WE ARE PUBLISHING A SERIES OF ARTICLE ENTITLED “WORKSHOP SECRETS”. ZOOM ON THE BOXWOOD. THE WOOD THAT HAS BEEN USED FOR THE HANDLES MAKING OF NONTRON KNIVES FROM THE VERY BEGINNING
Boxwood grows everywhere in the forests of the Périgord Vert, the birthplace of our knives. In the era of short supply chain, one could almost say that “La Coutellerie Nontronnaise” is “buying locally» since the 15th century! And it is going on! In the 21st century, we still get our supplies nearby “from the Périgord, the Vienne, the Charente and the Lot et Garonne”, says Benoît, cutler and workshop manager. Because they know our needs, it is often the landowners who call us when they are planning forest harvesting operations in their property.
The boxwood arrives at the cutlery in trunks, before being stored in a shed “at no more than 15% humidity in order keep the wood dry ” explains Benoît. “We keep it, between 3 years for small pieces of 1 to 25 cm in diameter, and up to 6 years and beyond for the trunks. We used on average, 6m3, i.e., 5 tons of boxwood to make the handles of our knives each year.”
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Apart from the fact that there is plenty of boxwood in the area, its properties make it the ideal wood to be used in cutlery: Boxwood is very hard, very dense. For instance, in pétanque, it is used to make the target balls called cochonnet (or jack).
Before being used to make handles, the pieces of boxwood are cut into pre-squared pieces “a little larger than the handle. They are left to dry for at least 2 to 3 months, sometimes for more than a year: the longer they are kept, the better.
EACH HANDLE IS UNIQUE
At “La Coutellerie Nontronnaise”, not less than three craftsmen prepare the handles from this perfect dense and extremely durable wood for handles that last. It is turned to give it its shape, then carved. Christian, a wood turner, describes these meticulous operations in detail: ” Every knife is different, our job has to do with truly varied craft, and in the end, no two knives are ever the same.”
For centuries the gestures have remained unchanged: “The hands hold and drive the machine – a wood turning lathe – then the finishing touches are given by hand, especially for the ball that we finalise with a file. In the next step, we sand down the handle with the finest grain possible to remove all the defects. Then comes the polishing with cotton sheets assembled. Mixed with a polishing paste, this helps to give a natural shine.
After the knife is assembled, the final operation is the woodburning of the handle: 3 dots and an arch, the signature of the Nontron knife. Our knife is ready to join our shops or one of our retailers or will leave thanks to an online purchase far from Nontron, proudly representing our Cutlery!