What do you do with a meteorite? Make a knife…
By TODD OPPENHEIMER
This sidebar is a supplement to The Kitchen Bladesmith
Once upon a time, around 2014, Bob Kramer, a Master Bladesmith who had made his name by hand-forging some of the world’s finest kitchen knives, was itching for a new frontier. He wanted a project that had some local origins; the only problem was that the American Northwest, where he lived, never produced any iron. There were ancient tales, however, of Native tribes in the area making knives and other tools from another iron source: fallen meteorites.
In tracking down this story, Kramer was unable to find any solid proof this was true (it’s more likely that the areas Natives got their iron and steel from overseas traders, who brought ships to the Northwest in search of animal furs and other goods). Yet meteorites have often fallen in various areas of the west, most prolifically in an area of Argentina called Campo del Cielo. And many of them are primarily composed of iron. Never one to shirk a challenge, Kramer dove in.
Nosing around online, he found a surprising number of places where he could buy meteorites. Some offered small, crude nuggets for as little as $25 apiece; larger, purer samples can sell for thousands of dollars per gram. Some look like powdery black rocks, others have been smoothed out by their supersonic trip to earth. (During this journey, the meteorites reach such high speeds—up to 160,000 mph—the outside melts, “like a candle with a fan on it,” as Kramer puts it.) But as long as the meteorite is made of iron (and only a small percentage are), it can be formed into a blade.
“I buy the ugly ones,” Kramer told me. “They have all the chemistry I want, but they don’t look like anything that anyone would want.” Then comes the hard part—heating, purifying, and working this odd, astral material into usable steel. “It’s like forging concrete,” Kramer says. “It just wants to crumble. It doesn’t knead like dough.”
Yet Kramer loves tinkering with the stuff; over the years, in fact, some of his highest-end knives have been made of steel from meteorites. One such knife, which he made for Anthony Bourdain—the late gastronomist, author, and former host of the foodie travel show, “Parts Unknown”—recently sold in auction for $231,250.
But don’t worry, even though Kramer has recently taken his work to almost breathtaking levels of artistry (quickly apparent with only a glance at his website), his custom knives don’t typically draw such astronomical prices, so to speak. A standard, 8-inch, custom Kramer chef’s knife sells for around $1,600; a Damascus version costs about $4,000 (if you can get on his waiting list); and his fancier models have been auctioned for a mere $30,000. But wait, there is still no need to panic. Perfectly good commercial versions of Kramer’s knives are readily available through Sur La Table for under $500. Every one of them will last you a lifetime, and then some.