Blenheim Forge and Salutations Santoku
Blenheim Forge is a small knife production workshop squirreled away in a railway arch in Peckham. The workshop is based around and solely run by three mates, Richard Warner, Jon Warshawsky and James Ross-Harris who, through a long self-taught process, have come to a point where they are banging out high quality, beautiful damascus knives full time.
To talk about Blenheim Forge is to talk about the very inception of Salutations. We were living on a house boat, working our jobs (Jess in set design and me in photography), becoming increasingly more addicted to making things from clay, fabric and food (cooking a lot). On weekends we'd go to car boot sales and dig through other peoples trash in the hopes of finding treasure. Our boat was filling up fast, our relatively feeble magentic knife rack barely coping under the weight of our kitchen treasures and I was still harping on about how I'd seen a brand called Bloodroot Blades on instagram and how wouldn't it be great if you could buy those somewhere in London. At one point I must have been spitting this same story in front of some other poor friend of ours who had probably heard it all before. They came back with "there's one of those places in Peckham isn't there?" I said briskly "surely not, no I don't think it's the same, I haven't heard of it". Grabbed a computer, "Yeah they're called Blenheim something, it's just three guys in an arch. Alex from Hill and Szrok has one of their knives." Googled 'Blenheim knives Peckham' and there they were.
At this point we hadn't thought of the online store thing. After looking at their knives, looking around our space full of nice bits and pieces struggling for attention in a crowded area I came out with "Wouldn't it be cool if we could just take a picture of each thing we find and then sell it online and then go out and find more?" Jess probably said something along the lines of." Well, yeah maybe but it'd have to be a bit more than that. You need an idea and some sort of consistency and boundaries for what you sell, you can't just sell any old shit that felt like buying on a whim." Fair. We threw the idea around and came up with the bones of what would end up being Salutations.
The first makers we contacted were Blenheim Forge. I fired an email into their contact form, knowing well that often these contact forms mean that your message has gone down a black hole and will never be seen by any human at all, let alone one that will offer you a response. Basically saying that we're building an online store/studio. We're going to sell great, mostly kitchen related stuff that works well and feels timeless. Future classics, so the spiel goes. They came back to us quickly. Interested. We popped down to their workshop to have a chat.
It's through an arch, down a little alley and into another arch, shrouded by a large grate/fence. Inside there's a hot metal area where the forge lives. Everything has a fine layer of soot, including the guys. We chat to John and James. Richard isn't there that day. We ask sheepishly "So how does it work? Say we wanted to have some involvement in the design process, could that be a possibility?" Expecting a torrent of ego to blast back at us we are surprised by a simple "Yeah, we're into it, we have basic blade shapes that we like to make but if you have other ideas about handles and shapes and things like that we can work something out".
They show us around the workshop. The bigger forge which they don't really use any more because it's too wild, the smaller forge, the various sanding machines for honing the blade shape, the classic cartoon shaped anvil. It's all simple stuff, brought together in a very skillful and complex way. It feels like it's from a different time, apart from the laser cutter they're fiddling around with in the corner (to be used for packaging rather than knife making).
We head back to the studio and start digging through images of various elements on different knives we either own or have seen before and combine them into a photoshop composite image of our dream knife. It uses the Blenheim Forge santoku blade as a base that is then to be slightly re-shaped. We send the picture and some questions about wood to the guys and a few weeks later I'm down at the forge again, watching them put the finishing touches on our knives. They're perfect and look exactly like what we'd designed. "Yeah they actually came out better than we thought, they're really nice" says one of them.
The knives are made from high blue paper carbon steel rather than the stainless steel that people are used to these days. Carbon steel is what chefs knives, swords, gardening tools all used to be made from but had fallen out of favour due to what were seen as hygiene issues. This is because when the blades are exposed to moisture, especially acidic moisture (lemons are pretty up there) the metal oxidises and stains. These stains are harmless, but if a knive was left for say two days covered in lemon juice, the metal would rust, meaning it'd need to be properly cleaned before being used again. This process is manageable with slightly more maintenance and the user is rewarded with an edge that can very easily achieve razor sharpness and stay that way for longer than stainless steel before dulling.
We personally love the way the metal looks when it stains but the main thing about these knives is how rewarding they are to use. Get your edge right and you don't need to think twice about cutting ripe tomatoes and crusty sourdough. Yeah it's super sharp and you could cut yourself badly if careless, but in general these blades are so sharp and precise that they make prep a lot safer than a dull blade.
We're hoping to collaborate with the Blenheim Forge guys again at some point in the near future but for now, click here to see the Santoku we designed with Blenheim Forge and click here to see the smaller 'Petty' knife that they make as stock.