A timeless design set in steel
The sights and sites of Pocahontas County bring pleasure to residents and visitors alike.
But there are sounds in this county, as well.
The high pitched whirl of band saws turning the countyﾒs timber into lumber, cheers of spectators at the Great Greenbrier River Race, the tinkling of a brook, the roar of creeks and rivers pushed to their limits by too much rain, the bleat of a newborn lamb and the proud cackle of a hen who has made her contribution to the breakfast table.
But there is one sound which, though not unique to the area, has, with the passing of time, become a rarity.
That is the ring, ring, ringing of a blacksmithﾒs hammerﾗthe sound that greets you as you enter custom knifemaker Zoe Cristﾒs shop at Zendik Farms on Beaver Creek.
Crist read a three page article about Damascus knivesﾠ in ﾓDecorative and Sculptural Ironworkﾔ in 1987.ﾠ As a result, he was ﾓinspired into a life-long quest for patterns and shapes in steel.ﾔ
ﾓTo this day as I lay down to sleep, I see new patterns in my mind that I must attempt to realize in steel the following day,ﾔ Crist wrote on his website.
Damascus blades date back to 500 B.C. Persia. When the early Crusaders in the Middle East were losing battles because their weapons could not withstand the attacks, their blacksmiths studied and incorporated hard and soft steel that would hold a better blade edge, Crist said.
The Vikings and Germantics used a similar process.
Wootz swords, especially Damascus blades, were renowned for their sharpness and toughness.
During World War II, Nazi blacksmiths used pattern-welded steel for decorative daggers and swords for the German officers.
And then, for a while, the process was lost.
In 1971, William Moran, Jr., a custom knifemaker from Fredricksburg, Maryland, helped resurrect the Damascus style.
Crist was fascinated with the process, but there was no internet so, ﾓyou found what you wanted to do and you did it yourself. You worked on it and worked on it,ﾔ he said.
Crist knows his craft and he knows the level of quality he wants to achieve.
Working with two different kinds of steel in alternating layers, Crist puts the material in a forge and heats it to about melting temperature, forming a molecular bond that gives him one bullet of metal.
The integrity of the layers is still in the product, he said. With the hammer and anvil, he works the five-inch long, 10 layers of steel until it is about 25 inches long.
It is cut into a five inch piece again, now 50 layers.
He works it again and again to 25 inches, until it becomes a 500-layer block of steel.
Using a chisel and file to score it, the steel takes on a wood grain appearance.
ﾓThere is an endless variety of patterns,ﾔ said Crist.ﾠ ﾓFeather and squiggle, it is all in how you manipulate the steel, hammer and bend it.ﾔ
Crist knows his stuff and he can talk faster than a layman can comprehend.
In 2000 Crist contacted Don Fogg, a man who brought Damascus to the forefront of the knife market.ﾠ And although Crist had talked with him and had benefited from Foggﾒs knowledge, he did not meet him face-to-face until March when he attended a class in Maine.
As the culmination of their 10-year instructional friendship on the phone and by email, Fogg met Crist with open arms and the words, ﾓFinally, after all these years.ﾔ
Crist has worked at his craft for many years, giving knives as gifts to friends or bartering them for goods, but it was not until 2009 that his work met his expectations and he sold his first knife.
When he was given a spot at the coveted New York Custom Knife Show, he knew he had arrived.
ﾓThere are people like me who live in the woods and make knives and then you end up in a ballroom with professional people,ﾔ Crist laughed. ﾓThere is a three-to-five year waiting list for that sold-out show. I submitted my stuff. They called, knowing who they wanted. It is an honor to be accepted.ﾠ This year I will automatically have a table there.ﾔ
In addition, he will exhibit his work in Atlanta, Georgia; Louisville, Kentucky; Norfolk, Virginia; and Las Vegas, Nevada.
Last week, Cristﾒs knives were accepted at Tamarack, the hallmark gallery for West Virginia craftsmen.
Crist is a member of the Knifemakers Guild and the American Bladesmith Society.
He has been asked to give demonstrations at Tamarack in a glassed-in arena, and his work will be featured in the June issue of ﾓBlade Magazine.ﾔ
His knives are a part of a centerfold, ﾓArtistry in Knives,ﾔ in ﾓKnife Worldﾔ magazine and four of his pieces will appear in the 2011 ﾓKnives Annual.ﾔ
Thatﾒs quite an accomplishment for Crist, who lives a quiet life in Pocahontas County with his wife, Shio, and six-month-old son, Layne.
Publicity for his work fans out a long way from Beaver Creek, but Crist sells his knives locally, as well,ﾠ at C.J. Richardson Hardware in Marlinton and from his website, zoecristknives.com
ﾓI plan to do a lot of shows.ﾠ I want people to meet me and hold my work,ﾔ said Crist.
Crist has sold a lot of knives this year, all hand-forged and no two alike.
Damascus knives fetch a good price, but Crist is ever conscious of his neighborsﾒ need for peace when it comes to the pounding and grinding of knifemaking.
He is conscious, as well, that the price tag for his knives might preclude some of those neighbors from buying his handiwork.
ﾓI want to do some knives out of carbon steel that will be attractive to the everyday hunter and fisherman,ﾔ said Crist.
Pocahontas County has its share of good neighbors who have a lot of talent and volumes of stories to be told.
Zoe Crist with his impressive Damascus knives fits into all those catagories.