Knifemaking, almost-forgotten ancient handicraft in Zanjan

TEHRAN – Knifemaking is one of the oldest handicrafts practiced for centuries in several Iranian cities, of which the northwestern city of Zanajn is the most famous.

There is a little about the history of this field of handicrafts, but according to the historical documents as well as travelogues, it can be concluded that from the 17th century Zanjan was a city where knives, swords, and daggers were produced immensely and a lot of knife making workshops were installed.

Due to their design, cut, diversity, and durability, Zanjan knives have been the most successful among the hand-made products of the other cities.

The most important material for handmade knives is Iron. The handle is made from materials such as elk horns, seashells, wood, fiber, or ivory. The knife makers usually carve their names into the blade. Gems, jewelry, filigree, pieces of seashells, and ivory are some of the ornate they add to their creations.

The most important tools used by the cutlers are hammers, sledgehammers, scissors, and kilns. To make a knife, first, the master heats the iron in the kiln. After it reaches the proper degree, it is forged into knife, sword, and dagger blades by the impact of the hammer. Then he skillfully creates the handle using materials like horns or ivory and attaches it to the blade. Finally, the blade is ground and chrome plated.

The knife makers of Zanjan usually carve their names into the blade. Gems, jewelry, filigree, pieces of seashells, and ivory are some of the ornaments they add to their products. From small decorative knives that are used as key chains to large swords, a wide range of products are made in the workshops.

The handle provides a chance for the artistry of their makers who try to add to their beauty and uniqueness as much as possible. Characteristics such as spring-assisted-like opening, high sharpness of the blade, and very good grip are some of the traits of Zanjan knives.

Based on appearance and number of pieces, these knives can be divided into two groups of simple and complex. The simple knives themselves are subdivided into 1. Knives with handle from goat or cow horn that have a single blade that is attached to the handle by two nails, and have no spring. 2. Switchblades that have many kinds 3. Knives for cutting fruit, which have a single blade, a handle, and a spring, and is produced in many sizes. There are also small pocket knives and “Qalamtarash”, a special kind of knife that is used to cut calligraphy pens.

However, nowadays the art of making handmade knives, which was once flourished in Zanjan, is being fallen into oblivion.

Last December, the cultural heritage and tourism official of the west-central province announced that to revive and promote this field of handicrafts, they seek to export handmade daggers and swords to the neighboring countries.

They believe that Zanjan, which was designated as a “world city of filigree” last January, has excellent capacities in the production and export of handmade handicraft.

Iran exported $523 million worth of handicrafts during the past calendar year 1398 (ended March 19). Of the figure, some $273 million worth of handicrafts were exported officially through customs, and about $250 million was earned via suitcase trade (allowed for customs-free and tax-free transfer) through various provinces, according to data provided by the Ministry of Cultural Heritage, Tourism and Handicrafts.

Ceramics, pottery vessels, handwoven cloths as well as personal ornamentations with precious and semi-precious gemstones are traditionally exported to Iraq, Afghanistan, Germany, the U.S., the UK, and other countries.



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