TEENAGER Luka Scannell is quite confident that he is among the ‘sharpest tool in the box’, considering his special talent for making speciality knives, joining a small but illustrious set of bladesmiths living and working in West Cork.
“I get that a lot,” says Luka, laughing.
He works out of an old shipping container at Colla in Schull, making kitchen knives for family and friends.
“I always had a keen interest in cooking,” says Luka.
“My dad is a very good cook. And I’ve always loved cooking from a very young age too.
“My interest in kitchen knives just evolved, like a natural development.
“I gradually progressed into the area of kitchen tools and looking at making original speciality kitchen knives.
“I was about 14 when I got really interested in the process of knife-making.
“There is a massive food community here in West Cork — this is another element of it.”
The Leaving Cert student, who attends Schull Community College, aims to make his mark building his skills through an apprentice college course or apprenticeship to make knives for his bread and butter in the future.
“That’s the plan,” says Luka.
He is a friend of Fingal Ferguson of food firm Gubeen, who is famous for his knives that sell internationally. After seeing Fingal’s Instagram posts, Luka and a friend, Daniel Richards, began researching knife-making skills on YouTube.
“We got the interest together,” says Luka.
“Did they have to ‘fork out’ much to get started on their project?
“We began gathering tools, crappy ones at first, and some of the tools were even home-made,” says Luka.
“We built up an inventory of tools to begin making kitchen knives to sell.
“Fingal was kind enough to give me some of his old tools that he was no longer using.”
The lads got serious about learning the craft of knife-making, realising that for cutting, chopping, slicing and dicing, one good chef’s knife is an essential tool to have in the kitchen drawer.
“There are a huge number of tutorials and videos available, some from the UK and from the USA. I began watching them researching the craft of knife-making,” says Luka.
“We had the tools, basic files and steel, so I began making the knives in the shed. As time went on, I got more into it.”
Luka was enthusiastic about his workmanship.
“I have a good collection of DIY tools,” adds Luka, who is a sole operator now.
“I began with three or four tools and gradually built up my collection of tools.”
He got sharper as he sought advice and some mentoring from the other craftspeople in West Cork, who helped and encouraged him to hone his skills.
“I checked in with Fingal, who was a great help to me,” says Luka. “And I also sought advice with other close contacts in the business.”
Luka did some valuable networking when he attended a special event for knife-makers that was held at Connollys of Leap, which was featured as part of the programme for A Taste of West Cork Food Festival last year.
“Fingal has always been very supportive to me,” says Luka.
“Another bladesmith, Sam Dunn, based in Glengarriff, is hugely encouraging too, as is Rory Connor in Ballylickey.”
Blacksmith JJ Bowen, from Rathura, Schull, noticed Luka’s unique craft-making potential from the get-go.
“Luka is intent on honing his craft and he is very enthusiastic putting in the hard work.”
Luka admires JJ’s set-up, working in the family forge.
“It is really interesting to see him working in the family forge,” says Luka.
“JJ introduced me to blacksmithing, which is amazing.
“He has taught me lots of different techniques in what is a traditional and highly-skilled craft.”
A lot of traditional Irish crafts are sadly no more.
“Some of our traditional crafts handed down through the generations are dying out,” says JJ.
“It is great to see some keen interest in reviving them and keeping them alive from young people like Luka.”
It wasn’t long before Luka’s craft-making gathered momentum in his neck of the woods which is renowned for creativity, nature and its beautiful natural resources.
“Friends and family started placing orders for the special chef’s knives I was making in the forge,” says Luka.
“When I set up my own Instagram account, Coolaforge, commissions began coming in thick and fast. Chefs took an interest in my original designs and in the intricate work in the designs.”
Luka, taking huge pride in his handmade craft, puts a lot of time into his home-grown project as well as a lot of thought.
“The real fascination for me is not the knives themselves, but more in the process of making of the knives,” he says.
“It’s the little details and time put into each piece that makes each piece unique.
“Each knife takes seven or eight hours to make.
“Mostly, I am just looking to cover my costs. I reinvest the proceeds from sales back into materials and equipment.
“I’m glad too that I make my knives affordable.”
Luka’s latest project is garnering a lot of interest and is set to become a best-seller in West Cork.
“I am working on a prototype for set of cheese knives that will take the West Cork hedgerows as its inspiration,” says Luka.
Hedgerow flowers, such as foxgloves, calendula and gorse, will be cast in resin that will be used in the handle of the knives.
Luka is now creating his own handles and up-cycling old pieces of timber from boat wrecks or hedgerows, and including other items from native flowers and seaweed as well as bits of old rope found on the seashore.
“Apart from being a creative project, it is quite scientific,” explains Luka.
“It involves vacuum chambers and resin casting.”
I tell Luka I think I’d display one of his knives as a collector’s item instead of chopping the veggies with it.
“I wouldn’t mind if you did that,” he says.
“But my knives are really good ones — and are a really good item that will last you and serve you for a very long time.”
Luka’s work can be viewed on instagram @collaforge and also @westcorkscales