Forging a New Path with Alabama Damascus (Part 2)

Check out the second part of this industry spotlight. Alabama Damascus shows us how they paved the way. Be sure to read Part 1 if you missed it!

    James Downs makes use of Alabama Damascus with this piece, which features a sheep-horn handle and random-pattern steel.

James Downs makes use of Alabama Damascus with this piece, which features a sheep-horn handle and random-pattern steel.

 

Once Vice was able to turn a profit, he began to pay rent, per an agreement with the owner. Eventually, the property became his. Vice’s company, Alabama Damascus Steel & Cutlery in the rolling hills and rugged mountains of Jacksonville, Alabama, incorporated nearly a decade ago. Now known as a solid and reputable producer of the Damascus that many custom makers prize, Vice has established himself in a profession he is proud of.

 

“We have made six tons of Damascus since June,” he says. As the sole Damascus provider for Bear & Son, also located in Jacksonville, Vice’s shop churns out Damascus steel used in the company’s line of heavy-use inventory (512-layer Damascus) as well as for limited-edition products in a lighter Damascus. Ken Griffey, owner of Bear & Son, says having a local crafter is a bonus for his operation. “The Damascus business grows every year. If I need some steel, usually he can get it over to me within a few days,” Griffey says. “He has a pretty experienced work crew. They work together really well,” he adds.

 

    James Downs makes use of Alabama Damascus with this piece, which features a sheep-horn handle and random-pattern steel.

Mastodon ivory and Brad Vice’s random-pattern Alabama Damascus dovetail in this eye-catching piece by James Downs

 

Blue Ridge Knives has an agreement with Kershaw to produce Kershaw knives using Brad Vice’s quality Damascus. “The Damascus has been around forever,” says Jeff Woods of Blue Ridge Knives. “The steel that we are getting from Brad looks good and is [available] at a price that anybody can afford. It seems to be holding up well and is selling well,” he says.

 

    James Downs makes use of Alabama Damascus with this piece, which features a sheep-horn handle and random-pattern steel.

James Downs pairs a Warncliffe blade design with Brad Vice’s bird’s-eye Damascus.

Though these relationships are vitally important to Vice’s professional life, he has a soft place in his heart for the custom-makers who use much of his Damascus, turning out unique knives for individuals to collect and enjoy. These makers, many of whom have won top show honors with knives crafted from Brad Vice’s Damascus, need steel with specific qualities. “I think [today’s collector] is looking for the unique piece,” Vice says. “Every piece of steel we make is different. Most [producers] are pressing their patterns into their steel. We put ours in with 38,000-pound air hammers putting out 2,000 pounds [of pressure] per square inch,” Vice continues.

James Downs makes use of Alabama Damascus with this piece, which features a sheep-horn handle and random-pattern steel.

A stabilized spalted-maple handle complements the Alabama Damascus random-pattern steel on this James Downs creation.

Although custom maker Tom McGinnis (www.ozarkknifemakers.com) produces his own Damascus, he uses Brad Vice’s Damascus for all of his knife-making classes and also for wholesale products. “We’re looking for a steel that’s got a pretty pattern that etches real nice and, most of all, hardens and holds a great edge. Not all Damascus steel will allow you to get a true Rockwell point. When we harden Brad’s steel, run it through cryogenics and temper it, we can easily get a 58 Rockwell point. We have great luck with Brad’s steel,” McGinnis says.

    James Downs makes use of Alabama Damascus with this piece, which features a sheep-horn handle and random-pattern steel.

A large gas forge is used to heat several billets at a time.

    James Downs makes use of Alabama Damascus with this piece, which features a sheep-horn handle and random-pattern steel.

The Alabama Damascus Steel building was originally a cotton gin that has, over the years, housed Fain Edwards Knifeworks and the steel-making end of Parker-Edwards and Bear MGC cutlery companies.

“I’ve spent twenty-five years around molten iron. I started playing with the mixtures of steel. Most blend their steel for appearance; I blended mine for durability, holding an edge and ease of sharpening,” Vice says. “I started playing with it and giving it to select knifemakers.” Such creativity worked out for Vice, who is enjoying his second career life. “I’m just really blessed. That’s all I can say.”

 

    James Downs makes use of Alabama Damascus with this piece, which features a sheep-horn handle and random-pattern steel.

Vice, working a large Damascus bar under the power hammer

Knifemakers can learn how to purchase Brad Vice’s quality steel by calling him personally at (256) 282-7988 or by visiting www.slabamafamascus.com.

 

By Laurie C. Battles