Knifemakers Terri and Adam Parker in their workshop in Ballarat. Photo: Kate Healy.Among the many creativetrades making a revival in recent times, one of the most difficult and distinguished is the trade of making knives and swords.
Within that trade, the making of patterned steel –called, somewhat erroneously,‘Damascus’ steel,is a skill that requires not only years of practise but also a scientificprowess and a keen sense of timing.
Adam Parker is president of the Australian Knifemakers Guildand has been making knives for more than 25 years.
“I’ve got a background as a farmer; I grew up on the family farm.
Forging the billet into a single piece of metal. Photo: Kate Healy
“I read a three-page chapter in a book on how to make a knife, so I made one out of an old circular saw blade to start with. It came up pretty well and a neighbour was impressed with it, and he said,‘can you make me one?’
“I was hooked. It became a real passion.”
There are a number of processes that can be pursued inmakinga knife, but Mr Parker is intrigued by the ancient method of layering carbon-rich steel blanks into a block (known as a ‘billet’) and forging them into a single piece of metal.
Adam and Terri Parker prepare pattern steel for knifemaking.The process involves folding and hammering the red-hot softened metal back into itself hundreds of times to create extraordinary patterns of carbon within the material.
Differences in the make-up of the steel layers produces patterns that can resemble sunbursts, woodgrains and raindrops.
“The sheer heat that we are generating in my forge, up around 2,000 degrees Celsius, is going to help the steel weld together, but to reduce oxygen, which inhibits welding, we flux (coat) it with borax, which is a household laundry product,” says Mr Parker.
Beautiful patterns in blades made by the Damascene process. Photo: Kate Healy.
“We heat it again until it’s a bright lemon colour, and then when we hit it with the hammer on the anvil, it’ll fuse into one piece.”
Mr Parker stresses that careful preparation and choosing the best materials are the keys to success in making patterned steel –aprocess first discovered in southern India perhaps thousands of years ago.
“If you’ve got a tin can and you fold it a thousand times, you’ve still got a tin can.
The heat inside the forge reaches 2,000 degrees Celsius. Photo Kate Healy.
“It’s an art-form that is completely limitless. You can make a basic tool fairly easily, or you can go right into the embellishments of it.”