Master Smith Ray Kirk stands in front of an air hammer, which
flattens steel. Once flattened, he works working with the
steel using a homemade press and a hammer and anvil to shape
it into a blade. Kirk began making knives in 1989 and is one
of 115 master smiths in the world. (Brittney
Bennett - Cherokee Phoenix)
KEYS, OK When Cherokee Nation citizen Ray Kirk tried
crafting knives as Christmas gifts for his family in 1989, he had
no idea knife making would become his passion.
I first started forging knives because I wanted to make
some Christmas presents and that seemed like the easiest, simplest
thing to do, he said. Just make some knives. I was a
welding instructor at a vo-tech at that time and we went to forging
some, and one of my night class students gave me a book and some
stuff on how to make knives. I liked it and I just kind of kept
More than 27 years later, Kirk owns Raker Knives and Steel and
forges most knives from 52100 round bar steel, a far cry from his
earlier knives forged from car springs. Though the material has
changed, Kirks intent has not.
I love to make knives for working people, he said.
During the years, hes honed his process, beginning with
heating steel to a forging temperature in either his propane or
natural gas forges.
billet, or a length of metal with a square cross-section,
sits next to another billet that has been forged down into
a long, thin blade. Kirk said that bigger blades could have
more than 300 layers of steel, while smaller blades typically
feature 100 to 150 layers. (Brittney Bennett - Cherokee Phoenix)
The propane forge has a blower on it, and that enables
me to have a neutral atmosphere at low heat, and also at very high
heat, he said. As long as you get the volume of gas
and the volume of air mixture correct then you can get a pretty
hot fire. I have a little blower on the front to keep it from blowing
back on me when its running.
Once the steel is ready, he moves it to an air hammer for flattening.
Once flattened, he works it using a homemade press and a hammer
and anvil to shape it into a blade. He then grinds and sands it
to smooth rough edges. After the blade is satisfactory, Kirk stamps
his name into it and heat treats it so a handle can be added. He
uses various handle materials, including Bois darc wood and
antlers from sambar stag and elk.
In addition to his business, Kirk travels knife shows and even
appeared on the History Channel series Forged in Fire,
in which he competed against other bladesmiths in New York City.
He is also a member of knife-making associations, including
the American Bladesmith Society. He said its purpose is to promote
forging as an art and that he joined to further his skills.
They have documentation and a paper trail for your expertise,
he said. In other words, you start off as an apprentice for
two to three years and you pass a test. You become a journeyman
for at least two years and then you pass a harder test and you become
a master smith. I got my master smith in 2005. Theres only
115 in the world.
To put things into greater perspective, Kirk said hes
one of five master smiths from Oklahoma and the only Cherokee master
His tribal roots have also influenced his work, including the
creation of a Trail of Tears knife.
The last time I was in Dahlonega, Georgia, is when I was
picking up some 52100 round bar at the ball bearing factory there,
he said. One of the guys said, One of the Trail of Tears
started here. I thought, yeah I knew that, but I never put
it together. And then on the way home I decided to make a knife
that would be representative of the Trail of Tears.
The blade and handle form of a teardrop, and Kirk stamped it
with teardrops that fall from the knifes point. The
story of a knife sometimes is important or more important than its
abilities to perform its duties as a cutting tool, he said.
Cherokee Phoenix and Master Smith Ray Kirk, owner of Raker
Knives and Steel, are partnering to give away a unique knife
on April 1. The knife is Damascus, featuring steel from Dahlonega,
Georgia, and is finished with a sambar stag antler for the
handle. (courtesy photo)
The bar from Dahlonega is also in a Damascus knife Kirk made
for a Cherokee Phoenix giveaway. Entries can be obtained by donating
to the Cherokee Phoenix elder fund or buying a subscription or merchandise.
One entry is given for every $10 spent. A winner will be announced
April 1. For more information, call Samantha Cochran at 918-207-3825
or Justin Smith at 918-207-4975 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information on Raker Knives and Steel, visit, www.rakerknives.com,
or call 918-207-8076.