As the years roll by and more and more people are seeing Ferrum Forge for the first time, I (Elliot Williamson, CEO and Lead Knife Maker) figured it would be a good time to start a blog detailing where we came from, how we got here, and where we are looking to go in the future.
This isn’t going to be series of written rambles about how great our knives are or how awesome our company is, in fact, it’s going to be quite the opposite. The story of Ferrum Forge is the story of failure, well, failure in the sense of the way experiments fail in the scientific method, but failure nonetheless. To start this story, you have to meet me. Not the sound-bite snippets I write on our website or the overly hairy guy you see in our videos these days, but the me in 2009 who loved knives and wanted to make one.
I was in my senior year at UCSD and taking a class on the Iliad and Odyssey, I actually do have a degree in English, even though it might not seem that way given all the spelling errors and left-out word in my posts and emails. I chose to take this class because I was very well acquainted with both texts and figured this was going to be an easy A for me to round out my undergraduate studies in style. There was just one problem…
I had been looking around the internet on how to make knives and swords because I have always been a blade nut. I was just starting find the “custom knife” industry and it fascinated the hell out of me. I was already considering making a forge and I already had a fantastic piece of railroad track to use as an anvil. So there I was watching blacksmithing videos by guys, whom if you watch Forged in Fire you would know, and learning some basic metallurgy. Halfway through the Iliad and Odyssey class I found a bizarre little simile about the heat treatment of steel… in a book that was supposed to have been written in the bronze age.
It sounds weird to type it, but it was that super book-nerd moment that made Ferrum Forge. I wrote a research paper about that simile and found it was actually a topic of major debate in the academic community and as I stuck my nose deeper into the debate I needed better knowledge of metallurgy, archeometallurgy, and the history of steel in specific. I got some very nice guidance from UCSD’s Archeometallurgy department and before I knew it I knew a history of steel that spanned the entire historical record, not because I actually needed to for the paper, but because it was astounding.
So built that forge and I tried my hand at forging knives. It did not go well, in the beginning. Forging is not for the faint of heart or meager of limb. It take time, patience, and a whole lot of sweat. The knives I made were… rough to say the least, but it was exciting and deeply satisfying at a primal level. Through this whole time period I was going to school, working part-time, and I already had my first child, but I was finding time to make knife-ish objects. I was also devouring books and internet content about knife making. Where did I find the time to do all this? I literally do not sleep much, maybe 7 hours every 48 hours of being awake.
In 2009 I sold 12 knives, all fixed blades, all very rough, some forged, some stock-removal via a disk grinder. I made more than that, but most of them were given away or trashed. I used any steel I could get my hands on; files, leaf springs, and I was starting to buy small plates of steel from Alpha Knife Supply. I would use anything for handles, woods, g10, micarta, corian, paracord, there was even a cork experiment that did not go well. I had a propane forge and my kitchen oven to do heat treat, a drill press I stole from my dad, a disk grinder/flat belt grinder combo my dad gave me, and a dremel. It was not a high-tech operation to say the least. Sand paper, files, and Sharpies were my friends.
I made my first website, which was super basic since I actually wrote the html code myself, but people found me, some of them heard about me from friends and family, but I was getting emails and designing full custom fixed blade by the beginning of 2010.
I’m going to stop here since 2009 was a pretty simple year in my knife making career. I was a pure rookie and trying to figure out how to make basic knives while doing all the other things in my life. It wasn’t until 2010 that things got a little more complex, and by that I mean I sold 13 knives that year! But the knives were much better and that was because I got new toys and I had a year of messing stuff up to know what not to do! In the next post I’ll look at those tools and start talking specifically about how long it took me to make a knife then and how I was doing it.