Each of Bryan Bates' knives is stamped on the hilt with the Arabic word for 'infidel.' (Bryan Bates)
Above, Bryan Bates in a photo taken while he was deployed in 2005. Left, each of Bryan Bates' knives is stamped on the hilt with the Arabic word for infidel. (Photos provided by Bryan Bates)
Battle Rattle blog:
Politically correct these knives are not.
Every one of Bryan Bates’ hand-forged Damascus steel knives (and the others he designs to custom specifications) contains a stamped imprint of the Arabic word for infidel. And each is cooled in water or oil laced with pig’s blood, an ingredient considered unclean by adherents to the Muslim faith.
The 28-year-old former Marine infantryman said these provocative finishing touches are not intended to be offensive to Muslims in general. Instead, he said, they are meant to contain an extra message of contempt for extremist insurgents like the ones he deployed to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq, and to bolster the courage of those who take his knives to the battlefield.
“It’s a psychological thing for my clients,” said Bates, of Tucson, Ariz. “We call ourselves infidels. Really, it’s kind of a derogatory term that the enemy has given us, but we wear it with pride.”
Bates served in Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines, out of Hawaii, leaving the service in 2008 after a four-year tour. He went to college for a short time, and then did a stint as a civilian security contractor in Afghanistan. After returning home to the U.S. last October, Bates said he decided to try something new and began researching knife-making on the Internet.
“I just started tinkering and working with my hands,” he said.
The process of making each knife, which he says has “quite a bit of art to it,” can take anywhere from 10 to 40 hours.
His Damascus steel knives, which he makes in his own forge, take the most man-hours and attention. He first wires together two kinds of steel and then heats it until it glows orange. He then folds the metal over on itself again and again, flattening the steel into a knife shape when it reaches the desired thickness.
After giving the knife 24 hours to cool, he grinds the shape of the blade to custom specifications.
For one custom-ordered stainless steel dive knife, he beveled it with a blunt tip and shaped a rope-cutting notch near the hilt.
Close to the end comes what Bates calls “the infidel process”: he heats the knife up again, and then quickly submerges it in the “quench” mixed with pig’s blood, a step that hardens the metal.
Then, he heats the knife again to a lower temperature to remove brittleness and make the steel more flexible. Finally, he polishes the knife, etches it in an acid solution, and adds a handle to make it ready to use.
Bates said he began adding the “infidel” touches shortly after he started to make his own knives.
“A lot of my Echo Company brothers were liking” the knives, he said. “And I started thinking to myself, what if they wanted to take them on deployment?”
When he started publicizing his business, Bates Knives, Bates said he expected to get some angry messages from people who felt his process was offensive. But so far, he said, people seem to understand what he’s trying to do.
Bates is not shy about his rebellious, provocative streak: he left the Marine Corps as a private first class, having received nonjudicial punishment a few times for “drinking and fighting” while on liberty. And he recently was the subject of a viral video in which he aggressively challenged Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., about his stance on military intervention in Syria, and walked out before McCain could respond.
But he said his experiences in the Marine Corps have changed his perspective in a personal way.
“As far as my relationship with my brothers from Echo Company, we lost quite a few of them on both deployments,” Bates said. “I try to live my life to do extra things to make up for the loss that we had over there. And I think my brothers do the same in how they live their lives.”
Bates sells his knives for around $100 to $300 apiece and advertises them through a “Bates Knives” Facebook page and on Batesknives.com.
He said he has recently taken on an apprentice and now sells seven or eight handcrafted knives per month.