People

A Cut Above:
The Modern Craft of Max Poglia

By Nancy A. Ruhling
Photographed by Hanna Tveite and Max Poglia

In the packed lobby of New York’s Ace Hotel sits Max Poglia. Just back from his workshop in his native Brazil, he sips coffee to stave off jet lag and reaches for the leather tote at his side. From it, he extracts a plain white cardboard box and places it on his lap. The objects he creates—handcrafted knives, leather bags, and loom-woven blankets—do not require ostentatious presentation. Ruggedly handsome, their charm lies in elegant understatement.

“My products are a combination of ethics and aesthetics,” he says, grasping the handle of a knife and lifting it from the box. With its bruised blade, primal parts, and old-world craftsmanship, it’s a cutting tool for a contemporary cosmopolitan caveman. “I don’t find inspiration from other knives. I don’t research knives,” he explains. “I create objects that I can use every day.”

Poglia’s first knife carved its way into the world six years ago, shortly after he and his wife, model Cecilia Timm, had moved to New York from Milan. Eager to put his degree in advertising to work, he found his job prospects as limited as his English skills. A craving for a picnic led him to make rather than buy the necessary supplies: a bag to carry the meal, a blanket to spread on the grass, and a knife to allow him to be a civilized diner.

Tracing a cardboard or leather pattern or working freehand, Poglia outlines his desired forms in chalk and then cuts them from round, rusted farm-plow blades. Nothing goes to waste: The reclaimed steel disc, perforated by silhouettes, becomes a piece of abstract sculpture bound for the workshop wall.
He fires the blades until they glow orange, hammers them flat, and sands them with a grindstone. They are quenched with oil and then reheated—a step that strengthens the steel.
Poglia seeks to preserve rather than erase the reclaimed steel’s original markings, which he believes give his knives character. Arrayed in a shadowy row, the blackened blades form a primitive pattern.
After cutting the bones for the handles, Poglia fills the hollowed insides with resin. He resizes the handles so the blade and tang fit snugly and then caps the ends with brass butt plates.

He began doing graphic design, which led to his introducing his products in restaurants, first at Buvette and then at Richard Gere’s Bedford Post Inn. His ideas come from his mind or sometimes even his hands: He likes to play with elements in his workshop and put them together like puzzle pieces. “Imperfections are perfection,” he says. “And mistakes are sometimes brilliant. I recently broke a blade and made it into a small knife, which I otherwise would not have thought of doing.”

For The Line, Poglia created a trio chef’s knives, a pocket knife, and a “lucky charm” in the form of a cast-brass dog that stands three inches tall. “I found the original dog in a New York City thrift shop,” he says. “Its legs were broken off, so I made new ones and used it as a mold.” The knives, which feature carbon-steel blades and bone handles subtly set with brass accents, are forged by hand. He gestures to the trio of knives now removed from the box and laid out on the small table near his coffee. “No two are alike,” he says.

I don’t like to label the knives, as it may limit how they are used or perceived. I want people to find their own functions for them. Max Poglia
In found fragments of bone and discarded steel, Poglia sees the possibility for beauty and utility. “I think about the colors of the materials and how I can mix them,” he says. “Everything I make, I make for myself and then other people seem to want it, too.”
Poglia’s knives, crafted in his small workshop in Brazil that is surrounded by farms, are made to be used as well as cherished. Among the objects he created especially for The Line is a bone-handled knife that folds down to pocket size.
I like to see New York City by the inch, not the mile. There’s beauty in details. Max Poglia
Poglia cuts and shapes the animal bones of the handles by hand and fits them with strips of hand-pounded brass that resemble wedding rings. “The blades stain and rust,” he says. “You have to hand-wash them. I love that element of human interaction–you can’t just throw them in the dishwasher.”