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The road to Damascus
By Johnny Snyman
There are two roads leading to Damascus. One goes to an ancient city, while the other leads the pilgrim to Mosselbay-based custom knife maker, Mike Fellows. Mike takes Damascus-blade knife-making a step beyond perfection.
> Mike doing some filing under magnification.
His passion for forging Damascus steel and the resulting end-product gives new meaning to the word “art”. His driving passion and quest for perfection has rightfully carved his name in the scroll of granite among South Africa’s elite blades craftsmen.
Life has a cunning way of leading like-minded people to the same campfire. I first met Mike one year ago on a crisp spring day. He happened to have his collection of knives with him, ready to be sent to some of his overseas customers. He showed me a small folding knife. The blend of ivory inlays within the handle contrasted against the exquisitely forged Damascus steel. The fine lines within the steel reminded me of the yearly rings seen on the belly side of a fine wood bow. The little folder was lying in the calloused hand of a master craftsman.
< A billet of Damascus steel.
In 1993, after a friend showed him a miniature foldingknife, something touched the artistic waters of Mike’s deepest soul, and as it happens in life, the little ideas that nag and haunt at the heart should never be ignored, for often a man may findthat hidden within them resides the tapestry of his destiny. Soon Mike began making miniature folders as a hobby. Five years later he began with full-sized blade production and systematically began phasing out work that was not knife-related.
By the end of 1999, Mike was the end of 1999, Mike was engaged in full-time knife-making. The little seeds had been sown.
Mike’s technical background is the kindling for his ever-smouldering artistic flair. With these two ingredients at hand his design abilities improved steadily and during the course of 1999 he began making Damascus steel.
Reflecting back, Mike says: “I still have the knife I made from my very first Damascus and Mokume. Having those together on the same knife is an honour and something to be proud of.”
> Mike hammering away at the anvil.
Today Mike is a single author who enjoys all the aspects of knife-making. “Producing my own Damascus allows me to experiment with different patterns. I use only L6 and Nickel with an occasional addition of mild steel for added colour in my Damascus.
When I make minis, I make the Damascus on a mini-scale as well so that the patterns will also be miniature. All embellishments I do myself. I enjoy carving on ivory and love doing animal designs, but my favourite subject is roses.”
Mike has also done carvings for Des Horn. A dentist by profession and part-time knife maker, Des has an established international reputation as one of the best South African folder makers.
Mike proudly recollects: “After making my first full-size folder in 2000, I took it to Des for assessment. He was thoroughly impressed!”
Today Mike’s specialities are miniatures and folders, with the occasional challenge to make micro-mini folders as small as possible. So far his personal record for a hunting knife with an ivory handle and Damascus blade stands at 4.5mm. Mike’s ability as knife-maker doesn’t end at folders, however.
He also crafts hunters, fighting knives, skinners, utility knives and art pieces. All his folders are equipped with an internal lock mechanism known as a liner lock. Most of the aforementioned knives can be replicated on miniature scale, with the addition to the occasional period piece.
Among myriad lines of finely forged Damascus steel, the wandering eye will meet with Mike’s finely engraved logo. A single word that reflects not only his character, but also his relationship with the Lord. On the blade among the forged Damascus patterns appears the word “Karat”.
I asked Mike about the meaning of this word and he replied: “Karat is the Hebrew word to describe a covenantal ritual. It has its origin since before the time of Abraham. Originally it meant to ‘cut off’ or ‘separate from’ or to disown a family or clan member.
Later on Karat was incorporated into the making of covenants and now means ‘to cut a covenant’.” The use of Karat in the making of a covenant meant the cutting of certain animals in half lengthwise. Then, by laying the two halves on the ground, the two covenantal parties would pass between the animal halves, and recite the terms and conditions of the covenant. In this way the covenant was binding on both parties and would be held sacred until death. Should any member of the two covenantal parties dishonour the covenant, the other would be at liberty to either kill or consider the dishonoured member “cut off and dead”, as were the animals used to make the covenant.
When God made the promise to Abraham, it was sealed by a covenant in which Abraham cut the animals and laid them on the ground, but God alone walked between the animal halves and recited the terms and conditions of the covenant, which even to this day remain binding. The account of that covenant is found in Genesis 15. In Hebrews 6:13-19 we have confirmation of that promise and covenant.
In essence Karat was also a sure test of character and contained either the joy of a relationship or the shame of disownment.
“Today I am proud to use the word Karat as my logo, for it serves as a reminder of the importance of being honest and trustworthy,” says Mike.
As an afterthought he remarks: “So far my knife-making has been nothing but a blessing which I could never substitute with another career. My only regret is that I never started sooner.”
Mike allowed God to loose an arrow from a mighty bow, which embedded into an evergreen patch of grass; a patch that Mike is at home on today. Home to Mike Fellows is simply knife-making.
How many men these days can say: “I have found my destiny.
I have climbed the mountain to see the other side. I have travelled the avenues of yesterday and seen both sides of life. I am content, for I know that what
I now have and have discovered and delight in, is but a mere droplet compared to what awaits in the next life. Life within Eternity.”
Mike Fellows can be contacted on: +27 82 960 3868.
About the Author
Johnny Snyman from Heartwood Bows is a well-known bowyer, traditional archer and bowhunter, who has been building fine longbows and recurves for more than a decade. Johnny has a vast knowledge of bow building, archery, bushcraft and survival skills. He has written many articles for African Archer as well as for Africa’s Bowhunter magazine. His bows are shot by many South Africans and by many archers in countries all over the world. Johnny has made bows for quite a few Hollywood productions such as The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, 10 000 BC, Doomsday, Scorpion King – Rise of the Akkadian, and Crusoe (NBC Mini Series – 2008). Established in 1997, Heartwood bows is based in the coastal town of Sedgefield in the Western Cape, South Africa.