Will Ferraby’s prized possession, displayed in his Sheffield home, is a Victorian dagger.
The blade is well over a hundred years old and bears the names Ferraby & Hare – a business run by Will’s family generations earlier in the north.
“We have reason to believe this dagger was made by my great-great-great grandfather,” Will smiles.
“I came across this family heirloom on Ebay a few years back and couldn’t believe it. I thought ‘this is part of my heritage, I have to have this,’ and decided I was willing to bid up to a few hundred pounds to bring the dagger back into the family.
“I got it for a tenner.”
The tradition of knife-making clearly has a long history in Will’s family, and it’s a tradition he continues, running his own workshop, ‘Ferraby Knives,’ in a Victorian cutlery works on Brammall Lane.
“My grandfather used to sell knives and my dad is a 3D technician,” says the 34-year-old, Meersbrook.
“I come from a long line of tinkerers and I’ve loved being in a workshop for as long as I can remember; it’s where I feel most at home, experimenting with different materials and creating things.”
Will began working with knives when he was nine, teaching himself how to make them in his father’s workshop.
“My mum wasn’t pleased, but I loved it,” smiles Will.
“Creating knives is a passion. I used to be drawing knife designs during lessons at school and was always planning the next prototype.
“I love that they’re an extremely practical tool, but also extremely beautiful, a priceless piece of art even. I have knives in my kitchen that I’ve made and that I use every day; I get pleasure from holding them in my hands – a well-made and beautiful tool can make your world a happier place.”
But despite his love for knives, Will didn’t take a direct route into the family business, making a brief foray into environmental conservation.
“I loved trees and outdoors and worked as a wildlife surveyor, teaching survival skills. I realised I could do with a very good knife and that led me back into the workshop. While I was there, I realised ‘this is where I belong.’
“I went along to see some of the old guys running the big Sheffield firms who took the time to show me the ropes. That’s what I love about working in the north, everybody helps everybody else out.
“It’s a privilege to be carrying on the tradition here, a city that is world famous for inventing stainless steel and making knives, with access to all the generations worth of knowledge and technical expertise still held within the city.”
Will makes all his items on request and has created everything from tai-chi swords to throwing axes, though his speciality is kitchen knives.
“The unusual things are interesting to make and a sword is really different to work on,” he says.
“The best thing I ever made for somebody was a kitchen knife for a man’s 40th birthday, featuring an engraving drawn for him by his daughter, that was really special.
“I’ve also created lovelocks for Valentine’s Day and someone once commissioned me to make his father a knife out of wood he brought back from his dad’s farm in Greece, which was a really nice touch.
“The highlight of my job is making people happy with something I’ve created.”
But despite his appreciation for them, Will no longer collects knives.
“I collected as a boy, but I prefer using them for a practical purpose now. I look at them all day, every day, so I don’t want them displayed around the house too – they’re in my kitchen drawers and I get to see them every time I’m hungry!”
Will estimates he’s made hundreds of knives in his career, taking a couple of days to make each one.
“I’m a perfectionist,” he admits.
And for the first time since he opened his workshop eight years ago, a collection of Will’s knives are available to buy straight from his on his website, with no wait.
“I’ve just launched a collection of my most popular knife – an eight inch chefs knife.
“They’re still all individually made, with different handles and different finishes on the blades. I’ve been experimenting with different materials and setting things in the resin, like denim, lambswool or star anise.
“They’ve been a real labour of love and I’m excited for people to see them.”
Visit www.ferrabyknives.com to see for yourself.
NEW YOUTUBE SERIES:
Will’s work has drawn the attention of some people of importance in the cooking world.
Last year he was contacted by chef Michel Roux Jr who was recruiting people to take part in a new YouTube series called The Craftsmen’s Dinner. Michel invited Will to provide the knives for the series, and one of the show’s six episodes – which launched on YouTube this month – focuses on Michel’s time in Sheffield with Will, learning how to make knives in his workshop.
Michel told Will everything chefs look for in a knife and Will made him a knife to use.
Visit www.youtube.com/TheCraftsmensDinner to watch Will’s episode.