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How to Make a Knife

Meet the science nerds in Georgia who re-forge abandoned scrap metal into blades with a multi-year waiting list.

Made is a series of simple, gorgeous short films that demonstrate how everyday luxury objects are made, and honor the process and craftsmen behind them.

When was the last time you were cooking in your kitchen and you looked at the knife in your hand and wondered, “Where did this come from?”

Probably never. Right?

For David Van Wyk and Luke Snyder, the science-minded duo behind the knife company Bloodroot Blades, the source is half the point. They make gorgeous, custom blades for a global clientele at a lakeside shop in Arnoldsville, Ga. For them, the first step in the process is finding materials.

David Van Wyk and Luke Snyder scour auto yards for recyclable metals
The duo behind Bloodroot Blades scour auto yards for recyclable metals they can manipulate.
Photographer: Zach Goldstein/Bloomberg

Unlike knifemakers who start by grinding down stock pieces of metal, these highly sought-after blacksmiths go to junkyards and auto yards to find recyclable metals they can manipulate, whether old springs from a 1954 Chevrolet or discarded brass from a shipwreck. They transform selected scrap metals into one-of-a-kind knives so stunning that customers are willing to order the blades more than two years in advance.

Bloodroot Blades forges and shapes their blades from scratch.
Bloodroot forges and shapes their blades from scratch.
Photographer: Zach Goldstein/Bloomberg

“Everyone is different, so we work to curate the right pieces of wood and pieces of metal,” Snyder explains. The wood might come from a clarinet factory in Paris or from a pecan tree in the workshop’s yard. It could be maple cut down in Atlanta for a construction project and then discarded.

What matters is that no two knives by Bloodroot are exactly alike. “We're very committed to the fact that the right knife for one person is not necessarily the right knife for another,” says Van Wyk. To custom fit the knives, they communicate with customers by phone or video chat or meet them in person at least once so they can address the details of each client’s grip and posture.

Refining the knife metal against the belt grinder
Refining the metal against the belt grinder.
Photographer: Zach Goldstein/Bloomberg

Since the metal they use is reclaimed, Van Wyk and Snyder reforge it, using big propane burners that put out 500,000 BTUs and burn cleanly. The metal is then refined on a belt grinder and put through many stages to make it durable. Once it has been polished, the blade is fitted for a handle. “The handling process is where we start thinking about the densities of the materials, the size of the person's hand, and where those balance points need to be,” says Snyder.

David Van Wyk and Luke Snyder produce different kinds of blades, including many variations on Western and Japanese-style shapes
David Van Wyk and Luke Snyder produce different kinds of blades at their Georgia-based workshop Bloodroot, including many variations on Western and Japanese-style shapes.
Photographer: Zach Goldstein/Bloomberg

Finally, the masterful knife-makers create the edge. “We work the edge itself down to this amazing geometry, which itself is a kind of art,” Van Wyk explains. “You'll see the polished edge, and the width of the edge will tell you a lot about a knife, like how well it's made. This is where the rubber meets the road.”

The most exciting part of the process arguably happens after the knives leave the Bloodroot shop. That's when people start putting them to work—in the field, to dress animals; in kitchens, to filet fish or chop onions; or at the table, to cut up steaks. That’s when the knives really come into their own. “It's like wearing a pair of blue jeans to where it starts to feel good,” explains Van Wyk. He’s talking about the patina that develops on the high-carbon steel, the slow, gradual graying along the metal. The more you use a knife like this, the more it belongs in your hand.