Meet Melbourne’s Aidan Mackinnon, a new generation knife maker specialising in bespoke handmade kitchenware for his label Cut Throat Knives.
How did you choose a career as a knife maker? Have sharp things always been of interest?
I came to knife making through a love of food and too much free time. When I first moved out of home I bought three things that I never had at home; a Nintendo, a Tonka Truck and a decent chef’s knife. Since then I haven’t bought any more Tonka Trucks but I have gone further and further down the rabbits’ warren in the pursuit of the perfect knife.
How long does it take to hand make a good quality knife and what’s involved?
A chef’s knife spends about 15 hours in my hands over 3-4 days. I start with heat-treating the knife, which is the heart and soul of good knife making; you can have all the right material but if you don’t heat-treat it right it will be junk. Heat treatment is crucial for a high performance blade. Every blade in my shop gets heat treated by me to within very fine thermal margins. Once the knife has reached its final hardness I grind the geometry into the blade, starting with aggressive grits and progressing all the way to finishing with hand sanding. There aren’t many lines on a chef’s knife and if you get them wrong the knife will feel awkward and clunky in your hand. Once the blade is finished I glue on the handle scales and then proceed to shape and sand those until it feels luxurious and balanced in your hand. With all of these steps I work on the blade without jigs using my eyes and my hands to know when I’ve created the right blade. Finally I put on a hair popping edge.
Which three tools or other objects in your studio are the go to items you can’t live without?
To say that my grinder is my most valuable tool is not just stating the obvious: it is an understatement of titanic proportions. I stand in front of that machine every day and am deeply aware of all of its ins and outs. Put simply my grinder is the foundation of everything I do. After that I’d say my forge. There is something primal and historical about manipulating red hot metal that has come from a forge, and while some people can get by without one for me it defines what I do and my work. My strop (a long piece of leather that’s used as the last step in sharpening) is by no means the most important tool that I have in my shop. I could easily get by without it. But as part of finishing a knife to draw the blade across a strop acts as a reminder that behind all these machines is a deeply human creation.
Tell us about your work neighbourhood and your routines. What little details and interactions make you feel that your day is complete?
I work in a shared creative maker space, Space Tank. I feel incredibly privileged to be surrounded by other creative people all in similar positions. There isn’t a day that passes where I don’t get to learn something new from the people around me.
What’s your favourite way of relaxing after a long week at the bench?
Whenever I get the chance I like to go away with friends on a weekend escape. It’s so easy when you’re running your own business to give up your weekends and your evenings; you sacrifice the 40-hour week to do the 80-hour week doing what you love. These weekends help to remind me about balance.
You mention a passion for food on your website. What’s your idea of a perfect meal?
For me a meal is not only about the food but about the people you cook for. The two go hand in hand. I don’t like serving individual plates but love it when people are passing around dishes. So for me the perfect meal is a collection of large dishes that my close friends can enjoy. There is something special about cleaning up at the end of an evening and feeling great about bringing incredible people together to chat over good food.
You’ll be showcasing your work at Bowerbird for the first time this Autumn. What restaurants or other attractions are on your hit list to visit?
I was a massive fan of the first season of MasterChef so I think a stop off at Poh’s Jam Face is a must. I’m looking to stock up on some great SA wine before I head back to Melbourne as well.