How Did You Get Started In Knifemaking? - August 2011 Why do you make knives? What got you started?
Posted 01 August 2011 - 10:08 AM
We decided to lighten up the discussion a little this month. Perhaps we can learn some things about each other and maybe find some common ground. So, tell us; Why do you make knives and what got you started? Feel free to tell us a little about your background and other interests too.
Posted 01 August 2011 - 11:00 AM
My wife suggested I take a class and she helped me to plan it out and I took the intro course in 2002 under Joe Keeslar and Greg Neely. When I got done with the class, I felt so much better about understanding steel and about the direction I wanted to take in knife making.
I scheduled a class per year for several years in order to make advancement. I went to the hammer ins and participated in the competitions and was very regular in attending Al's meetings. I decided I had to be at every event and at every gathering if I was to get the understanding I wanted. Between all of that, I managed to make some improvements and earn my stamps in the ABS. It has been one of the most difficult, but most satisfying experiences of my life. I feel like I am just now getting a foundation for what is ahead. There is so much to learn.
Posted 01 August 2011 - 11:55 AM
My wife, Sally (who now manages ABS Membership Services) wrote an article for the American Bladesmith Society Journal a few years ago about how I got started in knife making and became involved with the American Bladesmith Society. The article is from a wife's point of view and I thought that you might enjoy reading it. I know that Sally enjoyed writing it!
VIEWS FROM A BLADESMITH’S WIFE
by Sally Cassidy
Where did it all start? One weekend, while strolling the streets of Frederick, Maryland, we spotted a knife shop. We could never just walk by a Knife Shop! Everywhere we went a knife shop involved a visit to exam each piece of merchandise and to socialize with whoever else was inside the shop. That’s how we heard that there was going to be a “Hammer-In” (whatever that was) in the Frederick area. Wow…it just so happened that my husband was taking an early retirement just two weeks prior to that Hammer-In. I suggested he attend and find out what it was all about.
He came home the second day of the Hammer-In to say he had joined the American Bladesmith Society (ABS) and had met Mr. Bill Moran. Previously, I had read an article about Mr. Moran in a local newspaper and had let Dan know that we had a famous blade smith just up the road from where we lived. The article said that Mr. Moran enjoyed having people stop by his shop, but I couldn’t convince Dan to just drop in, he felt it would be an imposition. We were fortunate to have had a few conversations with Mr. Moran, at ABS events, and I do think he really enjoyed people stopping in for a visit.
A few days after that first Hammer-In, I recall being asked if I’d like to go to Arkansas for a couple of weeks. Well…I had never been to Arkansas and always wanted to drive around the U.S., so why not. The next thing I knew, we were headed southwest to the William Moran School of Bladesmithing for two weeks. During the two weeks of the Introduction to Bladesmithing Class, I met the other students, as well as the two instructors. The first week started out with forging blades using coal; I swear I could have written “wash me” on Dan’s face, at the end of each day! The last day I watched as students chopped through 2x4’s, sliced through ropes and then proceeded to totally ruin their blades by bending them in a vice.
It absolutely amazes me that a bar of steel and a block of wood can be transformed into a beautiful knife. In the past, I wouldn’t have thought of a knife as being a work of art but after seeing the creations of the ABS members, I can’t think of a forged knife in any other way.
At the end of the two weeks in Arkansas we returned to our home in Maryland. We had been trying to decide where we wanted to live now that we had both retired. It had become very obvious that Dan wasn’t going to be able to set up a forge and anvil in our suburban, covenant controlled neighborhood. Thank goodness, that we had decided two years earlier, that although we were temporarily moving East for Dan’s job, we didn’t want to sell our ranch in Colorado. It was an easy decision to pack up and head back home to the ranch in the Rocky Mountains, where there was now a real use for that old dairy barn!
The old dairy barn has now been transformed from milking stalls to a bladesmith’s shop. Instead of mooing cows, I can hear the sound of the hammer on the anvil. I naively thought that the only tools needed were the forge and anvil, in addition to a few hammers and a set of tongs, to set up a bladesmithing shop. Wrong!! Suddenly there were 18-wheelers backing up to that old dairy barn with an assortment of big tools….milling machine, heat-treating oven, band saws (two, one for metal and one for wood), and a grinder. We’re now on first name basis with our Fedex and Big Brown delivery guys as supplies related to knife making continue to roll in. Does it ever end? I don’t think so….I’m now hearing about power-hammers and engraving tools.
Fortunately, my husband encourages me to plan the trips to ABS events and is often amazed at the places I’ve taken him to on our way to a Hammer-In. I’ve found that we see more of the country if we travel on something other than the Interstate Highway System. Arkansas is our most frequent destination and I’ve found a lot of nice little roads that take us there from Colorado. We both enjoy the backroads and the small towns, but there have been times that he has said some of the roads are a little too rural, with barely room for 1 ½ vehicles! I keep track of the really good places to stop for lunch, and have been known to go a bit out of the way to hit a favorite spot. Do you know that you can get the best limeaide at Braun’s in Oklahoma? In Arkansas, Conway has a terrific frozen custard stand and Helena has a great museum in an old train station with fantastic pictures of the great Madrid earthquake. There are so many wonderful places to stop and places to see and you can find them on the way to an ABS event.
We’ve become regulars at the Holiday Inn Express in Hope, Arkansas; soon our room will have a brass plate on the door with our names engraved. When attending a Hammer-In in Old Washington, I’ve learned to head across the street to the Inn for lunch and a visit to the Inn isn’t complete without a piece of Earthquake Cake….how could you ever walk away from a piece of that cake?!
We are both retired, so we’ve had the good fortune to be able to attend Hammer-Ins in Michigan, Ohio, Alabama, Texas and Arkansas. I too have become a member of the American Bladesmith Society, although not as a bladesmith. A Hammer-In, for me, has become a social event to catch up with wonderful friends and to meet new ones.
I remember back to our first Valentine’s Day as a married couple, Dan had been looking at a Buck Knife. I wasn’t sure why he wanted a knife, but that was my gift to him. At night, just before shutting off the lamp on his nightstand, he would get that knife out and examine every aspect of it. I had no idea what was so interesting and I often wondered how well I really knew this man I had married. That Valentine’s Day, twenty-eight years ago, I would never have dreamed that one day my husband would actually be making knives. This new road we’ve taken has been leading us to wonderful places and great friends in the American Bladesmith Society.
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Posted 01 August 2011 - 07:04 PM
Posted 01 August 2011 - 07:48 PM
I started grinding my own blades and trying heat treating, again not very successfully. Then I decided to learn as much as possible and get better. Of course then came the equipment, a Bader BIII and I started making my own knives with stock removal. I also tried forging and really liked it.
I went to my first real knife show in Mesquite Texas. I did not have a table but wanted to see everything there. I also took my first forged knife, which I still have. There was a member of the ABS there and I let him look at the knife and tell me a few things. The mastersmiths name was Mike Williams, and he said why don't you join the ABS, you will learn a lot. I am glad I took his advice and still do. He has been a lot of help to me.
I took the Intro class with Bert Gaston and Jim Crowell. That is when I decided that I this is what I really wanted to do and try to become at least a somewhat better knife maker. I could not have gotten to this level without a lot of help and this is what the ABS excels at.
Like Lin I am still learning. There is so much out there that I do not know enough about. I do not think my brain will ever read full. I just hope that I can pass some of it on to the new people.
Anvil Top Custom Knives
Posted 02 August 2011 - 08:01 AM
There were two guys making knives here at the Ozark Folk Center and both were kind enough to help me. My first knife was for my friend in PA and started out as a car spring. I made my second knife because the first one looked so bad. (I am still at it.)There were several of us doing blacksmithing and we decided to see what a real knife maker did. We called Tom Marringer in Springdale AR and he and his wife Peggy graciously allowed us to visit. Tom showed us his shop and gave us quite an education. Meanwhile I had subscribed to a knife magazine, bought some books on the subject and was working into the late night practicing what I had read.
I was working for David Mathews at Stone County Ironworks back then and asked David if he knew how to make Damascus Steel. Ohh I had been reading about this magic. David said sure he knew how but did not know if he actually could because he had never tried. That was it. We worked long into the night for months learning to weld and layer and twist. Then it was time to further my education.
There was an advertisement in the knife magazine about a “Hammer in” at the old James Black reconstructed smithy in Washington AR to be put on by Texarkana College and the American Bladesmith Society . I took my lunch a paper sack and off I went. That was the first Piney Woods Hammer- In and all four founding fathers of the ABS were there. I still have my certificate of attendance. When I saw what Bill Moran, Bill Bagwell and Don Hastings could do and were doing with their knives that was it! I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. I was amazed and jumped in with both feet at this point. I joined the ABS, sold my motorcycle and bought knife making equipment.
It has been thirty years now and I have been an MS for twenty five of them. In 1986 when I was awarded my MS I changed my mark to a shooting star. I have had quite a few of the current Master Smiths go through my classes and tested quite a few more. These men all worked very hard and I had little to do with their success but having worked with them I am pleased to see them accomplish so much.
Posted 02 August 2011 - 06:57 PM
Posted 03 August 2011 - 08:50 PM
Skip to January 2009. Now I'm 35, just returned home from Iraq and wanted to have a knife made to match a custom pistol my company had ordered to commemerate our deployment. I went to Riverside Machine Shop to ask Uncle Al(though I did not know him at all then) if he could make me a knife. We got to chatting and I ended up leaving his shop without a knife but inspired and motivated to make my own knife for the set I wanted. At his prompting I started working on making knives. Since then I've attended the hammer ins at Uncle Als, and Old Washington. Still have not been able to take off two weeks for the school; though I have soaked up every ounce of information I can at the hammer ins and from talking with the generous bladesmiths in the Nashville area and on this forum. I've not stopped since. I intend to try and take my performance test sometime later this year or early next year for journeyman.
The why is a little harder to answer. I like knives. I view them as tools and enjoy learning about what makes the right tool for the job at hand then trying to make one. The craft appeals to me for its artistic, creative, primal, and scientific aspects. All of these come together to provide something I made. It appeals to me from the legacy aspect of it as well. I have three sons. Maybe they will be interested in knife making, maybe not. I love it and while they are too young to really work in the shop now, one day they won't be. If I can pass this skill and what I know on to them and they love it as much and pursue it that would be great. If they choose not too, then they will still have somehting their dad made for them, long after I've gone; something they can use and pass on to their kids maybe. I like it because of the people I've met through it. Everyone I've encounterd in the knife making community is generous to excess; with information, hospitality, and guidance. It is refreshing to be a part of an organization (both the official and unofficial ones) that shares common interest. Knives, yes, but also common values and a spirit of friendship and teaching.
Thanks to all.
Posted 04 August 2011 - 01:59 PM
Even though I wanted one, I was too cheap to buy a custom knife. So, I decided to "invest" in a "few" tools and materials and make my own "custom Knife". That was 1998, I've been hooked ever since.
Posted 06 August 2011 - 10:34 AM
Posted 10 August 2011 - 03:30 PM
I started in knifemaking back around the end of 1978. I had left graduate school and moved to Montana. I just wanted to make a knife to take hunting and backpacking and so I ordered a three foot length of 440C steel. Next thing I knew I had several knives and I was hooked. However, it actually started before then. My family has a lineage of blacksmiths that go back several generations or longer. My dad and gradfather immigrated into this country from Denmark in the early 1900s. The family name then was Eisenwright which translates into iron worker. Eisen is steel or iron. A wright is a worker or craftsman. My dad served in WWII and showed me a knife he had carried all through the war. The knife had been forged out by him and my grandfather. My grandfather forged the blade and my dad put the handle on the knife. I was utterly fascinated by that knife. I actually cannot remember a time when I did not have a fixed blade or a pocket knife. Early on my grandfather gave me his pocket knife telling in a serious tone that all gentlemen should carry a pocket knife.
So I grew up with some blacksmith tools around the house and stories of blacksmithing. While my dad was not a blacksmith in this country, the lore was there.
When I moved to Montana after graduate school, one of the first things I did after making a few knives with the stock removal method was to go to an auction in Judith Gap. At that auction I bought a 300lb anvil, tongs, hammers, a 50 lb trip hammer and an old buffer on a cast iron stand. That was the beginning and forging became an integral part of how I view myself and my life.
Posted 11 August 2011 - 06:11 AM
From an early age, I have been interested in building things. Growing up on a farm provided me with an ample supply of materials; as lumber, steel and machine parts were everywhere. My creations were typically designed to cut, shoot, burn, explode or go fast. My parents were constantly concerned about what I would build next and what damage the device could cause.
One person who was a huge contributor to my future creative direction was my Great Uncle George. Uncle George loved antique machinery and the "old way" of doing things. He enjoyed building miniature steam traction engines. Not little units to set on a shelf, but machines large enough to fire up and drive around. The last engine that he built was a 1/2 scale model of a Case steam traction engine. Years after Uncle George passed away, I was given this engine by a family member and was allowed the honor of restoring it to running condition. The engine is still in my possession. Uncle George's influence instilled in me a strong interest in history and ancient skills. So, he is directly responsible for my decision to make forged knives.
Over the years I tried a few things, like building race cars and gunsmithing to satisfy my desire to create. But, found these to be too limited in artistic freedom. Around 1987, I bought a knife magazine and read about the handmade knife industry. I realized that making knives with forged blades was exactly the type of craft that I would enjoy. To combine an ancient skill with the unlimited possibilities of embellishment on a knife met all of my creative criteria.
I began by studying under a local blacksmith to learn the basics of forging. In 1988 attend the Grand Opening of the Bladesmithing School in Washington, AR. and joined the ABS. I took the Handles & Guards class with Michael Connor as the instructor and then the Damascus class with Bill Moran. I also went to the school three times for the Bladesmithing Lab class; taught by Jerry Fisk and Harvey Dean. For many years, I never missed a single Piney-Woods Hammer-In at the school.
I made knives part time for many years, while I worked a full time job at a factory. I started full time knifemaking in 2005 and have never regretted it. Knifemaking is always interesting to me because there are so many ways to build a knife and also many ways to embellish it. It's pretty hard to get bored in this craft.
Posted 11 August 2011 - 07:43 PM
John Updike - The Dance of Solids
Posted 15 August 2011 - 07:33 AM
After beating my brains out for a year or so, without much success, I decided it might not be so easy. I decided to take the intro course in Old Washington. Been forging ever since.
Posted 17 August 2011 - 07:32 AM
The very first thing we caught that year was a 62lb beaver (trapping on the Ohio river). If memory serves, he sharpened his knife 4 times, and I sharpened mine 5 times to get through skinning out that one beaver! The search was on for a "better" knife. We started turning anything we could think of into "knives" (really we were just sharpening whatever we though might make a good knife), and I even "borrowed" a few of my Grandma's kitchen knives. (those switches really hurt when she found out!) Eventually we learned how to grind down old saw blades, which seemed to work well for what we were doing, and we kept doing it all way through our high school days.
I joined the military straight out of High School, and about 3 years later ran across Jim Hirsoulas's book, The Complete Bladesmith. That got me started again, this time at a more serious level. I turned out a few terrible looking stock removal knives, and kept searching for more information. At my second duty station I met, and worked with an individual who was a third generation blacksmith, that made muzzle-loaders. He got me started at forging, and I have never looked back. With a month, I has a small shed built in the backyard of place we were renting.
I had never even contemplated selling a knife, but one evening after a days work at the Base, I was working on a wire damascus hunter, and a man walked into the shop out of nowhere. We chatted for a while while I was hand sanding, and out of the blue, he looked over my shoulder and said "I'll give you $45 for that knife when it's done." At that time, $45 represented enough handle material and steel for a 1/2 dozen more knives! I took him up on his offer, and have been making and selling ever since.
I've been very blessed, in that I get to do what I love every day now. It's been nearly 10 years since I retired from the Air Force, and so far have never had to go any further than the shops in the backyard to go to work!
Posted 18 August 2011 - 01:59 PM
Like Ed; my first doubts on knife quality came about on a trapping venture. I had just started hitting it full time and needed another knife; I decided to go big and bought a Buck trapper pattern. I literally used both blades to skin a coon, and it didn't get better.
When you are up at three and don't finish putting up fur till 9 that night you understand the intolerance for a knife that won't hold an edge.
A few years later I decided I needed a custom knife. Sent off a few letters; got back some replies. WOW!!!! Those guys wanted 70 dollars for a knife. Man I can make one for that. Little did I know.
I did some reading and started making stock removal blades from old files. I would put them in the wood heater overnight to anneal, file them to shape, and reharden in a bucket of transformer oil. I could not believe they cut better than what I could buy in town.
In the late 80's I happened to meet an old codger from Arkansas named Fisk. He helped me get past ugly crap and into just kinda ugly. Shortly after that I attended a Hammer-In in Old Washington and watched Bill Moran forge and cut. He could cut things that I could not even dream of. He even said nice things about my knives.
Went home; built me a coal forge out of a truck brake drum and been forging exclusivly ever since. A lot of water under the bridge. Some days I begin to think that I might learn how to do this someday.