Thursday, 20 September 2012

Swords and Knives - Cover Art

I have the privilege to have a friend that owns, designs and manufactures swords and knives that grace the covers of some of my books and short stories (and hopefully more to come). This is an interview that he kindly consented to - after some persuasion on my part ;-)

Hi Dennis, thank you for letting me tap your brains on knife and sword making.

Linzé: What kinds of knives and swords do you design and manufacture? Any particular reason why?

Dennis: Knives: I like to design and manufacture folding knives and fixed blades leaning towards classical designs. I use antique knife designs of European and Mediterranean origin as inspiration for my designs. I am fascinated by history; especially ancient civilizations. Nevertheless, I also do designs conforming to more hunting knife requirements; but without compromising that old-world look. I prefer to work in Damascus steel; not only because of the ancient origins of this steel, but also because of its pure beauty.

Swords: I prefer to design and manufacture swords that can be considered historically accurate. I am especially fascinated by European, Ancient Grecian and Roman swords designs. Some of my swords are interpretations or amalgamations of various design aspects in ancient swords that fascinate me. I am for instance quite drawn to short leave-shaped blade designs. So whether it be a hoplite, gladius, broadsword or something suited to ‘Lord of the Rings’, I am sure I must have held and handled all of them in previous lives.

Linzé: I have noticed that they are particularly sharp, so they are real blades, not only for decoration?

Dennis: All my blades are made to use, whether it be for hunting, food preparation or war. There is no sense in making a blade only for decorative purposes.

Linzé: Please tell me about the skills you need to make knives and swords. Did you need special training to learn these skills?

Dennis: I didn’t and there are certainly knife makers more experienced than I am. I have been making knives and tools since an early age. I am essentially self taught.

Linzé: Would you consider it to be an art? Why?

Dennis: Any skill able to transform materials in raw form into something of beauty can be considered art. Knife and sword making therefore can be nothing else but art.

Linzé: Do you need complex or special tools for the manufacturing of the blades?

Dennis: It depends on the methods that you use. There are essentially two methods of knife making: stock removal or forging. I prefer the last mentioned. A small amount of stock removal is still required. The basic tools required are a forge to heat the steel, steel tongs to handle the hot steel billets, a large anvil, some hammers and basic forging tools, belt sander, sandpaper, files and polishing buff.

Linzé: You use Damascus steel for your blades. Why this kind of steel?

Dennis: Damascus steel is ancient. Damascus steel has character and unique beauty. Each Damascus steel knife and sword is unique; fingerprinted through a forging process that cannot ultimately control the material flow. Damascus steel exemplifies the pinnacle of ancient metallurgy. Damascus steel was rare in ancient times and remains rare today. I am enthralled by it, and so are my customers.
Linzé: I have noticed that the handles of the blades are also made of different materials. How do you decide which material is best for the type of blade?

Dennis: Blades: Swords able to withstand the rigours of battle must be made in carbon or Damascus steel. I use both. Stainless steel is not ideal for this application.

Handles: I prefer to use natural materials with character: bone, hardwoods, horn…..I like brass, red copper and again, Damascus steel.

Linzé: You have also made rings from this steel. Is it a difficult material to make jewellery with? How do you deal with the problem that this is not a precious metal and could corrode when in constant contact with skin and the environment? (Note from Linzé: the rings can be seen on the cover of HUNGER)

Dennis: The steel (in annealed form) can only be worked on lathe. The pattern is brought forth via etching with diluted Ferric Chloride.

Some people have oilier skins that preclude rusting from taking place. My own Damascus ring has been worn constantly for two years without rust damage. Generally a smear of Vaseline also helps. It is a lifestyle decision and I prefer the beauty of the basic beauty of Damascus over that of gold or platinum. It is not made to last forever; but neither are we.

Linzé: If someone would like to order a knife or sword, how can they can do that?

Dennis: They can contact me via my website. I don’t make any custom knives. I make what I want and sell these. My business has grown so much, that I subcontract work to other knife makers on many of my more popular designs.

Thank you, Dennis, for the information and allowing Francois Venter to take the photographs of the blades. PS: I love my Damascus ring, too!