Interview: Stefan Steigerwald


Stefan Steigerwald

Stefan Steigerwald (1968) must be a happy man. He has a wonderful workshop adjacent to his house in the Southern German town of Wendelstein, filled with every conceivable type of metal-working machinery. His mind is full of plans and ideas, and he has the ability, knowledge and workmanship to materialise them. What more do you want?
Text: Bas Martens. Pictures: Helmut Kempe and Bas Martens
Stefan Steigerwald calls himself a knifemaker but that would be selling him short. He certainly makes beautiful knives but he excels in intricate knife-like objects; mostly in a Steampunk style. Some of these combine the most unlikely materials, shapes and constructions.
Stefan’s interest in knife making began a long time ago with a training course to become a hunter. He needed a knife yet found nothing aesthetically pleasing – just “boring knives”, he said. An advertisement led him to Wolf Borger, one of the godfathers of German custom knife making. It was here that Stefan realised a knife was something you could design and build yourself. He bought the materials for two or three knives and set to work, starting a snowball-effect. The work pleased him and was appreciated by others. Stefan sold what he made, could afford new machinery, and proceeded to make more.
The ‘Sydney’. The shape of the grip was clearly inspired by the famous Opera House. The knife is made of RWL, titanium and mother-of-pearl. The knife has an airpump and moveable wings.
It may be hard for our present generation to imagine that in ‘those days’ there was no internet, and hardly any literature on knife making. Every knifemaker who began thirty or more- years ago, had to discover the art for themselves.
Stefan was lucky enough to meet people like Peter Herbst and Siggi Rinkes, who instructed him. The German Knifemakers’ Guild was established in 1986 and began to organise meetings. These meetings led to more contacts and yet more information.
Initially, Stefan combined his knife making with his regular job. Some 14 years ago however, German knife maker Alfred Dobner offered Stefan the opportunity to take over his knifemaking-materials business because Dobner wanted to move to Sweden; Stefan agreed. He was now committed to knives full-time. He was both a custom knifemaker and the owner of an internet shop. It is an economic necessity, he explains, because even for someone with his reputation, knife making alone is an uncertain existence. The ‘Golden Era’ of the 1990’s has passed. Stefan Steigerwald: “You used to have a broader group of buyers. Sometimes people would buy a knife spontaneously at a show. Nowadays it’s almost exclusively collectors”.
Although he likes knife shows, Stefan Steigerwald has mixed feelings about them. “Frankly, I cannot really afford to go to a knife show for a couple of days. I can use that time to make knives as well. That makes more sense as I sell everything that I make anyway. The Internet has changed a lot as well. A lot of knives are sold on-line”.
Stefan Steigerwald is often associated with Steampunk knives, his Biohazard stands as one of his prominent examples. He likes the technically inclined details and the freedom of expression that the Steampunk style permits. He also likes clocks and watches, which combine remarkably well with Steampunk knife designs. But Stefan has a broader interest: biomechanics, natural shapes like scales, fantasy. Virgil England is one of his sources of inspiration.
His knives start with a drawing, and Stefan makes brass templates. However, these only mark the starting point. In making the parts and proceeding to build the knife, things may change, making all his knives unique.
A knife on a clock-like pedestal. The knife is made from RWL and Damask.
The Steamy 2 (left) is a good example of Stefan’s Steampunk knives. This one is made of bronze with Damask
by Jörg Heckel from Schmiede-Schwabach. At the right an elegant outdoor knife.
Stefan makes most of his knife parts himself, including the tiniest screws. It is part of his philosophy: “There is nothing worse than using parts from the construction market – and being caught in doing so”. This is a time-consuming method of working, he admits. A ‘normal’ knife easily takes up to 100 hours of work, which rises to 200 or 300 hours for the more intricate Steampunk models. “You need a lot of patience”, Stefan remarks dryly.
Although his fantasy knows no boundaries as far as designs are concerned, Stefan Steigerwald is fairly straightforward with his materials. His Damascus steel comes from Schmiede-Schwabach, his rustproof Damask is hand forged Tradition-Damast. His handle materials can be anything but the blade and handle must combine harmonically.
Due to the time it takes to make his knives, Stefan usually works in close contact with his customers. He appreciates that. He is fully aware that he sells a product for a considerable price; therefore, sets high standards. His starting points are transparency, quality and courtesy. “I guarantee the quality of my knives”, he says with a twinkle, “That is something you only find with the Swiss, the Japanese and the Germans”.
This knife was inspired by the German ‘Pistole 08’, more commonly known as the Luger. The P08 knife is made of D2 and walnut, with many details like the gun.
Apart from his knives, Stefan Steigerwald is also know for the books he writes on knives and knife making, mostly with Peter Fronteddu. They are published in German by Wieland Verlag and in English by Schiffer Publishing Ltd. We asked him how he get into writing. “That’s simple”, he says, “I was asked”. The books, he feels, were an honour to make. They also helped to make his work more widely known. 
Finally, we asked him: What would he like to say to aspiring knife makers?
Stefan Steigerwald: “Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Have fun trying to make something, and learn in the process. I believe the courage to make errors is lost. That is a pity, because it’s the only way to learn.”
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