Out of curiosity, Barry Gardner attended a knife show in 1995 and, fascinated by the handcrafted steel objects, asked a craftsman if he could be taught to make such knives. Now, as an experienced cutler, Barry offers this same service at his foundry within the Jam Factory studios at Seppeltsfield.
“I love guiding people to make their own knives,” says Barry, looking as stern as Vulcan’s lieutenant yet speaking with gentle good humour. “I love sharing my passion with them. There’s something about the sounds of the workshop that just draws you in – the song of the anvil, the roar of the forge, even the smell of my burning gloves. It’s primal, and magical.”
Barry was the initial artisan tenant approached and installed at Seppeltsfield when the Jam Factory leased the old stables within the Barossa winery complex in November 2013. Having such a public workspace represents a significant step up for the humble Barossa cutler, who previously made his knives in a shed at home. A New Zealander, who came to the Barossa in the 1970s and has stayed, working as a chauffeur and road construction worker for 18 years before concentrating on his true passion of knife making, Barry’s business as a professional cutler is booming. At Seppeltsfield, he not only has the space to produce more of his idiosyncratic knives that each cost from $400, but also entertains the passing public with his skill.
“One day, a woman watching me work asked if I would allow her to make a knife. I hadn’t even considered doing that before but said sure, why not? As soon as other people found out about this, the requests kept coming in, and they just keep coming.”
Demand for knife-making workshops has accelerated so much that Barry has had to put a ceiling on allocating no more than two weeks a month to teaching participants, as orders from customers for his own signature knives are banking up. Participants can nominate their own dates for either a one-day or two-day knife making workshops, or to learn how to forge Damascus steel. Participants have ranged from a 14-year-old girl making a knife beside her father, to a 75-year-old man, and a woman fashioning her late grandfather’s old hunting rifle into a kitchen knife, with the barrel becoming the blade and the stock transformed into the handle.
The reputation of Barry’s knife workshops has also ensured that he doesn’t have to hunt for metal; scrap items from local farms and workshops are deposited at his foundry door. Huge steel plough shears, old files, coil springs from old Holdens, timber mill saw blades, giant ball bearings – they all become Barry’s knives.
Making your own knife with Barry Gardner: step by step.
1: New steel is created by fusing together 19 layers of different recycled metals. The furnace is heated to 2300C and the metals, welded to an iron rod, become a white-hot mass.
2: The glowing metal is hammered on an anvil to create a solid piece of steel. Borax is coated onto the metal and hammered: it acts as a flux that draws out any impurities, such as rust, and these fly off the molten bar when struck, looking like a shower of sparks.
3: The new lump of steel is laid out on a bench, rolled out to lengths of about half a metre, folded and then rolled again. The more it is folded, the stronger the steel becomes. Barry makes steel for knives that has at least 100 layers.
4: A knife shape is drawn on a section of steel plate, comprising the blade with the tang that is inserted into a handle, then the shape is cut by Barry.
5: A guard that slides onto the tang is cut and shaped from a different type of metal; Barry likes using brass or stainless steel. A fibrous spacer (often in contrasting colours of white, red or black) is cut, shaped and inserted as a decorative touch.
6: Material for a knife handle is selected, from rare Australian hardwoods (Gidgee, Lace Sheoak, Vasticola, White Mallee) or animal horn, then cut to shape, grinded and sanded.
7: Barry grinds one side of the metal blade to give the knife an edge. He creates a perfect straight line, leaving a sharp gleam if the metal is stainless steel, or a beautiful wavering grain if Damascus steel is used.
8: The handle is slotted to take the tang up to the guard, then filled with glue and pressed hard together. If necessary, a small hole is drilled and a brass pin inserted to keep the handle and tang fixed firmly.
9: The wooden handle is dipped in thick tung oil to draw out the grain of the wood, then dried and polished, along with the blade, to a lustrous sheen.
Lots of patience is required throughout a workshop day that starts at 8am and finishes about 6pm, or when the knife is finished. All the cutting, grinding and filing is done in careful increments, but Barry says the joy is in doing it properly.
“A knife should become an extension of your hand, and a real joy to use,” says Barry. “With every knife, I aim to design something functional and well-made that will last for generations to come.”
Photos by David Sly – All Rights Reserved