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

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