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Local bladesmith's handmade knives make the cut with top chefs

21 October 2022
A Derry chef is giving blunt and boring kitchen knives the chop with his own range of handmade blades.
Walled City Blades founder Joe Forbes has almost 20 years' experience in the restaurant industry, including stints at the Beech Hill Country House, Pyke 'N' Pommes and Belfast's award-winning Shu Restaurant.
His eye-catching knives, made with Irish-sourced woods such as bog oak and sycamore, have been purchased by acclaimed chefs and cooking enthusiasts from around the world, including Alex Greene, head chef at Belfast's Michelin-starred Deanes Eipic.
Joe became interested in the art of handcrafting a knife, known as bladesmithing, after learning how to sharpen his own blades using a whetstone.
"Knives are obviously a vital part of a chef's kit and we have to look after them to make them last," says Joe, who in addition to Walled City Blades has a job working in food production.
"It's a long-term investment and having worked with so many other chefs, I knew the demand would be there for a top quality, handmade knife that looks good too."
Before launching the business in 2021, Joe completed a bladesmithing course in Antrim's Hot Milk Forge, and reached out to fellow knifemakers via Instagram for advice and tips.
"In the restaurant industry, chefs can be guarded about sharing recipes and knowledge, but I've had great help from other bladesmiths," he says.
Joe also participated in the Start Up Accelerator Programme, a partnership between Derry City and Strabane District Council, Enterprise North West and Strabane Enterprise Agency. Funded by the UK Government through the Community Renewal Fund, the programme helps new entrepreneurs explore their ideas and develop their business skills.
Joe said the mentoring and workshops he availed of through the programme have helped him steer through the challenges of starting a new business.
"I wouldn't be an expert on paperwork and putting together a business plan," he admits. "Being able to get information and advice on topics like accounting, website support and social media marketing has been great."
Each knife is a labour of love. Once Joe has sourced the wood for the handle, it takes up to 75 hours to get it ready, or 'stabilised', in his unit in Derry's Springtown industrial estate. The wood is milled down, dried out in an oven, placed in a vacuum chamber then cured.
He then gives each knife character with unique patterns on the blade and brightly coloured handles in shades such as hot pink and teal (how he achieves this, however, remains top secret!).
"The knives are a dream to work with, they have a fine cut edge which glides through the food," says Joe.
"I've had orders from friends in the local restaurant business, and chefs and home cooks everywhere from New York and New Jersey to Australia."
Joe, who welcomed a baby boy with wife Melissa last month, is currently working on a Derry edition knife, and gearing up for Christmas gift orders. He also offers a knife sharpening service.
"Every day's a school day, and it's a busy time," he says. "But I love what I do and I wouldn't have it any other way."
Derry City and Strabane District Council and local enterprise agencies, Enterprise North West and Strabane Enterprise Agency can help new and existing businesses with a range of tailored programmes.  Contact a Business Advisor now for free support at [email protected] 
Check out Walled City Blades on social media @walledcityblades