We found ourselves with a free morning recently, with so-so weather that was not inspiring us to do something outdoors. An acquaintance of ours suggested that we check out a local artisan who manufactured world-renowned razors. Mastro Livi is a 6th-generation knife maker who took the family craft and specialized in the art of making custom straight razors.
How much could a custom razor possibly cost, you ask? Well, anywhere from $400 to over $1,000, and having now seen the work that goes into it, I am not surprised. Sarah called the office to see if they were open to guests and determine the time that worked best. They were very casual about the time (typical Italian) and told us to drop by whenever, just not during lunch (also typical for Italians). Of course we brought the boys, because what could possibly go wrong taking two little boys to a metalworking shop where they make razors?
The store sold a variety of knives and razors, most of which he made, although he focused more on razors now. The only knife he makes commonly now is the prosciutto knife, which is a finely sharpened knife specifically made to hand slice 1mm thick slices of cured ham.
The workshop behind the store was guarded by a very aggressive goose (not kidding). Inside it was well-arranged for productivity, if not a bit cluttered. There was a small wood-burning stove in the very center of the room. The smells of sawdust, smoke and tools filled the air, reminiscent for me of my dad’s workshop.
Mastro Livi was very inviting and openly talked about his work and his business. He had a humble demeanor, but spoke openly about the process that he uses, implying that he did not feel threatened by any competition. He was happy to have us watch as he worked, explaining each step, all while stopping to talk to the boys every once in a while. He was methodical and unhurried. It was clear that he had more orders than he could fill, but that he was in no rush to increase production at the expense of his product.
The razors are a combination of two types of steel, one very hard and one slightly softer. Blending the metals gives the benefit of a hardened steel, but also makes it easier to sharpen, plus the pattern produced by the blending process is stunning. It turns out the blending part was Joshua’s favorite part of the visit.
First, the forge is heated up to approximately the temperature of the sun, the metal is fixed to the end of an iron rod and placed inside. Once the metal is literally red hot, it is compressed using a special machine, which Joshua calls the “bang-bang,” for reasons you can probably guess.
Once the two metals are pressed together sufficiently, they can be made into a blade, slowly sharpened and polished. The handles are custom-made, with the lower end models being simple olive wood and higher-end version being exotic hardwoods, mother-of-pearl, or some combination.
It is easy to listen to someone who is passionate about the topic of conversation; it’s even easier to watch someone who is a master at their craft while they work (having grown up in the house of a master-craftsman, I can speak to this). The boys were also very patient; Joshua was on my shoulders for over 2 hours, transfixed by the fire, the banging and all the tools. Ethan was amused, and was very quiet throughout the whole visit until his stomach was rumbling louder than the machines.
At the end, Mastro Livi made a little keychain for Joshua to take home, then insisted that we join him for lunch, which we did. We had such a good time, it would be easy to forget that we also learned a lot.