Meet the Emiratis who are earning a reputation as one of the best knife makers in the UAE


When Abdullah Al Ahmed is in his studio in Ras Al Khaimah, time stands still.

The young Emirati is lost in a quiet world of carving, sanding and filing, with the outside world of endless distractions in the distance.

As one of the few Emirati knife makers, Mr. Al Ahmed, 26, is carving out a place for himself among the best craftsmen in the UAE.

And its range of knives was one of the main attractions at this year’s Abu Dhabi International Hunting and Riding Exhibition (Adihex), which is being held at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre.

Barely two years ago, it was still just a dream. After graduating from university but facing a world in lockdown due to Covid-19, Mr. Al Ahmed returned to an earlier passion for knife making inspired by his father’s collection of camping knives.

“He gave me a multi-tool as a gift when I was older and from that day my passion grew,” he said.

“Day by day I started to learn more about knife making. I watched videos and learned about the process, the different materials and the different styles. The first knife I made dates back to 2011 – and it wasn’t like what you see today,” he said with a laugh.

When the pandemic led to lockdowns and border closures, Mr. Al Ahmed turned a room in his house in Al Rufa into a workshop.

“I went into a small room at the back of our house and started making a knife,” he said.

“My friends were playing video games and they were having fun, but for me it’s totally different. I don’t like wasting time.

Steel – such as stainless steel, carbon steel and Damascus steel – comes to his workshop in slabs, which he then cuts and grinds to any design he desires.

Then it undergoes a complex process of heating and cooling to ensure the correct hardness.

“It’s called the quench cycle,” he said. “The knife should not be too soft or too hard, so it retains its sharpness for a long time.”

The material for the handles, such as desert ironwood, is also available in blocks and is carved by hand.

Some grips have different colors and design patterns, such as shredded carbon fiber particles embedded in the grip.

“Every knife is different,” Mr. Al Ahmed said, taking a talk at his Adihex booth to illustrate this.

“All the blades are different and the shapes and colors of the handles are different. It is impossible for them to be the same.

When he is in the workshop, Mr. Al Ahmed is lost in his own world. It can take at least two weeks to make a knife, working five hours a day.

Time stands still and the stress of modern life seems far away. It is a meticulous process of cutting, grinding, heating, filing, honing and buffering.

“The phone is off and I’m away from it all,” he said.

“I don’t even know the time. Suddenly it’s midnight and the hours passed like a snap of the fingers as I was totally focused and couldn’t feel the time.

Abdullah Al Ahmed explains how he makes his knives.  Khushnum Bhandari / The National

The dream that started two years ago with just a few thousand dirhams of investment has now grown into a full-fledged business called Oryx Custom Knives.

He is inspired by the Arabian oryx and he personally designed the logo which is a modernist version of the famous species of antelope native to the Arabian Peninsula.

“I wanted something that had a connection to our country,” he said.

It markets several ranges of knives, from small utensils suitable for camping to kitchen blades inspired by Japanese chef’s knives. Each is proudly stamped “Made in the UAE”.

Prices start at a few hundred dirhams, and Mr Al Ahmed’s favorite is the Al Solai range. These cost around Dh900 ($245) and are named after the local word for a young oryx.

One of his most expensive knives on display was made of Damascus steel – renowned for its swirling patterns – and cost several thousand dirhams.

There was a steady stream of visitors to Mr. Al Ahmed’s stand at Adihex, people looking past the mass-produced knives.

His passion for his job is evident and he spends a lot of time with every potential customer on his stand. It had sold at least half of its stock on Wednesday. The knives can only be purchased directly and an Instagram page allows the products to be presented.

Mr. Al Ahmed has invested in machinery including a drill press, oven and abrasive belt to supplement the hand tools he uses, but Oryx Custom Knives is still a part-time job.

Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed, the ruler’s representative in Al Dhafra, stopped by his booth on Monday and urged him to continue his efforts.

“You can imagine the situation,” Mr Al Ahmed said of Sheikh Hamdan’s visit.

“He asked a lot of questions and pushed me forward. He told me that I had to continue. And that we needed cutlers.

“I was proud. I felt honoured. Now I have a big responsibility.

Adihex continues at Adnec Abu Dhabi until October 2. For more information, visit www.adihex.com

Abu Dhabi International Hunting and Riding Show – in pictures

Updated: October 01, 2022, 09:14

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