‘When you give someone a knife it’s a sign of honour and trust’

Fred Graham in his shop working on making sgian dubhs

Fred Graham in his shop working on making sgian dubhs

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It might seem on the surface that cutting hair and sgian dubh making would be worlds apart but delve a little deeper and it becomes apparent there are more similarities than you think.

Certainly, that is the view of a quirky barber who has been combining the trades for the best part of 50 years.

Fred Graham (64) has a quaint little shop called A Cut Above in the East Terrace which is in the heart of South Queensferry.

There is a barber’s chair in the corner with a mirror, while the rest of the room is his workshop for sgian dubhs.

He learned barbering from his uncle who told him the importance of having “two strings to his bow”.

And he had a natural ability for wood and metal work so carved a career out of silversmithing following an apprenticeship with Robert Allison and Son in Glasgow.

The two trades have gone hand-in-hand ever since and his passion for cutting hair and making sgian dubhs still shines through even after 50 years of service.

Fred said: “When you’re giving someone a knife it’s a sign of honour and complete trust because you’re giving something that can take someone’s life,

“I know it sounds funny to say but it’s a bit like a haircut. There’s a lot of trust placed in a barber who cuts your hair.

“You also get to know the people so you become one with them to a certain extent because a barber is a bit like a father confessor.

“It’s easier to tell a stranger what you’re worrying about rather than a close friend.

“They will come in and talk something over with me because I’m a neutral, I’ve not got a side with their family, boss, wife or whatever.”

Having left school at the age of 15, Fred served his five-year apprenticeship and has made sgian dubhs and dirks – knives worn with the kilt – for people all around the world since July 1967.

He said: “I loved it from the very beginning, making things out of silver meant every day was different. Some days were monotomous, with the polishing and you got absolutely filthy.

“People think silver is nice and clean but not when you’re filing it. It’s quite grubby but then you see the finished article with that sparkle and silver and it just lifts your eyes and you set stones into it from amethyst, topaz and Cairngorms and it just brings them alive.”

In his time Fred can claim to have made the knives for some very important people including for the colonel chiefs of all the old Scottish regiments such as the Duke of Edinburgh Prince Philip and Charles, the Prince of Wales and even the 70s rock band Heart.

However, it’s the lasting legacy of his work which gives Fred the most satisfaction.

He said: “If I was to get knocked down by a bus tomorrow there is still something of me left that somebody will go ‘oh Fred Graham made that,’ or even if they couldn’t remember my name ‘aw it was this wee guy that cut hair in South Queensferry, he made this sgian dubh for me’.

“That person is going to have it for the rest of their life and no doubt pass it on and become a family heirloom and that gives you satisfaction.”