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Knives being forged from Twin Towers steel
David Andreatta
Newhouse News Service
Published 03/02/2003

NEW YORK -- Sometimes the market dictates how metal is recycled, as it did for most of the tons of scrap salvaged from the World Trade Center.

Other times, forces stronger than the market take hold.

"The steel dictates what shape it will take," said Jerry Fisk, a master bladesmith from rural Arkansas. "The steel tells you what it will become."

He would know. Operating from a workshop on his country property, Fisk is one of seven artists crafting knives of steel from the ruined twin towers for charity.

As the wreckage that entombed thousands is dispassionately turned into everything from automobile panels to piping in factories around the world, the creation of these knives adds some soul to the process of the steel's rebirth.

But something else has come from the making of the knives: a bond between the bladesmiths and a Staten Island firefighter named Keith Kaiser. Kaiser conceived of the knife project nearly a year ago as he reeled from a back injury, post-traumatic stress and the loss of a friend who died when the towers came crashing down. The friend, Christian Regenhard, a probationary firefighter with Kaiser at Ladder Co. 131 in Brooklyn, collected knives.

"He hadn't been there very long, but we had a lot of common interests," said Kaiser, 40, who is an amateur knife collector. "Everywhere he went, he always carried this knife with him. It was a beautiful knife."

To honor his friend, Kaiser contacted Benchmade Knife Co., which had manufactured Regenhard's omnipresent knife, and asked that a commemorative piece be made to give to Regenhard's family.

Benchmade crafted the knife for free, and Kaiser presented it to Regenhard's father at the East Coast Custom Knife show, an annual event held each March in Manhattan.

The presentation attracted a crowd, and the idea for the knife project grew. Two knives, one for each of the towers, quickly grew to seven -- one for each building of the World Trade Center.

As a firefighter, Kaiser had access to steel from 2 World Trade Center, the first tower to fall. He cut a slab into 10-pound pieces and sent them to the participating bladesmiths.

"For so long we [bladesmiths] felt useless, like there was nothing we could do for the victims of September 11," said Fisk. "When this came along, everyone wanted to be a part of it."

The seven knives vary in size. The more elaborate have intricately carved handles of ivory. The only thing each has in common is the "9-11-01" etched on the blade.

Blade magazine recently wrote of one of the knives: "Just to hold it gives you an eerie feeling, as if you're cradling a part of the lives -- and deaths -- of the heroes who gave their all."

Steve Freund, whose Atlanta-based company, Tomway LLC, designed the display case for the knives and is handling their delivery, said an offer of $25,000 has already been made for the set. Those close to the project said the set could fetch five times that much at auction.

The set will be unveiled at the East Coast Custom Knife Show next Saturday. The proceeds will benefit the Burn Center of New York Weill Cornell Medical Center in Manhattan.

"This project has helped me put the past behind and still feel like I'm contributing," said Kaiser, whose injuries have kept him from working since December 2001. "It's really been a labor of love for a lot of people, and I guess that's made me feel good."

© Copyright 2003 Star Tribune. All rights reserved.
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