Spot the Shop: Keith Nix makes his knives from home, crafting each one from scratch

Ezra Maille
Black Mountain News
Local knifemaker Keith Nix runs Keith Nix Knives, a small business in Black Mountain selling knives he makes from scratch.

Local knifemaker Keith Nix doesn't make his knives just to be shown off. Though his knives are beautiful and carefully made, Nix crafts them to be strong.

"I don't want people to display my knives," Nix said. "I really want people to use them."

Nix lives and operates his business Keith Nix Knives from his family's generational home in Black Mountain. A small shed adjacent to the house serves as his workshop. 

A machinist for Kearfott Corporation, Nix has been working with metals and machinery for many years. The knife business began when he needed to make a new handle for a knife.

"Over time it evolved," Nix said. "Five or six years ago I started gathering the tools I need to make knives."

Nix makes his knives in batches, often having as much as four months worth of custom work at a time.

Nix began making knives in earnest a few years ago. At 65, he hopes to retire from Kearfott later this year to focus on knifemaking full time. 

From kitchen knives to cleavers to fancy curved blades, Nix does it all.

Nix makes his knives from scratch, sawing and grinding the knife profiles into shape and constructing the handles from his woodpile or other local vendors. To temper the blades, Nix built his own oven from a toaster with an added PID controller to regulate temperature and pressure.

After cooling the blades from the oven, Nix sits the knives in liquid nitrogen for 12 hours or so while the blades harden.

Nix built a temper oven for his knives from a toaster and a PID controller.

"I hope they're heirlooms," Nix said. "I really want people to buy a knife and pass it down to their kids and the kids pass it to theirs. I see no reason a nice knife wouldn't last 100 years if people take care of it."

The small workshop also contains a belt grinder, a dust collector, a band saw and a buffer as well as numerous other tools and instruments of machinery. The small space is just large enough to accommodate two people comfortably. 

When it comes time to shape the handles, Nix submerges pieces of wood in liquid resin in a vacuum chamber for a few hours to a few days. He then releases the vacuum, allowing the wood to sit in the resin for 2-3 additional days. 

Nix makes everything from Japanese Nakiri knives to cleavers and kitchen knives.

"Then you bake it to polymerize the resin, and you've got basically plasticized wood," Nix said. "It doesn't take on any moisture or anything like that."

From one two-by-12 wood block, Nix can make four handles. 

At any given time, Nix has roughly four months worth of knives to make for clients. Though he often slows down in the winter due to the temperature in his workshop, with the coming of spring, he's back at it. 

Nix's knives all have his custom emblem courtesy of local print shop Precision Graphics.

"It's been a journey," Nix said. "I've enjoyed every minute of it. I don't know if I'm making any money from it but I'm sure having fun."

Nix's knives range in cost from $139 to $199. He also offers a knife sharpening service. More information about the service and his business can be found at www.keithnixknives.com.

Ezra Maille covers the town of Black Mountain, Montreat and the Swannanoa Valley. Reach him at 828-230-3324 or emaille@blackmountainnews.com. Please support local journalism with access to more breaking news by subscribing.