Meet the Emirati carving a reputation as a top UAE knife-maker

Abdullah Al Ahmed is forging ahead with the range of blades handmade in his Ras Al Khaimah workshop

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When Abdullah Al Ahmed is in his Ras Al Khaimah workshop, time stands still.

The young Emirati is lost in a quiet world of carving, sanding and filing, with the outside world of endless distractions far away.

As one of the few Emirati knife-makers, Mr Al Ahmed, 26, is carving out a niche as one of the UAE’s top artisans.

And his range of knives has been a star attraction of this year’s Abu Dhabi International Hunting and Equestrian Exhibition (Adihex), being held at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre.

Just two years ago it was still a dream. After graduating from college but facing a world locked down because of Covid-19, Mr Al Ahmed returned to an earlier passion for knife-making that was inspired by his father’s collection of camping knives.

“He gave me a multi-tool as a gift when I was older and from that day, my passion grew,” he said.

“Day after day, I began to learn more about how knives were made. I watched videos and learnt about the process and the different materials and different styles. The first knife I made was in 2011 — and it was not like what you see today,” he said with a chuckle.

A Japanese-style guto chef knife made by Emirati Abdullah Al Ahmed. Khushnum Bhandari / The National

When the pandemic led to lockdowns and border closures, Mr Al Ahmed turned a room in his home in Al Rufa into a workshop.

“I went to a small room in the back of our house and started making a knife,” he said.

“My friends played video games, and they enjoy this, but for me it is totally different. I don’t like to waste time.”

The steel — such as stainless, carbon and Damascus steel — arrives at his workshop in plates, which he then cuts and grinds to the design he wants.

Then it undergoes a complex process of heating and cooling to ensure the correct hardness.

“This is known as tempering cycle,” he said. “The knife should not be too soft or too hard, so it maintains an edge for a long time.”

The material for the handles, such as desert ironwood, also come in blocks and is carved into shape by hand.

Some handles have different colours and design flourishes, such as flecks of shredded carbon fibre embedded into the handle.

“Every knife is different,” Mr Al Ahmed said, picking up one on display at his Adihex booth to illustrate this.

“All the blades are different and the shapes and colours of the handles are different. It is impossible for them to be the same.”

When he is in the workshop, Mr Al Ahmed is lost in his own world. It can take at least two weeks to make a knife, working five hours a day.

Time stands still and the stresses of modern life seem far away. It is a painstaking process of cutting, grinding, heating, filing, sharpening and buffering.

“The phone is off and I’m away from everything,” he said.

“I don’t even know the time. Suddenly it is midnight and hours have passed like the click of fingers, because I was totally focused and cannot feel the time.”

Abdullah Al Ahmed explains how he makes his knives. Khushnum Bhandari / The National

The dream that began two years now with just a few thousand dirhams investment has now become a fully-fledged company called Oryx Custom Knives.

It is inspired by the Arabian oryx and he personally designed the logo that is a modernist take on the renowned antelope species native to the Arabian Peninsula.

“I wanted something that has a connection to our country,” he said.

He sells several ranges of knives, from small implements suitable for camping to cooking blades inspired by Japanese chef knives. Each one is proudly stamped, “Made in the UAE”.

Prices start at a few hundred dirhams, and Mr Al Ahmed's favourite is the Al Solai range. These cost around Dh900 ($245) and are named after the local word for a young oryx.

One of his most expensive knives on display was made from Damascus steel — renowned for its swirling patterns — and costs several thousand dirhams.

There was a steady stream of visitors to Mr Al Ahmed's stall at Adihex, from people looking beyond mass-produced knives.

His passion for his craft is clear and he spends a long time with every potential customer at his stand. He had sold at least half of his stock by Wednesday. The knives can only be purchased direct and an Instagram page helps to showcase the products.

Mr Al Ahmed has invested in machines including a drill press, kiln and sanding belt to complement the hand tools he uses, but Oryx Custom Knives is still a part-time job.

Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed, The Ruler’s Representative in Al Dhafra, stopped at his booth on Monday and urged him to continue his efforts.

“You can imagine the situation,” Mr Al Ahmed said of Sheikh Hamdan’s visit.

“He asked a lot of questions and pushed me forward. He told me I needed to keep it up. And that we needed knife-makers.

“I was proud. I felt honoured. Now I have a big responsibility.”

Adihex continues at Abu Dhabi’s Adnec until October 2. For more information visit www.adihex.com

Abu Dhabi International Hunting and Equestrian Exhibition - in pictures

Updated: October 01, 2022, 9:14 AM
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