Juan Boned is the sole representative of an age-old tradition which, unless someone steps in to prevent it, will die with him. This self-taught craftsman, proud of the legacy of his forefathers, has (through determination and hard work) succeeded in reviving a trade that was considered to have died out: he has resurrected the craft of the traditional Ibiza knife maker.
Juan Boned, aged 54, is the last knife maker in Ibiza. A mechanic by trade, his enthusiasm has led him to rescue from oblivion a traditional Ibizan skill that seemed set to disappear after the death in 2007 of the master craftsman, Pep Musson.
“It all began over ten years ago”, Juan Boned tells us, “when my brother-in-law told me he wanted an espasí (a traditional Ibizan percussion instrument which resembles a sword, and derives its name from espada, the Spanish word for sword).” Juan, being a man who can turn his hand to anything, promised to make him one. He very quickly got the bug for working the iron, and his love for the land and the island’s traditions led him to make a traditional Ibizan knife. It troubled him somewhat that the craft had disappeared: “The last knife maker died, and he hadn’t wanted to teach anybody”, he says with a hint of annoyance in his voice. He found his first project very hard. In fact, he remembers being on the point of giving up because he found the piece so difficult to complete. But eventually, he managed it, and this meant that an ancient island craft has not disappeared. For the time being, at least.
Boned’s Ibizan roots go back “to the Dark Ages” — he tells us with a laugh that he is “ a descendant of peasant farmers and fishermen”. With pride in his historic heritage, he tells us how the island’s strategic position made Ibiza a vitally important centre of trade and culture, through which all the Mediterranean civilizations have passed. In fact, this aspect of the Pitiusa Islands’ history is inextricably linked to the development of Ibiza’s knife-making industry. For, as Juan tells us, invasions were so frequent that the island’s inhabitants took to wearing these knives in their belts as a means of defending themselves. The origins of the Ibizan knife, therefore, are lost in the mists of time. What is clear is that the knife took the form of a Mediterranean dagger, as can seen by its similarity to the Roman daggers on display in many museums.
Juan, who has a keen interest in Ibiza’s history, talks with great enthusiasm about the features of the traditional knife. The most important point is that the blade is painstakingly carved with motifs taken from plant life, and that four ‘standard’ sizes were established for blades. These sizes “were approximate, as they were measured against the hand, and every knife maker’s hand measurement was different”. Nevertheless, depending on their size, the blades can be classified as “palmo, palmet, força or forquet [Ibizan words for various parts of the hand]”. The clasp was usually made of wood, although wealthier people would have theirs made of brass.
Juan, who has fond memories of his father always wearing his knife in his belt, sadly accepts that he is the last exponent of this age-old craft. “I’m losing my grip”, he says, dejectedly — meaning that when he stops, knife making as an occupation will disappear. He tells us of the great effort involved in learning to fashion knives by hand, in the tradition of the craftsmen of old. To do this, he had to undertake intensive research, hunting down ancient examples so that he could copy their technique. Having said that, after all this time he says he is proud of his creations which, he considers to be of a similar standard to the ancient pieces. Boned swells with pride when he tells us that his pieces form part of the collection of Abel Doménech, one of the world’s greatest experts on knives. Or of how the manager of the Nobu Ibiza hotel once gave a knife made by him as a gift to one of the hotel’s owners, the renowned chef Nobu Matsushisa.
Juan turns to the production process itself, explaining how laborious it is. In fact, the first obstacle he encountered when he began making knives was finding the tools needed for the work. He realised that such tools did not exist on the market, so his first challenge was to make them. He also emphasises that this is a genuine artisan craft. “The only difference nowadays in comparison with the traditional method of making these knives is that now you can order the metal with the alloy you require over the internet.” Having said that, there are times when he resorts to recycling metals to make the blade, something which the craftsmen of old also did. “You have to realise that back then, everything was recycled. A knife might be made from a file,” he points out. Be that as it may, making each of these genuine works of art takes almost thirty hours or, to put it another way, three or four whole days of wholehearted dedication to the task. Nowadays, Juan Boned only makes knives to order — and who knows whether this may be our last chance to acquire a genuine Ibizan knife.