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Metal sculptor, knifemaker collaborate on blades

Sculptor Robert Woods and knifemaker Dan Piergallini first met at a recent show at the Art Lounge Gallery in downtown Plant City.

Both exhibited recent works they had created, and came to realize they could use their artistic talents in a collaborative way.

Now the two, retired owners of independent construction-related businesses, are working together, with Woods cutting steel Piergallini uses for hand-crafted hunting knives.

The precision process they use individually in working with metal has created a unique opportunity for the retirees. While finely crafted metalworking is arduous and painstaking, both start with paper and pencil in hand and create a simple drawing from an idea.

From there, they cut out the design, Woods works mostly with huge sheets of steel or aluminum and uses a computer to guide a precise plasma or water jet saw.

Piergallini guides his band saw by hand and works with thin billets of steel that become blades for his knives.

Woods' creations go on to grace the landscape of college campuses, corporate offices and parks. Piergallini's sought-after knives will go into collectors' showcases and the hands of hunters, skinners and cowboys.

Woods' latest work is the DNA Helix Sundial for Brandon campus of Hillsborough Community College.

"It is within three degrees of exactly perfect," said Woods, who grew up in Tampa.

It is this precision that caught the eye of Piergallini, who was raised in Massachusetts, but has lived in this area for 44 years.

"I will continue to handcraft the custom knives solely by myself, but Robert will cut my less expensive production knife blades, saving me hours of work."

Their works are exclusively American-made, but the men agree Plant City is not their marketplace.

Dispelling the starving artist myth, neither creates as a hobby. Since they've retired, the demand for their metal art has not stopped.

Woods' sculptures can be found throughout Florida and in Michigan, Maryland and Ohio.

Piergallini said his clients include Hollywood stars and military generals, but he guards the privacy of these famous clients.

"Every knife is one of a kind, and often these clients design their own knives, as was the case for a push dagger for a Special Forces Captain who worked in Colombia," Piergallini said.

Metal is not cheap and Woods said the majority of the cost of a sculpture goes for materials.

Overhead includes welding, grinding, powder coating and clear coating, and the huge ovens needed to heat the aluminum.

One sculpture can be months in the making.

Piergallini takes a similar approach. It took him three years to put out a knife that made him proud.

"Grinding steel is great therapy," he said. "It can take 30 hours to make one small custom knife."

He uses a variety of steel for blades, and one of the most impressive-looking, and expensive, is Damascus steel from Jacksonville, Ala.

Handle materials, like Buffalo horn, animal bone, and exotic hardwoods, can make the cost of a custom knife several thousand dollars.

The production knives, which Woods will cut for Piergallini, are in the hundreds of dollars.

"You are looking at a cutting process that is minutes instead of hours," Woods said.

Two Florida girls must get some credit for the success of these two artists.

Woods and Piergallini married local girls and raised families here.

"Zuesette, from Tampa, and I have been married 31 years and you couldn't find a better person," Woods said. "We met in high school and she helps with the business side."

Piergallini met his wife Sandra when he was stationed in Tampa in the Navy. She recently retired as a speech teacher in the Hillsborough County School system.

"Sandra handles my punch list," Piergallini said. "She inspects every knife for any imperfections. Nothing gets past her."

Metal sculptor, knifemaker collaborate on blades 01/03/13 [Last modified: Thursday, January 3, 2013 3:30am]
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