by Claire Cella • Photography by Jesus Hidalgo
Travis Weige is accustomed to speed—he used to work as a media sales executive and was inundated daily by a deluge of digital communication and contact. These influences show, too: Words tumble out of his mouth rapidly, fervently and pragmatically, with practiced ease. It might seem surprising, then, that he’s since renounced his successful fast-paced career for a craft where one project can take not only hours but days to complete. Instead of a computer screen, Weige now stares into the orange glow of a kiln.
It was at the end of 2011 that Weige and his wife bought their home in Sunset Valley, and shortly after when Weige began making his first knives as a rather haphazard hobby in his new garage—anything to distract him from the recurring grind of computers, conference calls and commutes. After cobbling together a used grinder, band saw and sander from within the ramshackle remnants of his father’s old barn, Weige began putting them to use—drawing on what he learned from “the University of YouTube,” he says, and “every book on knife-making there is.” While making his fifth or sixth knife, the well-worn sander caught on fire—forcing Weige to douse the whole thing with a bucket of cold water. But it would take more than a few measly flames to douse Weige’s interest in knife-making. In fact, the setback only seemed to solidify his enthusiasm, and he decided to fully invest in the hobby—purchasing a grinder from knife-master and mentor John Stout.
It took Weige almost a year to make a knife worth selling or putting his name on. His standards are fiercely exacting, and he’s compelled to create quality, which is why it still takes him a relatively long time to make a knife—about three days, he says—in a society increasingly accustomed to instant gratification. However, the precious time Weige spends with each knife, and the patience exhibited by each customer, are crucial components to the production of the sleek, solid and stunning tool Weige hands over in the end.
“I would recognize any knife I’ve ever made, down to every little detail,” Weige says. “They’re like children—they all have tales and travels. They start here in the shop, each one is different and each one will go on to make its own journey when it leaves. Making knives...it’s about immortality almost, and knowing this knife is going to outlive me—not that I’m obsessed with immortality, but it’s part of your legacy as a person to do something that’s going to outlive you, I think.”
And while each knife will leave Weige’s garage workshop with a small stamp of his own personality, it truly is more about the relationship the knife will have with its new owner. Weige takes avowed pride in the fact that he makes kitchen knives—knives that belong in the heart of a home—and that they can withstand religious use every day.
It takes about an hour or more with each customer before Weige can begin building his or her knife—teasing out the information he needs to create a truly customized experience. He takes measurements and molds of customers’ hands and even asks for details about what type of cutting board they use, what type of knives they use, what they ate last night, in addition to preferences for size, shape and type. Currently, Weige makes predominantly chef’s knives in varying lengths and styles, but he also makes paring, slicing, boning, utility and the Japanese Santoku and Nakiri knives—essentially, any classic kitchen knife a customer might desire.
Weige’s blades are made from Crucible Industries’ stainless steel, “the oldest steel manufacturing company in the country,” he says. And the wood he uses for the handles is sourced from myriad places—his backyard, salvaged grandfather clocks, burls of healing trees and “even the side of the road,” he says with a laugh. He personally stabilizes each piece of wood—removing the moisture and infusing it with resin for strength and resilience. Shaping the wooden handle, one of the last steps of the creation process besides finally sharpening the blade, is Weige’s favorite. “When you’re cleaning up the handle, that’s when the knife starts to come alive,” he says. “You’ve been working on it for three or so days and you don’t know, and never know, how it’s going to look until that point. It’s like finally seeing the bride.”
Personally, Weige is a fan of using local woods such as Texas pecan and Texas mesquite when he can, but he also uses maple, cocobolo, oak, ironwood and walnut, among others. Beyond type, the most important characteristics for the wood are contrast and marbling, he says. Compared to the typical black laminated plastic handles most people are used to, Weige’s handles resemble small kaleidoscopes imbued with the individual hues and patterns of natural wood grains. And, as jewels to these crowns, he adds stainless steel and copper mosaic pins handmade by Sally Martin, a like-minded artisan from Oregon.
Customers eager to get their hands on their own Weige knife will have to join the list—the year-and-a-half-long waiting list, that is. Weige’s assistant, Dirk Michener, is helping to whittle down the long wait, and there are plans to train another apprentice, but while on the list, you’ll be in good company among Chefs Paul Qui, Bryce Gilmore and Aaron Morris. Renowned chefs and restaurateurs, such as Jack Gilmore and Chris TenEyck (Jack Allen’s Kitchen), Hoover Alexander (Hoover’s Cooking), Skeeter Miller (County Line), Rob Lippincott (Güero’s), Jesse Herman (Sway) and Todd Duplechan (Lenoir) have already waited their turn and now wield Weige knives in their restaurant kitchens.
“This is not a fast thing; this is a slow thing,” Weige stresses to each of his customers, and he asks that, after they give him their deposit, they forget about him. “When you hear from me again,” he says, “you’re going to be extremely happy.”
Visit weigeknives.com for more information.