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A cut above the rest

MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE, Mont. (AFPN) -- Master Sgt. Ed Caffrey, superintendent of a heavy equipment section of the 219th Red Horse squadron here, has forged a new identity for himself.

He is one of only 92 master bladesmiths in the world.

Although he has always been interested in making knives, he did not take it up until after a visit to a friend's house in 1985.

"I was always interested in knife-making, but didn't get started until I went to a friend's house and saw a knife he had made," Caffrey said at his forge on the banks of the Missouri River. "After that, I asked him to pass the art to me."

He also sought knowledge about the ancient craft from other masters through the years, but found he had to make his own mistakes.

"I learned mostly from trial and error," he said. "Experienced knife-makers told me methods that worked for them. I had to learn what worked for me. Knife-making is an evolving art, it's always changing."

When Caffrey began actively forging blades and joined the American Bladesmith Society, he was classified as an apprentice. To earn the rank of journeyman, he had to pass a series of tests.

The tests required the apprentice to cut a 1-inch free hanging rope with one swipe, chop two 2-by-4s in half, and shave hair from someone's arm all with the same blade. The blade then had to be put in a vise and bent 90 degrees without breaking. Finally, five knives had to be submitted to a board of master smiths at the Annual Blade Show and International Cutlery Fair where they were inspected for quality workmanship. Only after passing these tests can an apprentice be named a journeyman.

According to Caffrey, achieving master bladesmith status requires the same tests as a journeyman, but with a blade made out of at least 300-layer Damascus steel. Damascus is layers of hard and soft steel welded together and etched with acid. The acid attacks the hard and soft steels at different rates, creating a pattern that looks like a ripple of water.

"The art of Damascus steel was thought to be a lost art until it was unveiled at a conference in the early 1970s," Caffrey said. "It has since gained popularity."

Caffrey enjoys personalizing the blades by etching intricate pictures and designs in them.

He makes about fifty blades a year working part time and hopes to eventually create knives full time, joining a select group of 3,000 worldwide.

Caffrey's custom blades have become items of high demand in his local area. As a result, he has donated several knives for retirements and raffles. One of his knives raised $3,000 at a raffle.

"Bladesmithing has become a part of me," the 21-year Air Force veteran said. "Knife-making companies make knives to make money, but I make them because I want to make quality knives that people will be able to hand down to their grandchildren." (Courtesy of Air Force Space Command News Service)

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