‘My customers like zero waste’: the blacksmith recycling canisters into cult kitchen knives

Tim Westley takes up chef friend’s challenge to transform laughing gas litter

The little steel bulbs that litter parks, roadsides and city centres – the discarded canisters from Britain’s second favourite drug, laughing gas – cause misery to many communities. But now one blacksmith has found an innovative use for them: turning them into handmade kitchen knives.

The prevalence of the canisters has prompted some councils to impose local bans, while the home secretary is keen to outlaw them nationally. But Tim Westley’s handmade kitchen knives are gaining a cult following among environmentally conscious foodies after being endorsed by chefs committed to low waste.

Since promising to make at least two-thirds of his blades from empty “nos” canisters, Westley knives are selling in record time on his website, Clement Knives. “I usually make about five a week, and when they go on the site there’s a rush to buy them, especially in the run-up to Christmas. This week it was only two or three minutes before they were all gone,” he said.

“I’d like to think customers are buying them because they like the zero-waste concept rather than that they just want a knife.”

Westley, 33, a former artist-in-residence at London’s Museum of Water & Steam, moved his forge to south-west Scotland last year. He has always been committed to knife making using recycled materials, including metal dredged from canals with magnets. Then, on walks with his dog, Mayday, he became troubled by the sight of littered piles of canisters, and worried that they posed a risk to cyclists of skidding.

Discarded nitrous oxide gas canisters
Discarded nitrous oxide gas canisters. Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA

Last year his friend Douglas McMaster, the founder of Silo, the UK’s first zero-waste restaurant, challenged Westley to recycle the canisters into knives. The resulting experiment proved such a success that Westley has promised to only use recycled canisters for all his blades. For the handles he uses recycled plastic.

According to Home Office figures, nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, is the second most popular drug among 16- to 24-year-olds, behind cannabis.

The government is consulting on making the possession of laughing gas a crime. However, the drug charity Release has cautioned against criminalising what is a relatively benign substance if heavy use is avoided.

But there is consensus that laughing gas’s popularity has created an ugly littering problem. Westley is doing his bit to reduce this modern form of waste, using traditional blacksmiths’ techniques.

For a typical 210mm blade he uses 10 nos canisters in a process he says is laborious but worthwhile. He first cuts off the ends of the canisters with an angle grinder, then opens and flattens them with a hammer on an anvil.

The flattened pieces of soft steel are then forge welded on either side of a harder carbon steel used for the sharpened edge. Westley said: “It’s call San Mai, which has been used for years by Japanese knife makers. They use two soft layers of steel around a hard steel in the middle. The only difference is that I use nos canisters for the soft steel. It’s using an ancient technique to address a modern problem.”

He added: “It is more hassle, but it’s worth it because we should be using more of the materials we already have. My knives are just as good, if not better, made with materials found off the street. And there is no industrial processes involved, so there is zero waste.”

In fact, Westley says the knives use more waste than they create. All the steel off-cuts go to a scrap metal dealer and the worn sanding belts used for polishing the blades are turned into plant pots.

Westley gave the first nos canister knife he made to McMaster and has been supplying his restaurant with knives ever since. McMaster said they equalled any knife he had used, despite their grungy appearance caused by the recycled materials involved.

His chef colleagues at the low-waste London pizzeria Crate are also using them, and McMaster is planning to feature Westley’s knives on his Zero Waste Cooking School YouTube channel.


Matthew Weaver

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
A world without waste: the rise of urban mining
Commercial properties could become the mines of the future, providing materials for reuse and cutting costs and landfill waste

Oliver Balch

25, Oct, 2016 @6:00 AM

Article image
City of London launches challenge to boost coffee cup recycling
Square Mile teams up with Network Rail, coffee chains and employers in effort to prevent 5m cups a year ending up in landfill

Rebecca Smithers Consumer affairs correspondent

26, Jan, 2017 @12:01 AM

Article image
From no recycling to zero waste: how Ljubljana rethought its rubbish
Fifteen years ago, all the Slovenian capital’s waste went to landfill, but by 2025, at least 75% of its rubbish will be recycled. How did the city turn itself around?

23, May, 2019 @5:00 AM

Article image
Simple, sustainable and not 'superchef': the UK's first zero-waste restaurant
Silo in Brighton mills its own flour for bread, brews its own booze and recycles all food waste. The chef and founder tells Andrew Wasley why it dares to be different

Andrew Wasley

30, Sep, 2014 @2:59 PM

Article image
Retailers to pay up to £1bn for recycling under waste strategy
Exclusive: ministers seeking to make firms pay more towards recycling their own waste

Sandra Laville

11, Nov, 2018 @12:53 PM

Article image
Why adhocism is the best kind of recycling
Recycling can be a downward spiral, but upcycled, repurposed design transforms rubbish into something more valuable, says Lloyd Alter

Lloyd Alter

15, May, 2014 @9:06 AM

Article image
Starbucks trials 5p takeaway cup charge in attempt to cut waste
People buying hot drinks in cardboard cups in 35 London branches will pay ‘latte levy’

Rebecca Smithers Consumer affairs correspondent

26, Feb, 2018 @7:26 AM

Article image
Westminster’s recycling rates and reducing waste | Letters
Letters: Tim Mitchell of Westminster city council responds to a report on what really happens to our rubbish. Phil Gyford suggests a way of dealing with Amazon’s unrecyclable plastic bags


23, Aug, 2019 @3:40 PM

Article image
Waste crisis: where's your recycling going now?
China’s limits on contamination levels have sparked a recycling industry crisis. What are local and state governments doing to solve the problem?

Bianca Nogrady

25, Jun, 2018 @6:00 PM

Article image
L'Uritonnoir: the straw bale urinal that makes compost from 'liquid gold'

French design studio Faltazi has developed a plug-in funnel to upcycle urine and bring an eco message to summer festivals

Oliver Wainwright

26, Apr, 2013 @9:26 AM