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Forging blades takes form and function

Making knives starts out as a hobby and turns into a career for two men.
Making knives starts out as a hobby and turns into a career for two men.
Brother O'Mara / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

And the form should always come after the function.

Steel—forged in fire, shaped by hammer and anvil, then ground to razor sharp perfection; in the end, this earth metal becomes a knife. Zach Wagner repeats this process daily in his Bloomington, Indiana garage, which doubles as his workshop. Wagner idolized the macho blacksmiths he saw on TV as a child. The thick-armed manly men and their tales eventually inspired him to take up knife making as a hobby. “The blacksmith was arguably a better swordsman or fighter than any of the other guys,” said Wagner. “He was just too old and haggard to do it right. He was still instrumental in making all those amazing stories happen.” Also, according to CherokeePhoenix.org, which was published on March 20, Ray Kirk is another one who makes knives. He actually makes them out of old car springs and has been doing it for 25 years. This kind of hobby turned into these men's dream careers is amazing!

Knives were more functional than weapons in rural communities where Wagner grew up—knives were tools of various trades and a good one made all the difference. A knife that could hold its edge all day was a productive tool and tools for knife making can be very expensive in this day and age. The TW-90 grinder with all the attachments he estimates to have cost him about $10,000. The rest of his workshop is loaded with tools and stock he cannot begin to put a price on. “A lot of this stuff is cobbled together from hand-me-down crap, but this is easily my largest investment so far,” said Wagner. You can also check out the credit card knife which is really cool!

Wagner prefers 5160 alloy steel and while the quality of the steel is important, so is the forging process. Heat treatment is fundamental to the quality of the blade. If the steel is heated sporadically, it may become brittle and break easily. As an example, he pulled out an improperly heat-treated sword that lacked flexibility. “A properly heat-treated sword made out of 5160 should be able to bend pretty far,” Wagner said as he bent the sword, almost to its breaking point. “So, that means it was probably not even heat-treated at all to be that soft and flimsy.”

Two factors play highly into Wagner’s craft, form and function. He says that form should always follow function and the knives he makes are not meant to be ornamental. The knives he makes are meant for use and effectiveness. “The form should always come after the function,” Wagner said. “Otherwise, we would all walk around with straight razors in our pockets.”

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