New Zealand is one of those places where quirky and fun home businesses have a chance. It is the sort of place where you drive 10km down a back road that leads no-where and find someone selling the best honey you’ve ever had, or sweaters, or whatever. This post is about something in that vain, although, it is quite popular and well known. I didn’t think of it as distinctively New Zealand before my trip, but now I do.
Lonely Planet listed a little place called Barrytown Knife Making in Barrytown (map) on the west coast as something fun to do and I thought “why not, I’ve got the time,” so I signed up. It is a full day event and you literally go from mild steel to a finished knife all on your own.
The process of making a knife was reality simple, or rather, Steven had all the kinks worked out so well that it seemed simple. We started with a rough blank made from a piece of 2″ wide mild steel (cold rolled) bar stock mounted in a home made handle. We would, by pairs, heat our blanks in the furnace and then forge them, and then repeat until the shape was right. Finally, we heated the piece one final time and quenched them in water to properly harden them.
Forging is a pretty simple operation. Really, it is more of an art, and like so many arts, less is more. With careful guidance and some demonstration, everyone succeeded easily and ended up with a pretty good approximation of a knife blade.
After the blade is formed and quenched, grinding begins. Grinding is where the blade takes its final form and all the imperfections the hammer left are removed. Thanks to power tools, such as industrial belt sanders, the process of grinding was pretty fast. The key was to be very careful to a) not over heat the edge ruining it or b) not to do it wrong and fire your knife blade in a random direction. There was lots of direction and supervision on (b) as there was through out about safety.
As the knife progresses, the handle is added along with the guard and more grinding and sanding is done to blend all the elements together. Eventually, what you end up with is a mostly finished knife. All that remains is some polishing and a little wood finishing.
Eventually, polishing and wood finishing done, all the knifes are lade out for a group shot. A couple people chose to leave their handles unfinished so they could finish them in their own way. You can also see that while all the knifes are similar, they are all unique.
I haven’t talked about any of the “extras” that came with the knife making experience. It is a full day, and there are some breaks in the process. During those times we ate a nice lunch, took a tour of the beautiful property, hung out with the farm animals, threw some knifes and axes and got to swing on their huge home made swing (tons of fun).
I have also only talked about Steven, which isn’t totally fair. He manages the knife making portion, but his wife is there the entire time helping too. They are both very hands on. All in all it was a great fun experience and I think something that is pretty exemplary of New Zealand. I highly recommend it.