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On the Knife's Edge

Matt Waters Takes Bladesmithing to New Level

Matt Waters laughs when he describes how he got his start in bladesmithing as a teenager a dozen years ago. He watched “Lord of the Rings,” fell in love with the swords and asked his parents if he could build a forge in their backyard. They said yes.

“It was awesome,” he said. “The very first thing I did was dig a hole in our backyard.”

Then he installed fire bricks, bought some charcoal and used his sister’s hairdryer as a bellows. It was primitive, but it worked. And turns out, his passion for knives wasn’t a passing whim.

Kilroy’s Workshop

In 2018, the Colorado Springs native landed a teaching job at Kilroy’s Workshop, a 5,000-square-foot facility that offers blacksmithing, bladesmithing, metalworking and welding classes.

“It all started going really quick after that,” he said.

In December of that year, he competed on the History Channel’s popular show “Forged in Fire,” crafting a recurve blade. Although he didn’t win, the appearance bolstered his reputation. He taught scads of students and forged scores of knives. About a year ago, he made the difficult decision to give up his teaching job at Kilroy’s.

“I was ready to move on and do my own thing,” he said. “It really opened my eyes to the opportunities.”

He still uses Kilroy’s as his workshop. 

Fire + Steel

Waters has crafted hundreds of knives. His clients’ favorite is Damascus steel. Here’s his process:

  • Get bars of two types of high-carbon steel – some with nickel; others without.  
  • Stack them 20-25 high in alternating layers. Heat to 2200 degrees.
  • Apply pressure until those pieces meld into one. Pull, stretch and twist to manipulate the pattern – a process similar to winding two colors of playdough.
  • Grind the blade.
  • Submerge in ferric chloride to etch. The steel with nickel resists the acid; the steel without does not, allowing the pattern to emerge.

“It’s always the coolest moment of the project,” he said.

Building a Brand

Waters recently shifted his focus to building his own brand – specifically kitchen knives. They’re useful. They’re practical. And in the case of Waters’ knives, they’re beautiful.

“It really adds something to the kitchen cutlery world,” he said. Most Americans will buy several cutlery blocks over their lifetimes. Waters said he’s working to make knives less disposable. “It’ll be the last knife you’ll ever need to buy,” he said. “You could pass it down. It could be an heirloom for your family.” 

If you’re not into cooking, he still plans to create one “art piece” knife every month – a hunting knife or other “crazy cool project.” Something he’s been dreaming about like the piece he’s working on right now with 400 layers on the edge bar and 30 layers on the body.

“There’s never going to be another one like it,” he said.

Facebook + Instagram: @mattmakesknives
Kilroy’s Workshop: