DRESDEN — Bladesmith Joseph Schrum, owner of Halcyon Forge near Dresden, is making the kitchens of many chefs and cooks a more efficient and attractive place with his one-of-a-kind, handmade cutlery.
Schrum, who works full-time at JBS Feed Mill in La Monte, takes reclaimed steel and wood and refashions it into cutting-edge cleavers, general chef’s knives and paring knives. His work, considered functional art, takes hours to create. Each one is totally different and individual.
Schrum has had an interest in bladesmithing for two years, but has only been concentrating on it for the last year. The concentration is paying off. He’s sold work not only in Missouri but in Canada, California, Georgia, Kansas and Illinois. Thursday morning he received an inquiry from Germany, and Feast TV filmed him Wednesday at his workshop for several hours. He will be one of three people interviewed for a 30-minute segment of the food-based show slated to air on PBS in June.
“It reaches 50,000 households a month,” he said of the show.
Feast found out about Schrum’s work through a cook in Kansas City.
“I sold a knife to a lady who makes specialty vanilla extract,” Schrum said. “They did a shoot of them, and she mentioned me, after they saw my knife.”
Schrum’s interest in creating cutlery stemmed from wanting to create something useful. He also enjoys cooking.
“I wanted to create something that could be used daily, rather than like a hunting knife that may be used once a year,” he said. “Everything about them is cool.”
To find reclaimed steel and wood Schrum looks at junkyards or receives pieces from friends or his father, Alfred Schrum. Wood is often found at sawmills in southern Missouri. His handcrafted knives can take anywhere from 10 t0 20 hours in total to create. One chef knife may take 10 hours to fashion, while another specialty knife takes 20 hours.
“See this line,” Schrum said of a blade he’d created. “When I go to harden the steel, I put clay on the back of it. The line is the difference between the hard steel and the soft steel. Then I hand-polished it.”
To create a custom meat cleaver Schrum adds “character” to the blade with a hammer creating “forge marks.” To make a knife Schrum cuts out a piece of steel and forges it into shape. He then uses a forge hammer to create a thinner edge.
“Then from there, I grind on it with my grinder,” Schrum said. “Then we’ll harden it after that. Then when I grind it again that’s the final shape.”
While the blade is still hot it is covered with oil.
“It cools it so fast, that it changes the grain structure to a rigid structure,” Schrum noted. “That’s what keeps it hard.”
Scrum keeps a selection of wood for the the blades’ handle including Missouri walnut, flame box elder and African black wood.
Selecting the blade’s wood for the handle depends on the knife and how Schrum “feels” about the piece. Often a custom knife handle can take up to a week to prepare.
“It even goes a step further,” James Reed, Schrum’s apprentice, said Thursday. “We’ve made some stuff that’s synthetic. He’s made handles out of coffee bags.”
“This was an apron from a customer, it was her first job,” Schrum added.
Schrum took the laminated apron piece and incorporated it into the knife handle for the chef.
Reed, 36, of Sedalia, has been apprenticing since September 2015. The men work in Schrum’s 1,000-foot workshop.
“I’m an avid cook,” Reed said. “I’ve been working in restaurants my whole life and we actually worked together at Budweiser. (Schrum) told me about it and showed me some stuff and he made me a knife. I’ve been coming out here ever since.”
Reed hopes to make bladesmithing more than a hobby in the future.
“In the last couple months it’s really taken off,” he noted. “It seems the more we do the more demand there seems to be for it.”
So far Reed has made a couple knives with Schrum that he uses in his home kitchen.
“I have two knives we’ve made, I have a cleaver at the house, and I’ve also got a chef’s knife,” he said. “I’ve even gone a step further and found a knife of my grandpa’s. We brought it out here and took the handle off and put a new handle on it. I use that every day.”
Schrum also hopes to make bladesmithing his profession someday. Over the years he’s looked up to several bladesmith professionals, but recently he has begun to niche out his own artful journey.
“… In the last six months I’ve taken my own path,” he added. “I’m making what looks right and what feels right.”
For more information about Halcyon Forge knives, visit www.halcyonforge.com or www.instagram.com/halcyonforge or email at [email protected]
Faith Bemiss can be reached at 530-0289 or @flbemiss; Photos by Faith Bemiss | Democrat