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Interview with Raphael Durand

The French knifemaker Raphael Durand studied at the University of Lyon and now runs a smithy in Thiers. He transposes traditional designs into modern concepts, such as the classic Navajas from the Mediterranean region. The result is extraordinary classic knives with modern materials and mechanisms.


How did you come into contact with knives?
Just like most young children back then. I was about seven years old and my grandpa gave me a classic Opinel No. 7. I quickly felt like a real adventurer and of course I was extremely proud.


When did you make your first knife?
I was part of Excalibur, a medieval swordfighting club from Lyon, France, where I practiced on my first historical swords and daggers at an early age. I made my first own knife in 1998.


And how long have you been working as a knifemaker?
Since 2001 I have been working full-time as a custom knifemaker.


How did this come about?
I studied literature in Lyon and actually wanted to become a teacher. But after my studies I realized quite quickly that I wouldn't be happy with it and instead I tried a lot of different things. Knives have always fascinated me, and at some point I was able to turn my passion into my profession.


Did you have any support?
Henri Viallon has helped me a lot on my way. He was the first French damascus smith at the time and built unique custom knives in Thier's. We met in the 1990s and he remained my mentor for many years.


What is your greatest talent as a knifemaker?
I think my greatest talent is to combine simple and reliable constructions with elegant designs. I really like simple and clear designs with strong fitting and finish shapes.


What inspires you?
I love to build knives with the best possible qualities in design, function and mechanics. I want to make sure that a simple knife as a daily companion can handle all the everyday tasks that come up. This claim inspires me to question and improve my designs again and again.


What do you enjoy most about your work?
Clearly the work steps after the components have been cut into shape, i.e. shortly before heat treatment. The mechanical adjustments, which gradually transform the simple piece of metal into a knife, never ceases to amaze me. Sharpening is also a very enjoyable part of my work, as it transforms the steel blank into a great blade.


What should you start with if you want to make your own knife?
Actually you only need courage and patience. Then you buy the best drill and sharpening machine you can afford and just start trying things out. The rest comes with time.


What does a typical working day look like from you?
Getting up early and supervising the children before school. From 8:30 a.m. I am then in the workshop. In the morning I do all the work that requires absolute concentration, such as sharpening blades or making adjustments. In the afternoon I have time to cut and work on the handles and all finishes.


Is it easy to order an individual knife from you?
Not at the moment, I want to work off my full order book first and fulfill my obligations.


What are you working on at the moment?
I am currently working on new variations of my existing designs, such as a slipjoint version of the Frelon or another Kerberos. But of course I'm also working on completely new projects.


Do you sometimes have enough of knives?
No, not from knives in general. But sometimes I'm tired of the daily pressure that is put on independent craftsmen.


What about your wife, does she share your passion for knives?
Yes, I am really lucky! My wonderful wife not only shares my passion for knives, she even makes the leather sheaths for my knives. She also makes custom leather sheaths for other knifemakers.


Do you still have time for other things than work?
Unfortunately I don't see my children as often as I would like to. So I try to spend as much time with them after work as possible.


What do you do in your free time to relax?
I'm a bookworm and love books and comics, and there's good music playing. But often I digress and think about my next draft.


Do you also have hobbies that have nothing to do with knives?
Of course I do! I let off excess energy with the Savate, French boxing with fists and feet. Besides, my old jeep needs a lot of attention.


What can you not do at all?
I rather have a problem with the things I do not want to do. Especially when someone has asked me to do them and I can't avoid it.


What would you even get up in the middle of the night for?
I try to avoid that, I need my sleep. If my head is too full to fall asleep, I usually find some rest while reading.


Is there anything else you would like to tell our customers?
Stay sharp! And respect knives and their manufacturers, it might be more work than you think ;)

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