On the Cutting Edge: The Making of the West’s Best Knives
See the craftsmanship that goes into every blade from New West KnifeWorks.
Corey Milligan founded New West KnifeWorks more than two decades ago, and there aren’t many chefs left to convert. Nor, it would appear, food writers. From The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal to Bon Appetit, Cooking Light, Food and Wine, and the shuttered Saveur, reviewers universally wax rhapsodic about the unique alloy of form and function that lies at the heart of each blade, the durable yet elegant handles; the near-impervious surgical steel.
But Sunset got there first, with a 2001 piece that Milligan credits with helping to launch his brand from part-time passion to full-time pursuit. “A good knife is the making of a cook,” we said then, while “a beautiful knife is a cook’s joy.” That era’s magazine design might not have aged well, but the statement—and New West KnifeWorks itself —remain solid.
To recognize the two decades Milligan has spent crafting American-made blades in the West, we headed out to the Tetons for a factory tour. First, however, we caught up with Milligan and his core team during a steep hike up the windy slope of Mount Glory, the pass that separates Wilson, Wyoming and Victor, Idaho, where New West’s headquarters is located.
“I think that was the worst weather we had all year,” Milligan recalls. Icy conditions and petit toe-holds conspired with gusts of wind and the flat surface area of an unlashed snowboard for an experience not unlike windsurfing up a hill of razor blades.
For Milligan, that summit is an essential part of honing his view of the world. It is an extension of his office, a dedication to the terrain; on some of his blade faces you’ll find the Tetons set in relief through a custom and proprietary process that we promised not to share here.
The indentation, like most things at New West, is a practical flourish, it helps release the suction-like grip on sliced tomatoes, onions, and other moist vegetables, preventing runaways from tumbling across the counter (and removing your focus from the blade). But it is also deeply artistic. Other brands slap a logo on it. New West puts theirs to work.
At the time of our visit, Milligan, the hard-working artist, craftsman, father, and businessman, had taken on a new role: pushing the local city council to acknowledge the dangers of the Coronavirus. While the speaker of the council admonished him, Milligan slowly swabbed and disinfected every part of the lectern he was to speak at, laboriously as if to prove a point.
It is a ritual we’ve all become accustomed to, now, but Milligan was just ahead of the curve. In fact, New West was one of the first businesses in the entire country to devote production efforts to creating hand sanitizer, an effort that was echoed by thousands of companies in the weeks that followed.
Now, with protocols in place, Milligan has his factory humming again, and remains optimistic.
Two decades in, and New West hasn’t lost its edge.
Why should you? In our video above, Milligan shows how to keep your knives honed; at the 2:48 mark you’ll see some bonus footage of his factory.
And scroll on to join us on a journey through Milligan’s inner sanctum.