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Immigrant makes ornate knives

By Gulzat Matisakova and Nathan Howard

Post-Bulletin, Austin MN

At the age of 12, Dmitry Malakhov made his first knife from his grandfather’s saw.

Like many young boys, he liked to play with tools and toy weapons.

Many years later, Malakhov is still working with tools, creating handmade knives.

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Malakhov, a Russian immigrant from Moscow, works as a lab technician at the University of Minnesota Hormel Institute, where scientists, including his wife, Margarita, are searching for a cure of cancer.

He and Margarita came to the United States in 2002 seeking academic experience in the field of molecular biology. Dmitry Malakhov explains that back in Russia, funding for cancer research is scarce.

The couple had dreamed of leaving Moscow in search of a life "in the country," far from traffic and the noise in Moscow.

They found work in a few cities in the United States and Canada before arriving in Austin.

Once in Austin, they agree, they found the life in the country they dreamed of, as well as work at the institute and a "friendly" community.

Dmitry Malakhov was eager to pursue his talent in making knives. Soon after arriving, he designed and built a furnace that melts ore into the steel he crafts into knives.

Malakhov’s grandfather and great-grandfather were blacksmiths, but nobody taught him the art of knife-making.

He often followed his grandfather and imitated him, admiring his gift with tools.

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From his basement and garage in southwest Austin, Malakhov is seeking a special kind of steel, discovered centuries ago, named Damascuss steel, also referred to as Wootz steel or in his native language of Russian, Bulat.

The structure of this method consists of pure iron and cementite, which is a compound of iron and carbon.

The combination creates a wavy pattern; no two are ever alike.

"The work," says Malakhov, "somehow takes the personality of the master."

After a blade is pounded and shaped on the anvil, Malakhov draws on paper the design that he will carve into the knife handle, often made of wood or ivory.

Ornate details consisting of silver, gold and gemstones are embedded in the handle with the use of a microscope and steady fingers.

Malakhov finds selling his knives difficult.

Custom designs and working from raw ore to a polished blade takes many hours of labor and makes for a knife that may cost more than $1,000.

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"Unfortunately, there are few people who can appreciate or afford my work," he says.

Yet, selling is not an obstacle nor the goal.

Malakhov enjoys climbing the mountain he calls "labor for pleasure."

He says he needs to work with his hands just as he needs food and sleep. His effort, he explains, is his practice for peace and relaxation of the mind.

Gulzat Matisakova, 19, came to Austin from Kyrgyzstan to attend Riverland Community College though the Global UGRAD Program, a United States educational exchange program.

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