A sharp business model
Ernest “Mooney” Warther began carving with his first pocketknife at age 5. A dozen years later, in 1902, he crafted his mother a kitchen knife as a gift. Her friends and neighbors liked it, so he made more.
These days, 120 years later, Dover-based Warther Cutlery is still making knives the way Mooney did — one at a time and by hand. And mothers (and everyone else) still love them.
American steel, American hardware, American wood, Ohio labor, and blades with an amazingly attractive (trademarked since 1907) finish pattern create loyal customers who return regularly to add to their collections. If you visit the company’s new 15,000-square-foot showroom, factory, and office, you’ll find plenty of American-made kitchen products, including cookware and a small army of specialty foods, spices, and condiments. But you’ll quickly see that knives made by fourth-generation craftsmen are the star of the show.
The beautiful birch-handled knives come in many shapes and sizes. The most striking feature of the knives is the finish pattern on the blades. Each one is painstakingly tooled by hand — a 7-inch chef’s knife boasts more than 150 individual circular tooling patterns.
Jeanie Nadeau was a tour guide up until just a few years ago, and even though she’s retired, she’s still enthusiastically promoting Warther. She says during her years at Warther, plenty of folks “snuck in” for a peek. “We would have makers come in here, knifemakers, and you could pick them out,” she says. “By the time the tour was done, I could tell it was somebody that wanted to know something, so I would approach them and they’d say, ‘Well, we’re from such-and-such cutlery and we just hear so much about this place and we just had to see it to believe it.’”
Over the years, Warther knives have been presented to presidents and dignitaries, including presidents Reagan, Ford, and Bush (both); Ohio governors; and Frank Lloyd Wright, among others.
Fine cutlery isn’t the only family business. David Warther II handcrafts museum-quality pocketknives in the style of his grandfather Mooney and is a world-renowned ivory carver, having created 60-plus ships documenting the world’s maritime history. Some of the ships’ ropes measure just seven one-thousandths of an inch in diameter. You can see the collection at David Warther Carvings museum in nearby Sugarcreek. They also manufacture a complete line of cutting boards, butcher blocks, and knife storage systems from hardwoods like cherry, walnut, and maple — and in the tradition of Mooney Warther, wood-carving knives.
Next door to Warther Cutlery is the Warther Museum, featuring the nearly complete collection of Mooney’s amazingly intricate, to-scale ebony, walnut, and ivory steam engines. Over the years, many tried to buy his works, including Henry Ford, who offered to purchase his entire collection. Mooney gave a few away over the years, but he never sold a single one.
Warther knives are guaranteed for life and include free sharpening while you wait, which generates a high volume of traffic through its doors.
“I think they do about 700 knives a week,” says super-helpful Jen, who goes back and forth between answering the phone and waiting on customers. “We get knives mailed in, too.”
Folks who bring knives in for sharpening can walk right into a workshop where handles are being riveted onto tangs, and they can watch knifemakers make the dull go away on a long sanding belt in mere seconds.
Ken and Sandy Langell traveled from Florida for an Airstream gathering nearby — and they couldn’t go home without stopping by and picking something up.
“I have Warther carving knives,” Ken says. “I work mostly on cooking utensils, and I tend to do detailed carvings on the handles. Cooking spoons and serving spoons and spatulas — I decorate the handles. These knives are great for the details. Very good quality, and they really hold an edge. I can’t fault them.”
Warther Cutlery, 924 N. Tuscarawas Ave., Dover, OH 44622. Retail store open 9 a.m.–5 p.m Mon.–Sat. 330-343-7513; warthercutlery.com.