Most people would look at a rusty, dull saw blade and see a used tool bound for metal recycling.

Not Fielding Essensa.

When he was 16 he cut an old blade and sharpened it into a knife. Even though the finished product wasn’t his best work, he had found a lifelong passion.

“It was terrible,” he said, “but it sparked something that’s stayed with me.”

Essensa was a precocious kid, always interested in how things worked. He bought a 30-year-old BMW as a teenager and, too poor to pay someone to restore it, did the work himself. Along the way he learned metalworking skills that came in handy when he came upon that old saw blade.

Having a grandfather who collected knives didn’t hurt, either.

“He was Special Forces in World War II, and he had all these things from his travels: samurai swords, old German knives,” Essensa said. “That’s what I grew up around.”

Now Essensa has turned his hobby into a fledgling business, TC Cutlery. The company produces custom handmade knives in a shed behind Essensa’s Victor, Idaho, home.

When he and his wife, Kim, bought the house, one of Essensa’s first projects was building the shed that would become his workshop. At the time he was the operations manager at NewWest Knifeworks, gleaning information on how to run his own venture.

“Even though I wasn’t making knives I learned a lot there,” he said, “so I felt confident going out on my own.”

His shop is compact, with workbenches wrapping around three sides laden with tools from a band saw to a belt grinder. In about 200 square feet he creates his high-end knives, but he wants to expand.

“I’m building a ‘metal wing’ out back of the shed, and I’m going to put a bigger forge back there,” Essensa said.

As a self-taught knife maker Essensa is still discovering the best way to create his products quickly, but he is dialing in the process for some of his designs. He just finished his first five sets of kitchen knives, and he said if he burns the midnight oil he can churn out a set in about a day. A three-piece set will cost $329, while individual knives will range between $79 and $189, and custom pieces start around $200.

For a small town, Victor is amassing a number of quality-driven, handmade manufacturers, and Essensa appreciates being in a place that foments entrepreneurialism.

“It’s so cool to see companies like Sego Skis doing well here,” he said. “I like living in a place that supports small businesses.”

Though he plans on growing and has found a few high-end kitchen stores around the country that will carry his knife sets, Essensa is still compelled by the beauty of creating a custom knife, from the initial shaping of the steel to the final sharpening on the grinder.

“It’s like making a souffle,” he said. “There’s so many steps and you have to be careful, but it comes out so good.”

Contact Tom Hallberg at 732-5902 or thallberg@jhnewsandguide.com

Tom Hallberg covers a little bit of everything, from skiing to long-form feature stories. A Teton Valley, Idaho, transplant by way of Portland and Bend, Oregon, he spends his time outside work writing fiction, splitboarding and climbing.

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