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  1. Hernando

New Spring Hill shop combines forged knives and country crafts

Couple opened Bear Country Gifts and Knives in December.
Artisan cutler Steven Herzman has crafted, from top, small chopper, large chopper, dagger and camp knife. He started forging at age 10, fashioning a horseshoe nail.  BETH N. GRAY | Special to the Time
Artisan cutler Steven Herzman has crafted, from top, small chopper, large chopper, dagger and camp knife. He started forging at age 10, fashioning a horseshoe nail. BETH N. GRAY | Special to the Time
Published Feb. 12

By Beth N. Gray

Times Correspondent

SPRING HILL — After years of staging at craft shows, festivals and flea markets, Steven and Nan Herzman decided to "settle down," as she describes it. The local couple has pooled their crafts and opened a shop — Bear Country Gifts and Knives — in a bricks-and-mortar plaza.

"It's kind of a ladies and guys shop, unique or unusual," Nan Herzman said.

Her husband forges knives, some hefty enough to skin a bear, he acknowledged. She crochets cushy crib blankets, repurposes throwaways into glitzy jewelry and upcycles oddments into home décor pretties.

"Steven's the money-maker in this shop," his wife conceded.

While his knives are made for useful purposes, Steven Herzman said, "there are a lot of collectors." Handmade appeals to many of them, he said, fueled by the popular History Channel program, "Forged in Fire."

The program has tempted people to try forging their own knives. Steve Herzman, 42, shakes his head, pointing out that the TV cutlers are experienced craftsman and make the effort look simple. It's not, he said.

"The forge is 2,400 to 2,500 degrees," he said. "That heat radiates out and it will sap your strength unless you've been doing it for a long time and you learn to ignore it."

Julie Layne of Spring Hill and her boyfriend are "Forged in Fire" devotees, she said, but wouldn't attempt such a craft on their own. As his birthday approached, Layne turned to Steve Herzman, whom she'd encountered at a flea market.

"You know how guys collect knives," she said. Steve Herzman was forging a Bowie knife at the time. He sold it to Layne before it was done.

"I started with a farrier at age 10," he said. "He gave me a nail to forge." The youth apprenticed through age 17, when he earned his journeyman's stamp, specializing in knives.

"The dagger is my most popular piece," he said, hefting the shining piece from his collection at Bear Country. "It's double-edged, so it has multiple purposes, like skinning animals, or to carry on your belt for self-defense."

That's legal in Florida, along with other knives of a three-inch blade or longer, he said, if it's carried visibly. Yet, most who buy a Herzman dagger merely hang it on a display wall, the craftsman said.

"We choose not to sell to minors under 18," he added.

From his home forge under a carport, Steve Herzman also crafts knives with a rocking point to staccato-chop vegetables, straight-bladed knives for cleaver chopping, and camp knives with a sharp dropped point to cut fire twigs and whittle tent pegs.

All have a full tang, the extension of the steel blade through the far end of the handle. A full tang translates to strength, longevity and quality, he pointed out.

For all the cutting and forging of steel, blade sanding and polishing, carving of wood or horn handles and decoratively pinning handles to blades, handmade knives command $225 to $350. Top quality factory-made knives can cost as much, Steve Herzman said, but being hand-crafted adds one-of-a-kind artisanship value.

Bear Country also sells factory-made knives, from pocket sizes to replica swords, predominantly Case brand. The shop also offers Case lighters.

On what Nan Herzman considers the "women's" side of the shop, her needlework abounds. Nan, 58, also started early, "at age 11, when you want to learn crafts," she said. Her mother taught her to sew, and a neighbor taught her to crochet.

Her crafts inclue handmade candles, jewelry, fabric- and yarn-enhanced tabletop décor and holiday items.

Since Bear Country opened in December, the couple have asked customers what other goods they'd like to find. In response, Steven Herzman added a line of martial arts supplies. Nan Herzman expanded to a variety of reproduction antique advertising signs.

"We have one-of-a-kind finds and we respond to customer requests," she said.

Contact Beth Gray at graybethn@earthlink.net.

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