A Pair Of Gifted Knifemakers Show Off The Tools They Use To Turn Raw Steel Into Razor-Sharp Works Of Art.
Simply put, Salem Straub makes art and culinary knives of the highest order. He began forging in 2003 when a previous project introduced him to blacksmithing and, like so many knifemakers, once the bug bit there was no turning back.
Twenty years later Salem is at the top of his game and all his work is sole authorship. What’s more, he delighted many knife lovers by competing and winning in the second season of the History Channel’s popular reality show, Forged in Fire.
Salem operates his custom cutlery business under the name Promethean Knives after a passage from noted British writer Zia Haider Rahman: “Is that not the Promethean fable, that the fire stolen from the gods will light men their way even while it burns their hands?”
Salem built his reputation for making fine art folders and fixed blades, including swords, but he added culinary knives out of his passion for cooking, which in turn led to his winning the Best Integral Award at the 2019 Damasteel Chef Invitational. His forging specialty is extremely fine patterned damascus.
Inside Salem Straub’s Shop
Salem leads off his list of top tools with his bandsaw.
“The Marvel Model 81 Hydraulic Vertical Bandsaw is the ideal saw for a dedicated pattern welder,” he begins. “It will easily handle all the normal operations that either a horizontal or vertical bandsaw can, but also affords the additional capability of ripping lengthwise with power feed, miter cuts, compound miter cuts and rips. Everything from the table vise to the saw feed and drive wheel is hydraulically powered, and a flood coolant system is integral to the design.”
His lathe of choice is his Pratt & Whitney Model C Toolroom model.
“It’s a bit larger than might be strictly necessary for knifemaking,” Salem notes, “but affords the ability to create parts for repair of, or modification to, other machines. It’s also very smooth, accurate and convenient for making and threading small knife parts to close tolerances. The P&W ‘C’ lathes are among the truly legendary lathes from the heyday of American machine tool manufacturing.”
His Abrasive Machine Tool Model 3B Surface Grinder features an 8×24-inch capacity automatic table with a magnetic chuck, a 2×72-inch-belt modification by Salem, and a 3-horsepower motor.
“The table feeds are mechanically powered and relatively quiet and very reliable in operation,” he explains. “This machine is MVP in the shop, especially on many damascus production days. The belt modification allows for much faster removal of stock, making billet and tiling work much faster and more precise.
“Another piece of equipment I can’t do without is my Beaudry Champion #9 300-pound power hammer. I bought it from the late Larry Langdon, who gave me quite a deal as it needed lots of work to restore, and some difficult parts had to be made. After I took seven months to overhaul and install it, this hammer has become the cornerstone of my operations in making composite damascus billets and blades. The large flat die surfaces and excellent control make it ideal for forge welding, and it has plenty of power to forge large cross sections efficiently.”
Next up Straub extols the virtues of his rolling mill.
“My 10-horsepower rolling mill with 6×6-inch rollers is probably a tertiary forging machine for most hot shops to have—after a hammer and press—but it’s very handy indeed for cleanly drawing billets to bar stock, welding san-mai, and sizing pattern elements before tiling or four-way welds and the like. It was built to spec by a fab shop for my friend Mike Blue, whom I bought it from. I consider it a very good working design, and for production damascus it’s a huge help.”
Last but not least, Salem mentions his 1960s-era Deckel GK21 Pantograph.
“This is a machine quite unlike the others. Its use is quiet, contemplative, technical, and its mode of use is more artistic than one of brute force. The GK21 is a machine that pretty much defines its class—very smooth to operate and fascinating in its potential. I’ve been learning to use it for a few years and so far I’ve been mostly doing inlays for handle work, but I’m branching out into engraving designs onto handles with it, too. I look forward to decades of finding out new cool ways to use it.”
Andreas Kalani spent 30 years in the corporate world, but once he discovered knifemaking he knew he’d found his calling. Now, nearly 10 years after leaving his former occupation, the Iranian-American is a full-fledged U.S. citizen grinding steel and making the knives of his dreams.
Kalani is an American Bladesmith Society apprentice smith currently working on his journeyman smith designation on the way to his ultimate goal of master smith. The versatile maker builds fixed blades—both mainstream and culinary—and folders.
Among those pieces are some top-shelf art knives. Meanwhile, he also makes a point of offering affordable fare for his customers. He markets his cutlery under the AK Custom Knives label and also instructs budding makers with a separate division called AK University. Needless to say, Andreas keeps himself busy with a full plate of cutlery interests.
Inside Andreas Kalani’s Shop
He leads off his knifemaking go-to equipment with a lightweight wonder.
“One of the most valuable tools in my shop is my Dremel 4000 Rotary Tool,” he reveals. “I use Dremel for engraving, polishing, sanding, cutting and much more. Dremel was my shop’s first official tool before I became a knifemaker. I used to make small and miniature swords and knives for my wire sculpture, and I could grind and shape the blades and handles with my Dremel tool. You can use various tips and bits for multiple uses such as carbide tips for steel and alloys or diamond tips for clay, woods and other materials. The possibilities are endless and you can be super creative with this tool; you can either mount it on the table, make a stand for it, or get an extra pen cable to do much more.”
Next on his list is his Evenheat Kiln.
“It is generally used for the blade heat treatment to have better steel structure and accurate Rockwell hardness,” he states. “However, sometimes I use it for lost-wax processing as well. Before I got the kiln I had to send out all of my blades for professional heat treatment and it was time-consuming and costly, especially when I wanted to work on one custom project. Therefore, I had to get my own. With this kiln in the shop I can now heat treat various steels from high carbon to stainless, and know I have a good grain structure and a suitable heat treatment. An Evenheat kiln is one of the must-have tools for any knifemaker in the shop.”
According to Andreas, finishing tools play multiple roles in his operation.
“They are the most used on every project in my shop,” he observes. “From the finishing stones to G-10 sanding blocks, I use them for various sanding and polishing. Gesswein® EDM Blue Stones are made from premium aluminum oxide. EDM Blue is a more complex formulation of EDM stones specially designed to handle the high-speed back-and-forth motion of a profiler or ultrasonic machines, and are superior for polishing the most challenging scales. The stones are designed for use on hard surfaces at high speed and hold their shape very well.”
For the sanding blocks, Andreas created different G-10 paddles for such various uses as flat, concave or convex sanding.
“I add additional leather or plastic backing to each paddle to have more give on a harder surface when sanding,” he notes. “By combining these tools, I can achieve a beautiful finish on all of my blades.”
The Milwaukee Portable Bandsaw 6232-20 is another must-have machine in his shop.
“It’s precise when you want precision cuts or to create an intricate geometry—for example, when you want to make a guard for a knife, you can outline your guard on whatever [steel/alloy] you use and then quickly cut it to the shape. Afterward, you can go straight to the grinder to shape the final form,” he states. “You can purchase different types and styles of the blade for this machine to have a better cut and precision for other materials. It’s portable and I purchased a stand for it separately, which is made specifically for this machine by SWAG Off Road.”
Another invaluable tool in Kalani’s shop is the 25-gallon Sandblaster cabinet, which helps remove material, clean, and applies the final finish to blades.
“You can achieve different results on other materials using various media types from the walnut shell, glass bead, aluminum oxide, steel bead and so on,” Andreas explains. “There’s a learning curve and trial and error at the beginning. For example, if you want to sandblast titanium and be able to anodize it, you cannot blast it with aluminum oxide or steel media. The pressure will infuse the titanium and prevent it from anodizing. Based on my trial and error I found out that glass beads not only give a good matte surface to titanium but also keep it clean—and I am able to anodize it.”
He calls the 2×72 TW90 Grinder “the mother of all the machines in the shop.” It has a multi-position setup and various speeds, giving him limitless capability for different styles and types of grinding.
“I own at least five other attachments for this machine, including an 8-inch wheel, a 4-inch wheel, a modular switchable small wheel, a surface grinding attachment, plus flat and slack-belt platen,” Andreas observes. “One best modification I applied to it was adding an earth magnet on my work rest to use for different sizes and styles of work. It’s helpful for a different kind of grinding. For example, if you want to grind a sword, you need a more extensive work rest to run your blade over it, and this is super helpful.”
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