LAWTON, Okla. (AP) — Beneath one Fort Sill soldier’s Army Combat Uniform lies the soul of a bladesmith.
By day Staff Sgt. Charles Bridges works in plans and operations for the headquarters of 428th Field Artillery Brigade. His job is to certify the instructors who will teach cutting-edge technology to soldiers attending the Field Artillery School, The Lawton Constitution reported.
But when he goes home he applies himself to cutting edges of a different sort. He’s taught himself to hammer super-heated steel into almost any type of blade imaginable, and his work is in high demand. He can post a picture on Instagram of a knife he’s working on, and it will sell before the day is out.
Five years ago, when he was stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and living in an apartment in Fayetteville, he ran across a YouTube video of a man making a knife out of a saw blade.
“I could do that,” he thought. So he watched a few more videos on the subject.
He tried it and admits that at first he was terrible at it.
“But when I’m not good at something I want to try it again,” he said.
“I started with this small coffee can that I had put refractory cement and plaster in and a blowtorch blowing in the side, and a very large sledgehammer head,” Bridges recalled.
He was sitting on his apartment balcony where he was not supposed to have a large open flame blowing out the side, but he did.
More than 200 blades later, it’s become the passion of a lifetime. He gives them as gifts or sells them. The rejects he’s thrown into the ceiling.
While he’s been at it for five years, Bridges confesses he’s only been good at it for three. He had to build six different forges before he found one that could heat the steel evenly. He uses 15 to 20 different hammers to craft his blades, depending on what he’s doing. He also has a 25,000-pound press and a full shop of things he admits are probably unnecessary, but he uses them anyway.
“I love it, honestly. It is the most cathartic thing that I can find to do. It’s a lot better than going home and drinking,” Bridges said. “I get a piece of steel up around 1600 degrees and I hit it with a hammer.”
Now when he starts a project, though, he puts the cart before the horse.
“I’ll pick out first what I want the handle material to be. And once I build a handle I know what I want the blade to look like based off of my handle. I know that that’s way backwards, but you don’t know what a handle’s going to look like when you’ve got a blade. You know what a knife’s supposed to look like when you can hold the handle,” he explained.
“Midway through every one, I think I’m done and I just set it off to the side for about an hour or two, and I don’t want to touch it again. And then I can look at it, and it comes back to me. Because then, by the time I’m done I’ve fallen in love with it and I don’t want to let go of it. So I have to start another one,” Bridges said.
A Damascus Bowie knife that took him three days to make is the first one of his knives in five years that he actually owns. He gets a lot of custom orders, so he doesn’t have time to actually build up a stock.
One man showed him a picture of a wavy kris dagger and asked if he would make him one. He’s made custom blades as retirement presents, where he had to melt a piece of shrapnel or brass into the finished product. A buddy wanted a set of throwing axes so he could throw his own instead of the ones provided by a local bar.
“There’s a guy in Portugal who buys my blades to put in folding knives. It just grows,” he said.
He doesn’t think of any of his blades as weapons because of the amount of effort that goes into each one. He uses a set of chisels to do filigree and engraving. But he also has the capability to put a blade on a large engraver and have a laser cut the design. He can fill it in with brass, melt that in and polish it. By the time he’s done, it’s a work of art.
Some of the blades he makes have to be razor-thin. Fillet knives for boning fish are one example.
“I have to be able to bend a fillet knife over almost onto itself or else it’s going to snap when somebody’s using it,” Bridges said.
When he first started out the steel he used was just scrap, but he’s since graduated to a higher understanding of the different types of steel and what they are used for.
For those who are interested in learning his craft, Bridges gives classes on Saturdays and Sundays.