Making Knives Again: Cutting Edge Protocols Put Us Back to Work

Making Knives Again: Cutting Edge Protocols Put Us Back to Work

We are back: Making Knives on the Cutting Edge of Caution.

On April 13th, we reopened our factory and resumed full production of knives and accessories.  The minds that produce the sharpest knives in America got together to figure out how to keep things safe and get back to work, introducing strict protocols to protect the health and safety of our knifemakers. The process of figuring out the details made us realize it is possible to reopen the economy and protect ourselves from the coronavirus. It is not an either or proposition, at New West KnifeWorks, we can do both. Like making fine knives, it just takes precision and balance. We’ve shared our factory protocols below as a model for how America can responsibly transition back into business.

In mid March, New West Knifeworks shut down the majority of all our business operations-  all of our retail stores were closed. We also shutdown the factory to upgrade our safety procedures to protect our employees from the spread of coronavirus.  By the time we had the systems in place, we realized with no retail stores open, there was not enough demand for inventory to resume production. By the end of the month we had gone from 35 employees to 8.  Furloughing people was one of the hardest things NWKW owner Corey Milligan has ever done. In the end, there wasn’t a choice. “If we kept paying all of our employees with almost no revenue, we would be dead in a month.  I’m not rich. I couldn’t just take it out of my own pocket, my pockets aren’t that deep,” Milligan explains.

The only remaining outlet was online.  March and April are not big months online and the internet only represents about 25% of New West Knifeworks business, so the outlook was pretty bleak.  Then a miracle happened. The internet started to blow up- by Mid April, sales online increased by 250%. With three retail shops closed, this online boost has allowed us to survive and keep making more knives.

What blew up the Internet?

A lot of Americans are stuck at home with not much to do but shop online and cook. Most of our customers enjoy cooking, but very few have cooked ALL of their meals everyday for weeks at a time. That much time on the cutting board brings into sharp focus the importance of a good cutting tool. It is fortunate that many of us that can afford fine cutlery have not felt the full impact of the economic collapse. The money saved on this months “going out to eat bill” more than pays for the addition of a new tool for the kitchen. 

But the increase in home cooking isn’t the whole story. The increase in business also stems from an outpouring of support for NWKW’s efforts with WE ARE Jackson Hole and the creation of hand sanitizer for our community. The messages of support received in the notes of online orders has been deeply gratifying.  

Read about We Are JH campaign.

Open the economy AND Flatten the Curve

We resumed full production in our factory April 13th.  It’s our belief that restarting our economy and keeping ourselves safe is not an either or proposition.  We’ve put in added safety protocols guided by the following thought experiment. Imagine that you currently have Covid-19, and no one around you has it yet.  Imagine that everyone around you has Covid-19, and you're the only one who doesn't.  Framed in this way, what can you do to keep yourself and your co-workers safe? Act accordingly. Put systems in place accordingly.  We’ve added many protocols like using respirators at all times while in the building, rigorous hand and work area cleaning, foot-operated door openers and more.  We have advantages that made adoption of these procedures easy. Our knifemakers already use and understand the importance of PPE in daily operations. Also, we have a very robust dust collection system that cleans the air in our facility many times an hour. 

With the additional help of the Federal Government's SBA PPP program, we plan to continue production throughout the crisis.  We are back up to 30 employees in week one of the program and will bring back more in the days and weeks.

Below is our factory Protocol in its entirety. We hope this inspires others to think about how America can move forward with both care and confidence.

Strict Procedures allowing for continued production at NWKW Victor:

Imagine that you currently have Covid-19, and no one around you has it yet.

Imagine that everyone around you has Covid-19, and you're the only one who doesn't.

Framed in this way, what can you do to keep yourself and your co-workers safe?  Act accordingly.

  • If you feel at all sick, stay home! If there is any sense of fever, this must be measured before coming in to work. In addition, please immediately notify Brian, Anthony, or Erin so we can commence a deep clean of the shop to avoid further transmissions.
  • If you develop symptoms in line with Covid-19 DON’T go directly to the doctor, instead call this number to St Johns for phone evaluation (307) 739-4894 
  • Divulge travel plans in advance, while seriously considering reducing and canceling travel plans. If you traveled to a high risk area, we should self quarantine. 


  • Arrive at work at staggered times, with no more than 6 people in the shop at any time.
  • Scrub in according to Entry Protocol
  • Don’t share any personal gear. Headsets, gloves, phones, aprons, eyewear
  • No doors should need to be touched, if you touch a door it and hands should be sanitized immediately
  • Respirators are to be worn at all times inside the building, if you need to take a break, go outside and remove your mask.
  • Anytime gloves are switched, wash hands then put disposable gloves over clean hands.  Gloves can be sanitized using hand sanitizer.
  • Do not make physical contact with other employees and maintain at least 6 foot distance from each other. 
    • This distancing will take a conscious effort in our relatively tight shop space and will mean not passing each other in doorways or hallways, etc. This virus is most frequently transmitted by coughing and sneezing. Avoid this with high priority. 
  • Complete Work for Day following Working Protocol
    • Wipes Masks down daily with alcohol spray and paper towels
  • Clean up for day following cleaning protocol
  • Exit shop according to Exit Protocol
  • Use foot operated door opening devices.  Do not touch covered door handles.

All communal kitchen activities are to be discontinued 

    • No coffee making (pending the acquisition of a lever spout dispenser) We want people to have access to coffee rather than going to the merket to get it.) Preferably it is made at home and brought to work.
    • Lunches will be eaten solo. Bring your own lunches. Eat in cars or outside. No communal lunch table. No communal dishes. Break room will now be known as the changing/dirty room. Nobody should hang out there. 

Procedures and Protocols for Production Shop:

Entry Protocol

  • Leave Outerwear in your personal vehicle, put on your  respirator if kept in the car.
  • Clock in on phone, Unlock Production door via app if needed.
  • Put on your personal respirator. Respirator to be worn at all times. 
  • Step in bleach solution to disinfect shoes.
  • Enter the building through the break room door only. Use foot opener to enter building.  Do not touch the door handle. Use hand sanitizer that will be supplied at the door.
  • Put on coveralls provided
  • If hanging clothes and gear on racks, keep them spaced out from other gear
  • Use the kitchen sink to wash hands for at least 20 seconds with warm water and soap. 
  • Put on a new pair of Nitrile gloves and work gloves over nitrile if needed.
  • Gloves are to be used and cleaned with Hand Sanitizer Often, immediately after you have touched any public surface.

Working Protocol

  • Before and After using any station
    • Wipe down with bleach solution according to surface cleaning protocol
    • Sanitize Gloves often, this will keep hands healthier than applying directly to skin

    Bathroom Protocol

    • Operate door with foot opener
    • Sanitize gloves before and after use.  If gloves are removed, wash hands before and after use.
    • Spray down all surfaces (toilet, sink, floor area) with isopropyl alcohol spray, and allow to evaporate.

    Finished goods Protocol

    • Coronavirus on most surfaces dies in a few hours. Just so happens it can live on stainless steel for 3-5 days! 

    Finished Product Sanitation Procedure

    Wipe and clean each blade and handle thoroughly using wet alcohol rag

    Let Dry for 5 minutes

    Wear Gloves and then Oil and sheath all knives

    Allow to sit on cart for 3 days to let virus die

    Exiting Shop Protocol

    • Complete Daily and Weekly Cleaning Assignment 
    • Wipe Down and Disinfect Work Stations Used
    • Final mop of floor with bleach solution
    • When finished, do not hang around shop
    • If last one present, Close Down shop following Closing Procedures
    • Take off Coveralls and Put in laundry basket
    • Wash Hands 
    • Exit building without touching door

    Cleaning/Sanitation procedure:


    • Wash hand thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds following current guidelines
    • Put on gloves when hands are clean before touching anything
    • Sanitize gloves often with hand sanitizer


    • Spray shoes upon entry with bleach solution
    • Spray shoes before exiting with bleach solution


    • Put on Coveralls or Butcher Coat upon entry
    • At end of day, remove coveralls and put in laundry bin

    Work surfaces and floors at end of day:

    CDC Recommendations for Cleaning and Sanitizing Household Surfaces and Items

    Amount of Bleach

    and Water to Mix

    Area or Item to be Cleaned

    Bleach Amount

    Water Amount

        Cleaning Steps

    Surfaces that do not soak up water.

    Examples: Floors, stoves, sinks, certain toys, countertops, flatware, plates, and tools.

    1 cup 

    5 tablespoons(1/3 cup)

    4 teaspoons

    5 gallons 

    1 gallon

    1 quart

    1. Clean surface with 2`soap and warm, clean water.
    2. Rinse with clean water.
    3. Sanitize using a mixture of 1 cup (240 mL) of bleach to 5 gallons of water.
    4. Allow to air dry.

    Following Covid-19 Procedures and Disciplinary Actions for Infractions

    We expect all employees to follow these strict procedures at all times to maintain the safety of yourself and coworkers.  Failure to follow protocol will be handled accordingly:

    1st Infraction:  Stern Warning and reminder of corrective actions

    2nd Infraction:  Employee will be asked to go home for the day and review Covid 19 Procedure policies before returning to work

    3rd Infraction:  Employee will be asked to remain home for the remainder of week, review Covid-19 Procedures, and reevaluate commitment to return to work and follow protocol.

    We need every employee to work together and take this very seriously for these measures to work and to stop the spread of the Covid-19 virus in the workplace.

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