Friday, August 7, 2009

Knifemaker Interviews: Bruce Barnett

So here's the first Interview. I met Bruce back in May at the AKG Knife Show in Melbourne. I dragged Dad along (though I didn't have to drag too hard) and he so impressed with Bruce's work that he bought one of his hunting knives.

How did you get into Knifemaking?
I have always had and used knives as I was raised on a farm on King Island and did a lot of hunting. After moving to WA and taking up drag racing, Max Harvey, one of the founding members of the AKG, donated one of his stunning handmade bowies to my fund raising efforts back in ’92 which really stuck in my mind. I then started to collect a few custom knives and also all the Harley Davidson commemorative blades. Due to busting 2 vertebrae in my neck (amongst other things) in a racing accident back in ’95 a few years ago I got to the stage where I could no longer ride bikes anymore. I sold my remaining road bike and then sat back and said to myself “what the hell am I gonna do now”. Knife making was the answer.

And when?
January 2006

What made you want to make Knives?
I have always loved custom knives, love doing things with my hands, and hopefully a good way to recoup the obscene amount of money I have spent on my collection.

A lot of newer Knifemakers have the advantage of the wealth of information provided by online forums & tutorials to help them get started. Did you have it so easy?
Yes. because I would be classified as a newer maker. The forums, tutorials and the quality and range of DVDs that are available now is just outstanding. I was only discussing this very point with a retired maker a couple of weeks ago and he could not believe the amount of stuff that was available these days for makers.

It was after watching ABS Master Smith Ed Caffery’s DVDs that I decided to spend 8 days with Ed after Blade Show 2008 learning the finer points of forging and making Damascus. I have also been very fortunate to have also struck up a close friendship with fellow forumite Keith Fludder whose wealth of experience has been a great help. Fellow WA maker David Brodziak had also invited me into his shed for a weekend and I have never been shy to ask questions of our AKG members at knife shows.

What's your design process? Sketch, Cad, or do you just get straight to work? Where do you source your inspiration for your designs?
I am terrible at drawing so I pretty much just get an idea in my head and run with it. I start off forging or grinding and if the idea or the actual work piece changes then so be it. I guess that’s the beauty of custom knife making, unless it’s a specific order then there are no rules.

Do your knives say anything about where you're from?
No, I just make what I like to make unless it’s a specific order.

What's your preferred style of knife to make?
Hunters, skinners and bowies are my favourites and after finishing my 2nd folder I can see a few more of them (folders) getting built. I do flat grinds, preferably with a convex edge. Once I finish my forge and hydraulic press about 75% of my knives will be forged and many of them will be damascus.

How long typically, will a knife take for you to build?
Depending on the complexity of the knife, usually between 3-6 weeks; unfortunately I have a day job that keeps me out of the shed during the weekdays.

What's your favourite material/s to use in your handles and blades? Preferred finishes?
With stainless blades; for fillet knives I use 440C and for hunters and skinners I usually use 154CM or S30V. For kitchen knives I like to use stainless Damascus from Devin Thomas or Chad Nichols.
For carbon blades I use D2 if stock removing. My forged blades will usually be either 1075,1080,1084 or W2. Damascus blades will be the same with addition of 15N20 for contrast in the pattern.

I prefer to satin finish all my blades to either 600 or 1000grit and if edge quenched I will generally lightly etch the blade to bring out the temper line or hamon. Guards, spacers & caps are generally nickel silver, Damascus or stainless.

My favourite handle materials would be stag and sheep horn, however have collected a lot of mammoth ivory and tooth so will starting using more of that soon. Also use a lot of highly figured timbers as well as Micarta & G10 on working knives.

Have you had any strange requests for knife/kit design?
Not really, not yet anyway.

What's the greatest challenge you've had in Knifemaking? Any regrets?
My greatest challenge is stopping myself from buying and hoarding steel and handle materials. Keith Fludder often calls me a “material pig”.

My biggest regret is not becoming obsessed with knife making like I am now when I was a bit younger.

Do you make anything aside from knives?
I make both leather and kydex sheaths and will probably start making jewelery with all my scrap stainless Damascus, mokume and mammoth leftovers

Where do you see your Knifemaking going in the next few years?
My plan is to become an ABS Journeyman Smith in 2011 and Master Smith in 2013. I just love making Damascus and forging blades and the good times had with other makers, not to forget the friendly rivalry that goes along with it.

What knife do you carry?
My EDC is an Ed Caffery Progression liner lock folder with an edge quenched 52100 blade, titanium liners & clip with G10 scales

More information about Bruce and his knife making can be found here
Photos courtesy of Bruce Barnett

Forge and Fire: Part 2

Planning the New Forge:
Ever since I started thinking about forging knives I decided that I wanted to build my own forge. This was for two reasons – 1: Because I’m going to appreciate something more if I’ve built it myself, and 2: Forges are EXPENSIVE! I think the cheapest I’ve seen was around $400 for a little farrier’s forge.

I know that I’ve already got an unfinished forge sitting neglected on a shelf but what I’ve had in mind from the very beginning is a forge built out of a propane/compressor tank (similar to the ones here and here). I’ve found a good number of resources online and settled on the design I want to use, and earmarked an air tank off a truck that I picked up at a garage sale for $15

Next, I’ll need to buy ceramic fiber for the lining and something to coat it with (Fiber Coat/Service Coat) so it doesn’t end up killing me (it’s carcinogenic and when left uncoated can shed small fibers).

The forge will also need a burner (or burners) to deliver the gas. I’ve found instructions for building a venturi burner on the Tharwa Valley Forge website and it looks relatively doable.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Knife Legality

I had an interesting conversation with a friend recently over several emails and a share of Yum Cha. He mentioned he was considering purchasing a Russian navy dress dagger (being that he's a collector of Russian WWII bits and pieces) and wanted to know the best way to legally bring it into the country without it being confiscated by customs and going home to sit on a customs' officer's mantlepiece destroyed.

My friend knows I'm a member of Australasian Knife Collectors (which allows me to purchase certain items that require a lot of hoop jumping for non-members) and asked if it was ok for me to order the item, have it delivered to my address, and then hand it over to him. I explained that I can't do this because even though I have the appropriate paperwork to import the item, I would still be required by law to record the transaction, the buyer details (and proof of identification), and proof that the recipient was not a prohibited person, and had buyer exemption; to which he replied with something along the lines of "Yeah, but who's going to know?".

I declined my friend's request. I'm not interested in handing over restricted knives to “prohibited persons”, not only because it's illegal and the possibility of legal implication would not be worth my time, but also because I have an ethical concern. I know my friend wouldn't do anything with the dagger other than put it in a display case, but the law is the law and it's been put in place for a reason.

This brings about some valid questions.

Even if a non-prohibited, purchase exempt buyer can bring something in to the country, who is going to know if they give a knife away or sell it to somebody that legally isn't supposed to have it? Are there legal measures to prevent this, other than the government putting its trust in the original permit holder? If the knife, once in the hands of another person is involved in a crime, what could link it back to the importer?

Firstly, I don't know if the police do spot checks on knife makers or distributors to make sure they're doing the right thing. Secondly, if the police did randomly appear on a buyer’s doorstep asking about an imported item; what's to stop the buyer from saying they purchased it for their own collection... but then it broke, and it was tossed in the garbage, and that's why it can't be produced on their request? Or they could show them any one of their knives and say "Yep, that's the one".

If I were to unlawfully hand over a knife to somebody, and then they go and (god forbid) use it to cause someone harm, then the only link back to me would be (maybe) fingerprints; but I think there'd be more chance of the crim's fingerprints obscuring my own considering they're not known for wearing gloves.

And there are laws in existence to prevent the wrong people from owning controlled weapons:
  • Police frown upon people wandering up to the shops with their claymore strapped to their back.

  • In certain States of Australia, it is illegal to carry even a pen knife without a valid reason* )though this isn't going to stop someone who has no regard for the law from carrying a concealed weapon).

  • In most states, a person under 16 years of age cannot purchase a fixed blade knife. (NSW local government is barely keen on the idea of these kids buying a sharp edged plastic spatula, let alone a hunting knife)

There are other laws, but I'm not going to list them all.

This has been a long winded way of getting to the point, but after politely explaining to my friend that he could import the knife by first joining AKC, he asked "Why don't they just serialize all the knives and track ownership that way?". Very good question.

When I was studying Forensic Science a few years back I wrote an essay for a Legal Studies class on whether or not it would be beneficial for the Victorian Government to make it mandatory for knives to be serialized and for a regional knife registry to be kept by the police, similar to the Firearms Registry.

This is a moot point, obviously, because local government can't possibly hope to pass legislation that would require manufacturers in foreign countries to provide serial numbers on their products; and it's unlikely that items would be serialized after arriving. Still something interesting to think about though.

This post has been long enough. I'm stopping now. I promise.

Thanks for reading (if you made it this far).

* “Self Defense” is not a valid reason. “Zombie hunting” probably falls under this category also.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Necker Firesteel

This is the second time I've done a Firesteel/Pouch combination and I'm pretty happy with the results. I hadn't thought about making one of these for a while after I made the first one for my father; it just started out as a bit of an experiment (the sheath, not the firesteel), but I recently received an email from a gent asking that I make one and send it off to france. Here are the pics:

For those not familiar with the uses of a firesteel, it's basically a ferrocerium rod (in this case, with a Blister Ooline handle, and red paracord lanyard) which can be scraped with a squared off or sharp piece of carbon steel (square back of a knife or the blade if you don't mind potentially ruining your cutlery).
Think of a flint and stone but somewhat modernized and instead of getting one little spark, there's a shower of them.

Wikipedia explanation of ferrocerium

Thanks for reading