“Part of the allure is that we’re surrounded by all this technology, but it’s not very satisfying; we need something else,” Kramer says. “What I do is a confluence of art and technology, science and craft; people find that very engaging. It’s thrilling and satisfying to use a well-made tool. The hours I put into a piece are like a battery, with energy stored inside. When people pick up one of my knives, they intrinsically recognize the power.”
From someone else, this might sound like so much hokum. But you can’t help but drink the Kool-Aid after Kramer waxes eloquent for a couple of hours about his passion for his craft; or you hear about his struggles with mild dyslexia (which made academics a struggle); or you listen to him catalog his wobbly career arc. The guy’s paid more dues than a union lifer.
Kramer’s fortunes slowly changed after his flirtation with greasepaint and dancing elephants ended. He moved to Seattle to study oceanography, but working at a restaurant while attending school taught him a surprising informational nugget: Most chefs don’t know bubkes about taking care of knives. So he eventually traded bathyspheres for blades when he quit school to start a knife-sharpening outfit.
“I spent three years learning how to sharpen knives,” Kramer explains. “It just felt right. The more I dug into the world of knives, the more I found my fraternity — metallurgists, craftsmen and toolmakers — really interesting, creative people doing real work with their hands.”
Kramer visited sharpeners nationwide and found unlikely teachers in an Austrian toolmaker in Washington state who sharpens surgical tools and an Italian couple in San Francisco with decades of knife-sharpening experience. But his true “aha!” moment arrived in 1992 when he read a magazine about custom-knife makers. “It blew my mind,” he recalls. “I remember thinking, ‘I wonder what that’s like!’ ”
He soon found out during a two-week knife-making course in Arkansas, held by the American Bladesmith Society. There, in a twist on the old beating-swords-into-plowshares routine, he learned how to turn coal into coke — a carbonaceous material commonly used for smelting steel — and then how to fire up a forge and beat automobile leaf springs into cutting tools.