record for one of the highest prices paid for a custom knife when one of his specialty knives was sold for over $12,000 at the Irlene Mandrel Celebrity Wish Upon A Star Shoot, held at the Rio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas in 1999.

With the introduction of his exclusive website, Chuck can now offer his “One of a Kind” knives to enthusiasts and collectors all over the word with a click of a mouse button. He will also be offering a special “knife of the month”, limited edition numbered knifes, collectibles and corporate gift items. He especially enjoys the chance to be able to impart his own personal story and history behind each of his knives for everyone to read!

Chuck divides him time these days between his knife studio in Los Angles, and another in Hawaii. He spends a lot of time traveling to dozens of charity events where he both competes in shooting sports and creates special knives.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Knives from Seki City, Japan

The Seki-City, Gifu-Prefecture is a small town located in the middle of Japan, and is famous worldwide for its production of fine knives like Solingen in Germany. The history (about 780 years) of Seki cutlery industry dates back to the 13th century, when master sword smith, Motoshige moved from Kyushu district to Seki and began making his swords here. He chose Seki for its rich natural as well as material conditions.

Seki offered, at the top of the list, good quality iron sand, charcoal and water.
During the Muromachi Era (1338-1573), which began just a century later, there were over 300 sword smiths working in Seki. Kanemoto Magoroku and Saburo Shizu were two of the most famous. The superior quality of Seki swords and the name of Seki were quickly recognized throughout Japan and its solid reputation as a sword-making center was established.

The techniques and skills and the ancient attitudes of traditional Japanese sword making has been passed down across the centuries and are still alive in today's modern cutlery industry. And Seki City remains a vibrant center of Japanese cutlery manufacture.

There are a number of different types of Japanese kitchen knives. The most commonly used types in the Japanese Kitchen are the deba bocho (fish filleting), the santoku hocho (all-purpose utility knife), the nakiri bocho and usuba hocho (Japanese vegetable knives), and the tako hiki and yanagi ba (sashimi slicers).

Types of kitchen knives

There are two classes of traditional Japanese knife forging methods: honyaki and kasumi. The class is based on the method and material used in forging the knife. Honyaki are true-forged knives, made from one material.

This is generally a top grade with knife specific steel (blue and white steel are most common). Kasumi are made from two materials: high-carbon steel "hagane" (blue or white steel in good kasumi knives) and soft iron "jigane" forged together. This style of knife offers a similar cutting edge to a honyaki blade in high-grade knives. It offers the benefit of being "more forgiving" and generally easier to maintain than the honyaki style, at the expense of stiffness. Some see this as an advantage.

San Mai generally refers to knives with the hard steel hagane forming the blade's edge and the iron/stainless forming a jacket on both sides. In stainless versions, this offers a practical and visible advantage of a superb cutting edge of modern Japanese knife steel with a corrosion resistant exterior. In professional Japanese kitchens, the edge is kept free of corrosion and knives are generally sharpened on a daily basis. Corrosion can be avoided by keeping the exposed portion of the non-stainless portion of the blade clean and dry after each use.
Honyaki and kasumi knives are both forged out of steel. Honyaki knives are stiffer and are said to have better kirenaga (duration of sharpness) and hardness, however they are more difficult to use and maintain. Additionally, there are high-grade quality kasumi knives called hongasumi and layered-steel kasumi called Suminagashi or Damascus that have longer kirenaga.

Originally, all Japanese kitchen knives were made from the same carbon steel as the traditional Japanese swords named Nihonto but the forging method is different. Nihonto are forged out of one type of steel that is laminated and then differentially heat-treated. Currently san mai knives have a similar quality, containing an inner core of hard and brittle carbon steel, with a thick layer of soft and more ductile steel sandwiched around the core so that the hard steel is exposed only at the cutting edge. Nowadays stainless steel is often used for Japanese kitchen knives, and san mai or Suminagashi laminated blade construction is used in more expensive blades to add corrosion resistance while maintaining strength and durability.


Much of the high-quality Japanese cutlery originates from Sakai, the capital of sword manufacturing 
since the 14th century. After the Meiji Restoration, the carrying of swords by the samurai class was banned as part of an attempt to modernize Japan. Though demand for military swords remained and some sword smiths still produced traditional samurai swords as art, the majority of sword smiths refocused their skill to cutlery production.

The production of steel knives in Sakai started in the 16th century, when the Portuguese introduced tobacco to Japan, and Sakai craftsmen started to make knives for cutting tobacco. The Sakai knives industry received a major boost from the Tokugawa Shogunate (1603–1868), which granted Sakai a special seal of approval and enhanced its reputation for quality (and according to some references a monopoly).

During the Edo period (1603–1867) or more precisely the Genroku era (1688–1704)) the deba bocho were manufactured, soon followed by a wide range of other styles. Making kitchen knives and related products is still a major industry in Sakai, using a combination of modern machinery and traditional hand tools to make stain-resistant carbon steel blades.

Seki, Gifu is today considered the home of modern Japanese kitchen cutlery, where state-of-the-art manufacturing and technology has updated ancient forging skills to produce a world-class series of stainless and laminated steel kitchen knives famed throughout the world. The major cutlery making companies are based in Seki, and they produce the highest quality kitchen knives in the traditional Japanese style and the western style, like the gyuto and the santoku Knives and swords are so much a part of the city that it is home of the Seki Cutlery Association, the Seki Sword smith Museum, the Seki Outdoor Knife Show, the October Cutlery Festival, and the Cutlery Hall where tourists can purchase knives.

Another famous center for traditional blacksmiths and knife smiths is Miki City. Miki is well known to all of Japan for its knife making traditions, and its knives and tools recall the pride of Japanese steelmaking. Most Miki manufacturers are small family businesses where craftsmanship is more important than volume and typically produce fewer than a dozen knives a day.

Design and philosophy

Unlike western knives, Japanese knives are often single ground, i.e., sharpened so that only one side holds the cutting edge. Some Japanese knives are angled from both sides, and others are angled only from one side, with the other side of the blade being flat. It was originally believed that a blade angled only on one side cuts better and makes cleaner cuts, though requiring more skill in its use than a blade with a double-beveled edge. Usually, the right hand side of the blade is angled, as most people use the knife with their right hand, with ratios ranging from 70–30 for the average chef's knife, to 90–10 for professional sushi chef knives; left handed models are rare and must be specially ordered and custom made.

Since the end of World War II, western-style double-beveled edged knives have become much more popular in Japan, the best example being that of the santoku, an adaptation of the gyuto, gyūtō, gyuto, gyutou), the French chef’s knife and the Sujihiki which is roughly analogous to a western slicing or carving knife. While these knives are usually sharpened symmetrically on both sides, their blades are still given Japanese-style acute-angle cutting edges of 8-10 degrees per side with a very hard temper to increase cutting ability.

Professional Japanese cooks usually own their personal set of knives, which are not used by other cooks. Some cooks even own two sets of knives, which they alternate every other day. After sharpening a carbon-steel knife in the evening after use, the user normally lets the knife "rest" for a day to restore its patina and remove any metallic odor or taste that might otherwise be passed on to the food.

Japanese knives feature subtle variations on the chisel grind: the backside of the blade is often concave, to reduce drag and adhesion so the food separates more cleanly; this feature is known as urasuki. The kanisaki deba, used for cutting crab and other shellfish, has the grind on the opposite side (left side angled for right-handed use), so that the meat is not cut when chopping the shell.