A Field Trip to Primitive Precision Metalcraft
I’m obsessed with these cleavers. Made in Minneapolis from scavenged metal, they are one-of-a-kind usable works of art. Hans Early-Nelson happened to be crafting a cleaver for a very special friend and food-lover, Anthony Bourdain, so we took a trip to his blacksmithing workshop to check out the process. The custom cleavers aren’t his only specialty, Hans also does onsite welding and creates jewelry, belt buckles, bottle openers and large scale installation art.
Below, Hans describes his process and materials.
First, I choose some old, but not completely worn out, leaf spring material, preferably from a large truck. I lay out the rough shape I want to start with in soap stone on the spring surface. Shapes are then cut with a propane/oxygen torch, and the edges are ground and cleaned up. Time to forge!
The cleaver’s handle is forged out. The hanger hole is punched hot and stretched to desired diameter. The blade edge is then forged down, which usually creates a very unique and unexpected shape.
It is then punched with a nice big Minnesota outline and the initials of its recipient.
Once the blade is well flattened and straightened, it is brought up to a nice cherry heat and set to cool in vermiculite, which allows its crystalline structure to relax and relieve stresses from forging. This cooling can take hours in such a well-insulated environment. It’s then heated again to a point where it is no longer magnetic, and abruptly quenched in vegetable oil. This makes it very hard. After it’s cooled, the back edge of the blade is heated with a torch to “temper” the blade.
When the cutting edge reaches a purple oxidized color, it is cooled. This relieves severe tension and the brittleness of the hardened blade, while still allowing it to be tough. It is now ready for sharpening and handle fit up, another story all together. The whole process usually takes 4 to 6 hours.
For more information and to order, visit handsofhans.com.