Many moons ago, Barry Gardner went to a gun show and saw some knives on a stall. He inquired as to their provenance and on finding that they were handmade by the stall holder, realised immediately that he wanted to be a professional, full-time knife maker. And full-time he is. When I rang to make a time to come out, Barry said he would be there 7 days a week from 6am-6pm, so anytime was fine – but when I arrived the next morning (not at 6am!) he’d been working until 11.30 the night before and had just decided to sleep there. Luckily, Amanda, Gardner’s partner who also oversees the business with him, brought coffees for everyone with Jack the tenterfield terrier into the friendly, busy and generous atmosphere of the workshop.
Barry, or Baz as he’s known and Amanda moved to the Barossa Valley 18 years ago and when the JamFactory Seppeltsfield were scouting for tenants in 2013, Baz was invited to be an anchor tenant and promptly given a three year lease. The nature of being at a busy place like Seppeltsfield Winery, with it’s events, restaurant, JamFactory shop and gallery and the beautiful grounds means that there is a constant stream of day trippers, caravanners and the occasional hen’s party stumbling upon the workshop. Everyone who comes is enthralled and likes to impart their knowledge of knife making to him from the viewing deck (sadly, I realised I did the same from the floor – sorry Baz!). Once a wine-fuelled hen reached over and grabbed a knife, running her finger along its sharp edge to check whether it was sharp. It turns out, it’s best to just ask. This busyness and constant public interface leaves Baz searching for the solitary, so he finds himself there very late into the night and early in the morning. Although he cites himself as not being a ‘people person’, I found Baz to be earnest, warm and genuine – and this helps open up the mysterious world of knife making to the mostly uninformed public. He is brazenly passionate about his craft and does not consider it a ‘job’. He’s a man for whom life was not handed to on a platter and so, has worked incredibly hard to be where he is, doing what he loves and living the dream he once had at that gun show.
Gardner focuses on kitchen and chef’s knives, mostly using recycled materials and is particularly inspired by traditional Japanese designs. He has helped families create heirlooms, recently slicing a late grandfather’s tree-lopping saw into five knives for his five grandchildren. He’s melted a gun barrel down and turned it into a knife for someone who wanted the memento from their father, but didn’t want a gun in the house. Serious chefs come in to make their own custom knife. Apparently, witches and warlocks need ceremonial knives and he’s obviously their man. He works with people from all walks of life from a Senator to a priest to mothers and daughters, retirees and anyone else who has had the realisation written on the workshop wall, ‘There comes a time in our life, when it’s time to make a knife‘.
You can see Baz is the sort of person who treats everyone equally and without judgement. One of the people in his workshop the morning I was there, was ‘knife enthusiast’ Rob – he says he sits 9-5 in front of a computer 5 days a week, so on the weekends he’s under Barry’s guidance, working with his hands and getting immense satisfaction and pleasure from it. Rob’s sentiment echoes that of many people on the search for the handmade, a ‘genuine’ experience and the chance to be part of the the miraculousness of manipulating metal. It’s undeniably a primal urge toward this incredibly ancient tool and Baz is booked up at least 6 months in advance for his workshops as word has started spreading of his arrival at Seppeltsfield, where the official opening hours are 11am-5pm, 7 days a week. For information about doing a workshop with Baz, please contact Amanda at Gardner Knives.