What does a 36-year-old former bartender living in Elizabeth have in common with a 27-year-old Hotchkiss pig farmer and orchard hand? Both craft custom knives as stunningly beautiful as they are razor-sharp—and both want to make your favorite cook the kitchen tool of his or her dreams.
Their paths to bladesmithing and their forging techniques are where the two knife makers diverge. After 15 years behind the bar (most recently at the RiNo Yacht Club), Heather J. Haas ditched the hospitality industry in April to follow her blade-making obsession, born of her desire to create a more functional wine key. Using the training she received at an American Bladesmith Society workshop, Haas established her new label, H.J. Haas. In a metal shop she’s building out inside her cousin’s barn in Elizabeth, she hand-forges gorgeous custom blades (paring knives, chef’s knives, even offset spatulas) and bar tools. Her current passion is “pattern welding,” a labor-intensive method in which she hammers together multiple layers of steel into a single piece, treating the metal with heat and pressure and then twisting it to form intricate patterns. After Haas works with her clients to determine the design specifications—What will the knife be used for? What materials are you drawn to?—her knives take about a week to create. Haas also shapes and finishes the handles, which she makes from resin-stabilized hardwoods (such as Bastogne walnut) she says are “practically indestructible.”
Meanwhile, when he’s not laboring for Hotchkiss’s Colorado Pastured Pork or Paonia’s Topp Fruits, Hayden Kessel smiths bespoke blades to his customers’ specifications in his neighbor’s Western Slope metal shop. A former art student who found himself less interested in painting and more drawn to functional design, Kessel made his first knife in 2014 during an informal apprenticeship under master bladesmith Don Carlos Andrade in Los Osos, California. About a year ago, Kessel launched Hayden Knife, crafting everything from slicing and utility knives to his specialty: Japanese “gyuto,” or chef’s knives, and “santoku,” which have rounded curves on their tips. Kessel hopes his customers view his products—which star high-carbon steels, forged with heat from Colorado coal, and foraged hardwoods that he stabilizes himself—as heirlooms. “I love the idea,” he says, “that after I am gone, people will still be using the knives I’ve made.”