Maverick Murdock: A 24-year-old, Self-taught Bladesmith
BY JESSIANNE CASTLE
At 15, Maverik Murdock was in disbelief. He’d just watched a video illustrating the strength of a knife’s blade — an ancestral tool borne of spark and fire — and from somewhere within he felt a burning to make one himself.
Pouring over books and scrolling through websites and videos, a young Maverik set out to build a knife in his family’s small garage in Bozeman. He made the blade with a hacksaw and files, but that first knife led to the next one and the one after that, as he tested his ability to transform raw material into beautiful and utilitarian art.
“You could call it a calling,” Murdock said in early April, leaning over his workbench and clasping broad, calloused hands around a knife blank he recently forged. “Ever since I was young, I’ve always been very hands-on.”
The second oldest in a family of six children, Murdock remembers playing with a crescent wrench and screwdriver as a young child. He took apart the lawnmower and busted his baby brother out of his crib. “I’ve always been one to jump in when something needed fixed,” he said, a Cheshire smile washing over his lean face.
The entire Murdock family bears the mark of creativity, crafting spray-paint art, drawings or woodworking projects. Maverik Murdock is well-versed in the art of tinkering, whether building stick bows and stone hatchets or creating jewelry, leatherwork and furniture. He just needed the spark.
It’s been 10 years since the first blade, and the now-24-year-old estimates he’s built 150 knives, each by hand, each with an artisan’s care. In the spring of 2017, Murdock completed the first half of his journeyman smith testing offered by the American Bladesmith Society and he has high hopes of finishing the certification later this year.
He bills the business as Maverik Knives, a place where customers can see their imagination come to life. From hunting knives and every-day-carries to kitchen choppers and straight razors, each piece displays Murdock’s expertise in metallurgy and experimentation.
Through support from his parents and siblings, the wispy, blue-eyed young man was able to build his passion into a career. “It’s one thing to have the desire,” he said, “but to have your family always encouraging it … really helped me grow.”
Faith, he added, is a pillar in the Murdock home, and his parents prayed when they were naming their children. “They felt Maverik was the right one [for me],” he said. “They must have been right because Maverik traditionally means trailblazer.”
Murdock’s workshop is still in his family’s garage. Recently cleaned from a week’s worth of metal craft, it’s clearly well-used. A scrap pile lies heaped to one side, the walls lined with shelving holding elements that make a perfect blade: metal, wood and antler to test its strength.
Surrounding Murdock’s forge, which sits at the center of it all, sanders and grinders stand at the ready. He points to an odd shape on the table in the corner, saying with a throaty laugh that he’s building yet another sander.
Murdock says each knife is an exploration into the art of bladesmithing and by the very stroke of the hammer no two are the same. He leaves a trace of his own inquisitive nature in every piece, experimenting with items like coins for the bolster, or applying concoctions of acids and bases to transform the color of the blade.
“To have those little differences, it’s really important to what I do. I like the thought that each knife is its own knife,” he said. “You can forge out 10 knives that are all roughly the same size, but the hammer will leave a different mark, like a fingerprint.”
Daniel O’Malley is a bladesmith of 20 years and owner of the online sales site Blade Gallery based in Kirkland, Washington, where some of Murdock’s knives are sold. The uniqueness of Maverik Knives, O’Malley says, is a reflection of his innovative skill and approach to bladesmithing.
“He’s a really promising guy,” O’Malley said. “He’s so fantastically creative, and he has pieces that are uniquely him.”
O’Malley says Murdock experiments with interesting and adventurous shapes, finding his own expressive voice.
“In knife-making, it can be a challenge having a unique artistic vision,” he explained. “Because he didn’t have a master standing over his shoulder saying,‘You need to do it this way,’ he just tries things. He’s happy to do an experiment to see how it works.”
It’s taken years, but he has developed a specific approach and metal-testing protocol after giving prototypes to local businesses such as Seven Sushi, Black Sheep Custom Leather and The Barber Shop and Shaving Parlor.
After numerous iterations of a drawing, he comes up with a design to satisfy a given need. He then proceeds to heat and hammer wide, flat lengths of steel using a forge he built himself. At temperatures just north of 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, the steel can be progressively molded.
Once the blade itself is hammered to shape, Murdock develops the handle, which is fitted to the precise measurement of a customer’s hand. His favorite handles are wooden, and include the knotted formation of California buckeye burl, red afzelia lay burl, and the exotic and colorful curly koa.
“I like natural materials. You can’t go wrong with a piece of wood; it’s warm in the hand,” he said.
From there he utilizes grinders, polishers and vices in order to complete the shaping and develop an edge. As each knife has beginnings at the mercy of hand and hammer, so too do they culminate with a stroke of the hand: The final stage is to hand-sand the blade, creating a clean, satin finish.
“I really want to produce something you’re going to use,” Murdock said, “but also something you’ll be proud to pass down in your family.”
While in attendance at the International Custom Cutlery Expo in Kansas last year, Murdock’s mother, Camille, said she was proud to see her son’s product on full display, standing out from many others.
“A lot of the time someone learns from a specific knife maker and they develop that person’s style,” she said. “That’s all they know.” But she added that because Murdock is self- taught — there aren’t many apprentice options in Bozeman — he’s had to learn to cultivate a style on his own. “His knives are all original.”
From bars of steel, Murdock forges beautiful edges and shapes, creating art in his own way and blades from a spark.
Visit maverikknives.com to view Murdock’s work. His knives are available locally at Schnee’s in downtown Bozeman.
A freelance writer and Bozeman native, Jessianne Castle enjoys telling the stories of the West.