At the sharp end

It’s comforting to know that after providing so much influence on the quality of a well-matured whisky, a cask can go on to have an afterlife as a work of art. From his workshop close to The Vaults in Leith, bladesmith and swordmaker Greg Marr tells Moa Nilsson how an exhausted cask can live on to make the perfect sgian dubh, the ceremonial knife worn with the kilt

From fantasy-inspired swords to sgian dubhs, bladesmithing lessons and sharpening chefs’ knives – Greg Marr’s average day can involve a wide variety of work. Along with his colleague Dan Devoy, he set up Glittering Edge in 2014 and can now be found in the Edinburgh Open Workshop in Leith, not far from the Society’s home at The Vaults.

As Greg explains: “Every day is different, but in a single week I can be doing several different skills. Ranging from drawing and plotting out designs, grinding and stock removal on steel, cutting and sanding wood, wood carving, forging steel, hardening and tempering blades, brazing together non-ferrous metals, leatherwork (sewing and embossing designs into it) as well as polishing and sharpening blades. There are other skills I still want to learn and I’m always improving on my current skillset whenever I get the opportunity.”

ABOVE: Greg Marr in his workshop

ABOVE: a damascus blade forged using whisky cask hoops

Many people might think of fantasy lore when hearing about bladesmithing and swordmaking, and Greg does work with commissions if someone would like a blade inspired by books or films like Lord of the Rings and Merlin. He enthusiastically shows the Witch-king of Angmar blade that he’s currently working on and mentions that he really enjoys commissions of both fantasy and historical blades. He has also incorporated an element of fantasy into the name of his business: Glittering Edge. Early on, he knew that he wanted a dragon in his logo and to come up with the name of his business he brainstormed with his family. “The inspiration was of a dragon’s hoard at the edge of a loch or something along those lines. Items in this mythological hoard would include swords set with jewels, or even reflecting the shine from the nearby water. Now I just need to keep making these!”

But it’s not all fantasy lore commissions, even though Greg wishes he would have more of them, but frequently also upcycling of materials as well as mementos or gifts. As Greg is skilled in working with various materials, there are plenty of options when commissioning a piece.

“I work in a range of materials – from different carbon and tool steel, mild steel, wrought iron, brass, bronze, wood and leather. Of these, my favourite is wrought iron. It has impurities in it that once finished and etched with acid can look almost organic, like wood grain.”

Another material Greg has been working with lately, and that is particularly close to his Scottish roots, are whisky casks. A piece he’s particularly proud of is a whisky-inspired sgian dubh, a small hunting knife-styled blade that is worn in the sock with the kilt. The blade is what’s known as damascus, where different types of steel are combined to provide a layered, patterned effect.

ABOVE: Greg puts the anvil to use at Glittering Edge

“The idea for the ‘whisky barrel damascus’ – we’ve been calling it ‘dramascus’ – came from a good friend and mentor, Chris Grant,” says Greg. “I had the facilities to make larger sections in my workshop and he was able to advise on a high-performance steel combination.”

This one used a combination of a Jura whisky cask hoop, combined with two other steels. It has a handle carved from the stave of the cask by Rab Gordon from Loch Ness Origins, and a sheath of deer leather.

“It’s tough working with the steel combination, as high carbon steel is forged along with the mild steel from the hoops, but after the blades are forged to shape, ground, polished and finally etched, the pattern really pops,” says Greg. “Using the wood from the same barrel I feel completes the look and feel of the blade. Having such a unique heritage piece, made by hand in Scotland, is something I would love to keep developing further.”

Antlers and bog oak have also traditionally been used for the handle of this small knife, two materials that Greg also works with in his workshop.

Looking to the future, Greg is hoping to open a school preferably with an international scope and alongside other artisans, as there is currently limited opportunity for people looking to get into the craft.

“As for things I would build, I want to work towards more one-of-a-kind and heritage builds – creating something that will be cherished by the client and have a personal significance for them.”

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