Peter Snowden

A knife-making business on the West Coast has allowed Steven and Robyn Martin to meet their aspirations of land ownership and a rural-based business that enables them to work from home.

Knife-making grew from Steven’s existing hobby. To this the couple have added business acumen from previous roles, energy and client relationship skills plus loads of hard work to build a strong business and provide a great experience for the first-time knife-makers such as myself.

The business brings people from all around the globe to Barrytown, 25 minutes north of Greymouth. Some come specifically to New Zealand to produce their own hand-crafted knife, indeed the business is far better-known overseas than in NZ.

The scale of the operation is surprising, in the last 15 years clients from 108 countries have made 25,000 knives in the day-long workshops under the guidance of the couple. Hardly a small craft business tucked away on the rural West Coast but a significant contributor to the small rural community and a fascinating way to enable Robyn and Steven to live in the area.

Many Kiwis including hunters also take time to produce their own blade.

The final product is almost entirely produced by the customer and emerges from mild steel forged and shaped in a day-long process with a handle crafted from rescued rimu (from the former Seacliff mental hospital) brass pins, multiple grinding and polishing, and detailed finishing touches. Steven will put the final edge on the knife and says you can have the product in levels of sharpness – sharp, very sharp or religious… religious? Jesus that’s sharp!

Clearly, they enjoy engaging in banter with the clients regaling them with countless stories. Steven says one of the great rewards of the business has been the relationships with clients – they still are in touch with four of the six clients who attended their first workshop 15 years ago.

The couple have 60 acres of steep native bush adjoining the Paparoa National Park. Another 20 acres provide grazing and riding trails for horses, Robyn’s passion. The small property provides plenty of challenges including creeks requiring frequent clearing after heavy rainfalls which are common in the area.