Knife Making in Barrytown
Barrytown is a small town founded as a gold dredging centre during the 19th century gold rush. Today, it's hanging on with around 200 permanent residents tucked in a small slice of the west coast, nestled between the the Tasman sea and the mighty Paparoa mountain range. While neighbours are spread kilometers apart, it is still a close-knit community where everyone knows and looks after one another.
In this small community is a couple who have been awarded fame which extends well beyond Barrytown and the rest of the West Coast. Thirty years ago, Robyn and Steven Martin chose Barrytown as their home and 15 years ago they started offering workshops for people to make their own knives out of a piece of red hot steel. People from all over the world and all walks of life are now coming to take part in their workshops. As Steven puts it, “most people make their living clacking away on a computer, and there's very few people who get an opportunity to get a chunk of red hot steel and whomp it, it’s enormously satisfying”.
The day of our visit was host to a quintessential West Coast downpour. We pulled off the highway and followed the drive up through a paddock of sodden sheep. The workshop itself has been built into the back of the house and framed by banana plants and palms which wouldn’t be out of place in the tropics.
With the furnace blazing in the centre of the clearing, Steven got us started right away heating lengths of carbon steel. With the steel red hot, we attempted to hammer it into a shape that resembled a blade. Thankfully Steven and Robyn were alongside us to correct our amateur workmanship. Once the steel started resembling the shape of the knife we were hoping to make, it was quenched in water to harden the steel.
With the rough shape of the blade, we were able to secure brass plates and fit strips of timber for the handles. As the rain continued to pour and sizzle in the furnace, we moved on to grinding the blades to remove the scale and further define the shape of the blade. This is the point where people were able to get really creative. Some worked towards simple kitchen or utility knives and others carved out lethal looking daggers.
Taking a break for lunch allowed Steven to take over and shape the handle to make our chunk of steel and wood look a lot more like a knife. The rest of the day was spent refining and polishing the blade before an edge could be added. We wrapped up the day with a drink and a debrief.