East Quogue Knife Maker Is Passionate About Hobby He Found Late in Life - 27 East

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East Quogue Knife Maker Is Passionate About Hobby He Found Late in Life

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Nicholas DiBenedetto of East Quogue was inspired by the TV show

Nicholas DiBenedetto of East Quogue was inspired by the TV show "Forged in Fire" to create blades of his own. TOM GOGOLA

Nicholas DiBenedetto of East Quogue was inspired by the TV show

Nicholas DiBenedetto of East Quogue was inspired by the TV show "Forged in Fire" to create blades of his own. TOM GOGOLA

Restored paintings emerge from nearly every nook and cranny of the Di Benedetto home. TOM GOGOLA

Restored paintings emerge from nearly every nook and cranny of the Di Benedetto home. TOM GOGOLA

Nicholas DiBenedetto of East Quogue was inspired by the TV show

Nicholas DiBenedetto of East Quogue was inspired by the TV show "Forged in Fire" to create blades of his own. TOM GOGOLA

Nicholas DiBenedetto of East Quogue was inspired by the TV show

Nicholas DiBenedetto of East Quogue was inspired by the TV show "Forged in Fire" to create blades of his own. TOM GOGOLA

Nicholas DiBenedetto of East Quogue was inspired by the TV show

Nicholas DiBenedetto of East Quogue was inspired by the TV show "Forged in Fire" to create blades of his own. TOM GOGOLA

Nicholas DiBenedetto at work

Nicholas DiBenedetto at work

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Tom Gogola on Apr 17, 2024

Nicholas Di Benedetto is standing at a belt sander in his workshop garage in East Quogue on a recent spring morning putting the final touches on one of his latest creations. He flips the switch on the machine and edges a small, cleaver-shaped knife toward the spinning sandpaper to grind off the last of the black carbon and put a bevel on the blade.

After repeating the process on the other side of the blade, he runs a thumb across it. “Okay. That’s a sharp knife now,” he says.

Inspired by the popular television series “Forged in Fire,” the 81-year-old started to make custom knives about seven years ago following a career in the antiques business and as an oil-painting restorationist and conservationist.

For the unwashed, “Forged in Fire” is a reality show where contestants design and build swords and knives, which are then tested by knife and sword experts. The program may be best known for the iconic exclamation from one of the judges, Doug Marcaida, who, after testing the creations may declare of the blade’s flesh-piercing qualities: “And it will keaaaaal!”

Di Benedetto is not out to make a killing with his knives, which generally run from $90 to $150.

His cavernous and cluttered workshop features most of the equipment you’ll see on “Forged in Fire,” from a small forge where he heats the steel to morph the metal into a proper blade, to the metal tube filled with boiling vegetable oil where the blades goes in for a “plunge” to temper the steel. There are knife forms all over the workshop and a display case that holds some of his creations, plunged into cubes of styrofoam.

He says the work is “unbelievably relaxing,” and somewhere between a craft and an art form where Di Benedetto has a signature of sorts with wooden knife handles created using two or more types of wood.

One thing that’s not part of his process, however, is the machine- or hand-pounding of multiple pieces of steel into a single blade, which is a regular feature on the TV program as the contestants create historical blade designs and patterns such as the Damascus, by stacking and then forging the metal.

Di Benedetto instead uses a single, thin strip of high-carbon, 1095 Steel — “It’s American steel,” he stresses — to forge and grind out his knives, which run a gamut from daggers to cleavers to shivs to butter knives to bread knives to vegetable knives and beyond.

“You don’t have to go crazy with it,” he says of the exhausting process of beating the metal into shape. “You don’t have to pound it out like a maniac.”

He has made hundreds, if not thousands, of knives in varying shapes and sizes and offers them for sale at places like Olish’s Farms in Eastport, where there’s a big annual Christmas fair in December and where Di Benedetto was nothing if not an easy-going when it comes to price during last year’s holiday season.

“I just want to sell the knives. I’m never going to get rich doing this,” he said in December at Olish’s as a customer marveled over one of his oversize Bowie knife-style blades as his wife, Regina, sat nearby.

This spring he was driving his big panel truck to the vendors’ market at the East End Food Hub in Riverhead every other Saturday, where his creations fit right in with the food-focused goods on sale there.

Di Benedetto was born in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, in 1942 and early in his working life was part of a family newspaper-recycling business that was founded in 1908. “We sold these big bundles of newspapers to companies all around the world,” he said.

He would eventually leave that behind and go into the antiques business in the early 1980s, recalling big shows like the New York Park Avenue Armory Show where, he recalled with some relish, he made $72,000 in one weekend.

Around that time, Regina was willed a plot of land in East Quogue on which the couple built their home and settled in for an East End long haul. He had an antiques shop on Montauk Highway in East Quogue, while his wife was a schoolteacher for 35 years before retiring. He set up an art conservation and restoration workshop and business in the basement of a home that is choc-a-bloc with paintings and antiques, but says there’s very little interest these days in his service. “That’s one of the reasons I started with the knives,” he said.

The basement is an art-lover’s marvel, where dozens of restored oil paintings hang on the walls, some from well-known Long Island painters, others dating back hundreds of years, as Di Benedetto explains the meticulous and time-consuming process to restore a painting. A through line to the knives is that the application of heat is critical to both processes.

And similar to the knives, the paintings are seemingly everywhere in the home and pop out of every corner. At one point, Di Benedetto retires to a bathroom in the home, only to emerge with a pile of knives that he spreads out on a colorful lounge chair.

A separate and unoccupied attached apartment in the home is also filled with dozens of paintings hanging from the walls and perched on furnishings. There’s also a trio of paintings and prints wedged into the shower stall of the bathroom.

The elder craftsman is turning 82 this July and angling to find a buyer or buyers for his remarkable collection. “Regina keeps telling me, ‘You have too many paintings,’” he says with a chortle that’s at once wry and a bit exhausted. “And I haven’t even shown you the upstairs.”

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