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Chelsea Miller’s Unique Approach to Knifemaking

The craftswoman shares tips on finding beauty in everyday objects

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“I love knowing that when I deliver a knife, its story is just beginning with someone else.”
—Chelsea Miller

Chelsea Miller started her knifemaking journey by accident. As a student, she first moved to New York City to make a career for herself on stage as an actress and storyteller. Some years later, she went back home to Vermont to care for her ailing father. Wishing to revisit her childhood memories of working with her hands, Miller started to experiment at her father’s blacksmith forge. That’s when she fell in love with knifemaking. Soon, she started attracting both customers and publicity, which set the young woman on the path to becoming a professional knifemaker.

These days, she prepares custom-made knives for professional chefs and amateurs alike. She carves them herself from materials found at her childhood farm.

In our exclusive Q&A, Miller reveals the secrets of knifemaking and the stories she brings to each of her creations.

Chelsea Miller

What do you enjoy the most about working with knives?
Making knives is a solo expedition. I spend most of my days alone in the workshop, covered in protective equipment. It’s meditative, giving me time to be with myself and work on my craft. I make a social tool, but its process of crafting is private.

I also enjoy that I can incorporate my personal story into knifemaking. The metal for the blade comes from a horseshoe rasp, a high carbon steel piece of metal used by farriers to file horses’ hooves. Growing up, we couldn’t afford a tractor, so we had horses. To me, these rasps smell like horses, and they remind me of seeing my dad use them. I love working with that material. Every time I pick one up, it brings me back to my childhood.

The wood I use comes from my family’s property in Vermont. The maple, cherry, and apple are from trees that my father cut down. In short, every element of the knife comes from the land where I grew up. I’m putting a piece of my history into everything I’m making.

Chelsea Miller forges kitchen knives in her workshop.

What do you think makes people connect with your knives?
I think many chefs come to me because of my personal story. These knives are made by me, one individual, and I’m an unlikely knifemaker. I’m also always asking questions about their own stories, cooking style, and what they’re looking for in a knife. Building an individual piece for a chef is a collaborative process.

As for my customers who aren’t professional chefs, they enjoy cooking, using handmade items, and collecting unique pieces.

I’ve always appreciated the idea of making objects more beautiful than they have to be. There are many practical items in life, but it’s great to give them value and develop a relationship with them.

A knife has a story built into it, but it’s also a tool to tell your own. It’s like passing the baton. When I deliver a knife, its story is just beginning with someone else.

What kinds of knives do you create?
My styles are generally modelled after a Western-style knife with a long blade and small tip, which has been the most versatile for me and the chefs I’ve worked with.

Instead of having 12 different types of knives, I have five. But I’m still learning. I like to watch my chef friends work, noticing that some of them use the tips of their knives more, while others focus on the back end. It’s very personal, chef to chef.

Chelsea Miller forges kitchen knives in her workshop.

What is your advice on getting a good knife?
If you can find a place that sells a selection of handmade knives, it can be a fun adventure to go in and hold different styles to get a sense of individual knifemakers and what they’re crafting. You should also look for knives made of quality steel.

I’d recommend spending more money on a knife that you can pass down in your family. A good one will outlive us all, and you can’t say that about a factory knife. Once it’s dull, it’s dull.

Sometimes in flea markets in New York or outside Paris, you’ll see knives worn down to a small blade because they’ve been used for generations, just sharpened repeatedly. I love finding pieces like that. That’s something that you can’t do with a factory knife. A factory knife of that age would be in a landfill.

How does appreciating the knife improve people’s relationship with food?
The art of making food is a noble act. It’s easier to share food if you’ve spent time and love preparing it. The more tools we have in our lives to facilitate that, the better.

When I was growing up, my mom would tell me that the more intention we put into our food, the more nutritious it becomes. That’s something that’s always stayed with me. Food has energy to it. It’s medicine. We should eat what our bodies need and make sure we’re providing good nutrition for ourselves.

I think that we’re hungry for that connection to food. Whether we’re busy or not, appreciating food changes our mood. Conscious eating makes us feel better.

These details are important because, if we make a good decision one day, the next day leads to a couple more good ones, and so on.

Chelsea Miller’s knives are made from horseshoe rasps—high carbon steel pieces of metal used by farriers to file horses’ hooves.

How important is it to appreciate everyday objects?
I think that most people are looking for products that carry value to them, representing aspects of who they are. That’s how many people feel about knives. They may not be aware of it at first, but once they see handmade knives they realize that these tools present an opportunity to be connected in the kitchen.

If we can make the mundane parts of our day, such as taking a shower or eating breakfast, filled with beauty and intention, our days are bound to be more interesting and fulfilling.

Are there any particular life lessons that you’ve learned from knifemaking?
If something isn’t going well in my work, if I keep making mistakes on a piece, I take a deep breath and say, “Just come at it from another angle.” Oftentimes, that’s literal, meaning I move my seat and approach the work from another angle. But it’s also true in life. If you find you’re hitting against the wall, it’s not necessarily that your idea is wrong. You may have to pivot and examine it from another angle to find the right point of communication and understanding.

“Food has energy to it. It’s medicine. We should eat what our bodies need and make sure we’re providing good nutrition for ourselves.”
—Chelsea Miller

This story is from Magnifissance Issue 112

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Inspired for a Beautiful Life

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