By RONI TOLDANES
DAVID ANDERS will never forget that first day when, about 10 years ago, he found a copy of a cutlery magazine at a newsstand. Like a kid in a candy store, Anders was thrilled as he leafed through the pages. And by his own admission, from the moment he picked up that publication, he was hooked.
Undoubtedly, that day ignited his desire to produce cutting-edge knives that cannot be duplicated in exact detail by any other knife smith. Trouble was, while Anders already knew how to make ordinary knives, he didn’t have sufficient technical knowledge to create the type of knives he saw in the magazine.
“I was amazed to learn that some people can actually make those kind of knives,” Anders said with emphasis. “I was intrigued with finding out how they were made.”
There was not much reading material on the subject available in those days. Anders, however, learned about the existence of the American Bladesmith Society (ABS) and its courses conducted periodically at the Texarkana College School of Bladesmithing.
He enrolled in one of the courses held in Washington, Arkansas, where James Black, the famed creator of knives for the legendary Jim Bowie, had his forge over a century ago.
On his first day at school, Anders said, students were required to bring out some of the knives they had made before attending the course.
“It was a show and tell, where everybody looks at everybody else’s work,” he said. Anders brought two knives with him, proudly laid them on the table, but quickly took them back after seeing the other knives.
“I was intimidated and quite embarrassed,” he said, “so I decided to keep my knives.”
After that day, Anders said he promised himself that he would someday become a master blade smith.
Like most custom knife makers, Anders was making knives only part-time. He drives a truck for Wal-Mart, leaving home in Arkansas on Sundays and returning on Fridays.
But despite his busy work schedule, Anders continuously searched to satisfy his hunger for knowledge. He sought to learn more about improved steel and tempering techniques.
But it wasn’t until 1992 that Anders became a Journeyman Smith.
In general, ABS guidelines state that the overall quality for a Journeyman rating is in the range of “very good” to “excellent.” Yet, Anders didn’t think his knowledge was enough.
With practice, Anders believed, almost anybody with rudimentary manual skills can produce a knife. But building custom knives is another story. Through the years, David Anders struggled to perfect his craft, building more than 300 custom knives, many of them Bowie knives.
Jim Bowie’s life story has always fascinated Anders. “He’s my hero,” Anders admits. And it was a Bowie knife that gave Anders one of his most important awards, the “Best Bowie Knife” in Las Vegas two years ago. A year earlier, one of his creations was also declared “Best Art Knife” at the Little Rock knife show in Arkansas.
Five years after receiving his Journeyman Smith rating, Anders achieved the highest title for a blade smith. He finally passed what he described as a strenuous test and received his Master rating, formally getting recognition that the quality of his knives range from “excellent” to “superlative.”
His growth has been spurred on by learning from the masters, those who’ve proven themselves by creating works of art using steel as their canvas. And his impressive work has catapulted him to his dream-that of becoming a Master Smith.
Anders is meticulous on picking his materials for building knives. He prefers making Damascus blades for his knives, and as you’re aware, Damascus steel is produced when layers of steel are heated, hammered, folded, heated again, hammered and folded again, perhaps hundreds of times. The process is slow, tedious and often requires great skill and strength on the part of the smith. To compensate for all that work, most good Damascus knives are quite expensive. That is why some knives made by David Anders have been sold for up to $2,500.
Anders Damascus often contains more than 300 layers, and sometimes he uses 13 different bars of steel to produce his blades. While he makes hunters and fighters, besides Bowies, his creations tend to end up as collectors’ items rather than “using” knives.
This 52-year-old master believes his blades can perform the task they were created for, but his wicked designs make it impossible for anyone to think about using his hunters for hunting, or his fighters for fighting. It is true that the shape and uses of knives is limited only by the minds of those producing and using them, but it is also true that art is art, no matter the form.
In an interview, David Anders stammered as he recalled the first day he read a copy of his favorite cutlery magazine. “That day, I told myself that a picture of my knives would someday be published in that magazine,” he said in a soft voice, without any tinge of braggadocio. “That would be the highlight of my life.”
Now, 10 years later, he was being interviewed by the same publication that gave him a different perspective on knife making.
Readers may get in touch with David Anders during the weekends at: 157 Barnes Drive, Center Ridge, AR 72027; (501) 893-2294.