Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Workers hone cutting-edge skills

Workers hone cutting-edge skills

Workers hone cutting-edge skills

Sound of hammering and filing reverberate around the workshop in Prey Sala village that is home to a most unus-ual craft – the art of making swords and high-quality knives.

Frenchman Christophe Hiriart de Saint is the designer and manager at Citadel, the biggest knife workshop in Cambodia, and the man who oversees the production process from the first step in forging the blades to adding the final decorative touches to handles.

“What we care about is quality, not quantity,” he explains as he lifts up a long, solid knife and rapidly shaves the hair from his arm to demonstrate just how razor-sharp the blade is.

“Before finishing our products, we have to discuss with our customers what they require or order, and we must spend a whole day inspecting the knife and doing the finishing touches,” Hiriat de Saint says.

Surprisingly, knife shapes and styles go in and out of fashion, just like everything else.

“Design is quite hard, as we have to think as far as a year in advance of the most popular models and styles of our knives,” Hiriat de Saint says.

“Several years ago, for instance, Europeans tended to use big knives, but now they prefer using smaller knives that they can carry with them every day, such as our folding models.”

About 70 workers make the knives by hand from imported steel. More experienced workers train the newcomers, who can earn as much as  $160 a month for the special craft skills needed.

“We can produce between 10 and 20 knives a day, but sometimes customers order special designs and these can take a lot longer to make,” Hiriart de Saint says.

The range includes knives for hunting, combat, kitchens and tab-les, while handles can be elabor-ately carved from buffalo horn, leather or wood.

Something as elaborate as a tradit-ional sabre could take 10 days to finish, Hiriart de Saint says. And whereas a cooking knife will cost about US$100, a custom-made sword could top US$2,000.

“Sometimes we have a special order for three or four katana swords from abroad, from collectors in countries like Japan, Russia, France, America, Italy, Spain and Taiwan,” Hiriart de Saint says.

Former car paint sprayer Nov Pich, 35, has worked at Citadel for the past seven years.

“I had to study for about five months to be able to make knives, and we need to know foreign languages too,” says Nov Pich, who is originally from Kampong Cham province.

Blacksmith Man Math, 50, says he  learned his trade for 20 years before refining his skills at Citadel and learning how to craft custom-made katana swords.

“Before, I used to pound metal and make normal knives, but here I can actually make high-quality, professional blades such as katana swords – skills that earn me a bit more money based on the market demand,” Man Math says.

For other workers, however, the job is just a means to another end.

“I had to drop out of school after grade nine, and now I want to save money so I can open a chicken farm in the future,” 22-year-old Khon Srors says.

Citadel has a  workshop near the Phnom Penh International Airport and two showrooms in Cambodia: at 10, Street 110 at the corner of Sisowath Quay, Phnom Penh, tel 012 802 676; and at 157, Street 7, corner Street 155 (Sivutha) in Siem Reap.

MOST VIEWED

  • Reports: Rainsy barred from Jakarta flight

    Sam Rainsy was on Wednesday refused entry to a flight from Malaysia to Indonesia, media reported late on Wednesday. The “acting president” of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party’s announced return to the Kingdom on Independence Day on Saturday failed to occur. Rainsy

  • Government studying EU’s preliminary report on EBA

    The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation on Wednesday said the government was studying the EU Commission’s preliminary report on the human rights situation in the Kingdom that could lead to a suspension of access to its “Everything But Arms” (EBA) agreement. The

  • Gov’t: Rainsy’s ‘coup plot’ a failure

    The government on Wednesday commended the Kingdom’s security forces for thwarting the attempted “coup plot” by former opposition leader Sam Rainsy through his announced return to Cambodia on November 9. The comments came as Rainsy, the “acting president” of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue

  • Phnom Penh International Airport wins award as passenger traffic soars

    The Phnom Penh International Airport has been awarded Best Asia Pacific Regional Airport 2019 for its sustained high growth in passenger traffic in recent years. The award was presented by the Capa Centre for Aviation (Capa) – a world-leading and trusted organisation that provides market intelligence to

  • Tour guides question animal release ban in Angkor moat

    The Khmer Angkor Tour Guide Association (Katga) called on the Apsara National Authority to reconsider its decision banning all animals from being released into the moat surrounding the Angkor Wat temple after the authority prohibited the action for the sake of visitors’ safety. An Apsara

  • Rainsy blocked from boarding flight to Jakarta

    Sam Rainsy was on Wednesday refused entry to a flight from Malaysia to Indonesia, media reported late on Wednesday. The "acting president" of the Cambodia National Rescue Party's announced return to the Kingdom on Independence Day on Saturday failed to occur. Rainsy arrived in Kuala