Carving a future with homemade knives
HEREFORD — A carbon, Damascus steel ingot is glowing red in the forge and after many, many hours will become a unique, beautifully crafted knife under the experienced hands of Jeremy Vineyard, owner of Iron Claw Blades in Hereford.
He carefully begins hammering the red hot chunk, going back and forth from the forge to the anvil as the ingot slowly begins to take the shape of a knife. It can take 150 hours from start to finish.
What is Damascus steel? It’s a highly prized ingot which when heated can be pulled and pressed to produce a knife with unusual mottling of the blade.
“While this steel is known for its sleek look and beautiful aesthetics, Damascus steel is highly valued because it is hard and holds its sharp edges,“ said Vineyard. “Damascus steel, as a blade material, originated in the European and Asian sword smithery.”
As he hammers the ingot, sparks fly and it is hard not to notice his right forearm has more muscle than his left. The left arm is where he tests the sharpness of his blades. Though his wife, Summer, tells him it looks like he has mange, he winks and asks, “How else am I going to test for sharpness?”
It is a long process to go from ingot to knife as layers are added and melded to make the knife strong as well as beautiful. He adds 120 layers to his knives.
It’s already getting toasty in his workshop garage, but he’s used to it. Temperatures inside can reach 145 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer months, so he tends to work later in the day, from 6 p.m. to midnight. He doesn’t create too much noise, so he gets as much hammering and pressing done as possible early on in his workday. Then in the later hours, he does the quieter work on the handles.
And that works out better for his wife and their 3-year-old daughter, Alyah, with whom they want to spend as much precious time as possible. His stepson, 21-year-old Isaiah, works detailing cars.
After traveling around the country, they decided to make a home in Hereford near his uncle, who was born and reared in Tucson.
Alyah is already familiar with the work of her father and enjoys stopping in the shop to work on her “project,” a piece of wood that she hammers and dips in water just like her dad. She may become a knife maker just like him, he says.
Vineyard takes the day shift so Summer can keep up with her dog grooming business in a remodeled school bus in their front yard. She fully supports him in the business. Thanks to her, he was featured on the History Channel program “Forged in Fire,” season 8, episode 33, due to her persistence to give it a shot.
“I have to thank my beautiful wife for pushing me to be a part of it. Wonderful experience,” he said.
He started smithing at age 6 when he crafted his first arrowhead from obsidian, a naturally occurring volcanic glass. At 12, he started to melt down aluminum cans to make knife blades.
“It just progressed from there,” Vineyard said.
He moved on from aluminum to bronze and finally had enough experience to begin work with the expensive Damascus steel.
“I had lots of failures,” he admitted with a smile. “But failure’s a wonderful teacher. Practice makes perfect. And failures are welcome.”
Vineyard finds suppliers of the materials and tools he needed for his business through other knife-making smiths.
He works with a specific supplier who provides exotic woods for the handles. Some are a combination of wood and resin, which create fascinating designs for one-of-a-kind handles to go with his one-of-a-kind knives.
Vineyard started out small with just a $50 press, a $50 belt grinder and a band saw, all from Harbor Freight. He had one small forge and an anvil. Now, his workshop holds a handmade press built by a friend which resembles something from the steam punk era, a Coal Ironworks press, two small forges and a slew of hammers and tools used for metalworking and woodworking. And a very large fan which runs full time during the hot months.
The two presses are needed for the layering process. The steam punk press only works the outer layer of the top and bottom. The other compresses the layers all the way to the center, providing a deep bond.
“I want to see my knives put to the test,” Vineyard explained. “You don’t have to keep them for show, you can use them. I make heirloom quality products guaranteed for life. If something happens, they can send it back to me to be repaired.
“In a world where things are thrown away, I wanted to make something that would last.”
His homemade knives are well made and often his prices are below what other crafters charge. In fact, he gets “yelled at” from time to time by others in the industry for selling his knives too low. He charges $750 for a chopping knife and $350 for a chef knife.
He decided to begin classes to keep young people from staying indoors and on computer screens all day long.
“A lot of kids play Minecraft and they don’t do anything,” Vineyard said. “So, I thought I may as well offer something for them to do in the real world. They come in here and learn how to swing a hammer and work the steel. They see they are capable of doing something real.
“It gets their minds out of the video world and puts that energy into real life applications. I like to see kids use their minds, be outside and make things with their hands. I grew up that way and I want to offer it to them.”
He offers classes that take the student from novice to proficient. All students must sign a nondisclosure agreement to protect his method of smithing.
The first class is $100 to make a knife from a railroad spike. The second, $250 to make a larger knife and learn to craft the handles. The third class takes the students into chef knife mode and added steps to prepare and work the steel for the finished product. Then in the fourth class, they get to try their hands working with Damascus steel.
“They have to go through every class to work on Damascus steel,” Vineyard said. “They need to know what they’re doing, how the steel works to bring out the pattern they want. I want to be sure they have the skills to work it.”
He teaches four people at a time and since he started the classes in January, 120 people have walked into his workshop. It appears he has found a niche not offered anywhere else in Cochise County. His energy and experience is inspiring to his students.
“My Dad instilled in me his work ethic,” Vineyard said. “He taught me nothing is going to be handed to me. You have to go and get it.”
It got him out of the day to day grind of a computer technology career and into something he had wanted to pursue all along. It is apparent he indeed listened to his father and is crafting a lifestyle, as well as incredible knives.
Jeremy Vineyard's knives are sold at Trapper Johns on Fry Boulevard and on his website, www.ironclawblades.com.
He also has a Facebook page, www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100062924036059.
Call him for information at 520-497-7397.
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