LISBON — A propane heater glowed, fluorescent lights flickered overhead, equipment sat on thick stumps and Isaiah Washington’s small coal forge was at the ready.

For the past month, he’s cranked out almost one ornate cooking or hunting knife a day working out of a former bakery storage shed along busy Route 196.

After having his knife business abruptly shut down by the city of Auburn in September, the Zay Knife Co. is back.

“It’s been crazy busy with people buying Christmas gifts,” said Washington, 20, taking a break Tuesday from finishing three knives for brothers and a dad.

After “The Damned One” director Colby Michaud talked about using Washington’s knives in his new movie, the Sun Journal wrote a feature story on the young, self-taught entrepreneur.

The day the story ran in September, city officials shut him down. Neighbors had been complaining about the noise and smell and his Auburn neighborhood wasn’t zoned for blacksmithing.


Last month, Nick Benoit, the owner of Benoit’s Bakery and several other companies, reached out to Washington, a stranger, to offer him space.

“I remember what it was like when I was starting out,” Benoit said. “It’s certainly not as easy as everybody thinks. I’ve been given a lot of chances in business and I was kind of bringing that full circle and giving another young person a chance to do what they want to do.”

Benoit’s Bakery, temporarily closed after a pipe burst, didn’t need the extra space, Benoit said. He’d rather see it put to good use. 

“He’s an extremely hard worker,” Benoit said. “He’s been there 10 hours a day. I wish him well.”

In the 20- by 30-foot shed, Washington found a chimney to which he could connect his forge, an industrial fan to air things out in the summer, commercial zoning and neighbors who didn’t mind his banging.

“(Benoit’s) been very generous, ‘Use it for free until you can pay me,'” Washington said. “It was super nice of him. He gave me the go-ahead and I made it happen, just getting stuff into this building.”


The 24 knives he’s made in the past month by working six to seven days a week have been Christmas gifts, a quarter of them shipped out of state.

“I got a huge Christmas boom, more than I’ve ever had before,” he said. “I now have more money than I’ve ever had in my life — it’s not even a whole lot, but it’s a lot for me.”

In 2018, he’d like to fit out the space with more benches and work stations and upgrade to a propane forge to fit longer blades.

He brought a table full of his wares to the “The Damned One” premiere two weeks ago and was excited to see his knives featured more in the movie than he thought they would be.

“It’s been pretty crazy,” Washington said. “Colby unknowingly just sent this huge turn of events into my life that ended up working out for the best.”

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“It’s a perfect spot,” Isaiah Washington said of the new Lisbon space where he forges knives.  (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

A propane heater warms the area where Isaiah Washington is making a hunting knife for a customer who ordered three as Christmas presents. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

Isaiah Washington works on a hunting knife for a customer who ordered three as Christmas presents. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

Isaiah Washington made these chef’s knives thinner and lighter than the hunting knives he makes. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

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