‘Our happiest moments as tourists always seem to come when we stumble upon one thing while in pursuit of something else.’ ~Lawrence Block
Discovering Florence I didn’t find the hidden gems in the city of the Renaissance in the painters club, but indeed in the still existing rich artisan culture. A walk through the less travelled paths of the city open up an unexpected world to a big variety of different crafts workshops with beautiful unique products. It is a road leading away from the uniform and industrialized world of mass consumerism. The door is opening up to a surprising variety of handmade and customized art.
Bookbinders, leather bag makers, violin makers, gilders, tailors, sculptors and even knifemakers are dedicating their time to produce up-market and unique pieces. Often the craft making is handed down in the family from one generation to the next. Such is the case of the artisan knifemaker Fabio Figus. He is passionate about his craft, often starting early morning before sunrise and leaving his little workshop and sales shop at the Piazza dei Ciompi when the night has fallen in.
The apprenticeship with his father took 7 years, gaining knowledge about different metals and steels, their qualities, how and for what to use them best. Which type of material is best for which profession — chef knife sets, light Japanese chef knives, machetes for the olive farmers, who outside of Florence grow their fields with olive trees out of which the famous Tuscan olive oil is produced. Prices for a knife range depending on size, purpose and materials used. A Japanese light chef knife can cost up to 320 Euro. “If you treat it well, it will stay with you a whole life time, even if you use it daily”, states Fabio.
He hands me the knife, and I am stunned, it is light as a feather and the handle fits perfectly into my hand, it directly becomes an extended part of me. He invites me to stay with him to stay as long as I want to observe the making of knives. I am in deep awe of watching him in his tiny workshop hopping from one machine to the next, his action and movements automated. The sounds of hammering, heating the metal, cutting, drilling holes for the screws are alternating with short breaks of silence whenever the tool is changed.
Also the odors constantly change. “Now smell! This is my favorite!”, exclaims Fabio. The smell of Ebony wood when grinding the handle. It is opening yet another world to me, I feel like entering a big garden of blossoming lotus flowers. A sweet smell is filling the room which just minutes before was filled with dusty metal smell.
It is an eye opening day. Whereas in many parts of the world craftsmen are disappearing in the Tuscan capital they are still abound, alive and in business. Knifemakers need a wide range of knowledge, on qualities of metals, of woods, on all different kind of metal work and wood works. Beyond this the basic knowledge of all professions using knives.