How a Philosophy Graduate From Ateneo Became Bohol's Premium Blademaker
Bohol has a long tradition of blacksmithing that predates the arrival of the Spanish in the country. Today there are still a handful of these blacksmiths in the island that make blades the old-fashioned way—individually and by hand—but perhaps the most high-profile one is Bohol Blades, which was started by Ateneo philosophy graduate Cid Cempron.
A lover of history and social sciences, Cempron stumbled upon a family in the town of Sikatuna whose members are third-generation forgers. He asked them to make him an all-purpose blade, which they did. The quality was so good that friends and acquaintances eventually asked him if he could make one for them.
“So I went to the family and befriended them,” he tells Esquire Philippines. “I told them, I would help you. I will do the designs and provide you with quality materials.”
“For three generations, the Prieto clan of Sikatuna, Bohol has been forging quality blades for locals and nearby towns, with their signature TP stamp reaching as far as Mindanao,” Cempron wrote in a post on Faecbook. “Getting hold of their blade is like holding a piece of art, an everyday tool and a weapon. The patriarch Eugenio learned the craft from the Caybot clan of nearby Cancatac, Corella. But it was through his son Teodaldo Prieto, that the famous "TP" logo was known.”
Cid Cempron is the proprietor of Bohol Blades
Cempron says he sources the steel for the blades from the leaf springs of old automobiles. The blacksmiths would only use the primera or original leaf springs made in Japan as these are the best quality. Often these would come from old models of Toyota Corollas or Isuzu Elf trucks. The handles, meanwhile are either made from Philippine rosewood or what’s locally known as tindalo, or carabao horns.
“Carabao horns are solid,” he says. “And it would usually take 20 to 25 years for a carabao to produce a solid horn. Of course, in one carabao, dalawa lang magagamit mo kasi dalawa lang yung sungay niya.
“The rarer the material, the more difficult it is to source, and the more it possesses a story,” he adds.
His blades all typically have sheaths as well, and even these are made from hardwood decorated with materials like bronze and brass.
Cempron says he's been getting more orders for their one-of-a-kind blades
“The nails, for example, are bronze, and they’re like over P900 per kilo,” he says. “A sheet of brass typically costs P2,500. Kami lang gumagamit ng ganyan.”
In 2018, Cempron formalized a partnership with the Prieto family in Sikatuna. Besides sourcing the materials, he’s the one who markets the blades and coordinates with customers, many of whom are avid collectors who have very detailed specifications about their intended purchase.
“That’s how discriminating blade collectors are here in the Philippines and abroad,” Cempron says. “Alam nila yung kalidad; they know if it’s brass or aluminum, they know the quality and the time spent making it. And they don’t haggle. I give them the price and they say, okay.”
Cempron, who graduated with a masters in Philosophy from Ateneo De Manila University, decided to call the new enterprise Bohol Blades to emphasize the province and where the products are made. He says there are blademakers from other parts of the country that have since started calling their own merchandise after the place they come from after he launched his own product line.
“There are blademakers from places like Carigara (Leyte), Palawan, Panay, Ilocos, and Batangas, although in Batangas they're more known for their butterfly knives or balisong,” he says.
After setting up a couple of social media pages (on Facebook and Instagram), demand for the blades shot up and the small enterprise now makes up to 40 blades a month, sometimes more depending on the orders.
All the blades are handcrafted and made-to-order
Bohol Blades categorizes its products into either knives, utility blades, and weapons. Cempron says he’s been getting more and more orders from chefs, especially after he got a visit from Toyo Eatery’s Jordy Navarra, who asked him to do a special knife. In return, Cempron says he has built a kitchen at the blacksmithing facility and has named the knife and the kitchen after Navarra.
“That’s what I do,” the blademaker says. “Kung sino nagpagawa ng una, ipapangalan ko sa kanila.” He shows one called the Comsti knife, named after chef and food journalist Angelo Comsti. “Bningyan niya ko ng specifications. Hindi pa kami nakagawa ng ganito before. Then gumawa kami ng 10. Sunod-sunod na after that.”
Cempron demonstrates slicing a piece of paper with one of his blades
Now he says he gets clients from countries like the U.S., Switzerland, Canada, Australia, and many other places across the globe. The blades are priced anywhere from P2,500 to P9,500 and takes as much as 30 days to make, depending on the specifications and the size of the order.
And in case you’re wondering, the blades are very, very sharp. To prove his point, he asks for a piece of paper and deftly cuts it like it was nothing.
"The sharpening and the finishing, dun kami magaling," he says. "Modesty aside, I’ve toured all over Bohol so I know my competitors. They cannot (do what we do).
“These are sharpest in Bohol,” he says confidently. “Yung iba kasi, factory knives. Meron silang machines. Kaya nilang i-set yung computer nila. But our knives are handmade. Walang mintis. Straight yung gawa. Kami lang meron nito. Hindi nila kaya. This is what separates us from the others.”
For inquires, contact Bohol Blades on Facebook or contact 09212326028