Saturday, January 9, 2010

Ode to my Opinel

Somewhere along the way, Tristan heard tell of a knife called an Opinel that "all French people use" (I'm quoting Tristan here). Yesterday he went out and bought himself one, and I thought it was so beautiful that today he picked one up for me too. Aghast at his wild generalization regarding the French, I googled Opinel and it turns out he was pretty much right. According to the Wikipedia page, the knife was invented around the turn of the 20th century and it is so widely used that "opinel" has made it into some French dictionaries.

Reading the Wikipedia article, I was really struck by how much this knife communicates about itself. It's simple, no-frills design with a high quality blade and handle. It just screams "please use me to cut your bread and cheese as well as to whittle and harvest flowers". It is humble but not cheaply made. Which is why I was not terribly surprised to learn that Opinel remains a family business to this day. I was surprised to learn how inexpensive it is ($12) considering its beauty, elegant design, and quality high carbon steel blade. These blades require some maintenance but are superior to stainless steel because they hold a better edge.

To me, well-made hand tools that will last a lifetime if properly cared for possess a unique charm. So much work can be accomplished with simple tools, and the act of maintenance has its own meditative quality. Not to mention that using and maintaining simple tools flies in the face of the 'use it, break it, throw it out and buy a new one' culture we live in.

How wonderful to discover a simple, high quality tool that looks beautiful, is made by a family-run business, and doesn't cost an arm and a leg. Can't you just picture yourself in the midst of the French Alps, pausing from your sheepherding duties to cut into a peasant's lunch?


megan/mason said...

I've been thinking about buying an Opinel for a long time, but wasn't sure that I would actually use it all that much. Now, I'm thoroughly convinced! I usually use my Fiskars Multi-Snips for everything, but they don't fit in my pocket. This folder will be much more convenient, and I can carry it everywhere I go.

Hella Goldman said...

I love my Opinel! Mine came from a knife shop in Genoa, but I later spotted them in blister packaging up near the cash register at a convenience store in Southern France. No joke, right next to the gum and chapstick.