Town Cutler’s handmade knives are inspired by Japanese design and Nevada sunsets.
Written by Christina Nellemann
Photos by Shaun Hunter
The typical home cook may not think twice about the functionality and appearance of their everyday kitchen knives, but the exquisite blades by Reno’s Town Cutler deserve a double, if not triple, take.
“No one is really doing what we do,” says Galen Garretson, owner of Town Cutler. “We create a line of knives utilizing different steel, different handles, and a different aesthetic for each line.”
Originally from Carson City, Garretson is a former chef who worked in various restaurants in San Francisco for 10 years. After getting burned out on that lifestyle, he still wanted to keep in touch with people in the restaurant industry, so he opened Town Cutler, a Bay Area store selling and sharpening Japanese knives.
After learning knifemaking from master bladesmith Aaron Wilburn of WilburnForge in Redding, Garretson’s store wall slowly filled up with his own knife designs. The knives became so popular that Garretson opened up a second Town Cutler store in Chicago.
Back to Reno
After a few years, Garretson closed up the San Francisco and Chicago stores and consolidated his business back home in Reno. The knife design and handcrafting are done in house in an impressive workshop at the back of his South Reno building. A few of Town Cutler’s six employees work at shaping and sharpening the blades while others make handles out of buckeye burl wood.
“The materials we use are unique,” Garretson says.
Town Cutler’s Classic line of knives comes with handles made from the burls of buckeye trees specific to the California/Oregon border. Town Cutler sources about 1,000 pounds of the wood per year and places solid blocks of the burl into vacuum shaper systems with a stabilizing fluid for about three weeks. This forces the air out of the wood and the fluid in, sort of like forced petrification.
“Every piece is a little bit different,” Garretson says. “The design has come a long way and has been refined along the way.”
Rather than tossing away any wood scraps, Garretson’s team uses the extra burl for the handles on the Desert Dawn line, inspired by Northern Nevada’s glorious sunrises and sunsets. The wood is put into a mold and filled with a two-part resin.
“The resin fills all the voids, and we can utilize all the scrap material, so we are not throwing wood away,” Garretson says. “We turn it into something really nice.”
Garretson’s craft includes not only creativity, but also a fair amount of chemistry and geometry when it comes to the creation of the knife blades. In its Classic line, Town Cutler uses AEB-L stainless steel, a type of steel that is exceedingly sharp and can take an extra fine edge. Originally created for razor blades, the steel also is flexible due to Garretson’s technique.
Galen Garretson, owner of Town Cutler in Reno, sharpens one of his handmade knives
“We’ve found we can create a very hard steel and then temper it to get that memory and flexibility,” he says.
The Desert Dawn line’s blades use Nitro-V stainless steel, and Town Cutler also sells custom-ordered knives featuring Damasteel, the highest quality steel in the world. For a little Latin flair, the latest Baja line also contains the Nitro-V steel blade and handles made from a layered fabric and resin that looks like a Mexican blanket.
“It’s a little different blade shape than we normally do,” Garretson says. “We are going to target it more for barbecue and outdoor cooking.”
For the home chef, Garretson recommends his most popular knife, the 8.5-inch chef’s knife.
“That’s typically our length on the blade,” Garretson says. “It’s a great all-purpose, workhorse knife, but if people feel intimidated by a knife of that size, they can pick up the narrower 6-inch utility knife.”
The knives can be ordered directly from Town Cutler’s website, or customers can stop by to see the lines as well as other culinary tools such as palette knives, wood knife covers, and Japanese whetstones for sharpening.
“We used to sell more to professionals, but we’ve reached a lot more home cooks,” Garretson says. “A lot more people are cooking at home and are finding that it’s worth spending money on a good knife. You can spend $1,000 on a set of 15 knives and a block, but you really only need two of them. So for that price point or a little less, you can get two or three knives that are really good.”
Christina Nellemann is thrilled that a knife craftsman such as Town Cutler is located nearly in her backyard.
For details, visit Towncutler.com.