Ben Seward is a nationally recognized knifemaker with a years-long line of collectors and hunters waiting to own one of his blades.By Dwain Hebda Photography by Matthew Martin
Ben Seward cringes at the thought of the first knife he ever made, back when he had much more enthusiasm for the art than skill. “I still have the first one,” he said. “It looks terrible. I mean it’s awful.” Things have perked up considerably since then.
Seward, 29, is now one of the most in-demand knifemakers in the country with lines for his creations stretching around the world. Not long ago, a customer would wait for a few months to receive a high-end knife; today the backlog of orders represents a three-year sit.
Seward has had a knife in his hands for as long as he can remember and has pursued his craft in earnest for eight years. Like a lot of rural kids in Arkansas who liked to hunt and fish, a trusty blade was never far from him during his youth in Jordan, just north of Calico Rock. He was sweating the seasonality of construction work when he attended a knife show in Little Rock and saw his future.
“From the get-go I decided I wanted to do this fulltime, which most people pretty well told me not to do it,” he said. “It ain’t exactly the easiest thing to do full time. But I’d seen that it could be done,” Seward said. In 2010, Seward attended an introduction to bladesmithing class at the Moran School of Bladesmithing in Old Washington, Arkansas. The two-week class opened the door to a much wider range of educational opportunities as he worked his way through the ranks of apprentice and in 2013, journeyman, as recognized by the American Bladesmith Society.
It also gave him the opportunity to learn under Mastersmiths Lin Rhea, Jerry Fisk and Kyle Roye. He proved an apt pupil and was soon making a name for himself at shows, in competitions and in various publications. His design was recognized as best handle at the 2017 Blade Show Knife of the Year Awards. “You’ve got to have a good product but you also have to market it,” he said. “You’ve got to get out there. Online presence helps; going to shows you get to meet collectors face-to-face.
His pieces have also been pictured in the last few editions of the collector’s almanac, “The World’s Greatest Knives,” where he appears alongside Fisk, his mentor, designated National Living Treasure and arguably the most recognized American bladesmith living. It’s a status to which Seward aspires.
“I’ve heard it said the collector isn’t buying your knife, he’s buying you. It’s more the relationship you build,” he said.
Seward is particularly proud of two things about his business. One, it gives him the opportunity to work alongside his father, David, who creates custom sheaths and other leatherwork to accompany his hardware. Second, and just as gratifying, are the number of clients around the world who order their knives for working and not simply to put them under glass.
“It means a lot to me selling to a soldier, selling to the hunter,” he said. “You send knives to really interesting places and really interesting people.”