This is about the knife that I seem to use for everything except what it was designed for.
The knife that I am writing about today would probably be referred to by most people as a “hunter”, or “hunting knife”. I have not used it for any “hunting” related chores but I have used it for a myriad of other things.
The 4 7/8” blade is forged from 1084 carbon steel and the tiger maple handle is separated from the blade by a stainless steel guard. It was made by American Bladesmith Society board member Bill Wiggins as a demonstration piece. Since it was a demo knife, and time was limited, Bill didn’t rub the blade out and it was left with some grinding marks, perhaps what makers might call a belt finish. “Belt finish”, “working finish”, and “forge finish” are terms that some makers use when describing blade finishes. Often, although not always, knives with these terms attached to them appear to my eye to simply be “unfinished”. Not that any makers care how I interpret the wording they use in describing their knives.
But, to get back on topic…..The lack of a rubbed blade out blade finish doesn’t bother me in this instance; I use the knife on a regular basis and fruits and vegetables don’t take long to patina carbon steel. Although this knife would be much more at home as a hunting or general use belt knife around camp, I use it to prepare food, open or cut down shipping boxes, and many other daily cutting chores in my house.
Before you say it, I know that it is not the ideal box cutter or kitchen knife, and I do possess those types of knives, so why do I select it over its better suited relatives for those mundane tasks? It’s simple really; the knife holds its edge and is very, very comfortable in my hand. But I suppose the best thing about it is that I like Bill and it’s a pleasure to use something that he made.
Jerry Fisk is one of my favorite knife makers. He is not only an excellent craftsman but a pleasure to be acquainted with because of his insight and well developed sense of humor. He is an ABS Mastersmith and has been named a National Living Treasure, hence the “NLT” engraved just behind the guard.
Each year Jerry has what he calls “A Micro Show” at his shop in Arkansas. Jerry made and engraved the knife shown in today’s post for this year’s micro show. I like the style of the knife and am partial to pearl.
I’ll let Jerry describe it in his own words:
“This is my version of a simple California style bowie. A+ grade thick Mother of Pearl framed handle, deep relief engraving on the stainless mounts with a bit of gold work. Dog star pattern Damascus blade is 8 5/8 inch long.”
In his description he uses the word “simple, I would disagree with that because to me there is way too much knifemaking sophistication displayed here to be called “simple”.
In order to be successful, a full time custom knifemaker the maker must maintain a balance between art, craftsmanship, and business acumen. Those three things are like the three legs of a milking stool, if one leg is far out of proportion to the other legs the foundation becomes unsteady. In my experience those makers that seem to me to be accomplished in all three areas are far fewer in number than those that are not.
A knifemaker that naturally has an inclination or understanding of the art, craftsmanship, and business sides of the craft has a tremendous advantage over much of his competition. Many makers seem to be strong in one or two areas and weak in the others. I have known many skilled craftsmen that that were adroit at the craftsmanship aspect and/or the art aspect but sadly lacked at the business side of the endeavor. As a result they were unable to make a go of it, and having to seek some other source of income either left the craft entirely or nearly so.
My experience has been that the business side of knifemaking as a commercial undertaking is where most makers are weak. Makers that have someone to help them with that aspect are fortunate. Without good business practices, no matter how nice the knives, the venture probably does not have a bright future, at least as a full time occupation.
Once again the above is just my opinion based on my observances and experiences.
The big pie of custom/handmade knife makers can probably be said to divided into three segments or wedges of unequal size. There are probably sub groups or wedges as well but for today I will talk only about the three main groups or wedges of the pie.
Group 1: This is the smallest wedge of the pie and often although not always the best and most desired makers come from this group. These are full time makers that get up every day and work at the business of making knives and these makers deserve respect for their strong work ethic, and the skills that they have acquired and honed. It is their profession. Their knives are for sale. In my experience knives from the top level makers in this group sell well in the aftermarket, often at a profit. The best and most successful makers have a good grasp on the three legged stool of art, craftsmanship, and business concerns; they are able to keep the stool level.
Group 2: This is a large wedge of the pie. These makers are part time makers and often they have other jobs or additional sources of income. They don’t rely on knife sales to buy groceries and they make knives when they have the time or when the spirit moves them. Many of these makers are skilled and make very nice knives. Often their production, limited as it may or may not be is for sale. Some of them are able to sell almost everything they make and others not so much.
Group 3: This huge portion of the pie is made up of knife enthusiasts that want to a make a few knives for fun, for the experience, to learn more about knives, or to fit into a group of like-minded people. In my experience few makers in this group ever become highly skilled because they don’t for whatever reasons devote the time necessary to learn, to practice, and to actually complete projects. In my opinion it is unlikely although not impossible that a knife purchased from a maker in this group will appreciate much unless the maker moves up the ladder of wedges of the pie.
I know that sometimes makers in group 1 are concerned that their sales are damaged by makers in groups 2 and 3 pricing their work much lower than group 1 makers think is fair or correct. I doubt there is much validity in that thinking. A part time maker is unlikely to be able to do much damage to the sales of the best known full time makers providing that the full time makers are good business people. What will more likely than not damage sales are poor business practices and not moving forward with the business as it changes.
I don’t have any actual numerical data that supports the above. Like much I have written on this blog it’s just my opinion based on what I have observed. So if you disagree or think I’m full of it that’s fine; you can and should have your own ideas.
I saw quite a few “blacksmith” or roughly forged knives before I ever heard the phrase “Brute de Forge”. These knives were for the greatest part unsophisticated and homemade in appearance as opposed to the better brute de forge knives by skilled makers that we see today.
Joe Keeslar brute de forge knife
Today the more refined brute de forge knives that we see may feature forged in finger guards, file work, silver wire inlayed handles, and engraving. Some areas of the blade are usually left with an as forged surface.
Handle inlayed with silver wire
Joe Keeslar is an ABS Mastersmith and the chairman of the American Bladesmith Society, he is also known for his brute de forge type knives. I believe that it is safe to say that the example pictured here is typical of the style as done by Joe. Overall it is 9 13/16” and the clip point blade is hollow ground. The tiger maple handle slabs are decorated with silver wire and pins and the spine of the blade is file worked. The bolsters are engraved and the file work on the spine is enhanced with engraving.
Joe Keeslar forging a brute de forge knife
The forged in finger guard is wide and a smooth curve making it comfortable to the fore finger. This is an area where many other knives of this type that I have seen have fallen short. The balance point is just behind the finger guard and the knife rests comfortably in the hand.