COLUMBIA — Coby Lesbines is a completely self-taught bladesmith and blacksmith. So much so, he even built his first forge — the hearth used to heat and shape metals.
What started as a hobby for when Coby wasn’t lobstering has turned into a full-time enterprise, Barney Brook Customs. Barney Brook is the stream that runs along his mother’s property and the place where he played as a kid. The name also is nod to his mother, who used to own Barney Brook Perennials.
Coby made the difficult decision to part with the fishing industry in December after spending the last 12 years working on the water. It was a choice he made as the demand for his custom knives catapulted, especially after this past summer.
Combine that with a serendipitous meeting with a prop producer from NBC and it was time for Coby to “chase my dreams” and give his full attention to his growing endeavor.
After the aforementioned prop producer attended a wedding, where one of Coby’s knives was gifted to the celebrated couple, his work was commissioned for “The Blacklist,” the NBC TV drama starring actor James Spader, whose character is a fugitive who works with the FBI to catch criminals.
“It was kind of a hard decision to leave the money and hope my business did good,” Coby reflected. “So far, I’m really happy with my decision.”
He has since made eight knives for the popular TV show — four of which have been functional throwing knives and four of which have been dull prop knives — with plans in the works to provide more.
Over this past Christmas, Coby fulfilled another 40-plus custom knife orders.
“I was out there from early morning to 9 to 10 o’clock at night,” Coby said of the busy holiday season, much of which was spent in his workshop.
Since retiring from fishing, Coby makes knives every day, spending hours in the shop that is located behind his house.
He bought his home from his best friend’s parents, which neighbors his mother’s house.
“I live right on my old stomping grounds,” he said.
Coby’s shop is outfitted with all the necessary equipment to be a bladesmith and blacksmith, gear that he purchased as he continued to grow his hobby.
But, it started with a homemade forge and anvil, which is the metal block used to help shape knives and other pieces.
“It was a lot of trial and error and a lot of YouTube videos,” Coby said of the process to build the bladesmithing and blacksmithing equipment.
It is work that he welcomed.
“[I’ve] always liked working with my hands,” Coby explained. He shared that he learns well by watching others, a trait that lent itself to his ability to teach himself through online videos.
“I actually made my first knife … in 2018,” he said. “And it kind of caught my interest.”
“On the weekends I kind of set up a little shop,” Coby related, recalling how much he liked the craft. He began fashioning knives for birthday and Christmas presents. Then folks wanted to place custom orders and buy them.
“It kind of just went from there,” he said. “Days off from the boat, I started taking orders and doing knives.”
Some people may have heard the words “bladesmith” and “blacksmith” used interchangeably.
But officially, a bladesmith is someone who makes knives and other pieces that have a blade (like a sword or dagger), while a blacksmith is someone who makes pieces out of iron or steel.
“I do both,” Coby explained. He also makes bottle openers, corkscrews, swords, hand tools, shovels and more.
Most of the knives Coby creates are from reclaimed steel such as an old sawmill blade.
The repurposing factor is another element of knife-making Coby is drawn to; the art of giving life to something that otherwise may have never been used again.
His process includes cutting up a chunk of steel, heating it inside the forge and then shaping into his desired form. Then comes the finishing work, grinding to the right sharpness and thickness and adding a handle.
A special project was replicating his great-great-great grandfather’s Navy sword. From his mom’s side of the family, the sword’s blade broke during her childhood and all that remained was the handle guard. He did some research and replicated the 34-inch-long piece. He forged it from a 16-inch jackhammer bit.
“This one came together with a lot of meaning and family history…,” the bladesmith says. “This was a true test of my abilities as a bladesmith and helped me realize that you can accomplish anything you put your mind to. I’m beyond happy with how it came out. The sword will now hang on the wall in my mom’s cabin.”
Currently, Coby takes orders on Instagram and Facebook, where viewers can see an assortment of his work, photos and videos. He also shares videos on TikTok and is in the process of setting up a website. His knives range from $150 to $700.
He hopes to get his work into local retail shops.
It’s all part of a journey built by a curious creator who enjoys spending time in his shop.
“When I started, I never thought it would become what it is today,” Coby said.