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    On the Road to Damascus

    On the Road to Damascus

    Photo By Sgt. Scott Tynes | Kevin Burr heats a piece of metal in his gas-powered forge while crafting a knife. The...... read more read more



    Story by Staff Sgt. Scott Tynes 

    102d Public Affairs Detachment

    It was a challenge issued during a routine resiliency class Soldiers are required to take each year that cast a Bolton, Miss., resident on a course that would bring him great happiness and satisfaction while molding a skill.
    Inspired by the popular History Channel show, “Forged in Fire,” Master Sgt. Kevin Burr began considering forging knives about two or three years ago and began slowly accumulating materials and equipment. However, it was in a resiliency class in August 2018 that he was spurred into putting his vision into action.
    “The instructor challenged each of us to come up with one thing that we’ve always wanted to do and haven’t done, and do it by the end of the year,” he said. “A lot of people were saying they were going back to school or learning to play an instrument. Mine was (that) I’m going to make a knife by the end of December. It was pretty close. I finished between Christmas and New Year’s.”
    The knife he made in December 2018 was a camp knife because it was relatively simple in design and could be crafted in one piece from a lawnmower blade.
    “I started with the mower blades because they are readily available and they’re a softer steel. They’re easier to work so it’s good stuff to practice with,” Burr said. “But they don’t technically make really good blades. You can get them sharp and they look pretty, but they probably won’t hold an edge very well.”
    Now Burr primarily uses leaf springs, from automobiles, made of 51/60 steel. They are composed of iron, carbon and chromium. The chromium gives it a little flexibility and helps in the hardening process.
    Much of his equipment is hand-me-downs; like the anvil received from his uncle that belonged to his grandfather, who got it from a steel mill he worked for in Ohio. Other things were picked up along the way. Burr said he did not have a lot invested in the hobby currently, but was planning to make larger purchases, such as belt grinders and power hammers, sometime in the future.
    To keep costs down, he sometimes even makes his own tools. Made from two rods of rebar, the first thing he actually crafted was a set of tongs for use in the forge.
    Self-taught, Burr said he still makes a lot of mistakes. However, one thing he learned in the Army is that each mistake is a lesson in how to improve his craft. He continues to watch a lot of “Forged in Fire” and picks up a few tips “here and there.” He has also read books and watched instructional videos on YouTube. Occasionally, he gets tips from Derek Melton, a Clinton-based “Forged in Fire” champion, whom he met once he took up the craft.
    “I’ve just been researching stuff like the different kinds of materials and different techniques,” he said. “The order of doing things is pretty important. I learned the hard way that you get it as close to the dimensions that you want before you quench it and it’s a little less time consuming to finish it up.”
    Quenching is the rapid cooling of a workpiece in water, oil or air to obtain certain material properties. A type of heat treating, quenching prevents undesired low-temperature processes from occurring and hardens the blade.
    Eventually, he said he would like to learn more advanced techniques, like Damascus. The Damascus technique adds high carbon to the iron of the metal to make a much stronger and durable composite. It also often includes folding and forging multiple layers of metal together.
    “Right now, I’m still just kind of refining; making one out of a solid piece of steel,” he said. “I think next I’m going to do San Mai, which is hard steel in the middle with some mild steel on either side of it. My plan is to use the leaf spring in the middle and then mower blades on the sides.”
    Burr said he spends as much time in his shop as he can find, but it’s a time-consuming hobby. He can’t currently imagine competing on one of his favorite shows in the near future because they have to complete crafted blades in under three hours and a completed knife within five.
    “It takes me probably 10 to 15 hours right now from start to finish,” he said. “I’m learning tricks and techniques to speed the process up. But it really takes me weeks to do one because I only work an hour here and there and on the weekends off. It’s slow and meticulous and paying attention to what you’re doing. You can’t put wood back on a handle and you can’t put steel back on a blade.”
    The patience and attention to detail required are traits he learned in the Army, Burr said.
    “It’s just like going out and (performing routine maintenance) on a vehicle,” he said. “If you just go out there and blow through it and don’t do a thorough job, you’re going to get a quarter-mile down the road and have a breakdown. But if you take your time and do things right, the way they’re supposed to be done, you’ll have a quality product at the end.”
    The end of a career is also on his mind with about three years before he is eligible for an active duty retirement under the state’s Active Guard Reserve (AGR) program.
    Burr enlisted in 1997 with the 114th Military Police Company and deployed with them to Ft. Campbell, Ky., and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 2002. Twenty-three days after their return from Cuba, they deployed again to Ft. Hood in 2003. The deployments were to replace active duty military police units for operations overseas.
    He started his AGR career in 2005 with the 114th and later moved to the 112th Military Police Battalion. While there, Burr volunteered to mobilize with the 184th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) to Afghanistan in 2010. He was home from that deployment for about a month when the 112th was mobilized to Kuwait for nine months. Once he returned home, he transferred back to the 114th as the readiness NCO for a few years before taking his current job as the operations NCO for 66th Troop Command in Jackson, Miss.
    Burr plans to continue refining his craft regardless of whether he stays active or retires.
    “I don’t know if full-time knife-making will support my mortgage, but it’s definitely something I’m going to keep doing one way or the other,” he said. “This is my happy place. I can come up here and forget all about everything else. The stresses of work and everything else, they stay outside so I can get in the zone. I can spend hours and before I know it the whole day is gone.”



    Date Taken: 08.05.2019
    Date Posted: 08.06.2019 13:08
    Story ID: 334720
    Location: BOLTON, MS, US 
    Hometown: BOLTON, MS, US
    Hometown: JACKSON, MS, US

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