Hand-made hobby
Nov 05, 2011 | 4311 views | 0 0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Bruce Addison sands the blade of a knife he is preparing in the workshop next to his house. Each knife is sanded multiple times during the making process. He says that his knives are made for the working man.
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A lot can be told about a person by his hands. Bruce Addison has hands with small knicks and scars, dirt under his nails and film of dust that has to be washed off every day when he finishes. He isn’t a working man but rather a retired teacher turned hobbyist who takes great pride in crafting high carbon steel knives by hand.

Knives are something Addison said he has been interested in since he was a kid but it wasn’t until retirement that he really got to focus on how they were made.

Addison said he spent a year doing research on knife making before he ever made his first knife.

“At first, my knives weren’t really good,” he said.

His solution to that, the Internet. Addison was able to find a man named Jeff Vesley, who mentored and taught Addison the skill of knife making.

“For the past three years, he been very generous with his time,” Addison said. “Thanks to Jeff, I have come a long way.”

Addison only works “old style old carbon steel.” He said many knives are now made from stainless steel but he prefers carbon. He considers knives made of carbon more for the working man while stainless steel is more of a collector’s knife.

“Carbon can be sharpened in the field very easily,” he said.

Addison makes every knife from hand which is not as popular a process as it used to be.

He has a workshop across the yard from his house where he makes all his knives. When walking in the workshop, his passion for knives is obvious. There are signs of a knife maker in a portion of the large workshop. There are multiple sanders, and a stand that holds sanding belts of every size and grit; a drill press sits on a workshop table and the firing oven sits on another.

For every knife he makes, he starts by picking a pattern. He has carved his roughly 300 patterns by hand. There is a wall in the workshop with a 12-by-4-foot section where each of the hand-carved patterns hangs. When making a new pattern, he draws the design on a piece of wood, cuts it out and then sands the handle portion until it fits comfortably in his own hand.

“If a knife doesn’t fit the hand, don’t buy it,” he said. “It (the knife) should feel like an extension of your hand.”

He demonstrates by taking hold of several of the patterns and showing how they sink into the hand just right.

Once a pattern is chosen, it is laid on the steel and traced around. Addison then uses a stock removal method to get rid of the extra steel. This requires an angle grinder that grinds away the steel until the scribe lines are reached. Back in the old days, knife makers would have used a hammer and anvil method which is much more time consuming.

Once the steel is cut, it is sanded down and beveled. Addison stressed that it was very important to complete this step before the knife is heat treated.

The next step in the process is heat treating the knife. Addison has learned that it is best to wrap the knife in a heavy duty special foil before it is fired.

The knives are fired for approximately one hour at up to 1,500 degrees, depending on the metal. The next essential step is quenching the knife. At the end of the hour, the knife is removed from the oven while it is still hot and placed in motor oil.

The quenching takes the temperature from 1,500 degrees to 400 degrees in less than a minute and “freezes the molecules in place.”

Then the knife is tempered or placed back in the over at 500 degrees for and hour and half and then cooled over night.

Addison called the heat treatment process “the heart and soul of a knife.”

After the knife is cooled overnight, the buffing and sanding process can start again.

Once that is complete, it is time to pick the handle material. Addison orders wood for the handles from all over the country and world. He will also use some animal horn, such as buffalo, at times. If he uses a wood handle he will not stain it but rather leaves the wood natural. Once the handle material is picked, Addison uses a scroll saw to cut the material for the handle and then puts the pens in with epoxy and lets them set over night.

Finally it is time for the final sanding of both the handle and the blade. As he stands in front of the combination sander, he studies the blade carefully before touching it to the moving belt. Sparks fly as the metal makes contact with the belt. He stops to study the progress every few seconds to determine whether or not it is perfect yet.

The last step is his customized stamp that he puts on every knife at the base of the blade. It reads “B. Addison made in Texas.”

Addison has no idea how long it actually takes him to complete each knife. He works for hours each day but has no idea how many.

“The day I start looking at the clock, the day it becomes a job,” he said.

While he typically works with the 1095 carbon steel, he said his favorite thing is Damascus steel. He gets his Damascus from a guy who hand makes it in Alabama. It is made out of four different steels of different hardness that are folded together to make 417 layers. The folding of the steel leaves a beautiful pattern that is different with each piece of steel made. Damascus is much more expensive than the other steel he uses, so while it is his favorite he doesn’t make knives out of it very often.

Addison guesses he has made about 400 knives over the past three years. In the beginning, he said, he gave them all away. He wanted feedback on his design, quality and fuctionability of these “working man” knives. Today he still gives them away and trades them for things. He is a big fan of the bartering system and said he “will trade a knife for a hog hunt any day.”

He sells his knives now as well at Goliad Market Days, which takes place the second Saturday of each month in Goliad. He said he isn’t aiming to make a profit from selling his knives but rather make enough to keep his hobby going.

Addison is enthusiastic about what he does and the excitement can be heard in his voice when he is explaining anything about knives even proper care.

“The biggest tip I can give a knife user is to use a butcher’s sharpening steel,” he said. “It takes 10 seconds to steel a knife.”

Along with sharpening before and after each use, Addison also stressed that “good knives” should not be placed in the dishwasher ever. They need to be hand washed and dried.

When leaving the workshop one has a sense of knowledge and peace. The retired teacher has a great skill and patience in explaining his art.
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