Pre­ci­sion in a blade

In Sh­effield’s steel heart­land, knife and scis­sor maker Grace Horne pro­duces pieces that are both beau­ti­ful and use­ful

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Sit­ting in the win­dow of a beau­ti­fully con­verted 1906 pub­lic con­ve­nience, Bri­tain’s only fe­male knife and scis­sor maker works at her bench. Us­ing tra­di­tional wooden-han­dled tools, she cre­ates both prac­ti­cal im­ple­ments and works of art. In her tiny two-storey work­shop in Sh­effield, Grace Horne makes be­tween six and 10 knives, and eight pairs of scis­sors a year, many small in scale. Some are truly artis­tic: stain­less steel knife blades em­bossed with in­tri­cate pat­terns; han­dles carved into dec­o­ra­tive shapes. “I like the scale of the smaller pieces, and the fact that they are per­sonal and quite a pri­vate thing, which rings true for pocket knives,” she says. “Hunt­ing knives and large pairs of shears do noth­ing for me. “I do see some of the of the things I make as sculp­tures, and some I would de­scribe as pocket jew­ellery. But some are sim­ply ba­sic and func­tional, par­tic­u­larly the scis­sors, and I’ve been asked more and more for prag­matic items.

De­vel­op­ing her skills

Grace first be­came in­ter­ested in knife mak­ing as a teenager, when her fa­ther lost a trea­sured pocket knife. “I won­dered why he thought this knife was so much bet­ter than other knives. I started to ask ques­tions about what kind of steel it was made from,” she says. While tak­ing a de­sign, craft and tech­nol­ogy de­gree, she de­cided to make a set of three fold­ing knives for her fi­nal year project in 1992. “I went on a quest to find some­one who would teach me how to make them,” she re­calls. “I rang the Cut­lers’ Hall in Sh­effield, and they told me that no one did it any more. So I con­tacted the Bri­tish Artist Black­smiths As­so­ci­a­tion and asked if some­one could make me some pat­terned steel. The head, Richard Quin­nell, agreed to teach me. I pro­duced those fold­ing knives, and although they weren’t quite right, I’d started some­thing.” In 1994, Grace moved to Sh­effield, the tra­di­tional home of cut­lery mak­ing. Here, she took a Master’s de­gree and later, a PhD in met­al­work and jew­ellery at Sh­effield Hal­lam Uni­ver­sity. Her stud­ies gave her the op­por­tu­nity to work with the city’s tra­di­tional knife mak­ers. “I loved hav­ing ac­cess to all sorts of fa­cil­i­ties, tech­ni­cal help and links to man­u­fac­tur­ing,” she says. “Knife mak­ing is a won­der­ful field be­cause most peo­ple who do it are ec­static to be pass­ing on their skills and knowl­edge.”

Grace in her tiny work­shop which mea­sures just 10ft by 10ft (3 x 3m). Smaller tools and ma­te­ri­als for the knife han­dles are stored here. Up­stairs, she keeps her grinders, a lathe, a buf­fer and pol­isher, and a press.

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