Interrupting Stan Shaw's Marmalade Sandwich

Discussion in 'Traditional Folders and Fixed Blades' started by Jack Black, Sep 10, 2013.

  1. Jack Black

    Jack Black Gold Member Gold Member

    Dec 2, 2005

    Yesterday was a great day for me, as I went over to Sheffield to meet Duncan (Campbellclanman) and his lovely wife Sue. We met at Sheffield railway station next to the site of John Brown's Atlas steel works, and headed to the Kelham Island Industrial Museum (about which I did a photographic thread here: The highlight of our visit was an audience with Sheffield cutler Stan Shaw, who I doubt will need any introduction here. Sue, who patiently put up with mine and Duncan's knife prattle the entire day, took a load of photographs, and I'm sure that Duncan will want to post these and his own recollections in due course. While the encounter with Stan was still fresh in my head though, I thought I'd knock up a few lines.

    It really was lovely to meet Duncan and Sue, and to spend a day with them, and I hope they enjoy the rest of their holiday, and have a safe journey back to New Zealand.



    Stan Shaw looked quite stern and taciturn as he sat at the grindstone sharpening the blades of the batch of knives he was working on, dipping them regularly in a coffee jar filled with water. We were wary about interrupting him in his work, but as he took a break, Duncan shrewdly got a member of the museum staff to introduce us. When Stan invited us into his workshop, he could not have been more friendly or charming, his eyes sparkling as he talked at length about knives, telling us on the way about his life and his family, with enthusiasm and love.


    Both Duncan and myself would have been happy for just a few minutes of the great man's time, but we were with him for well over an hour, during which his passion for knives never dimmed for an instant, he enjoys every minute of his work, and said he went to bed at night excitedly thinking about what he was going to make next.

    As a child Stan had health problems, and spent 10 years in hospital with a leg in plaster, missing most of his schooling. At the age of 14, he caught the tram into Sheffield from his native Deepcar, just up the River Don from Sheffield, and knocked on the door of Ibbersons, asking them for a job. He told them he wanted to make knives, and was taken along to meet one of the cutlers, who was asked if he would take the lad on as an apprentice. "Aye, if he's interested", said the old cutler, and Stan's long career in the knife trade began.

    In view of his lack of schooling, Stan's wife, only a little younger than himself, still does his books for him, and he has a close family. His son, now in his late 40's, is a nuclear physicist. "He's got a great brain, but he's no good with his hands, I have to change a plug for him!" Stan laughs. He's tried to get his son to come in and learn the trade without success. Stan also has a daughter, and two grandchildren, he speaks about his family with pride and affection. He has made knives as birth, christening, and birthday presents for his grandkids, a granddaughter of 13, and a grandson of 10, both of whom are interested in what he does. "What are you making for me now Grandad?" asks his granddaughter. His grandson comes down to the workshop, but "It's chaos when he's here." Stan chuckles, "There's hammers and tools all over the place." Stan hopes he lives long enough to train him up.

    Stan's knives are entirely handmade, he does everything himself using simple tools, which he has often also made himself. He even does his own heat-treatment on site. "People think I go and buy this stuff from a shop somewhere, but I don't, where would I buy it?" His tools are simple, as he can't afford expensive machines. With a boyish enthusiasm, he told us how much he enjoyed thinking about how he could fix a problem, and if necessary devising a special tool, it was all part of the cutler's job.

    Stan demonstrated a fascinating device, a bow made by himself from wood and pigskin, which he uses to drill and cut out the well for the different shields, with the aid of a special leather belt he puts around his waist. He reckoned the technique was a thousand years old. The nail-nicks on his blades are banged in by hand with a simple punch and a hammer, he showed us how he did it, it took a second, why would he need a milling machine? He's not a fan of long pulls.


    Today Stan uses materials such as ivory (recycled from old pieces he acquires), abalone, and pearl on the pocket knives for which he has a four year waiting list. He talked about working with the delicate and expensive materials, and says he never spoils a piece. He has a tiny hammer which he uses to knock in the pins, with his thumb next to the pin, so if he misses he'll hit his thumb rather than the cover material. "I can always put on a plaster if I hit my thumb", he says. His wife asks him if he's worried about damaging the precious materials, but he says that to him it's just the same as any other material and he treats it confidently in the same way. The same when he works with silver or gold, "It's just metal."

    Stan likes working at the museum, which he does two days a week, usually driving himself from Deepcar where he still lives, though sometimes he gets a lift in with his daughter. His old workshop was dark and gloomy, and lonely, and once he had no power as someone had pinched the electrical cables. At the museum, people keep an eye on him, and sometimes come and have a chat.

    Stan had a look at the knives Duncan and I had in our pockets, happy to pose for a picture with one of Charlie's Barlows. Duncan asked what knife he carried himself. "I don't have one", he laughed. He does though have boxes of his pattern knives at home. I asked how many patterns he does. "Hundreds" he said, "But they're all in my head."

    Having put off his lunch to talk to us, as we left Stan was putting the kettle on and preparing to eat his sandwich. "What have you got on your sandwich Stan?" I asked.
    "Marmalade", he said, a gentleman cutler with no airs and graces, keeping alive the skills and traditions, which once put Sheffield at the centre of the world.

    More pics in posts 74 and 93.
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2019
    mitch4ging and OLd_gUY like this.
  2. festerfromnzed


    Aug 18, 2008
    Excellent !!....What a wonderful experience im sure!....Onya Jack and Duncan....................FES
  3. mike Berkovitch

    mike Berkovitch Gold Member Gold Member

    Nov 15, 2007
    Great day you had, a privilege to spend an hour at Mr. Shaw workshop, something you carry with you forever.

  4. meako

    meako Gold Member Gold Member

    Sep 4, 2006
    good on ya guys and Sue for making the effort and getting together.Hope you guys have good time in the UK and on your travels.
    Its always an amazing privilege to meet blokes like Stan.
    Thanks for sharing.
  5. pertinux


    Feb 1, 2012
    Excellent, guys!

    Thanks so much for the glimpse, and to Sue for her patience. :)

    ~ P.
  6. Peregrin

    Peregrin Traditional Forum Moderator Moderator Gold Member

    Sep 2, 2004
    What a great report, Jack. Hope you guys had a wonderful time.
  7. glennbad

    glennbad Knife Moddin' Fool Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Jan 13, 2003
    I used to hate to do reports on my field trips, but that is one I have would have no problem doing. Great account of your visit!
  8. black mamba

    black mamba Gold Member Gold Member

    Oct 21, 2009
    Fabulous write-up Jack, a red letter date for sure!
  9. Jack Black

    Jack Black Gold Member Gold Member

    Dec 2, 2005
    Thanks a lot folks, it was a wonderful day, which absolutely flew by, and meeting Stan was the icing on the cake :)
  10. Gevonovich


    Jan 17, 2011
    Priceless!!! What a treasure of an experience:D Thanks for sharing it with us, as only you can, Jack! When does the documentary film come out?
  11. Jack Black

    Jack Black Gold Member Gold Member

    Dec 2, 2005
    Thanks Gev, I really do wish we had had Stan on film because it really was priceless, absolutely fascinating :)
  12. MT Damascus

    MT Damascus

    Jan 14, 2011
    Great stuff, Jack. Thanks for sharing.

  13. black mamba

    black mamba Gold Member Gold Member

    Oct 21, 2009
    OK, Jack and Duncan. Being separated by a common language, how did you two communicate, and who has the worst accent?!
  14. Gevonovich


    Jan 17, 2011
    I wonder if anyone has done a documentary of Stan. Titles are running through my head. He seems like such a lovely man and the hundreds of pattern are only in his head. Just the tools he has come up with would be fascinating to see, much less how he uses them.
  15. sitflyer


    Mar 10, 2011
    Sounds like a great time was had by all, thanks for sharing Jack. Mr. Shaw sounds like an amazing personality.
  16. Blues

    Blues Lapsed SuperMod / Cattle Knife Rustler Staff Member Super Mod

    Oct 2, 1998
    Some scary blokes in that first image, my word!

    Nicely done, Jack. Glad you guys had a chance to meet up and share some good times. :thumbup:
  17. Jack Black

    Jack Black Gold Member Gold Member

    Dec 2, 2005
    LOL! Well, I think Stan may have found me easier to understand :D

    Stan has been filmed, but the nice thing about yesterday was how relaxed the conversation was :)

    Duncan caught a cold here (no surprise) and had a bad night's sleep the night before. I thought if he stood next to me he'd look well! As indeed he does :D

    Thanks pal, hope to be taking you on the Cutlery Trail yourself one day :)
  18. Blues

    Blues Lapsed SuperMod / Cattle Knife Rustler Staff Member Super Mod

    Oct 2, 1998
    I look forward to that day, Jack.
  19. Jack Black

    Jack Black Gold Member Gold Member

    Dec 2, 2005
    Me too my friend :)
  20. waynorth

    waynorth Dealer / Materials Provider Dealer / Materials Provider

    Nov 19, 2005
    What a wonderful experience for all of you!:thumbup:

    A meeting of Knifedoms MVPs! I am in awe, and a little envious!

    Stan Shaw! Wow!:eek:

    Thanks for bringing us along Jack and Duncan. And Sue! I, and I am sure I can include everyone here, am ever grateful for your camera work, and infinite patience!

    Hey Jack, did Stan comment on the Barlows??:eek:

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