Saturday, July 7, 2007

Green River Knife

My dad gave me this neat old piece with the fancy ebony handle. The leather sheath is still in pretty good shape and the blade is not bad at all considering that it probably dates back to the late 1800's. Too bad there's a big chunk out of the checkering on the back side of the handle. Oh's still cool! :)

Pocket Knife Blanks

Definitely pocket knife blanks. I was intrigued to see how they stamped them out cookie cutter style and was reminded of how with today's technology of laser and waterjet cutting the nesting of parts and utilization of the material is so much better.

Butcher Knife and Dinner Knife Blanks

The dinner cutlery is obvious but the bigger knives could be either butchering knives or large carving knives. Hard to say but they are quite good sized. Some of these blanks are 10-12 inches long. Notice how the shape of the blade is curved upwards. This is a natural shape that would evolve from forging the straight steel bar. As the one side gets thinner the material keeps getting pushed upwards until the whole bar ends up with a curve in it. If you have ever done any forging you will know what I mean. Anyway, they worked with the natural tendency of the steel and made the blades curved.

My Mind is a Blank...

Near the forge area which was in the very first part of the building there was a tremendous amount of product being generated. The smiths would forge the bars out into long rectangles with one side at full thickness and then it would taper down on the other side. This way when they stamped out the blade shapes some of the forging would already be done. After stamping out the blades they would sometimes simple toss the remaining piece of steel out the window and into the river. There is literally probably tons of this stuff if you could dig it all out mixed in with tons of brick and stone. All of it rusting away to nothing.

I had to go back later today and collect a few of the bits and pieces for pictures. Hopefully some of the knife experts will be able to view this and get some idea of what patterns we are looking at. There is quite a variety here ranging from what look like skinning knives and butcher knives to files, broad knives for plaster work, dinner knives and stick tang knives, and lots of multiple stamped pieces which were from the pocket knives.

More Remanants

Part of an old grinding wheel lying next to the river.

The Canal

Here you see the Power Canal from the small foot bridge that the Cutlery workers would have crossed everyday on their way to work. A good many of the factory workers lived in a series of buildings known as Cutlery Row that still stands today. They could literally walk to work everyday.

The building in the foreground that is being dismantled next to the silo looking thing was a steam generating plant built in the 1960's to provide power to the paper mills. It actually is sitting right on the site of the old Russell Cutlery. If the Cutlery building were still standing today it would have stretched from the Keith Paper Mill buildings behind the 1960's Steam Plant and continued on past the right hand view of the camera. It was a big brick monster with beautiful architectural details just like all the rest of the buildings in this town. Turners Falls is blessed with some really fine examples of 19th century brickwork.


Thousands upon thousands of bricks everywhere you look. When they tore down the Cutlery in 1958 they sure left a hell of a mess! These bricks are quite worn from having the river flowing over them periodically for past 50 years.

More Pics

This picture shows the old Keith Paper Mill and you can see where they covered up the lower levels of the building after the 1936 flood in order to hopefully avoid a repeat of that catastrophic event.

Part of our group today. These were local folks who had read about the gathering in the Greenfield Recorder a few days ago. I'm glad I saw the article myself or I probably wouldn't have ever had the opportunity to really check out the site with someone who knew what they were looking at.

Here you see the outlet under the Keith Paper Mill where the canal waters once flowed out after turning the turbines. Hard to say how much of a role the water plays now and I think that the building is currently empty.


Here were a few shots from our outing today. You can see the size of the foundation of the cutlery building and the incredible amounts of bricks and other debris left over from the demolition in 1958. The river floods this area several times a year when they release water back into the river rather than diverting it into the power canal. Right now almost all the water is going into the canal and so the river is very low.

The last shot at the bottom shows the cornerstones of the cutlery building. The badly eroded foundation next to it belongs to the former Keith Paper Company which was in operation during the same time period.


You've arrived at the John Russell Cutlery blog. Some of you may know me, Peter Atwood, as I am a well known knife and tool maker. I happen to live not far from the historic site of the John Russell Cutlery in Turners Falls, Massachusetts.

I decided to start this after a recent trip down to the original factory site. A local man who is interested in the industrial history and heritage of this area organized a group of local folks who wanted to learn more about the old factory. So we met up on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon and hiked down to the river to check it out.

The John Russell Cutlery was in operation from the 1870's until the historic flood of 1936. The flood waters rose to great heights that year and caused much damage to the area. The Russell Cutlery was one of the casualties as it lay just beyond the dam at Turners Falls. The buildings were flooded out and the business was basically ruined. They salvaged what they could of the machines but the building was in bad shape. The Cutlery decided to relocate the next year to a town in eastern Massachusetts and remained in business there for many years.

Anyway, the area is really cool. The river is quite a powerful force and all that raw power is what attracted the mills in the late 1800's. There were paper mills and machine shops all along the CT River and some of the adjacent buildings still stand to this day. Some of the paper mills are still operating as well.

After roaring over the dam, the river hits bedrock and then rushes to meet a huge ridge in front of it which then forces it to take a sharp left hand turn. A man made canal runs alongside the river some 20 feet above it. It starts at the dam and makes that left hand turn with it. Thus the Cutlery site rests on a spit of land that is kind of an artificial island between the canal and the river. The canal has large gates that would open and bring water through the various buildings along it to provide power for the machines. Some of the building that remain still use the water power to generate electricity for their operations.