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.”
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.
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…