Tuesday, March 18

10E2340: R Murphy Knives - Made in USA Since 1850 - Part 1

John Murphy started a cutlery business in Boston, Massachusetts in 1850 initially focusing on medical instruments. His brother Robert joined him, changed the focus to knives for the burgeoning shoe industry and eventually moved the business to Ayer, MA around 1906. That building still stands and is still home to the R. Murphy Co. - maker of industrial, commercial and food grade knives - the 3rd oldest, and smallest US knife factory still in existence.

I had the good fortune to get a factory tour last week - the newish owners (in the grand scheme) Mimi Younkins and Mark Furman took a couple of hours out to show myself (and the Cuppow guys) around this original makerspace. Fantastic. R. Murphy had a long tradition of quality industrial knives, but Mimi has been working hard to jazz up the consumer side of the operation reaching out to chefs and food professionals in the area and abroad.

They have also confirmed the companies commitment to creating and finishing the products in-house as well as sourcing materials locally, or in the US as far as possible. Some great stories, for example using 1880s mahogany decking from an old oyster boat then turning that into the handles of oyster knives. #wild They also make those lustworthy blaze handled Island Creek Oyster knives, and have sourced pecan for handles that was salvaged from the flooring of defunct Chrysler plants in Cleveland. They don't yell about it but the stories are all there. Amazing. Almost all the maple handles come from Maine.

The middle row of green handled knives are all for various shellfish; scallops, clams, and oysters of all types. The Murphy green handles are a throwback to their leather cutting tools which had green handles so the wooden handled knives would not get lost among the folds of leather.

An older catalog shows 8 types of oyster knives alone.

Eel spear. For the man who has everything. We have one in fact...

This is a new product, a bartender's knife - created with input from Eastern Standard's Jackson Cannon. It is a jumped up carpet-knife in fact but with a cocobolo handle upgrade. Blunt end is great for fruit work and flat back allows you to scrape the countertop. Genius. $79.

Super heritage-nerds may have heard of Hertler's, the defunct sporting goods retailer from Minnesota (sort of Cabela's before there was a Cabela's, "The arrival of the Herter’s catalog was like Christmas with bullets"*). R. Murphy made their bowie knife, fish fillet and camp knife, and Bull Cook knife; essential for use with Hertler's esoteric Bull Cook and Authentic Historical Recipes and Practices. They still have deadstock - get after it.

Steel Knives are stamped out or cut out with a garnet-water spray (at 55K PSI - can cut through 6" of steel - insane). The skeletons left over from stamping as above are recycled.

Stamped blanks get a hole punched (we'll see why later) then straightened below.

The scale looking apparatus above is for testing hardness of metal, or Rockwells. Don't want to overwhelm you here or get too deep into metallurgy - let's pause and will rejoin for Part 2.

In Part 2 we see hefting (adding handles), 400 grit sharpening wheels, vintage labels and much more.