At the recent American Bladesmith Society Hammer-in at Old Washington, Arkansas I had the chance to spend some time with Bill Moran. It was truly a pleasure to spend time with him and his wife. He is a gentle and kind man. After the hammer-in he taught an introductory bladesmithing class at the blade school named in his honor. Earlier in the day, I watched him perform silver wire inlay with ease and master skill. Bill and I talked under Uncle Al's supply tent on a warm and sunny day in South Arkansas. We talked about knives and his lifetime of knifemaking experience. He showed me his daily carry knife and one he had just completed. It was the first time I had the chance to hold and look at one of his knives. His knives are absolutely wonderful - sharp, lightweight, and beautifully designed. Each one of his knives is artistic in a way only a Moran can be.
While he spoke, I rapidly took notes so I could write a short article for you to read today...
KnifeArt: When and how did you get started making knives?
Moran: "I sold my first knife 59 years ago at the age of 14. I became a full-time knifemaker forty years ago in 1960. You see, my father had a dairy farm in Maryland. On the farm, we had a blacksmith shop. We heated our houses with coal and used it in a hand crank forge. I learned to make knives so I could have what I wanted in a knife. I wanted to make knives the old way (forged) but no one knew how to do it anymore. No one knew how to heat treat etc. So I used trial and error to make knives, mainly error. I wanted my knives to cut really well."
KnifeArt: What kind of knives do you like the most?
Moran:"I really like old European knives. There are thousands of designs that I have studied from all over the world. When I started making knives as a kid I visualized a dagger and old knives with elegant designs like old medieval blades. I wanted to make them. Later, when I took these knives to shows no one would buy them. I mainly made them for myself. But, I particularly like Bowies and European old blades like daggers."
KnifeArt: Where did idea for your silver inlay come from?
Moran:"I had never seen silver inlay on a knife before but I did see it on old Kentucky and European black powder rifles. I had the idea to try it on my knives. We used to use brass but now we use nickel silver."
How many hours a day do you spend in the forge?
"6-7 hours a day."
KnifeArt: When did you start making damascus?
Moran:"1973 was the first time I showed damascus. It took me three years to learn how to make damascus on my own. It was all trial and error because there was no good written material on how damascus was made. At that first show everyone was amazed at my damascus. Other makers wanted to know how I did it so I told them."
KnifeArt: Who was the first person you taught to make damascus?
Moran:: "Hanford Miller was the first person."
KnifeArt: What are the highlights of your knifemaking career?
Moran:"The success of damascus and the American Bladesmith Society. This brought back the forged blade. It also brought back art knives."
KnifeArt:"What do you think about the collector's craze with your knives?
Moran:: "First my knives are tools. When I made my first art knives no one wanted them. Now that is all I almost make. I enjoy making art knives the best. I never imaged people would collect my knives."
KnifeArt: Where did the "moon" design come from?
Moran:"It was on old Kentucky rifles and early American furniture. There is both the sun and the moon. That was used a lot in the early days."
KnifeArt: What knife are you carrying now?
Moran: "For the last two years, I have carried this (showing me his small coffin handled bowie). Many times I carry a knife and test it before I sell it."
What do you do when you make knives in the shop?
"I chew tobacco and enjoy my dog- a rottweiler."
KnifeArt: How many damascus patterns do you make?
Moran:"I make 4 or 5 patterns. The twist pattern cuts the best."
KnifeArt: How did the Bladesmith school start in Washington, Arkansas?
Moran:"I came down to Washington to see the board of directors of the Pioneer Washington Foundation. I told them this was the idea to have the first and only blade school in the world. I talked to them about the importance of knifemaking. Washington, Arkansas is where James Black made the original bowie knife. This is a fitting place to have a blade school. B.R. Hughes and I convinced them to allow us to use their building. This school now draws knifemakers from around the world."