Nevada man learns knifemaking craft

Knife maker Bruce Bingenheimer shows how he polishes the steel of a knife blade using various grits of sand paper  Monday, December 27, 2010 in his shop in Spring Creek, Nevada. (AP Photo/Elko Daily Free Press, Ross Andreson).

Knife maker Bruce Bingenheimer shows how he polishes the steel of a knife blade using various grits of sand paper Monday, December 27, 2010 in his shop in Spring Creek, Nevada. (AP Photo/Elko Daily Free Press, Ross Andreson).

ELKO - An escape from reality is what bladesmith Bruce Bingenheimer finds when he heads out to his workshop to forge and craft custom knives.

"It gives me lots of freedom from this insane world we live in," Bingenheimer said. "This is definitely a passion of mine."

When Bingenheimer, a Spring Creek resident, isn't working at P&H MinePro Services, he is most likely in his shop forging knives, crafting wooden handles and hand-stitching leather sheaths. His business is called M Lazy B Custom Knives.

"Bladesmiths will tell you the soul of a knife starts in a fire," he said. "I say that's true, but I also say the heart of that knife is in the steel and all the rest is mine."

What some may call an obsession, Bingenheimer calls a passion for craft and artistry.

Knifemakers call themselves tool makers and bladesmiths like to be called bladesmiths.

Bingenheimer calls himself a utilitarian knifemaker, which means he makes knives to be used.

They don't have to be used, as he has had various knives purchased by collectors. But they are made to be durable and usable.

Bingenheimer estimates that he has made 35 to 40 knives a year in the five years since he learned the trade.

"I get up sometimes at 2 a.m. and come out here and work," Bingenheimer said. "I'm 55 years old, my kids are raised and I've been married for 37 years. I have all the time in the world."

His goal is to make the perfect knife, which he and hundreds of knifemakers and bladesmiths don't think is achievable. He said he isn't sure what the perfect knife will be, but he will be crafting blades until the day he dies - or until he crafts the perfect knife.

"I always try to make the better knife, continually," he said.

Blade forging is an ancient art, but Bingenheimer said that a few decades ago it was also a dying art.

In the 1970s, four men got together to create the American Bladesmith Society with the sole purpose of maintaining the art and science of the forged knife.

"These were the guys that really started the resurgence of the forged knife because it had almost disappeared," Bingenheimer said.

There are now thousands of members from six continents. Bingenheimer joined society four years ago.

A true test of a good bladesmith is to get a journeyman stamp from the ABS. After being an ABS apprentice for four years, Bingenheimer submitted five of his knives last June to be judged by a panel of seven mastersmiths.

Bingenheimer passed with ease and he got a certificate of achievement and his journeyman stamp.

Bingenheimer also attended an ABS knife show in June in Atlanta, with about 1,000 knifemakers displaying their works. He twice won best bowie knife at 2009 dn 2010 Montana knifemaker show.

Bingenheimer started to get interested in knives five years ago.

At first, he wanted to start collecting knives. However, once he realized the high expense of knife collecting, he decided to take a class on knifemaking in Montana. This is where he was introduced to the forge.

Bingenheimer made two forges to heat up the initial piece of spring steel. One forge runs as high as 1,800 degrees, the other gets up to 2,300 degrees.

Once the knife is heated, Bingenheimer starts hammering the steel on a 102-year-old anvil.

"It looks like a blade when I'm done forging it and timing depends on the size of the blade we're building," he said. "It can take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour to forge one, maybe longer if I'm not happy with it."

Depending on the type of knife, Bingenheimer said he can put in anywhere from 60 to more than 100 hours of hands-on time working on one blade.

One Damascus knife, which uses two different yet fairly similar steels to form one patterned blade will ultimately take him around 150 hours to complete.

Once the initial forging is complete, the knife has to go through a stress relieving process called thermocycling, meaning the blade is heated up, then cooled down three times.

Bingenheimer then heats the blade up a final time and puts it into an annealing bucket, filled with the mineral vermiculite.

The blade is left to cool slowly in the bucket for eight hours.

Following the annealing process, he heats the blade red hot and puts oil on it to quinch the blade, which means putting the hardness back into the steel.

"I made it hard, but I have to temper it back because then it's too hard to work with, it needs to be a workable hardness," Bingenheimer said.

Tempering the blade allows the blade to be flexible enough not to break.

During grinding, Bingenheimer works the blade by hand and dips it in water to keep the blade as cool as possible.

"Making a knife it has to be super strong, especially with a handmade knife," he said. "With a forged knife, you want it very durable."

Bingenheimer said the largest part of his time is spent grinding each side of the knife. For this, he uses different types of sandpaper wrapped around a piece of oak wood.

Once the knife is complete, Bingenheimer constructs his own handle from types of wood.

One facet of the completed knife is to try to make it perfectly balanced in the hand.

Although Bingenheimer does not think he will ever find or make the perfect knife, his balanced knives, he said, might be as close as he can get.

To complete the trifecta of blade, handle and sheath, Bingenheimer will hand stitch leather sheaths to perfectly fit each knife.

"I try to be as self sufficient as I can and the reason is if I didn't make them I would have to send my knives off to have someone make them and find someone that makes a quality enough sheath to go along with your knife," Bingenheimer said.

He said a knife has to fit nicely into the sheath, which are constructed to protect the sharp knife and rigid enough to hold the knife.

Finally, the knife is complete.

"I don't know if I will ever get the perfect knife made, I don't think there is such a thing," Bingenheimer said. "I don't even know what it would be."


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