I often get asked to make a knife as a special order, which I try to accommodate as my schedule allows. Chef's knives and camp knives seem to be the most popular contemporary designs people want.
When a customer wants something, my first question is "What will it be used for?" I ask this because all knives should be capable of being used for a purpose, even if the owner will never touch the edge to something. From there, we discuss materials, size, general style, and of course budget. I don't have a standard pricing formula, but my knives generally start out at $150 for the most simple but still lovingly hand-crafted tools, making sure they're properly made, finished, and of heirloom quality.
I select from an array of high-quality cutlery steel for my blades, balancing the different properties available to the task the customer wants the blade to perform. Whether it's a single steel or a compex damascus blade, the chemistry and heat-treatment are of paramount importance and I do not compromise by using recycled material or "found steel" in my work. If pressed, I may agree to this for a novelty, but quality is never sacrificed for the sake of giving the knife some kind of story.
There's not much to say about my early efforts at the forge, except that they show the crude attempts that I took on my way to where I am today. Working with recycled steel, scavenged wood, and only a rudimentary idea of heat-treating... I did the best I could.
I happily share these images because I think it's important for people to see that everyone starts somewhere, and while I'd never claim to be proud of most of it, they were all necessary steps to improve my craft.
On the left, my very first knife. Nothing more than a claw hammer, the flat spot on the back of a bench vise, and a plumber's torch. A piece of unhardenable 1/4" round steel from the hardware store, and some walnut. Pinned together with bits of copper wire, I forged the tail after watching blacksmith demonstrations and made it so it locked open onto one of those pins.
Next, something inspired by one of my early teachers from the Neo-Tribal community of bladesmiths. I believe it was my first attempt at an integral guard, using spacers of copper and antler, and a wooden handle turned from a pen blank. A little cordage and toggle on the end.
Another couple of years later, and there was a contest on an old forum where we were challenged to make a knife out of purely reclaimed materials. I used a large piece of rebar to forge this chopper from, handled with scraps of cherry and plywood. More plywood fashioned the hikot-style open scabbard, and some braided leather completed the deal.
The last one is when I first started honing in on a design I still make, a little every-day-carry blade. The drop point, the thin cross section, the lobed shape of the grip covered either in cordage or wood scales... these design elements still show up on knives I make today. It's one of my favorite entry-level pieces, easy to teach with, and quick to make.
Everybody starts somewhere. ;)
My main focus is the research and reproduction of historical artifacts. I am mesmerized by the degree of control, the height of skill, and the depth of art many ancient bladesmiths were able to achieve. I aspire not only to develop my own skill, but understand theirs. To do this requires following in their footsteps.
Sometimes good photographs are enough to work with, one can make measurements of different parts with a good straight-on picture, and a little math. Other times, though, you need to hold an original to understand how mass gets distributed, how different pieces of metal are joined up to make the whole.
Having tried many methods, I'm convinced history has lost more knowledge than we possess today, and there will never be a day I feel I've learned all there is to know about how iron and steel were formed to make the tools, weapons, and other artifacts that define our history today.
Sometimes, you just have to do something different.
Carving ancient dragons out of a piece of bone and giving it to a sweetheart.
Making carving tools with a pseudo-Japanese style of blade and wrap.
Taking a 5,000 year old piece of meteorite, and melting it down with other steel to make a puck of crucible steel with surface textures and colors never seen before by the experts.
Forging a blade from a 1-inch ball bearing.
There's no one right way to be a craftsman, and I think that's what makes this hobby of mine so fun!