Best Arts and Crafts Project Ever

I know I’ve made much a to-do on this blog about blowing my entire extreme sports budget on black water rafting in Waitomo, but I haven’t mentioned that I also had an extreme crafts budget. At least, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

And I blew that particular budget on making my own knife. Yes, there is a place in New Zealand where, for less than the price of an hour’s pampering at one of the spas, you can make your own knife.

It’s called Barrytown Knifemaking, right on the West Coast just north of Greymouth, run by Steven and Robyn and their dogs Nippy and Mini and assorted birds, ducks, sheep, horses and such. If you go to New Zealand, you have got to stop by and spend a day with them making your own knife.

Let me repeat: you get to make your own knife.

The only thing more cool than that in my book would be making your own sword, but, based on how much help Steven had to give me, I should probably stick to knives anyway. For now.

The class for that day was me and six guys, all Kiwis. And I have noticed that New Zealanders tend to be way more athletic and handy than the average American. I don’t know if its genes or lifestyle or something in the water, but I had the impression that any of the guys (even the 12 year old, Angus, who was there with his dad) could have built a house on their own over the course of a weekend and then gone out and mountain biked down a volcano to relax.

Me, uh… hey, I am awesome at assembling Ikea furniture, but operating a belt sander? Ah, not so much.

We started at 9:30 a.m. getting our glasses and gloves and workshirts, plus a safety chat that lasted about two minutes while we waited for the fire to get hot enough. Each of us got a piece of mild steel and took turns heating it to an even light orange and then beating it with an actual hammer on an actual anvil.

How cool is that?

After beating up on it, reheating it and beating it some more (mild steel is pretty soft, but when you heat it in the fire, bits of carbon adhere to it and then you beat them in as you shape it, which strengthens the steel), we had Steven take a look at each one and do some final shaping. He marked the steel with chalk and told us to heat it again and then dip it into a bucket of disturbingly murky goo… a mixture of water and duck poop, the latter contributing nitrates that help the steel harden.

I never thought there would be a use, nevermind such a cool use, for duck poop.

We each then sawed off the steel at the chalk mark (this was one of the few tasks I managed completely on my own, without Steven’s help), sanded the middle third and then attached brass and wood for the handle, which we cut ourselves. All of the guys looked like they had graduated with honors from shop class. Me, hey, it was the first time I ever had a wood cutter thingy in my hands and I’m just glad I ended the day with as many fingers as I had to start. All of the tools I used were new to me, so I didn’t feel too bad that Steven had to help me out pretty much at every step.

There was more drilling, sanding, polishing, hammering, sanding, polishing, sharpening, staining, polishing and rubbing, but by 4 p.m. we had seven pretty damn good-looking (and sharp!), functional knives.

In addition to the actual knifemaking, Steven and Robyn were a hoot, constantly making jokes and offering encouragement. Steven is left-handed, and made a number of cracks about using the proper hand… I was the only leftie in the group and, whether by happenstance or his subtle guidance, my knife handle curves so that it fits perfectly in the “proper” hand… How sinister.

So, anyway, if you are coming to New Zealand, don’t forget to plan an extreme crafts budget … and then blow it all at Barrytown Knifemaking.


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