Bonjour! As our regular readers are aware, we are in the midst of a week of posts on a 2 century old French knife style – The Laguiole. There are many makers of this traditional knife from the South of France, and among the highly regarded is the Coutellerie de Laguiole Honoré Durand which made the Laguiole that I am testing. The folks at Sport Hansa, importer of the knife, passed along our 5 from the Grinder questions to Christophe Durand, one of the pair of brothers who run the second generation cutlery company.
I found this entry particularly interesting as Christophe and Honore are to a degree constrained design wise by cultural tradition, on the other hand the value they place on protecting and nurturing that tradition shows through in his answers, even as they begin to expand their offerings in terms of materials in particular.
But enough rambling from me, I yield the floor to Monsieur Christophe Durand.
First, in a few sentences, please introduce yourself and let us know what led you to making/designing knives.
My name is Christophe Durand and I am 48 years old. My brother, Honoré and I have managed our company, Coutellerie de Laguiole Honoré Durand for the last 9 years. It’s important to know that the Laguiole style knife was created in the 1820’s by three Cutlers that lived in the Village of Laguiole and was originally designed to be useful for the farmers in our town. Around the 2nd World War, the manufacturing of the knife stopped in both the village and the surrounding towns. Around 30 years ago, our parents started Laguiole Honoré Durand, but have since retired. When they revived the production, they had to start completely from scratch, including all aspects of production. Since my brother and I were 15 years old, we have spent our holidays at the company helping to sell our knives from the factory. The Laguiole knife is a bit a part of who we are. Honoré has been working at the company for the last 26 years after finishing his studies and serving in the Army. For myself, after leaving the Army and finishing my studies, I worked many different jobs. I missed the Laguiole Knife, so I join the Company 15 years ago.
What knife maker(s) or designer(s) have had the biggest influence on you? Do you have any mentors?
I would have to say that our mentors are our ancestors. For 60 years, the Laguiole knife has been manufactured in a very standard way. Over the last 30 years, we rediscovered what our ancestors were doing between 1870 and 1939. They personalized the knife according to the needs and wants of their customers. Our factory and style of knife making is based on patterns and traditions that are 200 years old. However, some things have changed. For example, we’ve changed the shape of the handle to have a better fit in the hand and the blade stop has only appeared in France over the last 25 years. Previously, the Laguiole style didn’t have this. Originally the handles were made from cow horn and we’ve added other materials to the production process to help customize the knives. For 60 years, the spring was only being chiseled with a stamping decoration. When the style was revived, we started chiseling by hand with grindstones and files. The first Laguiole knives were manufactured with a forged bee, but the process of manufacturing is much easier with a welded bee. We’ve restarted the manufacturing with a forged bee in the traditional style. Also, our ancestors personalized the patterns with other decoration like the Saint-Jacques shell, Lys flower or four leaves clover. However, during the last 80 years, only the bee was possible. We’ve restarted the manufacturing process with the original patterns that our ancestors used throughout the history of the Laguiole Knife.
What is your favorite knife pattern or style from history?
Culturally, and because of my time in the cutlery business, the Laguiole style is still my favorite. While I greatly appreciate modern styles, I don’t personally get the same feeling that I do when I’m holding an older patterned knife. These older styles like Laguiole, are full of old history and legends. This is hard to replace in modern knife. You can also see this in all the simple uses I have for my knife. For my meals, I use my knife from the starter to the main course and finish with cutting cheese or peeling fruit. I might use it to cut dry sausage during a picnic for a group, or to carve a simple walking stick. My needs are simple when it comes to a knife.
What direction do you see the industry going/What’s the next big thing in knife making?
This is an important question for me when it comes to the time and energy that we put into hand crafting our Laguiole Honoré Durand knives. It’s important to remember that the Laguiole knife was created almost 200 years ago by cutlers in the village of Laguiole. Today, the shape of the knife is not protected, the name “Laguiole” is not protected, the bee on the handle is just decoration and so is the Shepard’s cross. This means that anyone in the world, despite their level of quality, is able to manufacture a Laguiole knife with the shape, brand name, bee and the cross. All of these parts don’t indicate the quality of the Laguiole knife, where it came from, and who manufactured it. The manufacturing of Laguiole is located in the town where its namesake came from, as well as Thiers City. However, you will also see Laguiole knives produced in Pakistan and China. To be sure of the quality of a Laguiole knife, look at the knife and the guarantee card. A quality knife will be shipped to you with a real guarantee card with the name and address of the manufacturer on it. We want our customer to know they are getting a genuine Laguiole knife and they know that it is when they feel the difference in their hand and it’s backed by our guarantee.
Crafting Laguiole knives is changing. 100 years ago, the main handle material would have been made of horn. Only in the last 30 years did we start to use different wood, both local and exotic. Within the last 20 years, we started using acrylics in every color and aluminum handles. Most recently has been within the last 15 years, when we started using stabilized woods from the USA and Canada, which allowed us to use beautiful wood patterns.
Beyond that, I’m not sure where things are headed. I’d like to include a small GPS in the handle of my personal knives, so I don’t lose them on picnics (laughs).
Is there a knife from your lineup that you feel best exhibits who you are as a knifemaker/designer in terms of design elements, aesthetic or techniques used?
One knife comes to mind immediately. It’s our knife with the double plates. When you look at it from the side, it’s aesthetically the same as all of our knives, but not on the top and bottom. The double plates give it a better fit in the hand and it makes the knife “feel” stronger.
Remember; the Laguiole knife was created by a mix of a local folding knife (like my EDC knife) and a Spanish knife called the Navaja. People who lived on the Aubrac plate had to leave their country because of the lack of work due to the winter season and they came to Spain. At the end of the winter season, they came back to Laguiole and brought back the Navaja. The Navaja was shown to a local cutler, who then changed the shape a bit to make it more ergonomic. That’s how the Laguiole knife started.
What is your EDC (Everyday Carry knife) and why?
About 15 years ago, we restarted manufacturing a style of knife that was made in the village of Laguiole in the 19th century. I believe that Mr. Camille Pagé printed the book in 1900. The knife style is in the middle of the image below.
The handle length is 10.5 cm, which is short for an easy pocket carry. The blade is Sandvik 14c28 and has a classic closing mechanism like you’d find on a traditional Laguiole knife and we call this Laguiole Antique. This is surprising Laguiole knife because it makes me feel like I have both a modern and traditional knife in my hand. It feels like a Laguiole knife, but without the bee and bolster.
I like the full handle material and the black and white contrast. It’s like the yin and yang, or what you see and feel. This is my EDC. The Laguiole Antique with dark horn handles.
If you are, or know a knifemaker who would like to participate in our 5 from the Grinder series, please drop us a line at email@example.com.