Awww geeze, not another blog!

Welcome to A Fine Blade!

This blog will focus one of my lifelong passions and one of man's most basic tools - the knife!

As time and events permit we'll tiptoe into other territory where we can use the knife as a metaphor in discussions about current events and have a little politically incorrect fun.

Because you see, knives rank just below guns as the most politically incorrect subject on the web today.

Guns & Knives = Bad. Gay Marriage & Recreational Drug Use = Good

We'll see if we can't have some fun with that.

So stay tuned, and welcome aboard!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Knives For An Empire

For most of the 19th and early 20th Century the British knifemakers of Sheffield dominated the cutlery trade. The British steel making industry developed and matured fairly early.  The English were making production lots of blister and crucible steel well before the Bessemer Process was invented in the 1850s, and a robust cutlery industry developed to take advantage of the high quality steel being produced.

It helped that English knifemakers had a ready worldwide market - the British Empire and an eager American market that could not be satisfied (yet) by the fledgling US cutlery industry.

The cutlers of Sheffield produced some of the finest knives ever seen, and their products were always in high demand even after cutlery manufacturing in the US and Germany (Solingen) matured in the late 1800s.  The blade stamp 'Sheffield' was a hallmark of quality as much as it was a mark of origin.

Much of the work was piecework, with the manufacturing steps divided into forging, grinding, assembly, fitting and polishing.  The bladesmiths, grinders and assemblers were skilled tradesmen who often worked as independent contractors to large production houses.  They served up to seven year apprenticeships and were masters of their crafts.

This film shows the steps involved in making a folding blade knife.  I believe it was filmed in Sheffield right after WWII based on some visual clues I noted while watching it.  It is a historical record of a process that, I'm sure, has long since died away - that of the individual cutler producing a product under the old piecework system.  The sound isn't too good but the narration is an important part of the story, so turn it up and listen closely!

Alas, cutlery production died off quickly in Sheffield during WWI.  The reason was frighteningly simple - most of the cutlers, the cream of British knifemaking, were inducted into the hometown army regiments that pulled members from the Sheffield region.  These regiments were fed into the battlefield slaughter at places like The Somme and almost overnight an entire generation of master cutlers was wiped out.  Sheffield never recovered.

Sheffield remained an important cutlery production center, but the loss of trained personnel meant greatly reduced production and Sheffield started to lose its market share.  The American cutlery industry raced to fill the market void and never looked back.

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