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New Zealand: Barrytown Knife Making - Andrew's World
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New Zealand: Barrytown Knife Making

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.

Tempering Mild Steel

Steven instructs one of the students taking park (like myself) in how to heat the steel before forging the blank into a rough blade.

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.

Tending the Fire

Steven tends the coal fire that is used to heat the steel for forging and to add carbon.

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.

Heating Steal

Two students heat their work pieces before forging.

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.

Steven demonstrates how to work the hot steal.

Steven demonstrates how to work the hot steel.

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.


The blades final shape and surface is created using industrial belt sanders.

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.

Almost Done

My knife is almost done here. It needs polishing and to prevent the polishing agent, which turns black with steel dust, from staining the handle, it is wrapped in masking tape.

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.

All Done

Everyone's knifes are lined up along with samples of all 3 of the raw materials they are made from. That is it: steel, brass and wood.

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.

For more of posts about and pictures from New Zealand, see my flickr set and the New Zealand category.

Posted in New Zealand, Photography, Travel
2 comments on “New Zealand: Barrytown Knife Making
  1. JLW says:

    Wow! Your pictures are absolutely beautiful! Very cool knives too.

  2. Keong says:

    Now I know exactly where and who to look up when I go New Zealand for a holiday. Your pictures are awesome. I am sold!

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  1. […] highway 6 you find gyms like the Pancake Rocks of Punakaiki, Barrytown Knife Making (my post about it), Cape Foul Wind and finally Karamea (the end of the road). Some of these towns are little more […]

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