For this week's edition of First-Person Shooter, we gave two cameras to a knife maker in North Carolina named Adam. The owner of Biltsharp, Adam has been crafting knives for the past five years, and his slicers are coveted by chefs and collectors all over the world.
Adam snapped pics of himself and his design partner Jackie grinding handles and adding some last-minute touches to a few blades. He also stopped by his friend Zoe's metal shop and captured a few exposures of people team-welding damascus steel together. To finish his day off, Adam tested out a few of his knives by chopping the fuck out of some watermelons. We asked the bladesman a couple questions about his line of work.
VICE: What's the basic step-by-step process for making a knife?
Adam the Knife-Maker: We start with flat bars of steel and hunks of wood. We take an in-house designed CAD pattern and cut it out with a bandsaw. I freehand all my grinds with large belt grinders to remove the bulk of the material to set the main shape of the knife. Once the holes are drilled and the scratches are evened out, it's put in a kiln at a specific temperature for a specific amount of time to harden. Once the blades have hardened, I finish the grinds with very fine sanding belts and eventually work our way down to a hand-rubbed 1200 grit finish.
We craft our handles with as much respect as the blade. The fun part is digging through the endless drawers of exotic woods, carbon fiber, colored fiberglass, semiconductors, and synthetics to produce one-of-a-kind pieces. We've made many of the same blades before, but each is totally different, and no two ever have the same handle.
How long does it take to make a knife?
The average is about one week, and we try to get stuff out of the shop on a weekly basis. I work on a bunch of knives at a time, since certain steps, like heat-treating or handle-sanding, can save time if done in groups.
Who buys your knives?
I've worked with famous chefs, professional race car drivers, survivalists, ballerinas, and dudes from the paper mill. My favorite was making an interpretation of a sword from the Red Rising series for the author Pierce Brown. We make high-end, functional art pieces, so our customers include collectors and people who understand what a quality product is.
How does one get into the knife game?
My advice to new makers is to just dive in. You don't need a quarter million dollar workshop. I started out with junk tools in an old basement in South Philly. That being said, power tools are really expensive, but if you're doing it right, they pay for themselves. The knife-making community is an amazing thing. We live in an age of democratized knowledge where, through social media, you can access the greatest talents of our industry. Don't ever be afraid to reach out and ask for guidance.
Is knife-making dangerous?
Working with tools and making limb-lopping devices can get tricky. Getting cut is more rare than you think, but getting burned is a daily thing. The most dangerous thing in the shop is dust—we wear respirators to ward off the black lung. How can readers buy your products?
Go to Biltsharp.com and sign up for the newsletter. Since what we do is so time-consuming and one-of-a-kind, I rarely have items sitting for sale on the website. Also, I post photos of life in the shop on my Instagram.
Follow Julian on Instagram and visit his website to see his own photo work.