Featuring exotic woods and engraved blades, Graycloud is transforming an age-old tool into stunning works of modern utility and beauty.
Written by Constance Dunn
The Sheridan style of leather engraving is a unique style of Western tooling credited to Don King, a horseman by day and leather worker by night. Known for his one-of-a-kind saddles bearing intricately carved rows of flowers in full bloom—typically roses, along with their leaves and stems—King’s calling-card aesthetic was named after the northern Wyoming town of Sheridan where he lived and worked.
The same ornate, circular patterns can be found on the brightly polished steel knives of Robb Gray, whose handcrafted works feature the Sheridan style—transplanted unto steel. “I was the first person in the country to do this,” says the former marketing and PR specialist, who initially started tooling leather about 15 years ago at the suggestion of his daughter. “She asked me if I could make her a leather bracelet,” recalls the knife maker, who was creating Western jewelry at the time.
One thing led to another: Gray studied leather tooling, knife making and engraving—and came across the Sheridan style, which captured his creative eye. “I wanted to engrave in metal the same images we were creating in leather, only a lot smaller,” he says. Gray devised the tools that would enable him to do so, and in 2009 started engraving intricate Sheridan patterns unto steel. He entered his novel knives in contests—and won in spades. His name became known in Western circles and custom orders began, along with his company moniker, Graycloud. “I never really pushed it,” the craftsman says of his early days, “because what I wanted to do was learn how to engrave guns, and originally I considered my Sheridan knife blades to be just a step towards that goal.”
Robb began collaborating with his wife Brandis, an interior designer and all-around creative, who was working with award-winning restauranteurs Mark and Brian Canlis and renowned chef Brady Williams. She designed, and Gray fashioned, the steak knives that would grace the tables at standout Seattle restaurant Canlis, as well as those at Williams’ new venture Tomo. Fishing and hunting knives were purchased by Filson, a heritage outerwear company headquartered in Seattle. Though Robb may jokingly refer to himself as “just the maker,” he and Brandis are thoroughly a team, working closely to envision, test and finalize the design of each knife. Afterwards, Robb hand-sculpts each handle until perfection is reached.
Housed in Seattle, Graycloud’s output is remarkable. A look at their online store reveals pages of bespoke knives—fashioned for cooking, hunting, fishing and more—and featuring exotic woods. “Koa is great for knives,” says Gray of the elegant, tortoise-hued wood sourced from its native Kauai. There is a knife with a handle of warthog tusk, as well as one with a shock of turquoise blue sandwiched between vivid Red Mallee burl wood and Ebony. Their steel is among the best in the world, and Gray, a longtime hunter, designs knives with utility in mind. “There is the idea that a hunting knife should be thick,” he explains, “but it actually should be slender.”
The high level of art and craftsmanship of Graycloud’s works suggests a company with an ages-old heritage—but its earliest origins might be traced not to a hundred years ago, but to a stranger’s suggestion at a party, back in 2003. “A woman staggered up to me and said, ‘You look like an artist who needs to get back to work,’” Gray recounts. He was told by a friend to heed the lady’s advice because she had an eye for spotting latent talent. Since then Robb and Brandis have been hard at work, transforming rare materials and a personal vision into lauded works of beauty—one blade at a time.
Photographs courtesy of Graycloud USA