His knives are a cut above
By Jessie Burchette
A shop class at South Rowan High School opened up a world of creativity for Cory Owens ó in an unexpected way.
The class was cabinet making. It was OK.
When his teacher, Joe Owen, brought some of his handmade knives to school to show, the high school senior was fascinated.
“He did it as a hobby, just piddling. … It sparked my interest,” Owens said recently.
A decade later, Owens forges knives for hunting, for home, for display, for collecting and for everyday use.
Under a small shed at his workshop near his home on Unity Church Road, the 32-year South Rowan native forges knives with heart ó and often history.
He recently forged a large camp knife from a piece of a 1960 Corvette.
While restoring his prize car, the owner contacted Owens and asked if he could fashion a knife from a kingpin that had to be replaced.
It’s now a formidable piece of gleaming steel with a huge stag handle.
For others he’s converted ball joints and assorted other bits of steel into knives.
“These knives have heart and history. … You can’t get that from knives made in China,” he said.
Friends and co-workers often give him bits of cast off steel, from parts of an old wagon to ball joints, sections of cable and railroad spikes.
Each discard offers Owens a chance to create.
At craft shows and demonstrations, he turns railroad spikes into knives.
“That’s the most popular, draws the most attention,” Owens said.
He frequently participates in spring and fall events at Dan Nicholas Park and Christmas in July in West Jefferson.
At the events, he has customers who come back each year.
His belief in handmade goods extends beyond knifes. When he goes to crafts events, he buys from his fellow craftsmen.
Like his knives, a handcrafted bowl has a special quality.
For more than a decade, Owens has worked to improve his skill, challenge himself to create a wider array of items.
As he has sold more knives, he has been able to buy more equipment needed to grind and finish the steel.
He built his gas-fired forges ójust big enough to handle steel for knife blades.
While he has a traditional anvil to hammer out the hot steel, he most often uses an automated hammer device made by a friend.
He routinely makes hunting and utility knives of various sizes, most with stag handles.
He also makes filet knives, cleavers, skinning knives. A new addition is a tactical knife ó a blade with a cord-wrapped handle.
Owens also does the layered steel style called Damascus, where dozens of layers of steel are heated and beaten together, leaving a grain pattern on the blade.
Damascus steel originated sometime between 1100 and 1700 AD, created by sword makers in the Middle East. The technique provided steel with legendary sharpness and strength.
Owens said many knife makers and buyers are caught up on the Damascus. While it makes a very attractive pattern, he’s convinced the steel manufactured today is much better.
“If you’re buying it (Damascus) because you think it works better, you’re wrong. If you’re buying it because of the way it looks, that’s OK.”
While he has concentrated on knives, Owens is now looking to expand, working to forge backpack axes.
And he’s always waiting for the next challenge when somebody shows up with the next piece of steel.
To contact Owens, call 704 640-5263.