Studio Visit: Orchard Steel

“WD40 is my magic potion,” Moriah Cowles, knife maker and owner of Orchard Steel, says as she buffs out the blade on one of her knives.

Cowles is one of just a few knife makers in Brooklyn. Her studio is on the sixth floor of a giant old building in Industry City, the gargantuan shipping and manufacturing complex in Sunset Park Brooklyn. And it's there that she makes some of the most beautiful knives I have ever seen. 

I went to visit her recently to watch as she put together carbon steel with wood from her family’s Vermont apple orchard (hence the brand name) to create beautiful Japanese-inspired knives. Cowles makes each one by hand, a process that takes between 8-15 hours depending on size and complexity. On the day I visited she was working on two at a time, which is her typical workflow.

 Buffing out the handle, one of the final steps. 

Buffing out the handle, one of the final steps. 

Cowles uses a variety of woods, including walnut and spalted maple, and makes custom knives too. Each one has a distinct identity and reveals Cowle’s refined aesthetic and love for making something that will last.

Cowles got her start blacksmithing in college in Colorado where she also studied art. During a trip to Mexico, she met a knife maker and took classes with him. “When I came back I just wanted to make knives,” she says. “I totally fell in love with the marriage of art and function.”

 Getting started on a knife. 

Getting started on a knife. 

Growing up on an orchard and around food culture, she says she’d always been interested in the culinary world and making things. “I had to be doing something with my hands all the time,” she says. “That just gave me passion.”

And making knives seemed like a perfect way to combine her interests in food and working with her hands. “I figured it wasn’t something I could do to make a living though,” she said. “but wouldn’t it be cool if it was.”

Luckily she thought wrong. 

 Cowles shows off some Spalted Maple.

Cowles shows off some Spalted Maple.

Serendipity eventually led Cowles to Joel Bukiewicz, the knife maker and owner of Cut Brooklyn. She relocated to Brooklyn to work with Bukiewicz and after just two months her apartment building caught on fire. Undeterred, Cowles kept working for Bukiewicz for two years, making her own knives at night, before using the settlement money from the building fire to strike out on her own and start her own business last year.

Cowles’ knives seem to move fairly quickly on her site, but are without a doubt worth waiting for and keeping an eye on. If you’re in the market for something sharp, do check out Orchard Steel.

 Knife drawer.

Knife drawer.