By Melissa Keogh
Want to know how passionate the Barossa’s Barry (Baz) Gardner is about knifemaking? Just look at his hands.
They’re rough, blackened and scarred after 25 years of cutting, grinding, heating and sharpening steel into bespoke kitchen knives that end up in the hands of people around the world.
“They call me asbestos hands because I can hold something really hot that others can’t,” Baz says.
“I’ve had quite a few stitches in my hands, it’s a dangerous process.
“The fact is that knives are sharp, so you have to be careful … the grinders, they’re going a hundred miles an hour and you can slip on them, which I have.
“You can get some serious scars, that’s for sure.”
The New Zealander turned South Australian craftsman runs his own knifemaking business, Gardner Knives from the JamFactory studio at Seppeltsfield.
Before falling in love with knifemaking, Baz pottered between a number of jobs including road construction, blacksmithing and house painting.
But it wasn’t until he went to a gun show in Adelaide when the world of knifemaking had him hooked.
“There was a guy selling guns there, but he also had knives on the table, and I said to him ‘where did you get those knives?’ and he said to me that he made them,” Baz says.
“I said bull****, who makes knives? From that day on I started making knives.
“I went home and found a bit of steel. I had no idea what I was doing, there was no internet around, so I just hammered it all out.
“It was pretty ugly but I’ve still got it.”
Nearly three decades later and Baz has honed his craft, specialising in hand-forged Damascus steel knives that are bought by both Australian and international customers.
People of “all walks of life” have stepped inside his workshop, including Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, during a royal visit to the Barossa in 2016.
Baz also hosts knifemaking workshops and people have flown from as far as the UK to attend them.
“We had a guy who was an end of life doctor fly out from England after reading about us in an in-flight magazine between Singapore and London,” he says.
“He flew over here for four days just to take him out of his head space.”
“We get mothers and daughters and fathers and sons coming together to have that bonding moment or to create something for friends and family.
“We also get police officers, priests, high court judges, brain surgeons, plumbers – all walks of life.
“They just want to do something practical and physical with their hands that takes them out of their everyday work space.”
A basic, drop point hunter knife, often used for camping or outdoor trips, can take Baz only four or five hours to make.
However, his Damascus steel knives “are a bit more involved” and can take more than a day’s work.
Damascus steel is made by bonding multiple layers of iron and steel together, creating flowing patterns on the blade.
“It’s been around since about the year 700. Damascus steel disappeared and then there’s been a resurgence in the last 30–40 years to the point that it’s basically all our business now,” Baz says.
“Anything that’s been hardened once, can be softened and hardened again. I’ve just made a knife out of a 1985 Damascus shotgun barrel.
“A lot of people in the Barossa have old vintage cars, so I’ll make knives for them out of their coil springs … one guy came in last year and brought in his grandfather’s two-man cross cut saw, which would’ve been 90–100 years old.
“Out of that I made five kitchen knives for his five grandchildren.
“You can use all sorts of things … there is that much steel out there that we throw away but we can create works of art out of it.”
Baz and his partner Amanda began selling the knives at the Stirling Markets in the Adelaide Hills and Artisans Market at Greenock.
Baz built up a loyal following and before long was approached by the JamFactory to be the first anchor tenant at the Seppeltsfield site.
Gardner Knives has been a full-time pursuit for the past six years and Baz is currently on the hunt for an apprentice knifemaker.
“The community have always been behind me from day one and the management of JamFactory could not do more for me in ways of encouragement,” he says.
“I love what I do.”
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