Sunday, October 24, 2021

Marco Man Handcrafts Unusual Knives

Oppenberg has been a Farmers Market fixture for the past few years.

Every home chef has a favorite knife for slicing and dicing, but Jerry Oppenberg thinks he might be able to change those kitchen habits.

Or at least get these chefs to add his unusual products to their favorites.

Oppenberg markets homemade fiddle bow knives that look exactly like they sound, and he has a second option called an Ulu knife – a half moon-shaped chopping instrument first used in Alaska around 3,000 years ago.

He brings in the stainless steel blades from Alaska, and makes the wood handles himself, drawing from a love of woodwork dating back around 50 years.

“I learned woodwork at school in New York City,” said Oppenberg, who promotes his wares each Wednesday at the Marco Island Farmer’s Market. “Schools then used to have wood shops, metal shops and wiring, but they don’t seem to do that anymore these days.”

In following years, Oppenberg founded and ran a clothing company catering for nursing home patients, eventually finding himself and wife Bonnie drawn to Marco Island around 1989.

“I got a bit bored, then somebody said I should become a Realtor,” Oppenberg said. At the moment he’s with Keller Williams, and sometimes picks up real estate business at the market.

Around the same time as going into real estate, he rekindled his interest in woodwork. He experimented with different designs – eventually settling on one that looked like a fiddle bow when he screwed the stainless steel blade down.

“That’s when the light bulb went off,” Oppenberg said. “I added cutting boards (some in intricate designs such as crabs), cheeseboards and then sets.”

Liking the outcome – that could either be decorative (on kitchen walls, for example) or practical – Oppenberg upped his creative ante and began to produce knives using assorted woods.

The fiddle bow knife can cut items thickly, or paper thin.

Today, for example, buyers can choose between hardwoods such as red oak, cherry or African mahogany.

Individual knives vary from around $20 and up, while sets can come in around $100.

Oppenberg’s finishing techniques are pretty much the same.

He uses his own templates (he can customize orders, such as for one woman customer who wanted the shape of her dog for a cutting board), and after initial sanding and routing makes them smooth to the touch with 60 grit sandpaper, then 100, 220, 320 and 400.

Final addition is a coat of mineral oil, after which Bonnie attaches the tags to the knives and sets.

“So it’s a family affair,” Oppenberg said.

Using the bow knife is quite a revelation. It slices everything from bagels to tomatoes with ease, while hard cheeses are literally a breeze along with meats, breads and salami, for example.

“I tell people just don’t cut bone or tree limbs with them,” Oppenberg said with a chuckle.

Another thing he tells them is that the blades are extremely sharp, and also that they’re not suitable for cleaning in a dishwasher.

Instead he suggests light wiping of the steel, and occasional mineral oil wipes for the wooden components.

He makes knives for both lefties and righties, and even throws in an “ambidextrous” version as an option.

Right now, Oppenberg is touting his boards and knives as cool Christmas presents.

“I say they’re for the person who has everything, but they don’t have a fiddle bow knife,” he said.

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