BLADE Magazine

Forged In Fame

Inspiration And Guidance From Jerry Fisk Has Helped Forged In Fire Champion Ricardo Vilar Continue His Rise To Steel Stardom.

It’s hard enough to make it to top bladesmith status in the USA but even harder if you are from another country. Brazilian bladesmith Ricardo Vilar is one of those who worked hard, persisted like hell, and has been rewarded with both high accolades and fame for his efforts.

Starting with humble beginnings and a love for knives at an early age, Ricardo resides in the USA now and is living the dream.

“Growing up in the countryside of Brazil, for some reason I always loved knives,” he recalls. “At that age as Boy Scouts, we were allowed to use knives—and more, the knife was part of the uniform—so I was able to carry one on my belt. But my family wasn’t wealthy enough for me to be able to buy the knives I wanted, so making my own was a natural progression.

Ricardo’s love for carrying belt knives as a Boy Scout in his youth carries over into his stag hunter in damascus. (Image courtesy of @digitalbladesmith)

“I started with stock removal because 30 years ago in Brazil it was very difficult to find a blacksmith, and impossible to find a bladesmith. They were people considered rare and with ‘magical’ knowledge. I started following other makers who were ahead of my knowledge. But something really interesting I would like to say, at that age at least in Brazil, the sharing of information wasn’t very popular. Also, remember, we had no Internet, so my progress was really slow.”

Inspiration From A Legend

Ricardo knew if he was going to progress at a more rapid pace, he had to go outside Brazil to get help. He did so by reaching out to one of America’s most famous and lauded bladesmiths: Jerry Fisk. He invited Jerry to Brazil, offering to pay his expenses.

“I asked Jerry if he would stay at my home because we had no money to pay for a nice hotel room,” Ricardo states. “He accepted my offer and with his help we were able to set up a better workshop, which was the turning point for my knifemaking in Brazil. We have become great friends ever since.”

Jerry remembers his first visit to Ricardo’s home country and the South American bladesmith’s sacrifice to get him there.

“I met Ricardo in the fall of 2001,” he said. “He and some other makers wanted to get someone to come to Brazil to help them start looking around at what the world was doing in the knife business. Ricardo sold his car to get the funds together to have me flown there.”

This flowing bowie by Ricardo Vilar shows the design influence of his mentor, Jerry Fisk and also Ricardo’s own creative approach to knife construction.

The American and Brazilian immediately bonded.

“I realized right off how good he was as a businessperson,” Jerry said. “And the fact that he had a really good sense of humor started things off with a bang. Though neither of us spoke the other’s language well, we both managed to come up with enough jokes and pranks that it made learning and sharing cultures fun together.

“On the first trip—others followed—we would stay up till 1 to 3 in the morning talking about how the world worked regarding knives. On the first trip I helped Ricardo and other Brazilian bladesmiths form a knifemakers’ group, with the rules being a blend of both The Knifemakers’ Guild and the American Bladesmith Society bylaws mixed in with what would work for them. We worked on forging carbon steel but, more important at the time, we went down to the junkyard, gathered up all kinds of materials, made gas forges and made damascus. We were using vacuum cleaners, hair dryers, anything that would work.”

Jerry’s impact on Ricardo has been immeasurable. “If you pay attention to my designs, it is clear to see Jerry’s influence,” he said. “I like the style and the functionality of his knives and this is what I like to pay attention to when I design a knife.”

Forging In The USA

The next few years Ricardo’s hard work began to pay off. In 2005, he became the first-ever ABS journeyman smith from South America. The same year he began working with the Brazilian Army Jungle War Instruction Center designing and producing knives for the military. “I still have my little company in Brazil which makes knives for law enforcement, firefighters, first responders and the like,” he notes.

In 2017 he was faced with the biggest decision of his life. “I had been visiting Arkansas since 2003, more specifically the Nashville area—yes, there is a Nashville, Arkansas,” he smiled. Such a move would allow him to be closer to Fisk’s home as well as the cutlery action in the United States. The Vilars also were keenly attracted to the Razorback State’s splendid beauty. “When my family and I decided to immigrate to the U.S., we felt like the Arkansas area would be awesome for us to be connected with nature,” Ricardo explains, “so Nashville, Arkansas, was our top option.”

“His success in knives is quite simple, really,” Jerry Fisk says of Ricardo. “Work your butt off doing the best you can do until you get done what the client deserves. Repeat next week, but better.”

Once situated stateside, Ricardo and his knifemaking blossomed, propelling him to new heights. Not only did he start winning awards for his work the world over, he had an opportunity to collaborate with Jerry. The two friends were recruited to produce limited edition knives for the Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation. As the foundation’s press release states, “The Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation was proud to work with Ricardo Vilar in establishing the first-of-its-kind limited edition knife collection. The Foundation chose Mr. Vilar for his outstanding craftsmanship and love of the outdoors. We tasked him with making and testing a blade that not only would meet the demands of use in the field, but could also be displayed in the board/trophy room. With several of the board members owning a custom Vilar knife already, they knew he would make something they would all be proud to own.”

Ricardo also enjoyed the publicity of appearing on, and winning, an episode of the popular Forged in Fire television series in March of last year. “It was an awesome experience and I need to tell you, it is not as easy as you might think,” he relates. “I made a very interesting African weapon called an ikakalaka. I made two instead of one and I had the difficult job of deciding which one I was going to compete with.” Ricardo won the competition with ease and most likely would have done so with either sword.

Fisk shares Ricardo’s secret to making it in the knife world.

“His success in knives is quite simple, really. Work your butt off doing the best you can do until you get done what the client deserves. Repeat next week, but better. Be honest enough that the client knows he can play poker over the telephone with you and get a fair hand. Then after all that, have the sale come in at 10 percent below market price,” Jerry advises. “I have had Ricardo help me set up for the cutting competitions that I work with simply because his knives cut very well. Yes, Renata, his wife, often engraves and does gold inlay, but the knives will also cut well.”

Ricardo’s story is one of hard work, dogged determination, taking chances—and winning.

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