A chef’s knives are almost as important as their hands. Chefs use their hands to hold their knives, precisely cut the plate’s components, and present the diner with a reflection of their skill and essentially themselves. When I approached Artie Shell, owner of Mascon Leather, to make a custom leather knife roll that would both showcase and protect my valuable tools, Artie applied the similar expertise with his hands to create a piece of precision and presentation to not only protect my knives, but to compliment and showcase them.
Artie Shell has been crafting handmade leather pieces in Williamsburg, Virginia since early 2011. What originally started as a hobby to make more durable book covers, knife sheaths and cell phone covers for his kids has since turned into a more serious and dedicated business. He named his company Mascon Leather after his family’s business, ‘Mas-Con Construction’ (masonry and concrete), started by his grandfather. Although Artie’s grandfather has passed on, his legacy and pride for family and hand-built items lives in Artie’s leatherwork. Sourcing the best leather hides, thread, and tools available, Artie designs custom one-of-a-kind pieces including wallets, knife sheaths, axe covers, knife/tool rolls, and messenger bags with the upmost attention to detail and customer consultation. Each piece is designed to be timeless and constructed to age beautifully. Artie also currently contributes and works with a growing leather community on Facebook. For the short time Artie has been working with leather, I am sure I am not alone when I say he has accelerated in his craft and far exceeded the expertise to a professional leatherworker.
This particular knife roll is made from almost one whole hide of 5.0 oz (2 mm) weight English Dublin tan Horween leather. The hardware features 80 solid copper rivets and nickel plated brass hardware including 2 buckles with strap keeps, lobster-style clasps for the removable shoulder strap and a buckle on the shoulder strap with two strap keeps and d-rings. The stitching on the inside business card slot and gadget pouch is a high quality polyester thread. There is also an exposed aluminum bar on the underside of the handle for additional support.
Once unrolled, there are 12 knife/tool slots (including 2 small inverted ones towards the top), a business card slot, a pen or thermometer slot, a slot for a utility kitchen scraper, and a removable (snaps in and out) gadget pouch with d-rings on the back (to hang from a oven handle or pot rack).
The knife roll dimensions are 20 inches long x about 7 inches wide when rolled and when unrolled is 35 inches long x 7 inches wide. Without anything in it the case weighs about 5 pounds.
Lastly, the leather knife roll has a handle on top and a removable and adjustable cross body shoulder strap.
This leather knife roll is extremely functional as my main knife case to use for a job. Sometimes in small work areas it is a bit awkward to unroll and reroll because of its size, and takes getting adjusted to.
Deep leather pockets with rivet dividers were custom cut and made to my knife specifications. The knives point downward with the handles exposed rather than the handles in the pockets and the blades exposed for reasons I’ll discuss in the aesthetic section of this review.
The inside gadget pouch holds about 3-5 tools (depending on size) and closes with a simple flap tuck design. Again, the gadget pouch is removable and is easy to snap in and out of the knife roll.
To say the only function of this leather roll is to hold and protect my knives is a crime. This bag is more like a piece of art or a fashion accessory that also happens to carry knives and tools. Expect to get a lot of head turns and compliments when going out with a piece like this.
No amount of words can describe seeing this piece in person. I unwrapped it similarly (if not more carefully) to a kid on christmas.
The piece with its various stretch, pull-up marks, scars, and hardware components is a heavy duty industrial strength piece of equipment. It has some serious heft as one would expect in a full grain leather piece and when full of knives, it is even heavier. Long walking commutes may be straining on one’s shoulder and back. It definitely takes time to get used to but in my opinion I like the heaviness of it. It shows quality and durability.
The pockets on the inside hold my knives very snug and securely with a little room incase I was to replace a knife (I will NEVER have to replace the knife roll) or a tool down the road in my profession. A debate that may arise with chefs is the decision to put the blades into the pockets with the handles pointing out rather than the other way as many other knife cases are designed. I chose this so my knives were more protected and less likely to hit against each other in travel. A concern I had as well was if the blades would rub against the rivets that are separating the pockets and damage the blade over time. Artie quickly assured me that the space between the rivets and the leather was significant that it would never be an issue. He even drew me a picture. Of course, Artie can design the pockets to hold the handles with the blades facing up if that is what you prefer.
The knife roll unfolded features a large flap that covers the knives before being rolled. The large flap is left rustic, without a finished edge for style. I really love the edge as this is how the hide was originally. Others may prefer to have this edge finished and Artie is happy to accommodate. Another concern I had with the flap is that it did not fasten to the knife roll and therefore it was hard to align it just right to roll the case evenly every time. Artie told me that the leather will be stiff for a bit but with more use it will form like a glove and soften up to make this task easier. After 2 months of use I already see this happening.
I requested a gadget pouch in the knife case because like other chefs I carry around various vegetable peelers, pastry brushes, wine openers, or other knick knacks that need a home too. Artie took this idea and made it even better than I could imagine. Not only did he create a perfect sized pouch but he made it removable with snaps and attached small d-rings to the backside to hang if desired. This idea is incredibly cool! It is very convenient to remove that pouch and keep it handy on my work station than to have to keep unrolling and re rolling to fetch a small tool.
This is not just a knife roll though, it’s a chef briefcase. Nothing screams professional and class more than this leather knife roll does. To that extent, this is not the case you’ll want to take everywhere. Being that it is heavy and large, it may not be the tool case for a job in a small and busy kitchen. It’s comparable to a nice pair of leather shoes or boots – you wear them on a fancy or professional related situation and you aren’t going to necessarily wear them to a soccer game, a picnic, or a muddy day.
I’ll say it here and say it boldly-Artie Shell is one of the most personable, friendly, and accommodating custom craftsmen that I have ever had the pleasure to work with. Artie first set up an initial phone call to gauge what type knife roll I wanted, the size, and functionality. An experience you may find close to this may be a custom suit taylor or shoe maker. After I sent Artie the dimensions of all my knives and tools I wanted to carry in the leather roll, Artie immediately began to draw up ideas and shoot me input and questions through emails. It was a fun process seeing the stages of Artie’s work and being able to have constant input on different options along the way. I could tell from the beginning that Artie wanted to put as much time and dedication into my knife roll to make me 200% happy and satisfied.
It was a throughly enjoyable experience to converse with Artie over the phone and through emails (about 50 or so). A great relationship formed between the two of us, the mind of a chef and the mind of leatherworker. Here are a few of my favorite converses between us:
Artie: “No rush! This means nothing to anyone but me, but since we’re sharing…The scariest part or the WHOLE process is making that first cut into a solid 20 + Square foot hide of genuine Horween leather. It’s nerve racking. but once it’s done, the fun begins because you can’t turn back.”
Artie: “Another oddity about leather crafters- it’s so hard to toss scraps, no matter the size. I think, ‘There HAS to be something I can do with that, somewhere!’ or ‘If I toss this out today, I’m going to wish I had it next week!’ Yeah…we’re looney, us leather folks.”
Artie: “Meant to ask: How do you feel about scars showing? Some hate it, others love it. got a piece here with a gorgeous scar I’d like to try to put on the strap. Or I can avoid it.
Me: “I like the scars. It’s real leather.”
Artie: “I woke up in the middle of the night with the fear that I’d forgotten something. I forgot to put my company hang tag on the knife roll before I sent it. I’ve made about 59,000 items and put a tag on every one of them. then the flagship knife roll comes along, and I forget.
Me: “59,000 items in 3 years?? All yourself?!
Artie: “Well it feels like that for the amount of dedication and passion I put into each one of them. I rounded upward a tad (a lot).”
Artie: “Been meaning to ask: did you want your initials branded on the bag?”
Me: “No it’s not necessary. I’ll know it’s mine. As will very one else.”
Artie: “Nice one! That made me laugh out loud!”
This product, like any other high quality leather pieces, may be considered a serious investment to some. With a price tag of $650 it is just that. The quality, durability, customization and time that goes into a piece like this is, in my opinion, well worth it.
Artie’s open line of consultation, willingness to try new things and get creative really speaks to the similar mind of a chef. As any chef will tell you, it starts with an idea and then a lot of preparation. The same hold’s true in Artie’s work. To own a custom leather knife roll from Mascon Leather speaks highly of the level of a chef and their professionalism.
Check it out here.