A Craft of Patience: Cutlery

A Craft of Patience: Cutlery

“Yatagan Baba” settles in the region where Yatağan neighbourhood of Serinhisar County in Denizli is located when the Ghuzz Turks started to make Anatolia their homeland in the time of Seljuks.

Yatağan Baba is a blacksmith and starts smithing in this town. This process, which started with the ironwoorking that day, extends to today’s cutlery and the reputation of Yatagan knives exceeds the borders of the country.

Blacksmithing at Yatagan is the largest livelihood from father to son for centuries. In almost every house, the knives,  jack-knives and sharp tools are made with iron pounded in the stoves in front of the old type of bellows. We talked about the past, present and future of the knife trade with Hadi Akın, owner of Akın Paslanmaz, who has been doing this work for almost 50 years.

Could you tell us a little about yourself?

I was born in 1961 in Yatagan. I started cutlery as a father’s profession in 1970. I married in 1986. Umm Akın also worked with me for many years, always helped me. Her help is priceless. I have four kids today. Three of them are boys. Two of them are continuing our profession. The other is doing his own job.

When did you start your own business? How did that process develop?

A year after starting the profession, my father had a professional accident and he had to leave the cutlery. After this, we went to the Aydın Plain to collect cotton. But I did not like this job. I wanted to be my own boss. A year after marriage, I established Akın Paslanmaz. I worked for 15 hours every day for 15 years. Such that some people in my village didn’t know me. Then 1st Gulf War started and everyone stopped production, but I continued to work. I have employed up to 8 people. When the war ended, I bought my 2 storey house by selling my stocks. I created my capital.

Is the cutlery a hard craft? How to distinguish a good knife?

Cutlery is a difficult business; however its earnings is low. But if you stand your ground, you can learn this craft. I always say to my children “Don’t hesitate the diffıcult, no matter how hard it is. There is no such thing as having a profession. It’s a gold bracelet, it supports everytıme who has it. The fine blade get thinner to the tip, offers ease of use. It doesn’t tire the user out.

Could you tell us about the process of knife making? Which stages are passed?

The metal starts to blush at 950-1000 degrees. It comes to an orange-like consistency. At that time you need to wait a little. Because if you give the water right away, it won’t pull it in and it won’t be a good knife. That’s the point. After the polishing process is finished, a good haft is made. The material used here varies upon request. At the end of the work, 50 different procedures are applied to a knife. All of them require fine workmanship. If good material meets with the good master, it becomes a very good product.

Is the good knife made of steel or iron?

If it is a quality steel, the knife made of it shines out. But the most beautiful knife is made from a laminated leaf spring used for cars. But its workmanship is very difficult. A master can only produce 3 a day from that. But this knife cuts the normal blades like paper.

Knife itself needs a separate workmanship as much as its handle. What are the most demanding hafts?

Hafts made from deer horns are used mostly for ornament purposes. The root walnut haft is also within this scope and their cost is high. Plastic handle is usually cheap.

How to care and wash the knife?

Be sure to try your long-term kitchen knives for your kitchen. Although the appearance of almost every blade looks the same; the thickness, weight and length of its back are different. For this reason, use the blades that you can easily grasp with your hand.

Maintenance process is very important when using the knife. Never wash wooden handles in a dishwasher. Because the wood is affected by water, it shortens the life of the blade. Dry the cloths thoroughly with a towel cloth to ensure that your non-steel blades are not oxidized quickly.

Sharpen your non-laser cutting blades at regular intervals. The blade must be serviced periodically by a competent person. The life of the maintained and sharpened blade is also long.

Have the recent popular historical drama series increased the sales of knives and swords?

These series have contributed greatly to our business, our sales have increased. Those who are beginning to get better acquainted with their history and culture are keen to have knives and swords. Especially new design knives are very prominent in this respect. Youngs and middle-aged men are looking for these knives.

Yatağan knife is very popular, who’s among your customers?

Yatağan knives are popular not only in our country but also in the world. One of the products  of Yatağan has been a gift to  all of our state elders notably President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. However, important names from abroad also prefer Yatagan blades.

Where do you sell your products more?

Knife sales before the feast of sacrifice hit record high. We also send our knives mainly to metropolitan cities such as Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir. Besides, Black Sea Region is an important market for us. We didn’t sell abroad until now. But we also want to export. We will take steps in this regard in the future.

And my son is also selling online. Especially on social media such as Instagram and Facebook, knife sales are available. From here we can send the product to any location.

How does Yatağan Cutlery Festival affect your business?

Improvement of our roads, infrastructure and superstructure works facilitated access to Yatağan. In festival time, the visitor’s amount is also increasing. Thousands of tourists from various cities and even from abroad meet Yatagan knives. Our retail sales are also increasing. This affects our business positively.

For many craftsmen, the biggest problem is not finding an apprentice. Is it like that for you?

Currently, many facilities are not working for nor finding an apprentice. Young people are going out of the city to get education. Craft learning is difficult for many people. We are trying to find workers from the surrounding villages. Now, if I could have found an apprentice, I would pay 2 thousand TL salary plus insurance and daily food, but I can’t find. It is easier for people to work at the factory with minimum wage. City life also attracts people.

What do you think about the future of cutlery? Why would young people prefer this profession?

Mankind will need a knife as long as he eats. Shape can change, the demand for models may differentiate, but the knife will always be needed. There is always a future for this craft. But persevering is a prerequisite. Without it, no success can take place. Also, honesty when  doing business is “sine qua non”. If you say the advantages and disadvantages of the product to the customer, your reliability increases. This positively affects your business in the long term.