Keep on Shuckin’
By John D. Adams
Oyster roasts are an integral part of Carolina Low Country tradition and cuisine. Across newspaper-strewn tables, Southern family and friends armed with knives spend hours cracking oysters, downing cold beers, and forging relationships and memories that stretch generations. The oyster roast goes beyond any standard beach or dinner party. It is a rite of passage, a ritual that Carolina natives Kirk Davis and Michael Waller appreciate as only coastal residents can. And with their company, Carolina Shuckers, the two artists have guaranteed a place at these tables with their exceptional, handmade, steel shuckers.
The kind of knife you carry to an oyster roast says a lot about a person. “There’s always a story behind folks’ own oyster knives,” says Davis. “You start talking to someone who got his knife from his grandfather. A lot of the older guys will be like: ‘Oh, I’ve got this knife. I’ve had it since the ‘20s…’ We’ve seen some really interesting knives out there. People get really attached to them.”
Waller adds: “And usually the knives that we see are all handmade. They’re all usually carbon steel, which is what we use. So you see these knives that have been around for 100 or more years, it’s pretty amazing.”
“They are treasures meant to be handed down for future generations to enjoy,” says Davis. “It’s part of the culture.”
“It’s ‘shuck life,’” quips Waller.
A Forged Friendship
With their rapid back-and-forth rapport, you would be forgiven for thinking Davis and Waller are brothers. They grew up together in Kinston, attended school together, and carried their friendship forward to East Carolina University, where each received BFA degrees in sculpting. In addition to running Carolina Shuckers, both men maintain their own art studios; Davis on the coast in Morehead City, and Waller, further inland, in Hillsborough.
“Before the economy crashed, Kirk was doing really large architectural projects and I was doing large-scale public sculpture and historic metal restoration,” says Waller. “All of that work was wiped out.”
“The plan was to come up with a product that we could work on together. And have a price point set well enough where we could do our ‘quick nickels’ as opposed to the ‘slow dime,’” says Davis.
“We would go to oyster roasts and people wouldn’t have a knife,” explains Waller. “We thought, we forge all this other stuff, why don’t we make oyster knives?”
Metals and Manners
They began Carolina Shuckers with just four product designs. That quickly expanded. “People started hearing about us and seeing the quality of the product, and it just took off,” says Davis. The men’s distinctive styles are reflected in every handmade shucker. They work with salvaged, steel railroad spikes as well as carbon steel bar stock. Each piece is engraved with their initials and company logo.
And while their styles vary, they share a wicked sense of humor, offering products like: “Mother Shucker,” “Cluster Shucker,” and “L’il Big Boy,” among others. They are also united by their Southern upbringing, holding a strong work ethic and a dedication to doing the right thing.
“We offer a lifetime guarantee. Break a tip off the knife, we’ll repair it or replace it. If something like that happens we want to make it good. It’s all customer-based.” says Waller.
“We both came from families that have always held a strong belief in treating others the way you want to be treated. And that’s very important to us,” says Davis.
To learn more about Carolina Shuckers, visit their Web site at: www.carolinashuckers.com
To see Michael’s and Kirk’s other works, visit their individual artist Web sites:
Kirk Davis: www.artformsstudio.com
Michael Waller: www.wallerfoushee.com