Made in Virginia 2015: Monolith Studio Knives, Charlottesville

Monolith Studios

“My son makes fun of me and doesn’t understand why I got out of technology,” says Zack Worrell, 44, who left the graphic design business post-2008 and now makes kitchen knives. “I tell him it’s because I wasn’t interacting with people. I love beautiful design, but I also want to make things that people can use.”

Worrell’s cleaver is certainly something people can use—for some serious meaty food prep. It’s also a perfect example of the work Worrell does with fellow craftsman Alan Bates in his Monolith Studio Knives workshop in Charlottesville.

Worrell’s process is a mix of old-school craft and modern precision, inspired by the craft of his great-grandfather, a butcher in Bristol, Tennessee. The single 5-inch piece of A2 high-carbon steel for the cleaver is heated and shaped in a propane-fired forge (a modern spin on the traditional coal-fired blacksmith’s hearth). The blade is then hardened in a kiln, digitized for precise temperature control, and doused in water with a dramatic sizzle. Worrell deliberately retains a few dings in the steel. The handle is made from laminated repurposed burlap coffee bags, and the finished 10-inch blade is sheathed in handmade vegetable-tanned leather.

Worrell calls the style of the finished product “industrial revisited,” something that “looks old, as if it had been slammed together, but also feels well-crafted. The finish is there, but the aesthetic is a little more rough and raw, more purely utilitarian.” $450.

Correction: This story has been updated to correct the workshop location, childhood home of Worrell, and include Alan Bates.

See all the Made in Virginia 2015 Winners!

Overall Winner

Fern and Roby, Richmond


Monolith Studios, Charlottesville (category winner)

Huger Embroidery, Richmond

Duvall Designs, Millwood

Owen Suter’s Fine Furniture, Richmond


Shockoe Atelier, Richmond (category winner)

Rockbridge Guitar Company, Charlottesville

Melissa Lew Jewelry, South Riding

North End Bag Co., Virginia Beach


Belle Isle Craft Spirits, Richmond (category winner)

Early Mountain Vineyards, Madison

Texas Beach, Richmond

LUMI Juice, Charlottesville


Brown Dog Handcrafted Premium Ice Cream, Cape Charles (category winner)

S. Wallace Edwards & Sons, Surry

Swover Creek Farms, Edinburg

Pennacook Peppers, Virginia Beach

Click here to see 2014 winners.

Click here to see 2013 winners.

Click here to see 2012 winners.

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