When he was six years old, Nate Bonner ate every meal using a replica Imperial Swiss Army Knife that was a gift from his grandfather, Phil. Twenty eight years later, the beautiful hand-made kitchen knives that Bonner designs, machines and sells in his Maplewood store, KnifeWorks, reflect his passion for a household item that many of us mistakenly take for granted. “If you want to learn about people, study their tools,” Bonner says. “The most basic tool is the knife. It’s the one tool that binds all of humanity.”
KnifeWorks customers can choose from an array of knives that Bonner has already crafted, or they can customize their own, by determining the size and style, metal (either stainless or carbon), and handle. And while the first thing you may notice about a Bonner knife is the exquisitely marbled wooden handle, the true beauty of Bonner’s work is how eminently usable his knives are.
As a classically trained chef and a graduate from the New England Culinary Institute, Bonner understands how kitchen knives should be wielded. And, as a home-cook instructor for more than a decade, he knows how people actually use them. Bonner observed that some cooks delicately slice; others whack their way through meal prep. Consequently, the KnifeWorks chef knife comes in two different styles: a delicate blade for finesse work, and a sturdier blade for vigorous chopping. “90 percent of what I think about is design,” Bonner says. “Design is what makes the knife cut the way you want it to.”
While many of our city’s renowned chefs own Bonner’s knives, enthusiastic hobby cooks find them essential as well. “When you have a good knife, you want to cook at home more,” Bonner explains. “You don’t think, ‘aw, I have to make dinner.' Instead it’s ‘sweet, I get to use my knife.’ ” And, Bonner explains that his knives improve the overall quality of your cooking, because the super-sharp blades don’t smash the cells, or bruise the integrity, of your food.
In addition to chef knives, Bonner currently offers utility knives, as well as paring knives, which start at $120. In the very near future, Bonner will release his newest designs, including Santoku-style and boning knives. Bonner is also creating a “BBQ sword,” complete with a wearable sheath, that functions as a giant slicer for larger meat cuts like brisket and whole tuna.