The team of teachers at the Tharwa Valley Forge bring a wide range of experiences to the courses. They are selected not just for their technical skills, but also for their people skills. To be encouraging, patient, flexible and passionate make our teachers more effective in introducing students to our art and to get a great result.
Karim began his journey with knifemaking under Master Bladesmith Thomas Gerner in 1995. Thomas was the first Australian Master Bladesmith from the prestigious American Bladesmith Society. Karim has developed his skills in the area of blade forging, heat treating steel, handle construction, sheath making and leatherwork.
He has been teaching knife making since 1998, and created the Tharwa Valley Forge to provide further opportunities for teaching and learning in 2003. He currently teaches courses in Knifemaking, Forging, Damascus and Sharpening as well as making custom knives to order. He is the President of the Australian Knifemaking Guild (AKG), and has previously held the position of State Representative of the ACT/NSW branch of the AKG.
Karim was an Outdoor Educator for over 13 years with Outward Bound Australia, designing and running personal development programs for youth. He also ran a prestigious national leadership program with the Australian Rural Leadership Foundation for 5 years. Karim holds a Certificate IV in Workplace Training and Assessment and has used his extensive experience as an educator to develop and refine the courses delivered at Tharwa Valley Forge.
Leila has been making knives since she was 6 years old. Having first crawled into her father's workshop as a toddler, she developed a keen interest in hammers and fire. At five, she operated the 30-ton hydraulic power press by standing on a bucket to reach the controls. Now much taller, she uses the press to create her own Damascus steel (and no longer needs to stand on a bucket).
Leila started her bladesmithing career specialising in cooking knives. Because of their unique provenance and high quality these knives were highly sought after by professional chefs and collectors alike.
At age 11, Leila presented a forging demonstration at the 2014 International Cutlers Exhibition in Sydney. Later that year, Leila was one of the guest presenters at Ben Shewry's WAW Gathering in Melbourne. Speaking on the importance of making things, she impressed the 300 delegates from the catering industry with her no-nonsense advice and confident delivery.
In November 2016, Leila spoke at the YMCA National Convention in Adelaide. Speaking to the gathering of young people she stressed the value of a “Do It Yourself” mind-set and the importance of self-reliance, as opposed to relying on modern consumer culture to supply them with the latest and greatest.
Leila has donated a number of knives to raise funds for charitable organisations. In October 2016, a knife Leila donated to the ACT's palliative care facility, Clare Holland House set a new personal record when it was sold at auction for $4,100. In 2017 anoher one of her knives sold for $4,000 for the same cause.
She is a regular at the knife shows around the country where she sells a diverse range of her own knives.
Leila teaches Japanese Knifemaking and Junior Blacksmithing at the Tharwa Valley Forge.
If you're interested in buying one of Leila's knives, please check out her Instagram as they sell-out very quickly.
Dean was hooked on Tharwa Valley Forge from the very first moment he took a course here. He went from helping tidy up and setup classes in exchange for workshop time to making his own blades. One day six years ago, Karim challenged Dean to make two razors - something Dean had never tried before. Using Karim's knowledge and conducting his own research, Dean designed and made two razors using Damascus Steel and Buffalo Horn.
Dean saw that no-one else was making razors in Australia; although many knifemakers try making razors at least once, no one was doing it with any regularity. He decided to challenge himself to learn all he could about razor making, and has since become the largest razor maker in Australia. He now makes handmade custom designed razors in both traditional Japanese and Western styles.
As his reputation began to spread by word of mouth, Dean was sought out by clients seeking restoration of their heirloom razors. He is frequently called upon by clients from around the world to restore cut throat razors that have been passed down through generations. His unique skill set combined with the top of the line equipment at Tharwa Valley Forge ensures that his restorations are second to none.
Dean has taught over 40 Razor Making Courses so far at Tharwa Valley Forge and says that he finds people who attend his razor making course have two main concerns: "how do I keep my razor sharp?", and "how do I use a razor without cutting myself?" Because of this, Dean's courses not only cover the practical elements of razor making, but also cover the correct use and maintenance of razors, including exploration of elements of razor design such as edge geometry and symetrical versus asymmetrical hollow ground blades.
Being an expert on making razor sharp edges, Dean also teaches our highly-regarded Sharpening Classes.
Alistair was introduced to knives when he was a young man in Scouts. Many years ago, a chance conversation with his local butcher lead him to discover that the butcher made custom knives. Alistair’s butcher was kind enough to teach him a few things about knifemaking and gave him some steel to make his first knife.
Unfortunately, before Alistair could finish his first knife his family moved. That knife blank remained in a desk drawer, unfinished, through eight more house moves but was never forgotten. Fifteen years later Alistair got back into knife making with a course at Tharwa Valley Forge. After completing his course, and 15 years after it was started, Alistair finished the knife he had begun making with the butcher.
In 2005 Alistair made his first slipjoint folding knife – gaining him admission to the Australian Knifemaker Guild as a Probationary Member. In 2007, he was accepted as a Full Member of the Australian Knifemaker Guild, and in 2012 he won the "Best Folder" Prize at the Australian Knifemaker Guild Melbourne Show. Since then, Alistair has risen to become one of the best folding knife makers in Australia.
As a knifemaker and a perfectionist, Alistair loves the mechanisms involved with making folding knives. Whether it is getting the spring to fit flat on a slipjoint or the perfecting the lockup of a linerlock, getting everything to fit together is a very rewarding process.
In addition to teaching Folding Knife courses at Tharwa Valley Forge he makes and sells his own knives, including knives that are sold by Spyderco.
Alistair's website can be seen here
Dave has been coaxing bows from saplings, trees and lumber since he was 14. Starting with simple branches and small saplings strung with baling twine, Dave soon yearned for a more authentic savage's experience.
Dave sought out the writings of bowyers past and present, such as Adrian Elliot Hodgkins and the modern champions - Tim Baker, Jim Hamm and the like. With this newfound knowledge, Dave was able to make much more efficient bows for the target butts and for the hunt.
After moving from the bush to the city, Dave began using milled timber in place of standing trees. At about the same time, Dave discovered that with the application of clever and complex formulae and technical drawings, bow design and performance could be enhanced to a much higher standard.
Dave has worked as a semi-professional bowyer at times, and still takes commissions on occasion. His bows have been sent as far as Townsville to Hobart, and Perth to Sydney. Dave has started teaching the art of bowyery so as to share the skills, experience and joy of crafting primal wooden bows able to compete with modern fibreglass productions with pride and authority.
Baz is a man of many talents, some of which generate income. He has been making knives since 2012 and has a talent for being able to make anything he puts his mind to.
He is a full-time cutler at Tharwa Valley Forge and also instructs on knifemaking, blacksmithing, and metal sculpture courses.
The first knife Baz made was from a lawnmower blade he found under a welding bench. He took a look at it and thought he'd have a go. Which is very much the way Baz seems to approach most of his endeavours and to which his peers credit his success.
Using pallet wood, some copper pipe and the lawnmower blade, Baz made a small utility knife. It's still in use today, although Baz says he wouldn't call it a knife these days even though it still cuts quite well.
Baz has come a long way since then, with the superhero Ironman playing a part in his growth as a knifemaker. To raise money for the Starlight Foundation - and to give sick kids in hospital a thrill - Baz made the world's first full-size all-steel Ironman suit.
Throughout the process he encountered many technical and logistical challenges. He received a lot of support online from total strangers. By way of saying 'thank you' Baz took to making knives for those whom had helped him out.
Baz served in the Army and saw active service in East Timor. In 2018 he took a course with Tharwa Valley Forge as part of our Veterans & Families Maker Program in 2018. Since then he's become a valuable full-time member of our team.
You can see more of his work on his website, including more of the stroy about his full-size Ironman suit.
Hailing from Orange in NSW, James has long enjoyed creating things with his hands. Unfortunately for James, his home town did little to fulfill his passion for creativity, as the only opportunity to make things with his hands was making pizzas at the local pizza shop.
Seeking to broaden his horizons, James undertook work experience at Tharwa Valley Forge. His creativity and skill caught the eye of Karim, leading James to move to Canberra to pursue a career as an Artisan.
Having studied Metal Arts at TAFE, James is a skilled fabricator that has made everything from practical everyday items such as seating and work benches, through to art installations of his own design.
James is now an Assistant Cutler at Tharwa Valley Forge and is developing into a skilled Bladesmith. He makes production knives and cutlery at the Forge, and assists with the conduct of courses. In addition to loving his job, James is very happy to have access to a comprehensive workshop where he can continue to grow as a creator and knife maker.
A knife maker since 2008, Jackson has worked at Tharwa Valley Forge since 2016 making custom knives and teaching classes. Inspired by Master Bladesmith Jerry Fisk and motivated by Karim, Jackson aspires to constantly push his creative limits and grow as an artist.
With a lifelong affinity for recycling and machining timber, Jackson has previously worked at the iconic Canberra joinery, sawmill and recycled timber yard Thor's Hammer.
Jackson's personal blade brand, Rumble Knives, reflects his extensive use of recycled and repurposed timber and metal. He often works with materials from old buildings, street trees, and obsolete machinery imbuing his creations with a history of their own.
The most interesting knife Jackson has made to date was a custom knife made entirely of items from a rural property. The handle was made from a tree that had been struck by lightening, the fittings were made from copper pipes dug up from the property, and the blade was forged from the leaf springs of a 19th century horse buggy from the property.
Asides from being asthetically pleasing, Jackson loves working with timber because it is always alive and moving; many people don't appreciate the fact that timber is always moving in response to its surroundings. This fact combined with timber's fascinating mechanical properties makes Jackson feel that timber provides an excellent challenge to his creative abilities.
In addition to timber, Jackson enjoys working in Damascus because its nature complements that of timber and echoes many of wood's characteristics. For Jackson, working with Damascus evokes many of the skills required for working with wood, and he uses it in his designs to complement the features of the exotic hardwoods he often works with.
Jackson spends most Australian winters in the United States where he runs a summer camp for teenagers. Although we miss having him around, Jackson enjoys never experiencing winter and the challenge of working with young people (which proves to never be boring).