Men of steel

Wanmai Chitjan of the Ban Na Po Blacksmith Group.

Clanging sounds can be heard from afar. At the welded gate, there is no sign to inform people that it’s the knife factory of Ban Na Po community in Trang’s Muang district. But the clanging sounds ensure visitors that this is the place to see the origin of the famous durable knives known as “Mit Phra Na Po”.

“Our community has made knives for more than 300 years,” said Prawet Chitjan, 58, head of Ban Na Po Blacksmith Group, which he founded about two decades ago.

In the past, many houses in the community had a forge for making knives. But year after year, more people moved to the city and the numbers of blacksmiths reduced. Only four families still preserve the heritage today, Prawet said.

He learnt how to forge knives from his father and has passed down his skills and knowledge to his son Wanmai who works as a marketing arm for the family business.

“Ban Na Po knives are different from other large knives firstly by design,” said Wanmai, 29.

The machete is a little curved at the tip, like a hook. The design helps prevent possible injuries when it is used for cutting branches of a tree. Another outstanding point is the durability. The blade and handle are made from one piece of metal. Furthermore, the knife is made of old leaf springs of buses. The advantage of using leaf springs is that the steel is stronger than using ordinary steel available on the market, said Wanmai.

“The leaf springs are very strong because they are used for the suspension in wheeled vehicles. We buy the bus springs because the size is long and wide enough for making many sizes of knives,” he added.

A 2m-long leaf spring can produce up to 44 knives, he said, adding their knives are designed for farm use such as cutting branches, grass or crops. In addition, the prices of old leaf springs are much cheaper than stainless steel. The cost of old springs is only 19 baht per kilogramme. Reusing leaf springs can also help revitalise the old material to make it useful again.

At present, Ban Na Po Blacksmith Group has 27 members and each of them know how to forge these unique knives.

They start by cutting a leaf spring into smaller pieces, measuring 15 or 20cm-long depending on the knife sizes. Then the metal is heat-treated by using a charcoal forge until it turns orange. It is then hammered until it thins down and reaches 36cm in length.

The metal is heated in the forge for the blacksmith to make a curved tip and rounded handle. The blades are sharpened on a grinder. The last process is to heat the blade and cool it down quickly by dipping it in water.

“The technique helps make the knife strong,” he said.

The knives of Ban Na Po are quite heavy because they are made of steel. This is admired by their customers because each knife has a longer shelf life, he said.

The knives of Ban Na Po are also certified as One Tambon One Product. The group produces up to five brands for marketing in different parts of the country, such as the triple-star brand for the Deep South and the 22 brand for Songkhla. Some of their products are also available in Myanmar, Laos and Malaysia.

The group also produces other farm tools such as hoes, sugarcane knives, axes and butcher knives. They offer made-to-order swords and knives. The group earns up to 300,000 baht a month.

In future, the Ban Na Po Blacksmith Group plans to open a museum on the history of their knives and also the process of making the durable blades.

“I am proud of our heritage and glad that I have a chance to learn and share it with our visitors. As long as people are interested in our knives, it will make our community’s wisdom live on,” he said.

Ban Na Po Blacksmith Group (7°31’24.6″N 99°36’11.1″E) is about 6km south of the inner city of Trang and about 2km northwest of Trang Airport.

The group’s factory is open daily from 8am-4pm. For those who want to see the process of making knives, they should visit the factory in the morning because blacksmiths work on their farms in the afternoon.

Visit www.tourismthailand.org or call Prawet Chitjan, head of Ban Na Po Blacksmith Group, on 083-507-6452 or the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s Trang office on 075-215-867 or 075-211-085.

The group produces five sizes of knife.

A blacksmith forges a knife.

A blacksmith making a hook shape at the tip of the blade.