Kramer became a master bladesmith in 1997. A year later, an article about him in a popular cooking magazine goosed knife orders up to a four-year backlog. He’s been working off a backlog ever since. Initially, he sold knives for a few hundred dollars each. Friends said he wasn’t charging enough, so he bumped the price up to $400. Then $600. Then $1,000.
“I thought it was an extraordinary amount of money for a chef’s knife, but there still was no lack of demand,” he says. “Then, after a client said I still wasn’t charging enough, I decided to find what the market would bear.”
So Kramer forged a 10-inch Damascus knife and put it on eBay with a $2,000 reserve. “I held my breath and crossed my fingers,” he recalls. The reserve price? Met in 12 minutes. After 50 minutes? Bidding hit $4,000. “My head was spinning,” he says. Closing price? $8,000. “I was dumbfounded,” he remembers. “I felt something had significantly changed.”
Indeed, his business had morphed into something Kramer never imagined during his years of wandering in the career wilderness. With demand vastly outstripping his capacity, he now sells knives “as democratically as possible” through the online lottery system. He also holds four to six online auctions a year, which feature what he calls his “best-of-the-best knives” — the ones that routinely sell for the price of a decent car.
In between making knives, Kramer continues to tinker with steel “recipes” like a restless, metal-minded Julia Child. He’s a big disciple of kaizen, a Samurai-like Japanese philosophy that believes improvement is a never-ending quest.
“Perfection is elusive,” he sighs. “But it’s the journey that counts.”
Even if it means stints under the big top along the way.
Ken Wysocky is a freelance writer in Milwaukee who is now ditching his once-prized Ginsu knife.