Maker’s Mark

Dec 17, 2021
Story and photos by Glen Liford
When Brandon Franklin is at work in his Jonesborough shop, the ring of steel on steel resonates from wall to wall. Carefully aimed strikes from a blacksmith hammer shapes simple slabs of steel as he pursues his vision for his latest creation. The knife or other item that he is making is further refined through careful finishing techniques that polish and smooth the piece until it satisfies the maker as a he strives for the perfect blend of aesthetics and functionality.
Through his business, Franklin Forge, Brandon is garnering attention from fellow enthusiasts for the elegant knives produced through his techniques that incorporate the age-old craft of blacksmithing with a little help from modern methods like CAD (computer aided design) software.
“Before I got into this, a buddy asked me to go to the [Atlanta knife] show, and I had no interest,” he says. “My wife was away, and I went with him. That started my addiction to blades.”
Brandon, a customer of Washington Farmers Cooperative, became interested in the craft after watching the popular “Forged in Fire” television show on the History Channel. Each episode pits four contestants against one another as they forge bladed weapons in a series of three elimination rounds, with the winning bladesmith taking home $10,000 and earning the title of “Forged in Fire Champion.”
“I stumbled across the show and became addicted to it,” says Brandon. “I thought, ‘I can do this. Or at the very least, I want to try.”
Brandon knew little about blacksmithing, so he reached out to a local craftsman for training. The process appealed to his creative side, and he began learning the procedures by making simple items like hooks, hinges, and other pieces with the guidance of his friend for a year and a half or so. He later met Jason Knight, who is a master bladesmith, and attended one of the knife maker's classes.
“There is no better person from which to learn the craft than someone who holds that title,” says Brandon.
The hands-on nature of the process appealed to Brandon, but it was the pure act of making something out of nothing that drove him to continue. He has always loved working with his hands, but he strayed from those tendencies as he selected his career. He studied computer science at Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville before following his future wife, Emily, to East Tennessee State University in Johnson City where he completed his degree. He then worked as a software developer for 11 years before finally plunging into knife making and blacksmithing full time in November 2020.
“The computer work just wasn’t scratching the itch that I had growing up,” he says, noting that he still does website development as a side business. As a child in the tiny community of Rover in Middle Tennessee, Brandon often got into trouble with his parents as he tore into perfectly good toys to see how they worked or make his own modifications. Later, his stepdad taught him how work on cars, doing me chanical work, welding, and painting.
 “That was really the awakening for me to become a maker,” he says. “I wanted to create things that make people’s lives better, not just do it for myself.”
The transition to blacksmithing and knife making allowed him to combine his penchant for making things with his technical understanding and artistic abilities. He uses the vintage “brute de forge” methods depicted on the show, coupled with CAD (computer aided design) techniques to add his unique twist on his own creations.
He often begins the creative process sketching his ideas with pen and paper. Later, those drawings may be adapted to wooden patterns or, in some cases, output with his own 3D printer so he can get a better feel for the heft of a particular design.
“Obviously, you can make anything your mind can imagine, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to cut well or function as a particular type of knife,” he explains. “I try to combine an artistic approach with a practical understanding of how a knife will be used to make unique pieces that stand out from everyone else’s stuff.”
He starts with quality steel in a variety of compositions. Each one is unique and brings its characteristics as far as edge retention, grain structure, and toughness, Brandon explains.
“They are all high carbon steel that will harden and make great blades,” he says. “But some will perform better for different purposes, like a kitchen knife or a skinner.”
As he begins shaping the steel, he will often have one of the wooden or CAD-generated patterns laying nearby to guide his process.
Like the steel, handle materials are critical to each knife’s purpose and appearance. He chooses various woods, stag, bone, or synthetic material to fit with the character of the piece.
“I will choose something different, if I know the knife will need to be water resistant,” he says. “I like to choose something like a stabilized, exotic wood or a synthetic like G10 or micarta for durability. Exotic woods can be the most beautiful because the wood’s burl is like a fingerprint. Each one is unique.”
Stag handles are popular, too, and he says sometimes a hunter will bring him antlers to use in a special knife.
“That’s really cool,” says Brandon. “They have a story behind it that is unique to them, and they can pass it down.” Finished knives can be priced from $100 to $1,500 depending on the size, materials used, the finish, and the amount of work spent on the final piece.
He markets his creations through his website, on social media like Instagram and Facebook, via word of mouth, and at shows, like The Blade Show held in Atlanta each June.
Checkout Brandon’s work at his website