Meet the Entrepreneur: Aidan Bowes of Bowes Knives
Handcrafting bespoke knives is a passion for Aidan Bowes, owner of Bowes Knives
Tell us what you do.
I’m a knifemaker and bladesmith, making bespoke knives for people who really like cooking and want a high-performance knife to cook with – sometimes that’s chefs, sometimes it’s enthusiastic home cooks. I think there are a lot more people enjoying cooking and wanting to get the best tools for the job. Not only that, but I think there has been a big resurgence in the last few years in people valuing good quality, handmade items, and my aim is to provide them with a knife that not only looks good and performs well, but is also built to last so they can even pass it down to the next generation of cooks in their family. I love the idea that the knives I make will eventually outlive me.
What’s your background?
I’ve always liked making things, and because my dad was an engineer, he was keen to encourage me to make things whenever he could. I was always surrounded by mountains of Lego or blocks, and that progressed to bigger things like woodworking and helping to renovate my mum and dad’s house. Eventually, I went on to get a degree in engineering and I’m currently coming to the end of a PhD in Bioengineering at Newcastle University. I’m from Jarrow, where there’s obviously a lot of history with blacksmithing in the shipyards – my Grandad was a shipyard blacksmith his whole life – so it was something I was always interested in. Over lockdown, I missed getting hands-on and making things, so after watching a few Youtube videos of people building forges and using them to make knives I decided to have a go. I’m entirely self-taught, and it’s a steep learning curve, but I haven’t really looked back since – I love it!
Where do you find inspiration?
There are a few other custom knifemakers who I look to for inspiration. I think one of the best things about this field is that there is always something you can improve on, like designs and heat treatment processes for example, and there’s always someone out there doing something new or a bit off the wall. I like to base a lot of my designs on the traditional Japanese-style knives, but then add my own twist. I often look to nature for inspiration for designs, but it’s probably fairer to say I like angular designs and clean lines best – I think that’s my engineering background coming through. Sometimes I might change the shape of a handle or a blade because it looks better, but ultimately everything has to pass the performance test so it’s practical and effective in a kitchen. You end up with this kind of balance of functional art.
Where do you source materials?
I try to source all of my materials locally or at least in the UK. I’m very conscious of my carbon footprint, so even with my shipping I try to offset it. For my handles, I use ethically-sourced wood from native trees wherever possible. I recently finished a knife where the handle was made from a 160-year-old elm tree from near Newcastle Airport.
What’s your favourite thing about what you do?
I can lose interest in something if I focus on it too long, but luckily with knifemaking there is always something new to try, to make, or a new technique to test out. It keeps me interested and excited. I like having creative control over everything – it’s really refreshing being able to make something the way I want to make it.
What’s the most challenging part?
For me, it’s running a business. I started making knives mainly just because I really like to make things, and I’m really grateful for all of the amazing customers I’ve had so far. I’m not really the best at stuff like social media, and accounting, and all of the other things that make a business a business, but I’m learning a lot and I’m getting better at it all. I’d just much prefer to spend that time in front of the forge hammering knives in to shape.
Favourite piece you’ve made?
My favourite knife is always the one I’m working on! I never really stop and look back at the knives I’ve made. There’s a few I’ve really liked recently though, for example I did a large slicer for a new restaurant in Hexham and a small boning knife for a friend, both of which I really loved, but I don’t think I’d ever be able to pick a favourite.
Any plans for the future?
I have loads of plans for the business and never enough time to do all of them. I’ve just received a small grant to invest in some new equipment which will allow me to make different types of blades and specialist steels which I’m really looking forward to. I also plan on doing a few beginner knifemaking classes with Muddy Fingers Pottery, who are also based here in Jarrow – it should be a lot of fun.
Check out Bowes Knives on Instagram @bowesknives or visit the website bowesknives.co.uk