Strong and Sharp

STORY BY

BENJAMIN LERNER

PHOTOGRAPHY

JIMMY iENNER, JR.


Kaila Cumings and Kyle Farace forge ahead with their burgeoning custom blade businesses

Kaila Cumings and Kyle Farace are a force to be reckoned with. As two of Vermont’s most adventurous and uncompromising artisan craftspeople, they channel their energy and enthusiasm into beautiful feats of functional art. Their striking custom-made knives and blades serve as a consummate embodiment of their strong work ethics, sharp minds, and indomitable spirits, which have allowed them to courageously conquer the challenges they have faced in their personal and professional journeys.


Their expertly-crafted blades have won the favor of numerous loyal clients, many of whom have trusted them with converting their priceless personal artifacts into gorgeous, handmade knives. Cumings and Farace have also been able to elevate their respective commercial platforms through appearances on high-profile network television programs, such as Discovery Channel’s smash-hit survival shows Naked and Afraid and Naked and Afraid XL, and the beloved HISTORY Channel series, Forged in Fire. As Cumings and Farace continue to refine their skills, the flames of their creative passion burn even hotter than the trusty forge in their workshop.


Survivor’s Instinct

Kaila Cumings was born and raised in Troy, New Hampshire. Although she did not begin making knives or working with metal until her mid-twenties, she was creatively inclined from an early age— and always possessed a fierce survivor’s instinct. Before pursuing her career as a knifemaker, she honed her survival skills during childhood hunting trips with her father, Doug, in the forests of New Hampshire. She was a standout member of her interscholastic shooting team during her years at Monadnock High School, and she went on to earn a cosmetology license after graduating.

Those formative experiences served as the inspiration for her initial entry into the world of knife-making, which combined her divergent interests into a singular medium. It all started when she began making review videos for the products of other knifemakers and posting them on YouTube. “I just fell in love with it,” says Cumings. “I eventually realized, ‘If I’m going to be reviewing other people’s work, I should really have some basic background knowledge myself.’ I ended up selling my own knife and gun collection, bought all of the equipment that I would need to start making my own knives, and I taught myself how to do it. There was no looking back after that.”


Cumings says that her decision to make knives was also motivated by her desire to advocate for female empowerment. “The gun and knife industries are traditionally male-dominated spaces. When I first started out over a decade ago, there were hardly any female makers— especially any that were my age. I wanted to help females feel more comfortable carrying and using firearms, going out hunting, and being able to provide for themselves. It all kind of rolls into knife making.”


Cumings made her first knife when she was staying in a one-bedroom apartment in New Hampshire. At the time, she was working three jobs to support herself and her daughter, Bailey. “I started working on the deck of my apartment with old-school tools. I used an angle grinder, because I couldn’t afford an actual grinding machine, and I used locally-sourced wood, because I couldn’t afford fancy wood either.”

In 2012, Cumings began working in a small shed on her parents’ property in Troy. As her home knifemaking operation continued to progress, Cumings organically grew her social media platform and began using it as a powerful marketing tool. Althrough Cumings currently has over 100,000 followers on Instagram®, she does not consider herself to be an “influencer” in any sense. “I don’t gravitate towards influencer culture, because I always think of people trying to push advertisements on their followers, which I never do. I think the key to being successful is to just be yourself and support other people.”

In the process of building her business, Cumings formed relationships with established knifemaking companies, such as Columbia River Knife & Tool, Inc. (CRKT) “They played a huge part in getting me to where I am today,” says Cumings. “They were very supportive, and they sent me free products early-on.” From there, Cumings got introduced to a lot of different makers, including Alan Folts, who lives in Florida, and Ken Onion, who is based in Hawaii. “They’ve both been huge mentors of mine, and they are both designers for CRKT. One of my biggest goals is to get my own design in with CRKT one day, as well.”

In 2015, Cumings’ blossoming social media following attracted the attention of Discovery Channel’s recruiters, who offered her the opportunity to participate as a contestant in Naked and Afraid.

According to Cumings, she didn’t believe that the offer was legitimate at first. “When they first reached out to me, I thought it was a joke. I brushed it off until they reached out a few more times. I thought, ‘What do I have to lose?’”

The first season of Naked and Afraid that Cumings participated in aired in 2017. It was filmed in the mountains of Colombia in 2015, where she was immersed in the wilderness for 21 days. “I was way out there,” says Cumings. “We had to take motorcycles and ride on horseback to get where we were going, because there was no other way to get in there.” Cumings adds that although the experience was certainly challenging, she also enjoyed her time out in nature. “Being off the grid in the middle of nowhere without having to worry about bills was the best thing about it. It was difficult, though, because you have nothing but time to think about everything. Still, it put a lot of things in perspective for me. Things that used to stress me out don’t really bother me anymore.”

Two years after the taping of her initial Naked and Afraid adventure, Cumings was able to combine her knifemaking business with her reality television career when she participated in her first Naked and Afraid XL challenge in 2017. “I got to bring a bow and arrow that I used for hunting and a survival knife that I made myself,” says Cumings.


Naked and Afraid XL took place in the Selati River Basin of South Africa, where Cumings teamed up with two other female contestants in a battle against the elements. She lived in shelters made out of thorns, ate snakes, and got stalked by lions. “It was incredible. I love hunting, and hunting in Africa was completely different than hunting back home. I thought that I was going to need a big machete, but I actually ended up not having to cut down any trees. I used my knife to prepare the warthog that I shot there. I was actually the first female to ever get a big game kill on the show with my bow and arrow.”


Cumings appeared on Naked and Afraid XL for a second time in 2022. Although the time that Cumings spent in the Amazonian forests of Peru during her second Naked and Afraid XL taping was harrowing, to say the least, it only reinforced her desire to participate in future seasons. “The weather was horrible, and I had some health issues down there that made it even harder, but I had some great teammates with me who helped me get through the worst of it. I personally believe that pain makes you stronger and teaches important lessons, and I learned a lot from being there.”


A Powerful Partnership

As Cumings’ reality television career continued to heat up, she also upgraded her shop, as well. After working in the small shed on her parent’s property for almost a decade, Cumings moved to Vermont in 2020 and opened a larger knifemaking shop with Kyle Farace. Her change of scene was largely influenced by her developing professional and romantic relationship with Farace, who was also learning the trade of knifemaking under her tutelage. Farace had never worked with steel before, but his previous experiences as an artist and craftsman allowed him to seamlessly transition into a new medium.

Farace first came to Vermont after moving to Windham from New Haven, Connecticut when he was eight years old. After arriving in the Green Mountain State, Farace was able to significantly broaden his creative horizons. Much like Cumings, Farace had an artistic bent from an early age. “My mom signed me up for an afterschool arts program shortly after I moved to Vermont, and I also took different arts classes throughout high school. I dabbled in a variety of mediums, including oil, paint, watercolor, ceramics, photography, and charcoal.” After graduating from high school, Farace worked for Rob DuGrenier, an established glassblowing artist based in Townshend, Vermont, from 2005 to 2011. “We made all of the trophies for Viacom,” says Farace. “We did trophies for the MTV Movie & TV Awards, the ESPY Awards, and the Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards.” Farace also helped design and build custom chandeliers for several Harry Winston jewelry stores. “I flew out to Beverly Hills and installed the first one that we built for the Harry Winston store on Rodeo Drive. I also worked on several other chandeliers, which were installed at Harry Winston stores in Osaka, Japan; Nagoya, Japan; and Milan, Italy.” When Farace finished working for Robert DuGrenier in 2011, he went on to work in the construction industry for the next eight years. His years of experience as a tradesman strengthened his craftsmanship skills, laying the foundation for a seamless transition into knifemaking. “After I met Kaila in 2019, she told me to come to her shop and try making a knife. When I made my first knife, she said, ‘You really have a knack for this!’”


Cumings says that while she showed Farace many of the fundamentals of knifemaking in the beginning, she didn’t have to teach him too much. “I was teaching him the craft in the hopes that we could one day join together and run a business,” says Cumings. “I just showed him the basics, and he ran with it. He had a natural talent for it.” At the time, Farace was working part-time construction jobs in and around Brattleboro. “It took a lot for him to drive back and forth from Vermont to New Hampshire,” says Cumings. “We ended up moving to Brattleboro together shortly after and working in the same shop.”Their first shop together was located in Bellows Falls. It was there that Farace acquired many of the knifemaking skills that he put to use during his appearance on HISTORY Channel’s Forged in Fire, which aired in November 2020.


In his first appearance on Forged in Fire, Farace triumphed under pressure and won the day with his inspired creations. “Looking back, the challenges were actually fairly easy,” says Farace. “The hard part was having the cameras in your face and getting pulled off set to do an interview when you were working on your blades.” When asked about what advice he would give to other future contestants, his response was simple: “Don’t use the power hammer.”

In the years after Farace’s victory on Forged in Fire, he and Cumings have continued to work together, and they have recently moved their operation to a new knifemaking shop south of Bellows Falls in Putney. Although they specialize in different kinds of knives and blades, they both are incredibly passionate about their craft. “Kyle likes to make kitchen knives, and I really like to make survival knives,” says Cumings. “I also like to test my knives out myself. A lot of people try to go over the top and make knives that have all of the bells and whistles, but I just like to keep it basic. If you’re field dressing a deer or preparing food out in the wild, you’re going to need a quality knife with a nice sharp edge and a good grip that won’t get slippery.”

Cumings’ craft process begins with cutting a small section out of a sheet of metal. “I like working with carbon steels, because they’re the easiest to forge and the best to heat treat. You can also use the spine of a carbon steel knife with flint to start a fire. I don’t draw anything out, I just start forging and see where the metal takes me.”

Cumings prefers to use a propane forge when making her knives. She normally heats the forge to around 2600° Fahrenheit when forging steel, and she often uses a basic round hammer to hammer the tip.


Afterwards, she takes her knives to the grinder to sharpen their blades. Although Cumings is not averse to making wooden knife handles, she often uses durable synthetic composite materials, such as Micarta and G-10.

“Kyle loves to work with wood,” notes Cumings. “I like to use a lot of Micarta and G-10 for my handles, because I make a lot of knives for law enforcement officers. I love the tactical side of things, and G-10 is a very grippy material.”


Farace frequently opts to use locally- sourced wood for his knife handles, such as New England maple, or other more exotic hardwoods, such as buckeye burl. “For the locally-sourced wood, I’ll get a block of wood from my friend in Grafton. Once I have the wooden blocks, I’ll cut them down to usable sizes and send them to our friend in Upstate New York. He’ll stabilize them and dye them whatever color we need, depending on what our customers want.”

Farace explains that most of the blades that he and Cumings make are custom-made to suit the preferences of their clients. “We work with them to make the knives exactly how they want. It usually starts with them shooting us an idea, and then we’ll just bounce ideas off of each other. We go out of our way to make our clients happy, but it’s always best when they do some research beforehand and have a general idea of what they want.”


Cumings and Farace’s portfolio of custom-made knives includes several notable highlights, including a set of custom-designed knives that Cumings made for members of the NHL Hockey team, the Boston Bruins, which were fashioned out of old skate blades. On one occasion, Cumings and Farace collaborated on a special project for a man who wanted to honor his father’s legacy by converting one of his most treasured possessions into several special knives. “A man reached out to us and told us that his father had passed away,” says Farace. “He sent over some pieces of his father’s tractor, and he wanted a couple of matching blades made out of the tractor pieces. Kaila and I worked on those knives together. It was a great feeling knowing that every time he uses them or looks at them, he’s going to be reminded of his father.”

Kaila, Bailey, and Kyle

Cumings also fashioned a knife for a brave war veteran who had been wounded by an explosion during an overseas combat tour. “He had to have a piece of metal inserted into his leg after surgery. When he finally got it removed, he sent it to me and had me make a knife out of it. He sent me a six-inch steel tube, and I was able to hammer two blades out of it. It really meant a lot to me to be able to work on it.”


Cumings and Farace have also made historic blades (such as katanas, viking swords, and Kukri blades); knife handles out of deer antlers; and knives out of leaf springs from old cars and railroad ties. “I don’t like doing the railroad ties as much as Kyle does because they’re so thick,” says Cumings. “Kyle can hammer them out in two minutes, and we make really cool things out of them.”


Family Ties


In addition to working collaboratively with Farace, Cumings has found immense fulfillment in working with her daughter, Bailey, and teaching her the craft. “She’s actually been coming out to the shop with me since she was very little. She’s been a huge part of my journey. If you go back and watch a lot of my old YouTube review videos, she was in every single video! She would hold up pictures that she drew in the background while I gave reviews.”

As Bailey grew older, Cumings brought her out to the workshop more and more. “Early on, I tried to get her comfortable with the equipment. I would have her using the grinder, but I would help hold it in place so that she could get used to the sparks and the noises. I still have pictures from the early days when she was helping me grind or using the drill press, but she has learned a lot since then. She’s made a few blades of her own, and she’s very creative. It gives me an amazing feeling to watch her work in the shop whenever she comes with me.”

Cumings also draws inspiration from Vermont’s creative community and natural scenery. “There are so many people in Vermont who are creative. I constantly see things that inspire me and give me ideas. Vermont has a lot of beautiful spots. Hamilton Falls in Jamaica is one of my favorites. It’s beautiful there, and seeing the waterfall brings me closer to nature, where I feel the most comfortable.”


ALL THE DETAILS

kailacumingsknives.com

facebook.com/people/Kyle-Farace-Custom-Knives

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