Travel with Big Grass: The Art of Knives

Big Grass owners John and Duang Hanesworth are in Duang’s native Thailand, meeting with vendors and selecting new products for the store. Share their experiences on the road through John’s periodic blog entries.

In many rural areas around the world, roadside stand vendors provide the freshest local produce. In Baan Rung Fong, it’s hand-forged knives and farm tools.

This village in northern Thailand is famous for its blacksmithing talent. So many families make their living at this medieval art that the air is filled with the din of hammer on metal. While the men perform the brutally hot, exhausting work of forging raw steel into a variety of instruments, the women sell the wares alongside the highway.

Good quality, sharp tools are indispensable here. After tourism, agriculture is Thailand’s largest industry. Farming is still mostly done on small family plots, often using water buffalo to pull a plow and simple human strength and endurance to harvest sugar cane, rice and a variety of other crops.

Baan Rung Fong’s traditional blacksmithing techniques produce an impressive variety of tools, and as with any good design, form follows function: There are machetes to chop sugar cane; hatchets to chop fire wood and clear brush; knives with hooks to reach and cut jungle cane, sickles to harvest rice, narrow shovels to cut young bamboo shoots emerging from the soil. Kitchen tools include heavy cleavers for a solid bone cutting whack, filet knives and carving blades.

We walked from stall to stall along the highway. Quality and price were similar, so we thought it better to buy from different vendors to avoid any friction among a close-knit group of neighbors.

At the last stall, before the jungle crept back to the highway's edge, stood an out-of-place basket filled with intricately carved walking sticks. Their price seemed high, until the owner showed us the surprise inside: pull the handle and it separates from the cane, revealing a 15-inch blade that could only be described as a pig sticker. Something out of a James Bond film. Definitely not TSA approved.

We left those walking sticks in Baan Rung Fong. 

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