Gary Snow is soft spoken and unassuming, always ready with a friendly smile. But start talking knifemaking, and Snow gets edgy – in a good way.
“There is a lot that goes into a hand-forged knife,” said Snow, who uses the same equipment to demonstrate in the 21st century what a traveling prairie blacksmith toted around the United States in the 19th century to ply his trade. “After years of doing this, I’m still learning.”
A Grand Rapids resident, Snow shares his love of blacksmithing and skill at putting a fine edge on carbon steel throughout Michigan by giving demonstrations at Blandford Nature Center, Heritage Park on Beaver Island during Museum Week or the Grand Rapids Mini Maker Faire. He sets up a large canvas awning specially sewn to vent fumes from his hand cranked blower for his coke fired forge, then sets to work at heating steel until it’s malleable enough to turn into household items, farm tools and horse shoes.
A member of Michigan Blacksmith Association who attended the school of the American Bladesmith Society, Snow's specialty is knifemaking. It’s woefully inadequate to call one of works a knife: the blade itself formed from Damascus steel to show a pattern that resembles flowing water is an exercise in patience, concentration and loving care. The handles are equally distinctive, sometimes the antler of a stag or beautifully burnished wood.
Snow may make no more than a couple dozen knives in a year, and it’s certain that their owners will cherish them for a lifetime.
And when he is asked why he spends his time demonstrating a skill that has been outpaced for more than a century by today’s technology and high speed production, he just shrugs his shoulders and says with a smile: “Why not?” Regardless of what others are doing, he just keeps forging ahead.