Forged in Davis

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Wilkins spends a large portion of his time at the grinder as he takes a plan piece of high carbon steel and transforms it into a high end cutlery tool

By Heather Clower
The Parsons Advocate

In the early months of 2018, Tyler Wilkins found himself watching the History Channel when Forged in Fire came on. He quickly became interested in the process and began researching how to videos on YouTube. Using just two files and sandpaper, two months later Wilkins produced his very own, handcrafted knife. He also fashioned himself a homemade forge using a wheelbarrow lined with bricks with a pipe running into it attached to his wife’s hairdryer.

“That knife was terrible,” he laughed as he recalled his very first product. His wife Savannah even joked with him calling it his “Prison Shank.”

Wilkins built two more knives with these tools, however he upgraded his forge to one made out of a paint can. He quickly discovered a grinder would be much more efficient instead of the hand files, so being the cost efficient person he is, he built his own using a treadmill motor. Unfortunately, within the first 30 minutes of use, that too quickly failed to meet his needs. Wilkins broke down and purchased a grinder that was certain to pay off in the long run.

What started in his basement has now moved into his converted outbuilding where he has all of his essentials to produce a one of a kind, top quality cutlery tool. For his day job, Wilkins is the lead winemaker at West Whitehill Winery in Moorefield, so he works on his custom pieces in his spare time. Though he mentioned he would love the opportunity to go full time as a knife maker, he also said, “If it doesn’t happen I’m happy with it being a part time thing.”

Wilkins took the time to explain the process of how his knives come to be. He begins with a simple bar of high carbon steel and sketches a template based on what the client desires.

Once the customer agrees to the template, they need to pick the material the handle is to be made of. Wilkins then traces the outline on the steel and uses the band saw for a rough cut out. He then uses the grinder to do a profile and then “breaks center” to take the 90 degree angle to a 45 degree angle. He then grinds the bevels in and drills holes for the handle pins.

The steel is then heat treated in the forge between 1,475 to 1,525 degrees to ensure the metal turns non-magnetic. The steel is then dunked in canola oil to harden the steel before going in the oven at 400 degrees for two hours for tempering. He explained the process of hardening and tempering the steel is what toughens the knife. After cooling, the steel goes through a final grinding phase to thin the edge with a finishing belt. “Most of my time is spent standing here (at the grinder),” Wilkins noted. He then etches his maker mark on the blade using a nine volt battery and a saltwater solution over a custom made stencil. Finally, the handle is secured, shaped, polished and or preserved and either the process ends there or he hand makes a custom leather sheath for the newly forged knife. “I’m better at knives than I am at sheaths at the moment,” he laughed, however the true prize is what is inside the sheath.

The steel must be lubricated and polished frequently in order for Wilkins to carefully inspect the work in progress and determine the next step of the process

Since beginning, Wilkins has produced approximately 20 knives, from simple hunting options to fully customized chef knives. Some knives can take as little as ten hours to produce with others taking significantly longer. “So far everybody’s pretty happy,” he commented as he shared pictures and comments from satisfied customers. He took custom orders for Christmas gifts up until October and has already started a waiting list for Christmas 2020. As of now, his wait list is approximately two and a half months out.

When asked the price range to own a one of a kind, North Mountain Knife, he stated the typical prices are currently between $90 and $125, however he said, “My prices are climbing all of the time now.” This is due to perfecting his trade as well as the materials chosen to use. When ordering a knife from Wilkins, there is the option of a sheath or without, all orders receive a bottle of food safe mineral oil, a sticker, and a proper care card. For more information, look up North Mountain Knives on both Facebook and Instagram, as well as visit www.northmountainknives.com