This article appears in the March issue of 400 Life.
Nearly all his life, local resident Paul Brach has been deeply fascinated with the process of taking an idea on paper and forming it, through skill and hard work, into reality.
In his well-worked garage workshop in northwest Forsyth County, Brach turns his ideas and quality steel into wickedly-sharp, aesthetically-beautiful knives for fun, curiosity and profit, feeding the drive to create that has been with him since his teens.
“It always was just something that clicked with me,” Brach said. “I guess if I wasn’t a maker, I would be a collector … I guess I have that gene.”
From the moment he looked longingly into a glass case of knives at the hardware store as a child, Brach said that it was inevitable that they would be in his life one way or another.
But he said the bug to create knives truly bit him as a teenager in California, after he made a knife from a kit and marveled at how he was able to choose what it looked like and make it his own.
“It was just the coolest thing,” he said. “And I wore with my black powder buck skin outfit that I had at the time.”
Now a Journeyman Bladesmith recognized nationally by the American Bladesmith Society, Brach said that the process gives him just as much excitement as it did to the buck-skin-clad teen.
“You literally start with a blank sheet of paper, draw it out and you end up with that exact result or something pretty close to it,” he said. “And when I realized that you could actually take a bar of steel like this and a sketchbook … and end up with a finished product, that whole process just became my happy place. It’s what winds my watch.”
Although he has been seriously making knives since the early 1980s, Brach said that over the last 10 years he has been dedicated to honing his skill at forging, the technique typically associated with blacksmithing where heat is used to shape metal.
Brach said he got serious about learning about the bladesmithing craft when he began to attend “hammer-ins” that were hosted by master knife makers in Texas. From going to their shops several years in a row and picking their brain on techniques, Brach said he began to diversify his skillset and develop his technique — skills and techniques that he uses and teaches to this day.
After years of hard work learning and honing his skills, in 2016 Brach passed the tests to become a Journeyman Bladesmith, forging a set of knives to be judged on their appearance, construction and usefulness, testing one of them by slicing hemp ropes, chopping boards, shaving hairs and bending the blade to a 90-degree angle.
In July 2017, Brach was featured on the History Channel’s “Forged in Fire” competition, a reality show where bladesmiths create historic weapons, coming in second place after making an elaborate West African executioner’s sword from the Congo.
More recently, Brach said that just a few months ago he auditioned for and was accepted as an alternate for the History Channel’s “Knife or Death” competition, an offshoot of “Forged in Fire” that puts contestants through a series of obstacle courses with a variety of hand-forged weapons.
Because he pursues bladesmithing as his craft rather than as a job, Brach said he has the time to take on TV projects like “Forged in Fire” or to create an interesting knife or sword simply for the pleasure of it.
“There are friends of mine … that are full-time makers. They’re working every day, it’s what they have to do,” Brach said. “And for me, this is what I love to do. So you know, occasionally I might sell a knife or two, but I don’t have to. I like to keep it that way.”
For now, Brach is satisfied with his Journeyman rank and his freedom, happy just to learn more, try new things and sate his curiosity.
“I’m just trying to stretch myself a little bit as I go, and push myself forward into new techniques and new things,” he said.