Editor’s note: This article originally ran in the May/June 1991 issue of BLADE magazine. With the death of President George H.W. Bush on Nov. 30, 2018, it seemed appropriate to look back at an impressive custom knife presented to the 41st president in the early ’90s.
by Nathan Burdette
Daryl Meier wasn’t in the best of moods on a gloomy January day. His knife forge/shop had recently been burglarized and his son was about to begin Army boot camp at the outset of Operation Desert Storm.
“Maybe this interview will cheer me up,” one of the standard bearers of pattern-welded (or damascus) steel sighed. “Nothing else has gone well lately.”
He had to be kidding. Barely a month before he’d presented his revolutionary American Flag blade, a blade with American flags on it so true to the original that each will stand up to microscopic inspection, to President George Bush at the White House.
But then Meier is not your typical 9-to-5 working stiff. A case in point: He said the more meaningful part of the White House trip wasn’t so much meeting the president as was the two-hour plane trip sitting next to and conversing with Illinois Gov. Jim Thompson, who had arranged the knife presentation after seeing Meier’s work featured in a local newspaper.
The fact that Meier rejects the American dream of two cars in every garage and a boat in every driveway is not news to those who follow the knife scene. He’ll be the first to tell you that his mother raised him to be independent, and that independence is reflected in a lifestyle lacking in creature comforts. He resides in a log house of his own construction and makes a living selling his pattern-welded steel to knifemakers and manufacturers. He also teaches workshops and gives symposiums on the fine art of pattern welding. “I teach workshops from time to time, but I don’t do it for the money, though even that doesn’t amount to much,” he notes.
Instead of acquiring money, Meier is more interested in amassing knowledge, specifically, knowledge of how the ancients made pattern-welded steel and how he can improve on their time-tested methods. He traces the earliest pattern welds to as early as the 4th or 5th centuries B.C., and by the 4th or 5th centuries A.D. he says blacksmiths were able to control the patterns in the steel to a certain degree.
Meier says letters or words first began to appear on pattern welds between the 5th and 8th centuries, though the letters or words were forge welded on the surface of the finished blades. It wasn’t until the 18th century when a French smith named Coluet devised a method to make the word “Liberty” appear on a sword blade that letters or words were forged throughout the steel rather that on it, Meier notes. Between 1875-1925, he continues, gunsmiths refined the technique of words in the steel of pattern comforts. welded gun barrels.
Able to figure out how to forge words into the steel simply by looking at pictures of such works, Meier forged his name in a blade in 1978. But it wasn’t until the American Flag blade that he was sufficiently inspired to make what he calls “to date the most intricate thing done” in the genre.
“The tolerances (in the American Flag blade) are much tighter than in my name blade,” he begins. “The flag (there are actually 13 flags in all on the blade) that appears on the blade has 50 stars in it, each of which has five points, and which are arranged in five rows of six and four rows of five stars like on the standard flag.”
Talking about the work that went into the American Flag blade got Meier started and he wasn’t about to stop.
“I sweated blood to make that blade right. I could’ve made something that looked suggestive of what I made but then it all has to do with the philosophy of how you do a thing. That’s what’s prevalent in our society. We’re too cost conscious and few of us are willing to pay the full price for a good product,” he exclaims. “You’ve either got to say, ‘I’m going to make something I’m proud of or you’ve got to get out of the business.”
With that kind of attitude, let’s hope Daryl Meier stays in the blademaking business for a long time.