As part of our Artisan Home series, we are highlighting the makers of two of our newest featured products—Smithey Ironware Co. and Edward Wohl Woodworking and Design. Both makers design products with classic style, made in America.
Charleston, South Carolina-based Smithey Ironware was born from the single-minded curiosity of founder Isaac Morton. Morton had a talent for buying and restoring vintage ironware pieces and was particularly gifted in refurbishing old cookware, which he often gave to friends and family members. After years of working on cookware, Morton became something of an expert in cast iron; he saw that there was a noticeable difference in craftsmanship between old pieces and new. One particular piece, a vintage Griswold cast iron skillet, stuck out because of its smooth, glassy surface—which was nothing like the rough, grainy texture of modern cast iron. That skillet inspired years of research and, eventually, Morton’s livelihood.
As he began to study old ironware pieces and learn the hundred-year-old techniques used to make them, he was able to explain why those old skillets were different and why things changed. In the years before production was automated, iron cookware was polished for hours, by hand. Once the process became automated, it was not practical to spend man hours hand-finishing the cookware.
After spending over a year researching design and learning about the iron industry, Smithey Ironware launched operations in 2015. Morton partnered with a foundry in Indiana that was able to produce on a small scale. From Indiana, the pans are shipped to South Carolina in their porous, grainy state. Morton mills the heavy grit off the metal, then grinds and polishes them by hand and machine before tumbling each one in a tub of rocks to achieve their signature smooth finish. As a final step, each pan is seasoned with a layer of oil to create a natural non-stick finish.
Edward Wohl is an award-winning woodworker who, alongside his business partner and wife Ann, founded his workshop in southeast Wisconsin where he both designs and builds custom furniture and home goods. He began designing wood furniture in 1970, after graduating from Washington University in 1967 with a degree in architecture. His products have a sculptural feel and are designed to be utilitarian and beautiful to the touch and the eye.
According to Wohl, “I was searching for a career where work and play were indistinguishable. I make things of wood that I’d like to have myself—functional pieces that are quiet, peaceful, and a pleasure to touch and look at. My approach emphasizes select materials, structural integrity, and utility. I like to let the wood do the work—to coax nature to imitate art.”
His handmade birds-eye maple cutting boards are created by joining sections from a single piece of wood, so the tone and wood grain are seamless. Birds-eye maple is rare in nature, with perhaps one in five hundred hard maple trees exhibiting the pattern, making both the wood and Wohl’s designs immediately recognizable.
The cutting boards are hand shaped, finished, and beveled to be perfectly balanced and practical. Wohl works largely with maple because it is durable and long lasting and because it has an even wood grain pattern; hard maple resists deep knife cuts and tends to absorb little moisture from food. Once sanded, his cutting boards are dipped in mineral oil, linseed oil, and wax—a technique he also used for his custom furniture.