Fritz Koch is 34 years old, married with two children. He joined Boker Knife Manufactory in 2007 and now heads the fine grinding department.
Yours is a rather unusual profession these days. How did you become a fine grinding specialist?
By accident! From a family friend I learned about a trainee position at the Manufactory. Though I finished school with my college qualifications, I decided to learn fine grinding at Boker instead. Today, I can honestly say that this work is my personal calling.
What does a fine grinder do? What do you like most about your job?
In the Fine Grinding Department, we finish the mounted knives to make them ready to be sold. We grind and polish all of our knives and give them their individual grind. As the department head, I need to monitor the productivity of my team and give them my expertise and support when they need it. The part of my job I like best is the craft itself. I love working with a wide variety of materials to make premium knives. I also enjoy the good relationship I have with my reports and colleagues. Working as a team is important to me and I try to foster and strengthen the team spirit.
Is fine grinding difficult to learn?
Definitely. Fine grinding is especially difficult in our manufactory because we offer a wide range of different knives and materials. Crafting these knives requires great skill and a lot of practice. We always strive for producing knives of the highest quality, which leaves very little room for tolerances and makes our work that much harder.
Which part of your work is often underestimated by outsiders?
Most people underestimate the work as such, not taking into account the great physical and mental efforts. We have to work long hours in a hunched position, completely focused on the task at hand in order to prevent damage to the exclusive, very expensive knives. Another skill people often underestimate is hand-eye-coordination.
Are there materials that require more care than others in order to protect them from damage?
Definitely Damascus steel. The material cost and the work that has already gone into the material mean that we simply cannot make a mistake. Even the slightest deviation from the grind angle can be fatal for the blades. In most cases, the damage cannot be restored. For me, it is definitely a matter of mental strength when I work on knives that cost up to 1,600 euros per piece. The work requires full concentration in order to achieve the best possible results. However, I also think that it is an exciting challenge I‘m eager to master every time! Working with stag or mother-of-pearl is also very demanding, because these materials can easily split or break. Air bubbles caught in the horn material make it break easily and cannot be fixed. Processing titanium also requires experience and attention to detail to prevent damage to the material.
Do you often see your own work in a critical light?
I am very critical, because I need my work to meet very high quality standards. I demand the same quality from all members of my team and do get annoyed with them every once in a while.
Does this level of perfectionism also apply to other things in your personal life?
Generally speaking, no. However, I can‘t help noticing even the most minute details when buying a knife.
What does a typical workday look like?
I get to work at 6 a.m. and check open orders and processing lists on my computer. After that, I give my team their tasks for the day and check my workspace. Before I can start grinding, I often need to replace belts or disks or mix fresh polishing agent.
What makes a workday successful for you?
I‘ve had a successful day at work when the knives I worked on meet my quality standards pass their final inspection. As department head, it is important to me that my team is successful, too. The combination of both makes my workday successful.
Is it important to you that your work is physically demanding?
Physical effort has always been important to me. I‘m happy working at the computer on my management tasks and grinding knives on the shop floor. Being an active part of the production team instead of just sitting at the desk for hours on end is very important to me.
Is it exhausting to sit in a hunched position for several hours?
I can‘t deny that sitting in this bent position for several hours every day is physically taxing. It is very important to find the right sitting position, which makes the work a lot easier. You need practice and discipline to work in the correct position for a long time.
Apart from your job, do have hobbies or other activities you pursue in your spare time?
I spend a lot of time with my family. I love coming home and spend time with my wife and kids. I also love cooking, which I do every day for my family.
Apart from your job, do you have a personal connection with knives?
Yes! From a very young age, I have been interested in how firearms and knives are made. I developed a passion for knives in particular. Considering this, it‘s obviously not a coincidence that I was quick to be interested in Boker Manufactory.
Can you tell which one is your favorite knife? What do you like about it?
My runaway favorite is the Boker Merlin. With its full steel construction and delicate design, it is the perfect gentleman‘s knife in my opinion.
What were the milestones of your career at Boker?
I trained from 2007 to 2009, then worked as a journeyman at Boker for a year and a half. After that, I was appointed deputy head of the fine grinding department. In 2011, the former department head opened his own business. I became his successor while also earning my master‘s certificate at the same time. Over the past few years, we have seen a growing market influx of Asian brands and knife styles.
What do you think about this development and where do you see Boker Manufactory in 30 years?
I have watched the development with great interest. I agree, Asian knives are booming. Personally, I think many knives are bought just for the sake of the lower price, not for quality considerations. In the future, we will continue to be a growing and well-established Knife Manufactory, because we can definitely win people over with our expertise and the high quality of our products. I think that many knife lovers want handmade knives produced in Solingen.
What are your tips for people who would like to apply for a job in the fine grinding department?
Develop a thick skin. The tone in our department is rough, but never mean. Still, new team members have to get used to it. It is important to have well-developed technical skills as well as lots of stamina and grit. Due to the steep initial learning curve, candidates should be fairly stress- and frustration-resistant. Ultimately, I think that loving our knives and striving to achieve a top-notch product are the most important attributes for a production job at Boker.