Blacksmith Ryan is a cut above
The hole in Ryan Flood's leg? A little accident with a blowtorch as he developed his line of handmade custom chef's knives. Most people would have then called it quits.
Not Mr Flood. The 28-year-old shrugged the mishap off as no worse than “a really bad Charlie horse”.
“I was trying to heat up the handle to get the pin in there. It should have just widened the hole a little bit but it was an old torch — it just caught fire and exploded. I have a hole now, so I can fit more stuff in my pocket,” he laughed.
“I was lucky. It shot off and hit me in the leg. If not, I might have blown my hand off.”
He has been making knives for almost three years and started selling them in January.
He got interested through martial arts. Mr Flood started practising ninjutsu and Muay Thai at the age of 12. He has travelled as far as Japan and Thailand for his craft, training with one of the last grandmasters in the world in the Nikko mountains.
“The two countries are polar opposites. Japan is very traditional and Thailand is very relaxed,” he said. “[In] Thailand, I just wanted a vacation. So I thought I'd go over there and do the art where it originates from. I had a blast.”
He was in the country for a month in 2005, stopping in Bangkok before heading south to the country's boxing capital, the island of Koh Phangan.
It was while there he started researching artistic weaponry on the internet, and came across a “how to” video on knives. His first creation was a Filipino fighting knife.
“I never thought that I could possibly do it; getting the temperature up so high,” he said. “I saw that the guy was using the same barbecue charcoal that I use, so I tried it out and — successful!”
The blacksmith is entirely self-taught. Each job typically takes him two weeks to complete.
His cedar-handled designs cost about $200. He will work with other materials, such as buffalo horn and acrylic, to create something unique.
Explaining the appeal, he said: “A cheap, commercially manufactured knife from China is not exactly made with quality in mind.
“For the most part, the handles are hollow to save on material and if it's not sealed, water will get up in it causing rust and bacteria.”
His knives all start out with a plate of steel.
“I've done tons of research. That's how I came across the Damascus steel, which is the patterned steel,” he said.
“When they forge-weld it, they take stacks of different metals and layer them, banging it out into one piece, forge-welding it all together.
“They'll fold it over a few times and that's when you get the tight pattern.
“It just goes really nice with the cedar. I get the basic shape down, profile the blade and then taper down until I reach the actual edge, which is on a steeper angle.
“Once you get the whole thing profiled, you work on a handle, but before attaching it you've got to heat treat the knife. That's when you have to put it into a forge heated up to about 1,800F.”
That is when things get dangerous.
“The first one I made I actually took a fire pit, attached some pipe fittings to the bottom and took a hairdryer,” Mr Flood said.
“Forcing the air up under it actually creates that much more heat. Regular charcoal burns about 500F and the air being forced up underneath bellows and reaches almost 2,000F.”
Mr Flood works part-time in building maintenance, focusing on knives and woodworking when he knocks off.
“It's kind of something I've always been into. That's pretty much all I was good at in school,” the former Saltus Grammar School student said.
“It's a niche market. I'm trying to get a product base of different things — a combination of the wood and metal working as well.”
For a better effect, he can “blue” certain steels.
“With the Damascus, the steel turns blue and the nickel in it turns gold. It's pretty nice.”
He offers a few different styles: a 10-inch, 12in, 15in, a larger, slicing knife and custom chopping boards that showcase his wood-burning skills.
While he typically makes chef's knives, he has had requests for smaller, work knives.
“I stay away from giving people weapons,” he adds.
“I've just started etching into the steel for logos. It was unbelievably easy once I figured out how to do it.”
The “how” is a trade secret that he is unwilling to divulge. He has not yet benefited from putting the knife into action — they sell as soon as they are done.
“I actually don't own one,” he admits. “Maybe one day.”
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