A knifemaking studio and school based in Belfast, Mpumalanga, Heavin Forge is a fascinating place where you can see how knives are made, admire an impressive collection of traditional African weapons and antique blacksmithing tools, or buy one of Heather and Kevin’s beautiful creations. The Harveys have both have won numerous awards both in the US and locally, and love sharing their skills, knowledge and passion for knives and bladesmithing with others. A Q&A session with Heather gives us a glimpse into the world of a very specialised and unique trade, as well as some excellent business advice.
Q: What inspired you to start your business?
A: Our love of knives and the desire to share our knowledge inspired us to start Heavin Forge eight and a half years ago.
Q: How did the concept come about?
A: Kevin was making knives full time at Gold Reef City, while I was making Damascus steel to sell to other knifemakers and also had a shop at Gold Reef City. When we met we taught each other our relevant trades, fell in love, got married and left the city to combine our workshops in Belfast.
Q: Tell me about the type of product or service you feature
A: We mainly export our high end collectable art knives, but sell practical work knives in South Africa from our showroom and website as well. We also offer bladesmithing courses, sell Damascus steel to other knifemakers, build and sell gas forges and offer a sharpening service. And for two weeks each year we teach at the Texarkana College Bladesmithing School in Old Washington, Arkansas.
Q: How is your business unique?
A: We are both Master Bladesmiths with the American Bladesmiths Association, and the only Master Bladesmiths in Africa. To become a Master Bladesmith you have to be an Apprentice Bladesmith for three years – doing numerous tests and submitting work to become a Journeyman Bladesmith, and finally submitting work for evaluation and testing to become a Master Bladesmith. With our qualifications we offer the most intensive bladesmithing courses in Africa and our work is recognised around the world.
Q: How important is location, why did you choose to open your business where you are?
A: We chose Belfast for its cool climate; you need this when playing with fire all day! The fly-fishing in this area also appealed to us, as well as the friendly small town lifestyle. Luckily we can run our business from anywhere in the country, but we fell in love with Belfast many years before we moved here, and have never regretted our decision to leave Johannesburg and city life.
Q: How has your business evolved since you opened?
A: We have more regular visitors to our showroom now, and we have streamlined our internet sales and got to know our post office staff by name! We also try to do all our purchasing online and have things posted to us, as we just cannot face Johannesburg traffic anymore.
Q: Tell me about your staff
A: We don’t have staff, but we do however take on apprentices. Our first apprentice spent two years with us and has now opened his own knifemaking workshop in Durban.
Q: Do you have a funny tidbit or story about your experience as a small business owner to share with us?
A: Many courier companies didn’t want to deliver to us when our street name changed from Van Kraayenburg St to Lizana Magagula St. They would phone us from the N4 highway and tell us that they were not allowed to make deliveries in townships!
Q: In what ways do you think your business is benefiting the community?
A: We run courses twice a month and our students support the community by staying in the local guest houses and eating at local restaurants. We also advertise Belfast on our website.
Q: What are the main challenges when running your own business?
A: End of the month commitments is the main challenge for us, as we do not have a steady form of income.
Q: What are the main rewards?
A: Our commuting to work is fun – we might encounter a chicken on the path from the house to the workshop… working from home is great! We are so lucky to have our hobby as our work, and we are always creating something new and learning another art form to add to our knifemaking.
Q: Why do you think your business is successful?
A: We have full control over every aspect. The knives never leave our hands; we do every part of their making including all leatherwork and embellishment. We are also passionate about what we do and enjoy seeing our students excel at their knifemaking.
Q: How has the recent economy affected your business?
A: We have had to diversify. Luckily one of Kevin’s knife designs was accepted by a well-known knife company from Solingen in Germany: Boker. They also offered us their agency for South Africa, and we have opened another business selling their quality factory made knives from our new website. We will always, however, carry on with our handmade knives – even if we won the Lotto! But with the other business helping us, we are of course freed up more to be very creative with the handmades.
Q: What advice can you give to someone starting their own business?
A: Believe in yourself and your product! As far as possible, try to avoid using a third party for anything. Keep control of your business by learning to do your own website, accounts and advertising. Keep improving yourself by learning new things that will improve your business, and never let your standards slide. Get an internationally recognised accreditation if you can, and remember to share your knowledge freely.
Q: How is your business is Proudly South African?
A: We try to use indigenous hardwoods and African handle materials; giraffe bones, gems buck horns, warthog tusks and other animal products from culled animals make great knife handles.
For more info tel 087 808 4413 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org