Blacksmithing is notably one of the manliest trades still around. I happened across Steve Watkins in a local magazine, QC Exclusive, and was excited to hear that a skilled bladesmith was so nearby. I contacted Steve to see if I and a few others could come by his shop and see how things are done. He graciously agreed and took the time to show us the in’s and out’s of his work. He was also willing to provide some insight into his unique trade for this article. See more on Steve and Ironman Forge at the bottom of the article.
- Captains of Industry articles focus on men with manly and interesting trades. They may or may not be wealthy, but they have had success, often going against the grain and choosing a unique path in life, and offer much to be learned. Read more here. -
What compelled you to start working for yourself?
I’ve been self-employed since I was 19. I’m not opposed to working for someone else…I just gravitate to the things I’m interested in. In other words, some people look an an activity as a hobby. I look and think, how can I make money at that?
How did you get started in the bladesmithing trade?
I was a Farrier/Blacksmith in my 20’s. I never really like shoeing horses but I did like creating ornamental iron work. Those years taught me how to use a hammer and move steel. Fast forward 20 years, I had retired from horse training and was looking for a new challenge. I thought “I still have my tools and the interest” so a quick google search found the Bladesmithing school at Haywood Community College in western NC. The school is run by the top bladesmiths in the country. I took the 2 week (8hr a day) course and have been working ever since.
Your knives are truly amazing! What is the draw to knives for you?
I started looking at knives with my dad. In the 1970-80’s…pre ebay! We would go to gun and knife shows. I loved the feel of polished steel and wood. My dad and his friends were hunters and they revered the men who made their weapons. To this day nothing sounds better than thumbing the hammer back on a revolver, or feels better than the handle of a well made knife!
How do you come up with your designs?
Basically I sketch out what I think I would like to make then I make a pattern and create the knife. Once it’s roughed out, I grind away anything that I don’t want and what’s left is my knife. For me it’s an artistic endeavor; the steel is my clay and my hammer is my hands.
On a scale of 1-10, 10 being a master, where do you feel you are skill wise?
Wow! That's impossible to answer. My skill level is “X” and 20 years from now it will be much greater. I don’t think there will ever be an end to learning.
What does it take to become a master?
What does a typical day look like for you?
Wake up, 2 big cups of coffee, then walk out the back door and start working. The work depends on what phase of making I’m in. I try to mix the days up a little so that I don’t get mentally fried (doing too much of the same thing). Most days are spent grinding blades or finishing handles. A typical day is 3 hours of work, an hour off for lunch, then 3 more. I’m on my feet all the time so after about 6 hours I’m done. I’ve learned that most of my mistakes happen when I’m tired.
What is the best thing about what you do?
I do what I want, how I want, when I want. When I’m done and deliver the knife, it’s all mine. Made from my hands.
What is the worst or hardest thing about what you do?
Not knowing…where my next order is coming from, what’s the best way to market my self (no hand book), and as all the credit goes to me so does all the stress.
Thinking of all of the aspects of your trade, what does it mean to you as a man?
I don’t typically think in those terms, to me it’s about self fulfillment. I try to live my life without regret. I never want to look back and say I wish I would have done “fill in the blank”. I guess, as a man, I feel compelled to produce and be responsible. My parents put expectations on me, not that they had a particular standard, more than they expected me to be productive and hard working. I think that’s missing today. I learned early that no one is going to give me anything. It’s up to me to earn it, create it.
Is there any advice, quotes, etc., you would give to other men that has helped you in life?
Steve specializes in cutlery for the professional chef but ventures into many other areas as well such as hunting, bowies, and filets. If you are looking for a one of a kind knife, reach out to Steve and find out more about him with the information below.
Video from Our State: http://www.ourstate.com/videos/a-blacksmith-in-action/
Article from QC Exclusive: http://charlotteexclusive.com/2013/homes/ironman-steve-watkins-crafts-world-class-chefs-knives/