In a recent post, you read all about this talented West Coast blacksmith. Hear more of his stories and take a closer look at some of the products in high demand.
These days, in addition to shoeing horses, an almost equal amount of time and effort is devoted to the creation of custom cutlery. This began during Red St. Cyr’s farrier apprenticeship when a farmer asked him whether he could make a useable knife from a worn-down horseshoeing rasp. 50 years later, he’s still making knives.
“In the beginning,” he states, “I was looking for a good utility knife for my work with horses, but couldn’t find what I really wanted. I finally decided to make my own. That was in 1960.” In the years since, he has turned out more than 1,000 knives. “But I’d made at least a hundred of them before I finally sold one,” the craftsman is quick to admit.
Today, St. Cyr concentrates on fixed-blade knives in all of the likely configurations, but is quick to state: “I favor custom knife orders where I can hand-forge the blade to the size and style the customer wants. At the other extreme, I recognized the need for good utility knives and enjoy turning them out because I know each one will probably make a problem a little easier for the knife’s owner.”
In spite of his knowledge of blacksmithing, St. Cyr recognized that he needed some help in getting started. The man who helped him most, he contends, was the late Al Barton, another farrier who then worked out of San Diego.
Covering adjoining territories in shoeing horses, it was only natural that the two would meet, compare careers, and learn of each other’s interest in creating cutlery. St. Cyr also credits “a lot of other members of the American Bladesmith Society for helping me progress.” The result was that he worked his way through the Apprentice and Journeyman ranks and was qualified and established as a Master Bladesmith in 2000.
St. Cyr buys his knife steels from Admiral Steels and Crucible Steel, using primarily 52100, 184, 15N20, 5160 and 01. Needless to say, perhaps, is the fact that he creates all of is own Damascus stock. Of the various steels available, he has found that “5160 is the most forgiving, while the toughest to work is 52100. It needs to be worked carefully.”
Of the various fixed-blade styles he makes, St. Cyr states that his Damascus Bowie knife made from his own Damascus is his most popular. As for handle materials, he favors ivory, stag and exotic woods, but not necessarily in that order. “If it’s a custom order I’m making, I use whatever handle material the customer orders, but if I’m attempting to come up with something that pleases myself, I may ponder the handle material for a time before I decide what would look best for the design involved.” When the knife is finished, St. Cyr inevitably allows his customer to enrich the blade with engraving, filework, engraving or other types of embellishments. The result is a one-of-a-kind knife that is unlike any other in the world.
As for marketing his products, the artisan has been at it long enough that private collectors purchase much of his output. On the other hand, he attends most of the nation’s major knife shows, thus getting to know newer collectors and users, hopefully making them customers.
As for equipment, the Reva Forge seems to have at least two or more of the necessary tools that are necessary for bladesmithing. As an example, St. Cyer has three Burr King grinders as well as three Baldor disc grinders purchased through Tru Grit, plus a Leeson Speed Master grinder that is of variable speed and is reversible. Saws for wood and metal are from Walker Turner, a company no longer in business, and the propane forge installed in the truck is from Forgemaster. His heat-treating is done with a unit from Paragon, and there is also an Enco lathe that simplifies many tasks. For welding tasks, he has two Lincoln welders—one for a 220 stick, the other wire-fed. St. Cyr’s comments, “Sooner or later, I use it all.”
By C. Jack Lewis
Photos by Stephanie Gonsalves and Red St. Cyr