“It doesn’t matter how you get there, as long as you’re honest about the path you took.” - Steve Schwarzer
Master Bladesmith Steve Schwarzer is a rebel. Always has been. It’s just in his nature. He rejects the weapons of society — dictates on worth, education, business, purpose, success, self — and crafts tools from their remains. He teaches. He shares. He’s excited about life and his work. And he’s impassioned by igniting those fires in others. He may believe, as he says, that the soul of a knife is in the process, but his customers and friends might argue otherwise. Just as Schwarzer finds himself at the epicenter of an ever-growing body of bladesmiths and collectors, so is he at the very heart of each unique blade he forges.
Born in 1947 in Fort Worth, Texas, Schwarzer was an inquisitive child, intensely interested in the complexity of nature, the mechanics of function, the process for creating. Through project after project, he forged new neural pathways to solve problems and shift paradigms. While he was exposed to metal work at a young age — his father was a master mechanic who built airplanes in his backyard after the war — it wasn’t until later in life that those conceptual kernels would take root and flourish. As with most children, Schwarzer moved from idea to idea, passion to passion, eventually settling on martial arts, both as a hobby and a necessity when his family moved to a southern California neighborhood that demanded self-defense. There, he would develop a commitment to training and to a group of Samoan kids — most the children of navy fathers stationed at Port Hueneme — that would withstand the test of time and distance.
"The only limit in this art is your imagination and determination to make something magical happen. …The hunger to explore this medium has consumed my adult life and I wouldn’t have it any other way." - Steve Schwarzer
Despite an agile intellect, Schwarzer was never a successful student, at least in traditional spheres. When his family returned to Texas, he left public education. Taking his father’s lead, he began work at a small aluminum foundry in the aircraft industry, learning the tools of the metalworking trade that would significantly inform later endeavors. But he wasn’t fulfilled, and that left room for trouble. “I spent a good bit of time running on the edge of life,” laughs Schwarzer.
He moved to Florida in 1970, worked in several jobs — including one at the Boilermakers Local in Jacksonville that “opened a new world of metal work” for him — got married, had two children, and settled down. On a whim, he purchased a book by Alex Bealer on blacksmithing that included a brief passage on forging knives. “That small bit of knowledge changed my life forever,” says Schwarzer. “I immediately rushed out and bought an anvil and a forge.” While he can now look back on those first “knife-shaped objects” with a smile, he had no idea at the time just how much work would go into a properly forged knife. And how much he would grow to love that process.
That first book and foray into knife making would pave the way for the following four decades. “Like most things, I don’t do anything a little bit,” says Schwarzer. He became a part of the knife-making community, immersing himself in every learning experience he could, consuming books and information like sustenance. As Sensei Foster, an integral force in Schwarzer’s ongoing martial arts training, would often remind Schwarzer: “What [he] lacked in skill, [he] made up for with enthusiasm.” But the skill would come.
He began creating composite blades, welcoming advanced pattern welding and the creativity it entailed. “By 1980, I was neck deep in complex Damascus patterns and starting mosaic research,” says Schwarzer. “It was like drinking out of a fire hose.” His Master Smiths rating was signed by Bill Moran in 1981 and he was officially inducted into the American Bladesmith Society (ABS) in 1983; he is currently the oldest continually serving Active ABS Master Bladesmith. He began teaching and demonstrating worldwide, sharing everything he had learned and was learning. And he experimented: reimagining what was possible, developing solutions, and forging new ways to create the oldest of tools
Today, his work and acumen are renowned, both in and outside the bladesmith community. Specializing in pattern-welded steel — the forge- or diffusion-bonding of two or more dissimilar alloys to create a pattern — Schwarzer has honed his craft to control those patterns, making distinct images, shapes, and letters that set him apart in the material and the field. He’s still inspired by nature, intrigued by the magic of its patterns. He synthesizes the concepts in his head — an endless “rabbit hole” of ideas that must be exorcized creatively once they’ve materialized — to redefine what is possible. To create mesmerizingly beautiful tools that tell a story as old as man.
An influential innovator for most of his life, Steve Schwarzer is a maker of metal, and a cultivator of the mettle within man. Through teaching and creating, he realizes his dreams, while nurturing the same in his students. Knives gave him a sense of place and worth. In his creative legacy, so, too, does he share this ethos and acceptance. With palpable warmth he shares advice, in work and life, that is as simply unassuming as the man: “It doesn’t matter how you get there, as long as you’re honest about the path you took.”
“The only limit in this art is your imagination and determination to make something magical happen. …The hunger to explore this medium has consumed my adult life,” smiles Schwarzer. “And I wouldn’t have it any other way."