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Hamptons Life

Dec 5, 2017 9:53 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Dereyk Patterson Practices Bladesmithing In East Hampton

Dec 5, 2017 11:24 AM

Fine woodworker Dereyk Patterson has been crafting custom cabinets and furniture for 25 years. “This business is brutal,” he said of the tight schedules, deadlines, and last-minute change orders hoisted upon him by owners and architects.“I decided I needed a hobby,” he said. “I wanted to make knives.”

True to his perfectionist form, the woodworker turned to steel. Damascus steel to be exact. The very best for making knives.

Although the materials are as far away from wood as he can get, he’s still using his hands to create something of use. “I can’t help myself,” he said. “It’s a disease.”

In the six months that he has undertaken his “hobby,” he has learned a new language, acquired new tools and sought out advice from the field’s top experts.

He began by using Western Damascus, but found the patterns too flashy. “As you can see, the patterns are totally different than Japanese Damascus,” he said in his East Hampton studio, pointing to an array of stunning knives laid out on his work table.

Mr. Patterson rebuffed plain steel for san mai, an ancient Japanese technique of layering a hard core with softer sides, to make a blade that is strong, aesthetically pleasing, and giving.

“It’s flexible,” he said, bending a blade with his bare hands. “It can withstand abuse but won’t snap.”

The patterns associated with Damascus are created using different types of steel. Each steel contains different compounds or alloys. The process of determining what combination works best for certain tools or machine parts is called “metallurgy.”

Bars of steel are made all over the world but Mr. Patterson buys directly from Japan, the two Japanese distributors in the United States, or Devin Thomas, a master of exotic Damascus patterns, located in Nevada.

Damascus is created by taking a several layers of different types of steel and then forge-welding and folding. When the metal is red hot, it’s fused together using a hammer. The metalworker repeats the process of heating, bending and hammering the material over and over again. In the end, a “big billet” is created which may contain up to 1,000 layers.

“They fuse many layers outside of the core,” said Mr. Patterson of forge-welding. “It’s an art. It really is.”

Making a knife, dagger or sword is called bladesmithing, and that’s the art Mr. Patterson is perfecting. When the steel bars hit his studio, Mr. Patterson uses a template to mark out where to cut the shape of the knife.

Grinding it to size is the easy part. He grinds at an angle, peeling away each layer, exposing the core. “That’s my cutting edge,” he said, pointing a sharp knife just a little too close to my face for comfort.

A grinder is used to establish the geometry of the blade. When the metal gets hot, he dunks it in water. The real magic happens when the blade is etched in acid, to reveal the pattern of the Damascus.

The annealed metal must first be heat treated, however. The blade is wrapped in a special type of tin foil before going into a small treat oven. “What we want is tool steel,” he said. The molecular texture of the metal hardens from the soft, bendable annealed form in temperatures of up to 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit.

It’s the cooling down stage that takes forever. “I have to wait six hours and then I can temper the blade,” he said.

Learning is trial and error. He assumed the worst when the blade was still bendable. “I was scratching my head trying to figure out what I did wrong,” he said. After talking to his distributors, he still didn’t have a clue.

Then he reached out to the famous bladesmith Bill Burke. “He’s like a movie star in the knife business and he called me back,” Mr. Patterson said. “He told me it is meant to bend.”

To demonstrate the sharpness of a finished product, he takes a piece of used paper from his desk and holds it in the air with one hand. Holding a knife in his other hand, he sliced the paper to shreds.

“This knife is sharp,” he said. “I hope I don’t need those dimensions.” I hope he has tape.

When he put his first culinary knives to test, in the kitchen chopping vegetables, he felt a heaviness he didn’t like. It was one of his suppliers and fellow knifemaker Mr. Thomas who told him to Google “distal taper.”

He learned how to taper a blade in a V-shape so that it is thicker at the bottom of the handle and thinner at the belly. The resulting lighter blade made all the difference when chopping carrots. “My blade geometry was off,” he said.

The taper depends on the purpose of the knife. For example, a blade that is thick all the way through is great for cutting meat.

Sharpening the cutting edge is yet another art in the process of making knives. Some people frown on using jigs when sharpening a blade but not Mr. Patterson. “I’ll argue with any purist,” he said. “That right there is perfection.”

He starts off with a 100-grit stone at a 25-degree angle on both sides, and works up to a very fine 1,600-grit. You could go higher but he likes a “little bite” to his blades, giving them a microscopically serrated edge. The jig setup allows him to make a consistently sharp edge.

Like any modern maker, social media has played a big part in his emerging business.

Facebook and Instagram have helped him to sell his product and also acquire unique tools of the trade, such as a 1940s die filer named “Butterfly.” The obscure machine helps cut the radius at the heel of the knife. “It’s so much harder without the machine,” he said.

In another stroke of luck, a file dealer saw a video he posted and told Mr. Patterson he had files for the machine.

Mr. Patterson’s woodworking skills come in handy when it’s time to add handles to his knives. There are basically two kinds of “tangs,” the thin part of the knife that slips into a handle. One is a “hidden tang” and one is a “full tang,” which means the spine of the knife is either partially hidden or completely visible.

In his woodworking career, he has tended to stay away from exotic woods, but exotic woods lend themselves to knives. “I try to stay with domestic exotics like walnut and maple burls,” he said. “It’s taken me awhile to find a good distributor.” It’s important for the material to be stable.

“I have everything dialed in so I can sell my knives, or give a knife to someone and say, ‘knock yourself out,’” he said.

Now that he has the process of bladesmithing down, he is considering forging his own steel. He’s taking a course in blacksmithing in New England this winter. “That’s a whole other level,” he said.

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