It is a far cry from clearing land mines in Mozambique. But for two friends who formed a bond while working in Africa and Asia (running power stations in Kenya; searching for gold in Liberia), sanding spalted beech for their bespoke knives in the depths of Wiltshire is where their hearts lie.
Ready to put roots down in the UK, Laurie Timpson set up the business two years ago (and was soon joined by Philip Shaw) after spotting a gap in the market for exquisitely handmade professional-level customised and bespoke knives. Since June they have been making 10 to 15 a week, for – say – chefs with bear-like hands who find mainstream knives too small, such as Charlie Carroll, founder of the Flat Iron steak restaurants in London; for those who love a particular paring knife, but cannot find a replacement blade for a dying one; or for gourmands who want a horizontally held double-blade fish knife. The duo recently made a handsome butcher’s knife for Jamie Oliver with their signature hollow-ground steel blade.
Customised knives – where clients pick an existing design and choose the handle and engraving – start with the Stout Yeoman (£180), a small paring knife, rising to the bigger and more robust Brawny Chef (£320), and can be ordered online. They also offer a semi-bespoke service (£500), for which they will tweak an existing design or alter a knife the customer already has, and a fully bespoke option (£750), which takes three to eight weeks to produce.
The process begins with ordering the stainless steel from Sweden (almost all other artisanal makers are limited to plain steel, as using a forge to shape their blades precludes stainless steel) or even a more niche steel like powdered metallurgy or laminated steel.
After a consultation with the customer, Timpson and Shaw create a prototype using a Haas Super Mini Mill (the only other knifemakers to have one are a few specialist manufacturers in the US); the milling of the blades is very precise and takes around four hours. The prototype is then sent to the client, who uses it for a week to see if it needs any major changes (which requires another prototype) or just some tweaking. The final knife is then made with the client’s choice of steel pattern, handle material, pins and sharpening angle. The good news is that the knife can then be remade again and again for a more modest price – around £250 – or tweaked ad infinitum.
The handles on Savernake Knives are one of their most alluring features. The choice of attractive natural woods includes bubinga, rosewood and walnut. With hygiene in mind, the pair has also created handles from less porous materials (thus absorbing less by way of dirt and bacteria). Among them are treated “stabilised” woods such as London plane (lacewood), spalted beech, maple and African olive, while Richlite – normally used for skateboard ramps or guitar necks – makes jaunty handles in a range of hues, such as crimson and honey.
“I like to think we’re different as we make precisely what you want – and because we do it all in-house, it doesn’t take forever or cost £6,000,” says Timpson. “Our analogy is that artisans are like portrait painters: you select one depending on how much you like the look of their existing work and commission them, hoping the end result is what you want. We see ourselves as draughtsmen: we sketch and sketch until the customers are absolutely satisfied and only then do we ink up and create the final knife.”