The Master’s Work: How a Custom Hunting Knife Gets Forged

Near Bristol, Va., 45-year-old knife maker Burt Foster builds some of the most beautiful knives on the planet. His wife calls his workspace the “Taj Ma Shop.” Built like a house, with wood paneling and stone accents from rock he collected on the property, there’s a special room for leather work, a dedicated forge space, an office, and workbenches everywhere. To forge his signature three-layer laminated steel, Foster stacks the raw steel pieces in a vise for electric welding to hold them together for the forging to come. The three pieces of steel have been forge-welded into a single material, which Foster runs through a pneumatic hammer. Foster forge-welds both the bolster and the blade. With such a knife, Foster says, “There is no compromise. Even with the least expensive knife I make, I’m obsessed with perfection. And with the most ornate knives I make, I’m always mindful that this is a knife. Foster forges a laminated steel of an inner layer of high-carbon 52100 steel sandwiched between two layers of 410 stainless steel. “Nothing wrong with that.” Bolster The Damascus steel bolster is forged of 1084 and 15N20 steels, in a mosaic W pattern.

ulcan, god of fire, would recognize this place. A forge deep in the mountains. A man grimed with ash and sweat. Glowing metal. Hammers and anvils. Near Bristol, Va., 45-year-old knife maker Burt Foster builds some of the most beautiful knives on the planet. But he insists that there is more to a custom knife than fancy bolsters. “If you own a knife that belonged to a special person, or you used it in some meaningful way, then it has value because of that story,” he says. “That’s what is unique about a handmade knife. It has a story before you ever use it.”

knife forging
Master Smith Burt Foster makes some of the most sought-after custom knives in the country.

Foster grew up in Orange County, Calif., camping and riding dune buggies on family trips to the desert. Early on, an obsession with tools and how to use them in wild places took root. “Knives represented this combination of independence, capability, and adventure. As a child, I would daydream that I could be stuck in the wilderness and I would make it—just me and a knife.” Which is how Foster spends most of his days now: Just him and a knife.

burt foster knife crafter
Foster works from his shop, which his wife calls the “Taj Ma Shop,” near Bristol, Va.

Foster lives and works just outside of town in the rolling Southern Appalachian hardwoods with his wife, two daughters, and son. His wife calls his workspace the “Taj Ma Shop.” Built like a house, with wood paneling and stone accents from rock he collected on the property, there’s a special room for leather work, a dedicated forge space, an office, and workbenches everywhere.

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“It’s way more elaborate than it needs to be,” Foster says. But every piece and part of every knife he makes is born in the shop, which was featured in season two of History Channel’s popular series Forged in Fire.

To forge his signature three-layer laminated steel, Foster stacks the raw steel pieces in a vise for…

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