Knifemaker Ben Seward has an eight-month backlog… and he’s only an apprentice. Without doubt, this 21-year-old is already one to watch.
Like many knifemakers, Ben started as a teenager. He describes these first attempts as “very primitive.” In 2010, he attended the Arkansas Custom Knife show in Little Rock. There, he met Journeyman (at the time) Smith Kyle Royer (Kyle is now a Master Smith). Seeing Kyle’s work inspired Ben, who says of the meeting, “I now knew what a knife was supposed to look like.”
FINDING A MENTOR
Ben had a busy year in 2011. He met Master Smith Lin Rhea at the Arkansas Bladesmiths Show. Lin became Ben’s mentor and Ben spent the next year learning how to forge the knives he wanted to make. That same year, he joined the Arkansas Knifemakers Association and the American Bladesmith Society. He also took the Introduction to Bladesmithing course at the W.F. Moran School of Bladesmithing. He was also able to spend time learning his craft with Master Smiths John White, Kyle Royer and Jerry Fisk; some of the very best knifemakers the ABS has to offer.
Two years after attending his first custom knife show, Ben was now a table holder showing off what he learned in 2011.
Ben forges a variety of steels, but he prefers W-2 and 1075 for the hamon (temper line) and 5160 for its toughness. As of this writing, he’s focused on building fixed blades. Ben builds Bowies, fighters and camp knives, as well as the occasional small fighter and hunter.
Ben tests his knives in a variety of ways. He uses antler and oak for chopping, expecting no edge distortion or chipping. Next up is a 3/8-inch piece of manila rope that he cuts 200 times and expects the blade to still be shaving sharp. This test shows both edge toughness and abrasion resistance. For handles, he prefers desert ironwood and African blackwood primarily for their stability. Each knife comes with a custom-made leather sheath by his father, David Seward. The father-son knifemaker team worked well in the construction business so teaming up again seemed natural.
CUTTING COMPETITION COMPETITOR
Continuing his education, Ben started participating in cutting competitions. While he’s quick to admit that he’s not the best cutter, these competitions have given him considerable insight into what makes a good handle design as well as provided a keen understanding of edge geometry. His hard work is paying off. Ben won the “Best Camp Knife” award at the 2013 Arkansas Custom Knife Show. Given the competition in the room this was no easy feat.
Ben is planning on testing for his Journeyman Smith stamp at the 2013 Blade Show, and although not yet a Journeyman, he’s already considering changing his status from part-time to full-time knifemaker.
One of the many things I like about Ben’s work would be his price point. Hunters start at $200 and Bowies begin at $400. David’s sheaths range from $50 to $150 depending on the size and embellishment. Currently his delivery time is eight to 10 months, but this will be less if he does go full-time.
I spent time talking with Ben at the 2013 Arkansas show and took the opportunity to handle his knives. They did not disappoint. His Equinox fighter was light and quick in the hand. The double edge, curved guard and highly ergonomic handle would give the user immediate confidence for the task at hand. In addition to the fantastic craftsmanship, Ben’s camp knife was well balanced with the weight slightly forward, and the handle design made this a knife that could be used all day without fatigue.
Given the quality of Ben’s work it will not take long for the “word” to get out in the custom knife community. I would suggest you visit one of two shows he will attend, either the Arkansas Show or the Blade Show, and handle his knives for yourself. If this is not an option, I would highly recommend you talk with Ben and get a knife on order now.
Ben Seward can be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at (501) 416-1543.
Story by Les Robertson, photo by Chuck Ward