Mark Cutright Of Cutright Knives: A Conversation With A St. Louis Cutlery Artisan
Sharp as a tack in both process and result, Mark Cutright has fallen in love with a skill that went from a hobby to a passion: creating knives with the utmost precision. The self-taught crafter spares no detail; the shape, thickness, handle material and style of leather sheath are created using years of trial-and-error training. Even the time- consuming heat treating process—which takes the high- carbon steel from its starting point to a knife edge ready for sharpening—is done by Cutright’s hand. The blades, fasteners and handles are fully customizable making one of Cutright’s knives a thoughtful gift from a bride-to-be to her betrothed, or a groom to his group of outdoorsy groomsmen.
When did you start making knives?
The first knife I created was made 13 years ago from an industrial band-saw blade and was quite rudimentary. Unlike most hobbies I had dabbled in, making knives resonated with me on a much deeper level. It has become one of the ways I identify myself. It just feels natural when I’m creating them. Perhaps most interesting, the more I create, the more I want to create; it has a compulsive snowball effect on me.
What is your favorite part of the process?
I think the grinding of the steel is my favorite part. It’s relatively easy work and goes fairly quickly. It’s also where you see the fastest gains. It goes from being a factory-fresh piece of steel to a knife. Conversely, it’s also the most intimidating because you’ve started the project and there’s much to do before it’s finished. The entire process has pros and cons; it’s a balancing act, always.
Tell us about the materials you use.
All of the blades are made of high carbon steel. It’s robust and easy to sharpen. For handles, I prefer stabilized wood—natural wood that is vacuum treated with polymers to minimize swelling, cracking and warping—plus Dymondwood brand laminated wood and Micarta. Natural untreated wood, bone and horn are also used from time to time. Silver, brass, bronze, copper, nickel and mokume gane—a Japanese laminated metal that I make in-house—is often used in accent work or fasteners. And lastly, sheaths are offered in leather. They are all made the same way as the knives, with American-made components, one at a time and by hand.
What are your knives most often used for?
A lot of people purchase knives for general chore work and for hunting, while others are purchased for collecting. Regardless of what they are actually used for, I think my favorite is when someone gifts one of my knives to a loved one.
What is the biggest challenge during your creation process? Initially, the entire creative process was the challenge. There was a creative void until I found some inspiration. Later, as I discovered more about myself, it be- came about solving technical problems. Problem-solving is by far the most important asset I have. If I had to really decide on one facet that challenges me, it would be staying organized. I want to create and that creative tornado also makes a mess, and that mess won’t just clean itself up.
And yes, Cutright is my real last name.