150 years Böker Manufaktur

150 years Böker Manufaktur

A German company that has existed for 150 years must have had an eventful history. The Böker Manufaktur Solingen has had to start over a few times, but has nevertheless grown into one of the world's largest knife manufacturers.
Text and pictures: Bas Martens
The Böker Manufaktur in Solingen on an official company picture, hence the empty parking lot.

The German Böker company is famous to many for its catalogues. Twice a year an impressive volume appears, each time in two parts: Knifestyle (with mainly kitchen knives) and Outdoor & Collection. And there is ‘Böker Barber’s Corner’, a separate catalogue on highly popular razors and shaving accessories. The catalogues are beautifully made and each edition has dozens of new models. It evokes associations with a huge company, full of gigantic machines, that produces knives at a murderous rate. But reality is a bit different, as we shall see.
The Böker flag covers many landings. The company is the German importer for knives from Spyderco, CRKT, Al Mar Knives, Viper Tecnocut, LionSteel, Ontario Knife Company, Tops Knives, SOG, United Cutlery and Cold Steel, among others. Böker also supplies Fenix and Nitecore flashlights, various watch brands, and sport shooting accessories. There is also Böker as a production company. This has different lines, which are clearly distinguishable in terms of brand name. Böker Arbolito, for example, is the brand name of the Böker branch which was founded in 1983 in Buenos Aires. These are mainly hunting knives. ‘Magnum by Böker’ is the budget line. These are made in China and chosen from the huge range of Chinese mass-produced knives.
One of the Böker jubilee models, the Smatchet Anniversary 150 Damast.
Then there's the Böker Plus series. These knives are made according to the design and specifications of Böker itself, and are therefore exclusive. Most of the production takes place in Taiwan.
And finally the showpiece: 'Böker Manufaktur Solingen'. These are the products that are manufactured in Solingen itself: the Magnum collection, the year knives, the Sportsmen pocket knives, the damask knives and the collector's items.
Solingen also produces a wide range of 'ranch knives' and pocket knives with multiple blades for the United States market, which are sold through the American Böker branch. Those traditional Böker Tree Brand knives are in the American catalogue, but not in the European catalogue. However, it is an important part of the company: besides the American company W.R. Case & Sons, Böker is the most important producer of these traditional knives.
Left: The signature on the blade of one of the first known Böker products, a sabre marked ‘Henry Boker / Solingen’. Right: During the Second World War, Böker was completely destroyed, including archives, documentation and catalogues. What was preserved comes from customers or private individuals. This catalogue from 1906 is
from the American branch, Hermann Böker & Co. The nice thing about Böker razors is that they have become
very popular in recent years. (Photos: Böker Messer-Manufaktur Solingen)
The company Heinrich Böker & Co was founded on 28 June 1869, and has thus existed over 150 years this year. The story of Böker, however, goes back much further. As early as the end of the 17th century, the family in Remscheid traded in hardware and tools, some of which were manufactured in-house. In the early 19th century, the company also produced edged weapons. The production of sabres began in 1829 and soon reached a level of 2000 per week.
In the same period two brothers, Hermann and Robert Böker, decided to try their luck elsewhere. Hermann founded H. Böker & Co in New York, and Robert started a business in Canada, and later in Mexico. A nephew, Heinrich Böker, moved from Remscheid to Solingen. Together with Hermann Heuscher he started the company Heinrich Böker & Co.
The products from Solingen soon became popular in the US. The name Böker turned out to be too difficult in the Anglo-Saxon world, conflated by the fact that many people couldn’t read. Heinrich Böker came up with a good idea: he chose a brand with an enormous chestnut tree that stood on the estate in Remscheid. This is how Böker Baumwerk was created for the German-speaking countries, Treebrand for the English-speaking countries, and Arbolito in Latin America.
During the Second World War, the factory in Solingen was completely destroyed. The company name in the United States was confiscated as 'enemy property'. The American branch changed hands a number of times, but in 1986 the now rebuilt company in Solingen received the deeds again, after which Böker USA was founded. This daughter company does not produce, but only sells the Böker knives on the American market.
A guided tour starts at Böker in the warehouse, where steel is stored, both in plates and on rolls.
Shelves full of knife moulds.

A Manufaktur is a company where products are manufactured by hand. You wouldn't expect that from a company like Böker, but it's true. Of course there are a lot of machines, but in principle they are the same as in the workshop of a custom knife maker: sanding, drilling and milling machines. Böker has a number of modern CNC machines, but part of the machine park is decades old. For example, there is a device that simply punches a nail groove into the blade of a pocket knife. Despite all the technological progress, no better or cheaper way of doing this has yet been found.
To give an idea of the company first a few figures. The Böker Manufaktur has about 90 employees in Solingen. The company does not want to give production figures, but during a visit five years ago, production output was between 250 and 300 knives per day, which is about 75,000 years. Depending on the model and version, up to 250 operations are required to make a knife. The departments where this is done still partly bear the old names of the craft: 'abziehen' (sharpening the cutting edge), 'handpließten' (giving the surface of the blade the final finish on a fine band) and 'ausmachen' (rounding and polishing the assembled knife). The most astonishing thing: the 'reiden' (the specialised assembly of the knife) is done by only a handful of professionals. Böker has its own training for the different aspects of the craft. The company needs to, because qualified workmen simply cannot be found.
Left: The rough shape of the knife is punched or cut from the strip of steel. Sometimes mechanically,
sometimes with laser or water. Here a coil of steel is loaded into the punching machine.
Right: This is left over from the strips of steel, when the blade shape is punched out.

In hollow grinding, both sides of the knife are sharpened at the same time. The grinding rollers are then at
right angles to each other, as demonstrated here.

It may sound strange, but Böker does not have its own design department. For new models, the company works together with professional knife makers. Böker pays for the right to make their design exclusive for a number of years. The custom maker controls the name of the knife and is involved in its production. In addition, he has the right to continue making his own design as a custom knife. According to Böker, the company has acquired an excellent reputation with these conditions. For new knives, the name of the designer is always mentioned. With historical knives the name of the designer is not always known, which is why older designs do not have a name.
Of course, Böker does have a construction department, where the designs of custom makers are adapted for industrial production, and where prototypes and models are also produced. This is highly qualified work, because once the moulds have been made, every change is very costly.
Left: The bolsters from a folding knife, and the part from which they are made. They are cut on a machine
which was designed by Böker.
Right: Knife blades, ready for further processing.
Left: For some knife models, the handles are milled out. Right: Containers with different models of knife blades.
Planning is essential for such a wide range of products. The 2019 fall catalogue of Böker Outdoor & Collection includes around 150 knives under the heading 'Manufaktur Solingen'. Thirty-one are 'new'. How do you plan that?
It appears to be mainly a matter of tight organisation. The first series of each new knife is made in 200 to 300 pieces. Depending on the sales figures, a decision will be made about the follow-up edition. With the existing range there is always a minimum stock, depending on the success of the model. The planning and possible production problems are discussed on a daily basis. The production is monitored automatically, but can also be followed physically at each 'workstation'. For small editions, the entire series is produced simultaneously.
In this machine, knife blades are milled on thickness. The whole thing is put under a grinding stone. The two
blades show the difference before and after the process.
Left: Grinding rollers in the warehouse. Right: One of the production areas at Böker.
The Böker range has expanded considerably in recent years. In addition to the well-known hunting knives, and traditional knives with deer horn, several models of young designers have been taken into production. This division will continue to exist. Tradition is important to Böker. In recent years, the company has made considerable investments in the production of traditional razors, which proved very difficult. Each blade needs 18 production steps, but the exact procedure is a strictly guarded secret. Pictures are not allowed. The demand for these traditional razors has increased spectacularly and Böker has entered into a cooperation with famous barbers like barbershop ‘Schorem’ in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.
Left: Wood lovers can indulge themselves at Böker, although it doesn't look very spectacular yet.
Right: The finishing of a knife is done by hand at Böker. This is the Böker Barlow Anniversary 150.
Left: Barlow Anniversary models waiting for final shaping of the handle scales. Right: Assembly of the
liner lock in folding knives.

Böker now
The current Manufaktur is located on Schützenstrasse, close to the centre of Solingen. The two-storey building replaced the rectangular brick buildings from shortly after the Second World War in 1989. Everything is under one roof: management, administration, production, and the Böker knife-shop, where just about all of the company's products are available.
Another assembly station.
Anyone who sees the sleek building on the outside expects a high-tech company with a laboratory-like environment. But there is a suprise. As stated before, the making of knives is still largely done by hand, even at Böker. The steel is punched, sawn, milled, sanded and polished, measured and corrected, etched and painted. The racks are filled with wood and steel, there are numerous moulds in the cabinets, and the knives and their parts are transported in boxes and crates along the various stages of production. There is a wet-sanding department for aluminium, where the powder ends up directly in water. There is a paint shop for horn handle scales and there is a laser engraving machine for logos or other images. And finally, there are the assembly, packaging and shipping. The pictures give an idea of the different stages of production. Those who have become curious can take a look for themselves. Once a month, Böker organises a factory visit for groups. More information and dates can be found on www.boker.de.
Left: Different knife models, ready for inspection. Right: One of the Böker Anniversary Models. The only thing
that is missing is the medallion in the handle.