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Knife making

Currently viable crafts

 

Knife making

 

The making of knives, such as kitchen knives and bushcraft knives. See the separate entry for folding knife making.

 

Status Currently viable
Historic area of significance Sheffield
Area currently practised There are still larger companies in Sheffield. Individual makers are working across the UK.
Origin in the UK

 

History

The craft of knife making has prehistoric origins and first existed in a form of chipping stones and were used for hunting and survival purposes. Knives’ design evolved into the contemporary shape we know now in the Iron Ages. The only significant difference since then is the improvement in the quality and types of steel and the way it’s manufactured for durability and utility, but the process of blacksmithing and forging remains all the same.

 

Techniques

The techniques of making knives universally consist of blade making and handle making.

The blade is usually made using any or a combination of following processes – stock removal, forging to shape (by forging or blanking), welded lamination, investment cast. The metals used for the blades are usually from the steel family – carbon steel and stainless steels. Different steels have different functionalities and applications and differ in edge retention, corrosion resistance, sharpness and hardness.

Handles are usually made from a range of materials such as wood, brass, plastic or polymer.

Local forms

 

Sub-crafts

Allied craft:

 

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • Legislation: There are various laws applying to the sale of knives
  • Recruitment issues: Difficulty in finding people who want to work in manufacturing as people don’t want to get their hands dirty.

 

Support organisations

 

Craftspeople currently known

 

Other information

Total number of craftspeople: A Wright & Son of Sheffield manufactures knives, folding knives and swords and does hand grinding in-house. They have a workforce of ten people – five older people, and five younger people whom they train from scratch, and everyone does a bit of everything.

 

References

 

Scissor making

The HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts

 

Scissor making

 

The making of scissors and shears by hand, using traditional techniques.

 

Status Critically endangered
Historic area of significance Sheffield, England & Solingen, Germany
Area currently practised Sheffield
Origin in the UK 18th century
Current no. of professionals (main income) 6-10
Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
Current no. of trainees 0 (Ernest Wright have trained 5 people in recent years and they are now all proficient makers)
Current total no. serious amateur makers
Current total no. of leisure makers

 

History

Sheffield has long been a place of metalwork and the production of high-quality, metal tools. A quarter of the city’s population was listed as metal-workers in 1379. Over the centuries, Sheffield developed into a centre of industrial research and metallurgical innovation. Skilled scientists, accompanied by their technicians, fostered an atmosphere of experimentation, leading to the introduction of stainless steel and modern furnaces.

The craft of making scissors and shears by hand was born in this context. By the 19th century there were 60 steel scissor companies in Sheffield. Workshops and outworkers supported each other, with some specialising in different stages of production. Tens of thousands of men worked to craft products that would be shipped throughout the British Empire and beyond. In all corners of the globe, ‘Made in Sheffield’ became synonymous with high-quality, handmade scissors and shears.

However, the rise of cheap, replaceable goods and a shift towards mass production throughout the 1980s, meant that by 1990 there were just two scissor-making companies left. Today, there’s a renewed interest in handcrafted and supreme-quality steel scissors. Thanks to this interest, Sheffield-made scissors are once again on the rise.

 

Techniques

There are various techniques used in the production of handmade scissors and shears. All of them require skill, expertise and years of learning.

After scissors have been forged and hardened, the surface of the metal remains rough. To produce extremely smooth handles, scissor blades go through a process called flexible grinding. Different tools and belts and grinders of varying hardness are used to shape the steel and remove and burrs from the metal. Flexible grinding was once a common and skilled occupation, but now it is only practised by a few.

The blades of a pair of scissors are curved, so they always make contact regardless of the position they’re in. This way, there’s a consistent amount of pressure to ensure an even and straight cut. It takes skill to marry two blades together because handmade blades are never one hundred per cent the same. This is when master putter-togetherers work their magic. It’s a process of a little nudge here and a tweak there, to turn two blades into a pair of scissors.

 

Local forms

n/a

Sub-crafts

n/a

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • Market issues: Globalisation of the cutlery and steel industries has reduced the size of the craft. About 30 years ago there were approximately twenty companies in Sheffield making scissors but they have gradually closed. Nowadays, artisanal producers rely on making a high-end/niche product because the market for volume is saturated with mass producers of lower-quality scissors. Consumers are looking to move away from disposable items and towards products for life, but it can be hard to develop new products and markets. Increased costs for materials, equipment and utilities are putting pressure on scissors-makers’ budgets and pricing strategies. Key materials such as oil, card for packaging, and steel have greatly risen in price. The Covid-19 pandemic had the ‘silver lining’ of driving increased public interest in crafting at home. Enthusiasts have eagerly consumed content about crafts and developed a greater appetite to purchase scissors and shears.
  • Training issues: There is no formal training – all training is done in-house. It takes up to five years for an apprentice to learn scissor making.
  • Recruitment issues: It’s challenging to find new apprentices and people with the right work ethic. The ‘craftsman’ mindset is disappearing and less people want to spend all day making quality goods. Retaining apprentices is difficult and companies lose an investment of time and money if they leave.
  • Business issues: Increasing bureaucracy for small businesses such as insurance, health and safety, pensions, electrical certificates etc., take up the time of the limited number of staff in a small business, which would otherwise be invested in business development. Ernest Wright has seen a drop in European sales, as well as currency problems, resulting from Brexit. The weak pound has driven an increase in the proportion of orders coming from other anglophone countries.
  • Personnel issues: The scissors trade has an ageing workforce. Against the backdrop of Covid-19, this has created staffing challenges for scissors-makers, as the most at-risk employees have sometimes needed to work from home in order to stay safe. Ernest Wright has moved to protect its workers’ wellbeing by implementing an employee health scheme.

 

Support organisations

 

 

Craftspeople currently known

Businesses employing two or more individuals:

  • Ernest Wright – based in Sheffield. The business was founded in 1902, but went into liquidation in 2018 following the death of Nick Wright. All assets including the Ernest Wright and Kutrite brand names, the original machinery, tools and stock have been bought by new investors. The original personnel continue to produce handmade scissors and shears.
  • William Whiteley & Sons – based in Sheffield. Have been in business since 1760. Have a workforce of twelve, four of whom have unique skills. Make scissors for industry and retail and for highly specialised/bespoke uses, and make for their own and other brands.

Individual makers:

 

Other information

 

 

References

Folding knife making

The Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts

 

Folding knife making

 

The making of folding pocket knives. See the separate entry for general knife making.

 

Status Endangered
Historic area of significance Sheffield, Yorkshire
Area currently practised Sheffield, Yorkshire
Origin in the UK Iron Age
Current no. of professionals (main income) 21-50
Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
Current no. of trainees 1-5 trainees at Taylors Eye Witness

1 at Eggington Brothers

Current total no. serious amateur makers
Current total no. of leisure makers

 

History

Folding pocket knives are believed to date back to the Iron Age. The Sheffield cutlery industry is believed to date back to the thirteenth century, although it was not until the mid- to late-seventeenth century that pocket knife making began in Sheffield. At this time pocket knives were known as ‘spring knives’, as they had a spring along the back to hold them open and closed.

Sheffield cutlers developed methods to manufacture pocket knives in reasonable volumes and at affordable prices and with this, they became more widely available. The designs developed over the years such that they were useful for almost every occasion and to perform tasks typical of the era – from fine delicate knives used for cutting fruit or for sharpening quills (pen knives), through to more robust knives used by coachmen and soldiers.

Pocket knives had to be made strongly with a good blade in the best steel available – spearpoint and lambsfoot were the most common blade shapes. They would be made with a multitude of other folding tools for various uses, such as spikes for removing stones form horses hooves, scissors, small saws, corkscrews, leather punches and even railway carriage door keys. Handles were made with materials appropriate for the knife’s use, ranging from metals and wood to more exotic materials like stag horn, mother of pearl and tortoiseshell.

With Britain’s industrial Revolution pocket knife production developed further, and firms like Joseph Rodgers, Neadham Veal &amp, Tyzack (now known as Taylor’s eye witness as well as Harrison Fisher who took over
Taylors Eye Witness but carried on using the EYE witness marks and trading name) and George Wostenholm became significant exporters of the era, opening up new markets in America, Africa, Australia and others.

Military knives for soldiers and sailors were developed in the nineteenth century from the strong and workmanlike knives supplied to coachmen and tradesmen. The knives had strong sheepfoot blades with horn handles, but this was later replaced by plastic materials with a non-slip diamond patterned surface. A tin opener was introduced at the end of the nineteenth century for troops supplied with food in tins – the accompanying tin openers were invariably lost. Hundreds of thousands of these were produced during the wars by companies like Joseph Rodgers, a forgotten part of Sheffield’s war effort, when only army knives could be produced with the available steel.

 

Techniques

A folding knife consists of a blade, spring, two linings, two bolsters, two ‘scales’ for the handles, and wire for riveting the knife together. The blade blanks and springs are cut from sheet steel. They are then marked, drilled, nicked and straightened before being hardened and tempered. The blades are then ground and cleaned, before the knife is assembled. The assembled knife is then ‘knocked up’ using a hammer and an anvil. The knives are then ground and shaped to the required finish, before being given a final polish and sharpen. A detailed description with images can be found here.

 

Local forms

 

Sub-crafts

 

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • Legislation: There are various laws applying to knives, although pocket knives are generally exempt.
  • Recruitment issues: Difficulty in finding people who want to work in manufacturing

 

Support organisations

 

Craftspeople currently known

There are three companies producing folding knives in quantity:

There are also several individuals producing folding pocket knives:

Stan Shaw passed away in 2020 at the age of 94. He was Sheffield’s pre-eminent knife maker and received a British Empire Medal in 2017.

 

Other information

Total number of craftspeople: A. Wright & Son of Sheffield manufactures knives, folding knives and swords and does hand grinding in-house. They have a workforce of ten people – five older people, and five younger people whom they train from scratch, and everyone does a bit of everything.

Taylors eye witness Ltd have a team of 10 people including trainees.  Blade grinding is now carried out on CNC grinding machines and not by hand.

References