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Hillsboro knifemaker shares ancient Japanese techniques with next generation

HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTOS: TRAVIS LOOSE - Murray Carter, a Hillsbor-based knifewmaker, has been refining steel and forging blades for nearly 30 years.Murray Carter’s knives can cut through phone books, aluminum cans and chicken bones as if they were soft butter. His Youtube channel is filled with demonstrations illustrating those feats.

Carter, who owns Carter Cutlery in Hillsboro, has spent his life perfecting the art of making knives and blades.

His work has been used by renowned television chef Alton Brown for the past 20 years, as well as chefs at the White House.

Carter’s history is well documented. A 17th generation bladesmith who can trace his lineage back to Yoshimoto, a knifemaking family in feudal Japan, Carter is the only Caucasian to be trained in the ancient Japanese craft, he said.

“In 2,000 or 3,000 years, the techniques haven’t improved,” he said.

But what sets Carter apart from other knifemakers isn’t just his long lineage. It’s his willingness to share his knowledge with the world.

Carter offers open houses, classes and apprenticeships at his northwest Hillsboro shop, tapping into the old “teach-a-man-to-fish” adage — albeit with a bit more refined steel.

“Teaching and sharing has you examine your own process,” said Carter, who estimates he’s trained hundreds of aspiring knifemakers since the 1990s. “Sharing knowledge and perpetuating and promoting interest in the industry demonstrates benevolence, and our customers want to support that ... We really are more than just a knife company.”

The Carter membership

Carter has personally crafted about 24,000 knives in his nearly three-decade long career, which began in 1988 after he left his hometown in Nova Scotia, Canada, to Kyushu, Japan, where he trained, made and sold knives for 18 years. Carter eventually came back to the U.S. in 2005, opening Carter Cutlery in Vernonia before moving it to Hillsboro in 2012, where it has been since.

Tucked away in an unassuming business park, Carter’s nondescript setting hardly exemplifies what goes on inside.

“I’m taking the world’s best steel and I’m trying to take it to the limit metallurgically,” Carter said.

His knives and blades range in price from $200 to more than $1,000. Carter says he has sold knives to everyone from chefs to outdoor hobbyists, and even actor Steven Seagal.

But Carter is more than just a knifemaker, he said. He’s a teacher.

He offers a 15-day journeyman program for anyone willing to pay the tuition, and he hosts regular open houses on the first Saturday of every month for anyone with a passing interest in seeing how knives are forged. Serious students who can go the extra mile and are committed to turning that passing interest into a lifelong career can take on apprenticeships.

Carter has taken on 10 official apprenticeships over his career, the most recent being 24-year-old Michigan native Alex Horn, who has been with the cutlery for two and a half months.

“It’s been incredible,” Horn said. “I could watch Murray forge for hours — it’s just so fluid ... and you can only learn so much from articles and YouTube videos.”

Horn saw the call for apprentices and said he had to move to Oregon.

“I was like, I have to (apply). I’d kill myself if I didn’t take this chance,” he said. “Lucky enough, I got a call back.”

Horn graduated in February with a degree in mechanical engineering and moved to Hillsboro four months later.

“I got a fresh degree,” he said. “I might as well not put it to good use, right?”

Carter’s longest serving apprentice is Shamus Dotson, who came to Carter 12 years ago. Dotson is on track to become the 18th generation Yoshimoto bladesmith, Carter said.

An apprentice since he was 15 years old, Dotson, now 27, graduated from high school in Vernonia and attended college for a year before deciding that bladesmithing was what he wanted to do as a career.

“It’s nice being able to create something and have people provide feedback,” Dotson said. “It’s just an interesting job, and it’s a lot nicer than working a 9 to 5, that’s for sure.”

Carter said he’d like to take on more students, and increase his output, but needs a bigger space. He’s currently looking for a larger location near Tigard or Lake Oswego where he can open a shop and showroom. He hopes to find one by the end of the year.

“I’m only limited by the size of our shop right now,” Carter said. “Otherwise, every three months I’d take on a new apprentice. I’ve got guys lined up from all over the country who are willing to drive to do it.”

Carter said he is at the pinnacle of his career right now, but said he’s most interested in passing on his knowledge to the next generation of bladesmiths.

“I can’t guarantee that every one who graduates from the program will become a bladesmith,” he said, “but if they have average skills and more than average motivation, they will definitely be successful.”

Check it out

What: Carter Cutlery

Where: 2038 N.W. Aloclek Drive, #225, Hillsboro

Info: 503-466-1331 or www.cartercutlery.com

By Travis Loose
Reporter, Hillsboro Tribune
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