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The Ancient Craft

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It is impossible to imagine a world without knives. Without knives modern efficiency would disappear and we would be driven back to the Stone Age. The humble knife has played an immense part in the history and civilization of man. Knives are what define us as humans and we are disadvantaged without it.

In ancient times the knife helped man hunt, eat and survive. Although knives evolved with man, the basic structure of the knife has remained the same over the ages.

In Western society, knives, apart from those with which we eat and use in the kitchen, have lost their place as daily tools and all but disappeared as weapons.

In modern times the knife has become more than just a utility tool; it is a fashion item – gentlemen’s jewelry and space age man appears to almost have a love affair with knives and edged weapons. The aesthetic pleasure of owning one of man’s most ancient of tools seems to have increased as man’s practical need for a knife has diminished.

The earliest South African knives were made in 1797 by Christiaan Kuhnel at Genadendal, a Moravian mission post high in the Riviersonderend mountains.

During the past 30-odd years, a small group of enthusiasts brought the art of knife making back to life in South Africa.

Influenced by the revival of the art in the United States in the 1970’s, the Knife Makers’ Guild of Southern Africa (KGSA) was established in 1980. It aims to bring knife makers together at an annual show, to further the craft and to set standards of excellence.

Knife makers can only become members after they have submitted five of their personally handcrafted knives to the guild for evaluation. A panel of three experts assesses the knives and a pass mark of 75% must be achieved before membership is granted.

One such member is André Thorburn who became a professional knife maker after losing his job in 1993. Since early childhood he wanted to make knives and took the opportunity when he met Roelf Swanepoel in 1989 who introduced him to the art of knife making.

He sold his golf clubs and club cart and built his first belt grinder. He sold his first knife in 1990 to a friend.

He became a member of the Knife Makers Guild of Southern Africa in 1995 and since has been Chairman of this prestigious organisation since 2007. He attends knife shows all around Europe and in the USA and has met and has been influenced by some of the best knife makers in the world.

He believes that custom knives must be excellent in form and function and he tests and uses his own knives, giving some to friends and family members to use and abuse to see how much his hand made knives can really take.

In 2001 he became a member of the German Knife Makers Guild and a member of the Italian Guild at the end of 2004, attending the knife show in Milan in November every year. He was accepted as member of the American Guild in 2007.

Being a member of the four major Guilds in the world is a honour that he share with only a few other knife makers. He won several awards at local shows as well as overseas shows.

He attended engraving courses Emporia Kansas and Antwerpen and a further Design and layout course with the GRS team in 2007.

He loves knives - and when passion and consulate skill meet, masterpieces are created.

André will be joined by 50 other South African Guild members when they exhibit their work at the annual Knife makers’ Guild Show to be held at the Mosaïek Lifestyle Centre, Communion Exhibition Hall, Daniele Street off Davidson Street in Fairland, Johannesburg.

The ancient craft of knifemaking is alive and well in South Africa. Come and see for yourself at the show on 11th and 12th September.

Contact Andre on Tel: 014 736 5748 or his wife Marietjie Thorburn the show organiser on Tel: 082 650 1441 for more details.

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