ANORAMA - Hot steel. Cool ... Blades

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From rough, red-hot steel to an ornate Bowie knife, Bruce Bump is a master of his craft.

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An ornate Bowie knife made by Bruce Bump is shown.

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Bump peers through the unfinished handle of a single-shot pistol he's working on.

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Bump's hammer waits for a blade from the forge to be hammered out.

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Bump examines his work.

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Instructions for knife-making are shown.

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A visual record of Bruce Bump's creations is on hand in his shop.

Bruce Bump sold his first knife for $25. In those days, Bump was still making a living as a motorcycle mechanic and building knives as a hobby.

"I think that's the way most knife makers begin," Bump said, alluding to his very low-key origins.

These days, the trappings of his 30-year profession are still in evidence. A framed photo of an old motorcycle rests on a stool against the wall. Grinders, a metal lathe and a band saw sit over what used to be a mechanic's pit dug into the floor.

It's clear, however, the shop is dedicated to knives. Blade blanks hang on the walls while a variety of handle materials and other odds and ends are stuffed into nooks around the shop.

"It's so expensive to own a business downtown." Bump said of why he closed his motorcycle repair business. "It wasn't making as much (as knives.)"

It's not hard to imagine, with prices for his knives starting at $250 for basic hunting models.

"Forged (blades) are about $100 more," Bump said. "Damascus is just crazy. Just say substantially more."

Despite the hefty price tag, Bump, of Walla Walla, can't keep knives in stock. Some of his business comes from local fishermen and hunters who need utility knives. Most of the business is from online orders for specialty blades sought by collectors.

Bump started building knives in 1988 as a way to teach boys in Royal Rangers, a church-based organization much like the Boy Scouts. Eventually, Bump began to focus less on teaching and more on building. Bump became an apprentice bladesmith in the American Bladesmith Society, and eventually worked his way up to Master Bladesmith in 2003.

Like medieval guilds, the American Bladesmith Society maintains strict control of, and sets rigid standards for, the Master Bladesmith designation. One of the most rigorous portions of the test includes chopping a 2-by-4 board in half, twice, and then using the knife to shave hair off the tester's arm.

The test-knife blade must also be bent at 90 degrees in a vise to test durability.

"It's got to perform first," Bump said. "I think (a knife) is just worthless if you can't use it. It's just a waste of money."

Despite Bump's "function first" standard for his knives, there is no question each is a work of consummate skill - a piece of art. Many of his ornate Damascus knives are bought by collectors around the world.

In spite of his success, Bump challenges himself, experimenting with different Damascus patterns, knife designs and steel types. His latest fascination is knives with attached gun barrels. Or possibly guns with attached knife blades.

However you see it, the fearsome creations are pricey.

"They started at $3,500," Bump said. "Now they're at least $10,000."

Bump builds the single-shot pistol-knives around muzzle loading barrel ends, and makes the firing mechanism from scratch.

"I wanted more of a challenge," Bump said, adding he has tested gun barrels. Or possibly guns with attached knife blades.

However you see it, the fearsome creations are pricey.

"They started at $3,500," Bump said. "Now they're at least $10,000."

Bump builds the single-shot pistol-knives around muzzle-loading barrel ends, and makes the firing mechanism from scratch.

"I wanted more of a challenge," Bump said, adding that he has tested all of his knife-guns, except one: a battle-axe pistol he shipped to Barbados.

They all fire, Bump said, and he already has orders for the knife-gun combinations for the next five years.

In spite of his success, or perhaps because of it, Bump still finds time to educate others. Bill Dirk helps out around Bump's workshop, and has blans to become an apprentice bladesmith. Bump also spends time on various online knife-making forums.

"I think people are smarter than they've ever been because of the forums," Bump said, adding they have been a valuable tool in his career. "I think I'll make better and better knives until I die. I hope."

Luke Hegdal can be reached at lukehegdal@wwub.com or 526-8326.

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