Leila Haddad was making cutlery when many children her age were learning how to use it.
“My earliest memory of making knives was when I was about six; my dad showed me how to forge the steel,” she said.
“It heated up to a bright orange and then we’d squash it into a big 10-tonne press.
“I’d stand on a bucket so I could reach the controls and he’d yell ‘up’ and ‘down’ so we could squash the steel out.”
Fast forward eight years and the teenager’s creations are selling for thousands of dollars and drawing wait times of several months.
In recent years, Leila has designed knives for professional chefs, delivered presentations at international exhibitions and won multiple knife shows.
And while these achievements would be impressive for a 14-year-old in even the most thriving profession, Leila has forged them in an industry that has been largely replaced by mass manufacturing.
But she thinks Australia is seeing a resurgence in the ancient craft.
“When I was younger there weren’t as many people starting to get into it as there are now, so definitely more people are getting into the craft,” she said.
And while some said the growing interest was due to the popular television series Game of Thrones, she believes the trend is more about handcrafting than Netflix.
“I think there is still a future for knife making, because people are starting to realise again the importance of handmade things,” she said.
It is likely few of those people are Leila’s age, juggling the art with school, homework and everything else that typically takes up a teenager’s time.
How it’s done:
1. Forge the blade: Heat up a rectangular block of steel and shape it into a knife with a hammer
2. Make it sharp: Grind the blade on a belt linisher to slice off the excess material
3. Get that shine: Sand it down, remove any debris and polish
3. Create a handle: Trace and cut the scales, glue it to the blade, shape and sand it
But although she spends most afternoons and weekends bustling away at the forge, taking an average of three days to make one knife, she would not have it any other way.
“After making my first knife, I really fell in love with it,” she said.
“I really love making things with your hands and something you can use everyday.”
Like father, like daughter: Knife-making a family affair
Leila learned the trade from her father Karim, who was taught under a master bladesmith 25 years ago – a scarcely dwindling tradition.
Mr Haddid teaches knife-making lessons at the family-run Tharwa Valley Forge, located at their property in the small village south of Canberra.
He can clearly recall Leila’s fascination with the forge fire as a toddler.
“I didn’t have to try hard to get Leila involved,” he said.
“She crawled in here in her nappies, watching what we were doing.
“[A few years] after that she made her first knife and away she went – you couldn’t stop her.”
Mr Haddad said he was very proud of Leila’s success – particularly how she had used it to help others.
“Who wouldn’t be?” he asked.
“I think it’s great that Leila has raised money for different charities.
“There is something important about giving back that makes you a better person.”
In the past four years the family has seen their bladesmith classes quadruple in participation – a trend Mr Haddad also attributed to a revitalised appreciation of handmade products.
“People are really excited to come and make something that’s going to last 100 years, as that’s a rare thing today,” he said.
“In just a few days of working really hard you can end up with something beautiful, that works, and that other people are interested in.
“That in itself is its own reward.”