A maze of flowing waves creating distinctive fingerprints, Seth Cosmo Burton spends his days forging Damasus steel and turning it into beautiful, one-of-a-kind kitchen knives.
For people like Burton, creativity runs in his blood. His mother was a painter and sculptor, and his father was an architect. Burton, born in England and raised in Canada, followed his mother to Salt Spring Island around the age of 10.
“I was always working with my hands. I got into mechanics and bought an old truck, started working on it, and my neighbour gave me his old coal forge when I was 18 or 19 at the time. He said in trade he wondered if I could make him some chisels. So that’s kind of where it all started, I guess, but even before that, I was whittling knives,” said Burton.
Many of Burton’s chefs, pairing and foraging knives are made of stainless steel, preventing the metal from oxidation and rust (common in carbon steel kitchen knives). The Damascus stainless steel, along with its unique beauty, is harder than regular stainless steel, making the blades stronger and better allowing them to maintain their sharpness.
They do require particular care, including using soft cloths for cleaning, avoiding metal surfaces from touching the blades and the occasional wax polish on the wooden handles, which Burton also makes.
“You do have to be careful with having guests over and they throw them in the dishwasher or something, not knowing.”
Making Damascus steel is a complex process. First, differing steels are layered on top of one another and then subjected to intense heat. Next, they are repeatedly hammered to forge a cohesive piece. During this process, the heat helps eliminate impurities and removes oxygen, allowing the metals to fuse together seamlessly while also creating the stunning visual effect of swirling patterns.
In 1994, George Brewer (a fellow blacksmith who has since passed on) was renting a space in Burton’s workshop, and the two began playing with forge welding, allowing Burton to make his first knife.
Then, in 1998, Burton and his friend Paul Linton drove down to Santa Fe, New Mexico, to pick up some of his mother’s artwork for her. Linton introduced him to Jay Fisher, “who turned out to be one of the best knife makers out there,” said Burton.
The trip was instrumental: “I didn’t even know there was a knife world. I didn’t realize people even made knives for a living, or it was even a thing. So it was quite the opportunity to meet [Fisher].”
In 2000, Burton started his company, COSMO. Linton lent Burton the money to purchase a grinder, and that same year, Burton made his first Damascus steel knife, the 50th knife he made.
Since then, the blacksmith has made around 3,644 knives. Burton also makes Damascus steel wedding rings and tools, amongst other things.
“I’m always into learning and pushing my skills. When I came back from Japan, I started smelting my own rocks … I became a free miner,” Burton laughed, “it was pretty fun.”
Burton travelled to Japan in 2007, where he learned about Mokume, similar to Damascus steel but using non-ferrous metals such as brass, copper, silver and gold.
When asked about his own kitchen knives, Burton laughed.
“All my kitchen knives are seconds. I do have Damascus ones, but I sell the premium ones.”
You can learn more about Burton and his knives by visiting his website cosmoknives.com.