This month's meet the maker subject is Kevin Slattery of Kev’s Forge.
Kev said of knife making, I did a knife making course out of curiosity. I’d been into modifying cars for years and had become predictable in what I wanted for birthdays etc so I surprised my wife with a request to do a course as a present instead of getting car parts. I enjoyed the experience so much that I started to get some gear and have a go at it myself. The rest is history really.
I’m pretty sure that first course was in 2011, so I’ve been making a decent amount of time. Full time making and teaching for around 4 years. In that time I have made too many knives to count.
My preference tends to be with making stick or hidden tang knives. I just find the whole process of making them more enjoyable. It’s the style that I first started making and I guess that might be why.
I make all styles of knives. Hunting and chef/kitchen. I focused mostly on hunting knives for the first few years of making and selling knives and there’s a big part of me that still enjoys making these. Moreso these days there’s a big market in Chef knives and I have been making a higher volume of these lately. I like the japanese style and that influences my work. It’s hard to be original in design these days so I just try and add a little bit of my style into the knife I make at that time.
I’m currently exploring making liner lock folders which is a completely different path for me to take. They’re fiddly compared to the usual knives I make but I’m enjoying it all the same. Watch this space.
If I had to call out a favourite steel it’d be W2. W2 forges nicely and is a great steel for both hunting and kitchen knives. The added bonus to W2 is that you can produce some cool hamons with it. I’ve used W2 a lot, understand the steel, how it moves under the hammer and the heat treat process. I can generally produce a hamon close to what I have pictured although it can be a soul destroying process sometimes. If you’ve used it you’ll know what I mean - if you haven’t yet then you’ll likely find out.
I lean towards Australian hardwoods for my knives because I think we have some of the nicest timbers in the world at our doorstep. There’s a definite bias towards ringed gidgee. That timber never ceases to produce an amazing result. I stabilise my own timber in my workshop which has its advantages.
I find the friendships and opportunities that have come from knife making are the most rewarding thing I’ve had from it. I’ve met people, travelled places and done things I would never have dreamed of through knife making. Of course receiving feedback from customers that love what I have made or taught them to make themselves ranks up the top too. When I teach my classes the most rewarding part is watching people progressively create something they had doubts they could accomplish. Being a part of the experience as a whole is simply awesome.
The biggest goal or challenge I have at the time of writing this is my plan to do my Journeyman Smith knives. It may be this year or not. Life has a tendency to dish out all sorts of speed humps so I will just get to it when it feels right. No point adding extra pressure when it’s not needed.
There’s plenty of makers out there that I like. Some I like for the styles of knives, some for the complexity in what they make and others for their personality (or a mix of all of these together). I’ve made some great friends through knife making, both in Australia and abroad and I guess I tend to navigate towards those people for influence to a degree. I did a course with Bill Burke MS a few years ago and have made a couple of trips to the US since where I have met, hung out with and learnt from some other inspiring makers. The list would be too big to write.
Kev’s three pieces of advice for new makers are as follows;
Take your time when starting out. It’s exciting to finish a knife but make sure you’re not cutting corners to get to the finish line. Learn good habits from the start.
Buy quality tools and products.
Maybe consider a course. Doing a course can kick start your knife making in the right direction. Find a good teacher that has a style you like and go for it.
(If in the Canberra area, check out Kev's Forge for workshops on https://kevsforge.com/classes/ )