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Making Knives

  • By: Douglas G. Goldberg
  • Published: August 26, 2020

I turned 62 a few weeks ago. While it was a bit of bittersweet day for me, I did take the day off work and was able to have lunch with my younger brother David at my favorite Mexican restaurant, the Brewery Bar III in Denver. I’ve been going to the Brewery Bar since I was in college and it’s never been anything less than outstanding. The green chile is the perfect balance between flavor and heat and the chile rellenos are to die for. Truly. I think it’s the only restaurant where I feel good about driving three hours round trip for an hour and a half lunch.

I actually went into the office for a couple of hours and waited until it was time to leave for Denver. I had a fun surprise waiting for me as our great team each had a present and a card waiting on my desk. In addition, a couple of my kids sent me a happy birthday text/email and one even stuck his head in the office to wish me a happy birthday on his way to get his work done. On my way to Denver, another couple of friends called to wish me a happy birthday making my trip short and fun.

The food was fantastic and of course it’s always better when someone else buys! I got home around 3:30 pm and sat down at the computer and tried to work but lost interest fairly quickly and went to take a nap. On my way, a great friend called to chat and to let me know he stopped by the office with a cake, one that we’ve been eating for a few weeks now! Around 6:00 pm or so I wandered out onto my back deck. It was a beautiful evening so I sat and listened to the leaves on the trees ripple and watched the small herd of deer eat anything they could find. I searched the internet for a word that describes the sound of the wind in the trees and the rustling of leaves and guess what? It turns out there is a word for that – psithurism. Who knew? When it started to rain, I went in, grabbed a small bite to eat, watched some TV and went to bed. All in all, a pretty uneventful day.

What wasn’t uneventful was the day before. Greg is my son Grant’s neighbor. He’s former military and currently works  at the Air Force Academy teaching cadets how to make knives! Grant asked if Greg would help all of us make a knife for my birthday surprise and he agreed. Greg has a propane–fueled forge in his garage so along with his expertise, a couple of anvils and a plethora of heavy hammers and a couple of cold beers Greg, my three sons and I set out to make a knife from a railroad spike. Talk about a “guys day!”

I learned a ton from Greg that day. Like all good teachers, he did most of the heavy lifting initially. He welded a long steel rod onto our railroad spikes and taught us the basic physics of heating and hammering metal. Before he turned us loose to make a knife though, we had to make a nail. Yep, a nail. A square, tapered nail with a flat top that folks in the old days used before nails were mass produced. I found it quite interesting that we all started with the exact same size and shape of raw material and ended up with four very different sizes of nails.

Once Greg approved our nails, he pronounced us ready to make a knife. We each shoved our railroad spike into the forge and waited for it to heat up. We had two anvils and four knife-makers so we had to take turns heating our metal and pounding it on the anvil. Good thing. While it looks pretty simple, what you don’t realize for a while is that you are swinging a three pound hammer – for about six hours! You are definitely grateful when you get to put your metal in the forge to heat and the other guy gets to hammer his product. Honestly, lifting my fork at the Brewery Bar the next day was a bit of a challenge.

Ultimately, it took us pretty much all day to make a nail and a “sort of” knife. We had all the right tools, we just didn’t have any experience. I found out a week or so later that in between all of the teaching and welding and such, Greg was actually making his own knife, from Damascus steel not a railroad spike. I also found out that he was making that knife as a birthday gift for me. It is a magnificent knife, perfectly shaped, hardened and sharpened, with a custom handle that fits my hand exactly. A perfect souvenir from a perfect day.

When I was presented with Greg’s gift, and laid it next to my initial effort, I understood that making knives is a whole lot like creating an estate or business plan. Regardless of the raw material, the heat, the hammering, the tempering, or the finishing, ultimately it’s the interest and commitment level of the apprentice, together with the patience and skill of the experienced craftsman that determines the ultimate quality of the finished product.  Go figure.


Douglas G. Goldberg, Esq.