Smash it, move it, hammer it, dent it, push it and twist it. These are some of the actions Oma Frank Lee, a retired bladesmith, uses in forging a custom carbon steel knife.
“I learned to make knives from men who worked at the mill,” Lee said. “I mainly make knives, but recently I began making crosses from old railroad spikes.”
The art of forging steel is complicated and is more easily understood by watching the blacksmith first-hand. Tomorrow during Oak Ridge Community Day at Starr Homeplace, Lee will be at the event to show off his craft through demonstration.
“The purpose of Community Day is to bring back old crafts, like blacksmithing, weaving, sewing or making soap,” he said. “Young people have never seen these things. And old people love to show them because it brings back good memories for them.”
Lee said he did not begin his artistic journey until after retirement. Before forging carbon steel knives, he made a living as a bladesmith, creating and selling custom stainless steel knives.
“Stainless steel is completely different than carbon steel. You carve it and send it off to be heat treated. I heat treat all of these,” he said, pointing to a table with a display of carbon steel knives.
Nancy Lee, his wife, said there are not enough hours in the day for him to do all he wants to do with his steel pieces.
“He amazes me because he can take a bar of steel and make something like this,” she said, pointing to a shiny knife with a bocote wood handle and a matching hand-laced leather scabert. “He makes his own knife handles out of exotic woods or hickory. He hand-laced that scabert too.”
Among his designs one will find tomahawks, crosses of all sizes, metal hearts, spoons and other rustic novelties made from old railroad spikes.
Lee said that when it comes to making things out of carbon steel, movement is key.
“Knowing how to move the steel is all it amounts to,” he said of the art of knife-making. “A blacksmith moves steel. Almost any other craft removes steel to make what they want, or weld it.
“A machinist could even make this cross,” he said, holding up a metal cross. “But he would have to start with a solid piece of steel and remove what he doesn't want. I just move the steel where I want it, and I dress it up, sharpen and polish it.”