24 Nov 2023

'Good to have a family business' says master cutler of Svord

From Country Life, 7:30 pm on 24 November 2023

Bryan Baker's story begins with a lost World War Two bayonet and a pocket knife vanishing in a paddock.

He has spent the last 40 years honing his craft of knife-making under the Svord brand in a humble shed in the rural town of Waiuku.

Kelsey Baker (from left), Madison and Bryan Baker

Kelsey Baker (from left), Madison and Bryan Baker Photo: RNZ/Leah Tebbutt

And now the story has taken a step he never saw coming - it's become a family affair. 

"I wouldn't have foreseen that...I think it's good to have a family business," Bryan tells Country Life with his two daughters who have joined him in making knives perched to his left.

"To me, it's a better thing having a family business than having a public company. You're working towards something together."

Bryan's journey into knife-making took root during his college years, where a stolen project in metalworking class sparked his interest.

Night classes and dedication followed, and at the age of 18, he began his journey into the art of knife making. 

His skills drew the attention of a seasoned knifemaker named Bohumil Nebesky, who offered Bryan invaluable lessons in both the business and the art of crafting knives on a larger scale.

Svord knives are made with Swedish carbon steel.

Svord knives are made with Swedish carbon steel. Photo: RNZ/Leah Tebbutt

"He offered to teach me and so then I learnt the business side of it and also the side of how to make knives on a manufacturing basis, as opposed to making them in the shed, one at a time. 

"That was a big boost to my business and for many years, I'd go down and see him and stay in Hamilton and learn the trade-off him."

Inspired and armed with newfound knowledge, Bryan developed the iconic peasant knife in 1995, using Swedish carbon steel and the Svord brand was born.

Bryan says when he started 99 per cent of knives were made with stainless steel. However, Bryan uses carbon steel stating it stays sharper for longer. 

A range of the popular Peasant Knives with a variety of handles

A range of the popular Peasant Knives with a variety of handles Photo: RNZ/Leah Tebbutt

Over the years, Svord expanded its offerings to include chef's knives and kitchen knives, firmly establishing its presence in the market.

"We've actually been recognised as one of the - probably the only company - in Australia or New Zealand, in the modern era, to start up a cutlery company and be successful at it. 

"There are lots of small guys, one-man operations working from home, but nothing on the scale that we got here."

However, Bryan's passion for knife-making did not stop with him. 

His 24-year-old daughter, Kelsey, had found her way into the family business. 

Despite initially contemplating a career in sewing, Kelsey's hands-on nature and love for creating led her to the workshop.

"I was always around the workshop when I was a kid, making little projects. It was something I really enjoyed doing and I was actually pretty good at.

"I guess it's quite a relaxing thing to do, like working on something so closely and paying such attention to like the detail. And at the end, seeing the final product, and then it goes off to a customer and you know they're going to enjoy it so much. So it's a lot of reward."

Svord Knives are 100 per cent handcrafted

Svord Knives are 100 per cent handcrafted Photo: RNZ/Leah Tebbutt

Meanwhile, Bryan's oldest daughter, Madison, has brought a modern twist to the family legacy.

Collaborating with her father, she introduced sleek and minimalistic kitchen knives under the sub-brand Nuz, incorporating sustainable practices into the manufacturing process.

Nuz blades are manufactured from recycled saw blades while the handles are crafted from sustainability-sourced timber. 

"Me and Dad had a chat one day during lockdown and he started to come up with the design and idea for these modern, sleek, minimalistic kitchen knives," Madison says.

"I've sort of always had an interest in sustainability and ensuring that the products I'm choosing for myself, personally, are sourced from sustainable sources and trusted brands."

With Bryan's two daughters at his side, he says the three of them work well together. 

And when it comes to the future, he says simply, "Just take it day by day."

"I can't predict the future. All I can do is just try and do the best what I'm doing at the moment."

Svord knives has been operating for over 40 years.

Svord knives has been operating for over 40 years. Photo: RNZ/Leah Tebbutt