Knifemaking: managing it and the Directeur

“…also he had learned that a person could be happy with having done the best they could under the circumstances. It didn’t always have to be bright and shiny and impressive to the outside observer.” 
― Ellen Airgood, South of Superior


When I was twenty-two I took a summer job at the the university I was attending.  The School of the Arts at the university put together a three week summer residential program for high school kids.  For three weeks in July, roughly a hundred and twenty teenagers would come to the university, live in the dorms, eat in the dining hall, and take classes in their respective art disciplines taught by real college professors.  This was a way to give kids a little taste of what art school was like, and hopefully to get them to apply to the university when they graduated.  I did this for eight summers and it was one of the best jobs I ever had.

High school kids who were interested had to submit portfolios and go through an application process.  There were disciplines for sculpture, photography, dance, theatre, fashion design and merchandising, filmmaking, digital animation, and drawing and painting.  Some of the applications were pretty hysterical.

The University hired forty other college students like me to be counselors in the program.  We were there to keep the students safe.  Students were divided up amongst us.  We would stay in the dorms with them, take them to their classes and meals, make sure they were in bed when they were supposed to be, and come up with activities for them to do.  Our presence was designed to keep bad behavior to a minimum.  We had a week of training to go over protocols and procedures.  There were university policies that handled underage alcohol in the dorms, as well as drugs, and what to do when students went missing or fell ill. There were a group of grad students who were our bosses and handled disciplinary issues.  Nearly everyone at the program was between the age of fourteen and seventeen, not legally adults, so these policies and procedures were important.

The kids moved in and for three weeks we were their caretakers.  We took them to class, ate dining hall food with them, and came up with evening activities for them to do as only art school kids can do.  We made themed dances- my personal favorite was “Merry Christmas Taylor Swift: Live from the Galapagos Islands”, and everyone dressed accordingly.  There was “Dress Your Counselor Night”, where one of the more attractive male counselors wound up shirtless and in a dress.  On the weekends we took kids to museums, and to some of the nearby restaurants.  Counselors took some of the kids on morning runs.  One time I bought my kids a bunch of Nerf guns and we went to an unoccupied floor of the dorms and had a giant battle.  Kids were always working on their art and we helped and encouraged them.  I scored the music for a film one of the kids was working on for class.  We kept everyone occupied and mostly out of trouble.  Mostly.

Every year there was pretty predictable behavior.  With a little bit a freedom the kids would start to push boundaries- they were teenagers after all.  Some kids would go vegan during the program and then get sick because all they were eating were french fries and Captain Crunch.  Other kids would dye their hair or cut it all off, and then we would have to explain to a parent why their little Jessica had a purple buzzcut.  The lactose intolerant kid would order a large cheese pizza and fart up the dorm. Some kids were figuring out their sexuality and we delicately did our best to be supportive and help them along their path.

We had a lot of kids with…peculiarities?  One kid with irritable bowel syndrome had to get his mom to overnight him his homeopathic diarrhea medicine from New York because he had left it at home.  There was a Saudi Arabian boy with Aspergers Syndrome who terrified all of the girls because they thought he was yelling at them when he tried to talk to them.  One year we had a kid from the Make-A-Wish foundation come who was on kidney dialysis- his dorm room looked like a medical lab.   Another year there was a girl acting out horribly the whole time and we couldn’t figure out why until we called her mother.  Turns out her father had left the family six months before to live as a woman, and this little girl was pissed about it.  I worked with a team of really awesome people and and no matter the situation or issue, nobody ever had to shoulder anything by themselves.

Every so often there were really awful kids that we had to send home.  We called one kid’s father at midnight on a weekday because he was smoking pot in his room.  That kid was gone by morning.  Another kid decided to throw a frozen water bottle out of his 14th floor dorm window at ten o’clock at night.  It smashed the windshield of a car driving on the street below.  The police came and woke up everyone on three of the floors to find out who did it.  That kid ended up getting sent home and having to pay for the guy’s windshield, but he did avoid a felony charge.

By the end of my tenure at this summer gig I was supervising all of the counselors and everything that went on in the dorms.   I had graduated but it looked good for the program when Alumni were involved.  The money was good and it fit into my schedule.  The only person I reported to was a tenured professor who was the program director, and she trusted everyone to do their jobs.  I was on the hiring team and doing all of the scheduling for the counselors’ shifts.  I ran a lot of the training, wrote policies for the program to help it run better, and wrote itineraries for staff meetings.  I handled disciplinary issues and procedures and when kids fucked up, they dealt with me.  I made changes as I saw fit.  For example, in the earlier years the other counselors and I would all go out and get hammered after we put the kids to bed, and then stumble back to the dorms wasted.  No longer.  Funny how things change when it’s your ass on the line.

I’ve never really considered myself a very good manager or administrator.  I’ve also never been great at following the rules or being a team player, and I’ve always struggled to fit into corporate and traditional workplace scenarios.  In the instance of this job I just tried to make sure everybody was safe and all the institutional ‘t’s and ‘i’s that kept everyone safe were crossed and dotted.  It wasn’t always cheeky and fun.  There were two separate summers where I was going through really awful breakups, and another summer where there was a death in my family.  I would still DJ dance parties and take sick kids to the Urgent Care facility and make sure everyone was ok.  The responsibility and sometimes difficult tasks were worth it.

Because in spite of all the shenanigans, and the calling of parents, and confused teenage sexualities, and homeopathic diarrhea medicine, the vast majority of these kids left our little three week program at our state university really inspired and ready to do kick ass things, and a lot of them have.  That felt really good and was what kept me there all those years.  I grew a lot.  I made lifelong friends.  I met my girlfriend, though I didn’t know it at the time.  I learned what it was to run something and to have people back you up.

I’ve worked for a lot of crummy managers, people who are ready to throw you under the bus and only care about how they look to the company they are supposed to represent.  A real manager is someone who knows how to steer their organization toward its goals while inspiring their people and navigating through all the stupid things that get in the way.  This is the lesson of the Directeur.

The Directeur was a commission for a lady who has been running restaurants and events in Washington DC for the past decade.   It’s probably similar to working at an Art School summer program but I’m sure the stories are much better, as only Washington DC can provide.

A quick design for an 8″ chef’s knife, in the German style:

Profiling the blade:

Hardening the steel…

…and oil quenched.

Grinding the bevels:

Hand Sanding:

The blade is then soaked in acid to etch the steel.  This knife has a Hamon line, meaning the cutting edge is at full hardness while the spine is a touch softer.  This gives the blade durability.  You can start to see the line forming:

For the handle, I started with a computer board blank for spacing material:


Cut, drilled, and pinned:

It’s important to remember to keep it casual.  Blue jeans layered in fiberglass resin should be a good reminder:


Black Walnut, milled by a man of the cloth from rural Virginia:


Piecing it together:

Clamped.  You can see that lovely Hamon on the blade:

All glued up:


Helping the grain to speak:

The Directeur:

May you manage your circumstances to the best of you abilities.  The outcomes and experiences are absolutely worth it.


Knifemaking: having a quiet day and the Woodsman, Mark Deux

‘In silence there is eloquence. Stop weaving and see how the pattern improves.’


From mid-January to mid-June of this year everything had been a blur.  I was running from job to job, gig to gig, knife to knife, trying to stay on top of everything.  Every time that I felt like I had room to breathe, something else would come up.  Car repairs, state taxes, doctors’ visits, new tools.  It was always something and I was hustling left and right, making sure everything was moving forward and getting taken care of.

Then I had an accident that pretty much stopped everything.

I injured two of my fingers pretty seriously on a table saw.  I was cutting some very thin material when the saw bound up and kicked, and I couldn’t get away fast enough.  The shop is at my partner James’ house and he happened to be home when this happened.  I quickly grabbed a dirty towel and, doing my best not to panic, politely yelled that I needed to go to the ER, right that second.  

On the ride to the ER, which was about twenty minutes away, I took stock of the situation.  James, who teaches shop and technology education, asked me to double check that my fingers were still attached and not on the floor of the shop.  Indeed they were still attached.  I would be told later that I was very lucky to keep my fingers- none of the major tendons or arteries were damaged beyond repair.  

I do my best to practice calm in my life.  Strong reactions happen from time to time, and the best way to deal with them is to feel them, let them pass, and address what caused the strong reaction in the first place.  This is an incredibly challenging thing to do and I don’t always do it well but I’ve gotten better at it over the years.  On the ride to the ER I found impossible to calm down.  I noticed that my thoughts were manic and erratic and I had trouble breathing normally.  I felt a pretty deep sense of guilt and shame, as if I had this coming because I wasn’t slowing down.  A doctor would later tell me that what I had experienced was an acute stress reaction and was normal for what I had experienced, largely in part from the sheer volume of adrenaline and other chemicals that my body had released.  

The ER was a miserable experience.  The ER doctor told me they would need to operate but they would need to transport me to another facility because there was no one covered by my insurance at that particular hospital.  Nobody even looked at my fingers and I sat on a hospital bed and bled on myself for two hours before someone gave me any pain medicine.  The paramedics finally arrived and bandaged my hand- the first time anyone had done anything. They pumped me full of IV fentanyl before loading me onto an ambulance to go to another hospital.  Those guys knew how to get shit done, and in my very stoned state I kept telling them how glad I was that they were there.

We got to the next hospital, and my girlfriend met me there.  In my state of shock I had forgotten my phone at the shop and James had called her.  I was really glad she was there because it would be another four hours before the surgeon showed up.  As it turned out he was not covered by my insurance either.  Somebody had screwed up. 

The worst part about the ER is that you are forced to make life-altering decisions when you are in a state of shock, and/or heavily medicated and not in your best of faculties.  The surgeon gave me the option of going ahead with surgery but understood if I didn’t want to- he was very kind and professional, and pretty pissed that this was the way the system was working.  I opted not to have surgery that night because it would have medically bankrupted me.  I would never have been able to pay that kind of money back.  I would have to find another surgeon on my own.   He cleaned and temporarily stitched me up enough so that I could safely leave, which involved two incredibly painful nerve block shots and a pretty shoddy cast courtesy of the ER nurse- I think it was her first.  By the time we left, my pharmacy had closed and the hospital wouldn’t send me home with any medication.  I had to make it the night without pain pills or antibiotics (I would end up taking 2000mg of Keflex a day for 20 days- I was so filthy when I went in they were afraid I was going to give myself sepsis).  We went home and tried to get some rest, because the next day would be busy.

I think this was what it looked like when the system fails you.  


The next morning we got on the phone.  We called my insurance company and they found a place that would take a look at me right away.  Ironically enough their office was located at the first hospital I had gone to the day before.  I met with an orthopedic surgeon and his nurse practitioner.

I found out that orthopedic surgeons do a lot of hip and knee replacements on the elderly, so when a young person comes in with an exciting injury everyone wants to see.  I had no less than six people come and look at me, all very excited. 

The doctor was really excited to work on me- he was an artist and I was his canvas.  He drew me a picture of the procedure he would do and explained the whole thing.  They were going to fuse the middle joint of my index finger which the table saw had blown out, and remove a bit of my thumb.  I got another two painful shots of nerve block while he examined everything and moved some things back into place.  There aren’t a whole lot of words to convey how painful those shots are- I nearly crushed my girlfriend’s hand with my good hand.  My surgery would be two days from then, and they told me to rest.  So that’s what I did.

I have always had trouble finding quiet places and allowing myself to rest.  Now I had no choice.  I called my work and told them what happened and that I wasn’t sure when I would be back in.  I had to cancel some contractor work and push back a lot of client work.  That was what hurt the most.  My girlfriend and I watched a lot of Netflix, something we rarely ever do together.  I don’t watch a whole lot of TV but over the next week I would watch more TV than I had in the past five years.  And honestly it was really nice to check out.  I slept a lot and took pain medication and was generally kind of dopey.  I told my girlfriend that she was beautiful and I loved her, frequently.  I couldn’t bathe myself, or put my contact lenses in, or dress myself.  I just had to surrender to everything and let myself be helped. 


Two days later we went to have surgery done.  I have never had any surgical procedure done before and was really nervous.  They took me in the back and had me put on a hospital gown and fixed up an IV in me.  After a large bump of a sedative they gave me a giant nerve block shot in my shoulder, which made my entire arm go numb.  I was dopey but still semi-conscious when they wheeled me into the OR.  They had music piped in- Bryan Adams was playing.  From what I understand of these things, the anesthesiologist has you count backwards from one hundred till you knock out.  Apparently they didn’t do this with me- I knocked out on my own singing ‘Heaven’ from Canada’s most famous musical export.  I think this was an auspicious sign.


After surgery everything was kind of fuzzy.  We went home and my girlfriend put me in her bed and told me not to get up while she went to pick up my prescriptions.  My entire left arm was completely numb from the nerve block and I remember being really hungry.  Apparently I got up and ate an entire box of her kids’ Pop-Tarts while she was gone and then swore to her that I didn’t.  There were Pop-Tart wrappers all over the place- I don’t remember any of this.  I slept a whole lot and my dead arm, which I was supposed to keep elevated, kept falling and hitting me in the head.  I had a whole pile of pills that I had to take and my girlfriend dutifully kept me on a tight schedule.  The best I could do was tell her that I loved her and tell her how beautiful she was.

The next four days passed like that.  She took off from her high stress-job and looked after me. She helped me bathe, made sure I was taking my medicine, and kept me fed.  I would get really weepy from time to time.  It was all a lot; the trauma from the accident, the bone-deep pain from the surgery, and the bills that would be coming (because even with insurance these procedures are very expensive), and the people I felt I had let down.  Then there was this really wonderful woman taking care of me telling me that it was ok and how well I was doing.  The pain medication peeled away all of the armor I usually wear to function in the world and so from time to time all of this would hit me and I would just sit there and cry.

A few days later we went to clean up my apartment.  I had gotten off the major pain killers to see how my hand was doing so I could get back to my day job.  In situations where there is a caregiver and a care receiver things can turn toxic and codependent— I’ve seen it happen.  The pain pills can be addictive and I didn’t want to be a patient or lean on anyone if I didn’t have to. 

I had a couple of my friends come over to help.  I couldn’t really do a whole lot.  My girlfriend spent two hours cleaning my shower- a knifemaker’s shower can get really dirty.  One of my friends washed all my dishes for me.  James had let me keep my car at his place till I could drive again, and I finally went and picked it up.  And I started going back to work.


My two fingers have been in special splints as they heal, so I’ve been doing everything with eight fingers instead of ten.  All the simple things I do that I never think about, like brushing my teeth or packing a backpack or making a sandwich, suddenly require a lot more thought and take twice as long.  It’s really draining and frustrating and a full day of that makes me really tired.    

One thing that continually catches me off guard is the amount of help that is available.  Whenever there is something I can’t do there is always someone right there to help.  Shortly after the surgery I was working a large concert and I had trouble getting a pack of snack crackers open.  I had to grab a union stagehand, an older gentleman with a long white ponytail, and ask him if he could open my crackers for me.  “Well sure brother,” he says.  “Everybody needs a little help now and then.”  Cue waterworks from me.

Getting back into the shop has been scary, and a slow process.  I was in the middle of this knife when I injured myself and I had to keep emailing the client to push back when I would have it finished.  I did all of the woodworking and leatherwork with eight fingers.  It’s been an exercise in leaning into fear and getting back on the horse. 

I tend to have a lot of quiet days of late.  Quiet days allow everything to settle and help one’s focus to reset and help one to cultivate a sense of gratitude.  They also allow for deep processing and healing.  This is also lesson of the Woodsman.  Any good person of the Woods knows how to find quiet and the goodness that comes from within.  The second part of this build has been an exercise in just that.

O1 tool steel, out of the forge:


Hand sanding:


Computer board for the spacing material:


Mesquite from Texas for the handle:



All profiled:



Rough shaped on the grinder- from here out it’s all hand work:


This is at 220 grit:


Letting a bit of oil set in to help the grain to speak:

The Woodsman, Mark II:

Knifemaking: a walk through the forest and the Woodsman

“Come closer and see,
See into the trees”

The Cure- “A Forest”

This knife was a donation to a charity auction put on by the Virginia Department of Forestry.  Many of the men and women who work for the Department of Forestry spend much of their work time and free time outdoors.  I wanted to build something that fit into that idea- stout and sturdy with no problem disappearing into the woods.  I designed a drop point hunter that was just that:

Cut out:

Centerline is scribed:

Early grinding work:


…and tempered


….to a nice satin finish:

An old shirt of mine I used to camp in.  It’s beat up and full of holes, which makes it an excellent candidate for knife handle material:

Ready to be set in fiberglass resin:

All the layers pressed together:

Everything is cured:

The Woodsman:

You can read more about how the department of Forestry serves you here:

…and here is one of the causes that they serve:

Knifemaking: the other side of things, and the Hippo

“Audi alteram partem.”

“Hear the other side.”

-St. Augustine of Hippo


The other side.  Sometime we’re so used to seeing everything from our own point of view that the other side can seem foreign, or even wrong.  But to truly live and to understand, sometimes we have to hear the other side, or even live over there for awhile. 

The “other side” can be just about anything.  St. Augustine’s quote can be applied to today’s politics- gun control, immigration, issues of gender identity- issues that are magnanimously polarizing and place many of us on one side or the other.  We simply don’t listen because we don’t think what the other side has to say has any use to us.

And it goes deeper.  We don’t hear the other side of what many parts of our life have to tell us.  Maybe they are unpleasant or painful, or we feel they don’t serve us, or they are extraneous and not needed, or they poke at a deep wound that we would rather leave alone.  So we go through our world pretending the other side doesn’t have anything to say to us.  This usually works until it doesn’t.  And then life will come and hand us a situation or circumstance that places us on precisely the other side of where we’d like to be.

Some of the happiest people I know have been through the greatest sorrow.  The most loving people I know have suffered losses so great that when I put myself in their shoes I’m not sure how I’d get out of bed in the morning.  But these are the people who have heard the other side, and know that the highs and lows are two sides of the same coin.  The other side of suffering is serenity; the other side of pain is pleasure; the other side of misery is joy; and the other side of grief is love.  In shutting ourself off from misery, we are effectively shutting ourself off from our greatest joy.


It was the summer of 2004 and I had been invited to my first wedding.  A friend of mine was getting married.  We had grown up down the street from each other and had gone to high school together.  As an awkward and maladjusted teenager I had always been grateful that she had been such a good friend to me.  She had graduated a little before I did and liked to travel- she would send me postcards sometimes.  At this point I had been in college for a couple of years and had barely seen any of my friends I had grown up with, including her.  I was really happy for her and excited to see how she was doing, and glad she thought to invite me.  The service was going to be in a little chapel on her college campus, about four hours away. 

Then, about a week before I was going to head out, another friend I had grown up with died in an extremely traumatic car accident.  It was really bad.  It had been late at night and their car had crashed and caught fire.  There were three other passengers and no one could get out.  No one survived and they had to be identified by dental records.

The funeral was a day before I was headed out of town.  I took the day off of work from my summer job to go to the service.  I was much younger and pretty naive to a lot of the ways of the world but I noticed that nobody, not family or church clergy, had anything substantial to say to make any sense of it.  After a few years I would realize that this is the ultimate tragedy of a young person dying- there’s nothing anyone can say to make it better.  I grew up with this guy, we did church youth group together.  We weren’t particularly close but we had spent a lot of time together over the years.  Gradually I felt my emotions getting the better of me throughout the service.  I tried thinking about baseball, but during the eulogy it was all waterworks.  My father, who had come with me (and I was glad he did), handed me his handkerchief.


After the funeral, I packed a suitcase and drove four hours to attend a wedding the next day.  I remember that drive very clearly- blasting music and feeling a bit of grief but otherwise very happy to be alive.  I checked into my hotel and went out with a couple of friends that I hadn’t seen in forever.  Up to that point I don’t ever remember laughing so hard.  I stumbled back to my hotel room, which was a mile and a half away, and went to sleep, quite content with laughter and health.

The next day I went to the wedding service.  There was a string quartet playing processional music, I think it was Ravel, and lots of flowers.  It was a really happy and beautiful service, and I remember how incredible it was that one day you could go to a funeral and the next day a wedding, and that these were perfectly natural occurrences to have in one’s life.  I don’t know if I would have been nearly as grateful and present if I hadn’t had the previous day’s experience of being on the other side.

It’s a strange world we live in.  Be sure to hear what the other side has to say. 


The Hippo was a commission from a gentleman for whom I often do contract work.  It was built for his wife, a lady who’s faith is extremely important to her.  She loves to cook and I was told the only kitchen tool she didn’t have was a cleaver, so I designed and built her one.  I named it the Hippo after St. Augustine, as a nod to the saint who’s writings influenced many subsequent saints, and because of it’s sheer size.  This thing is massive.

On 1/4″ stock, O1 tool steel:

Boring out the hanger hole:




Polishing before heat treat.  Removing machine marks now will make polishing easier what this big boy has been hardened:

This thing barely fit in the forge:

Removing some of the firescale:

The business end is polished:

This is a piece of Cherry wood the came off the mantle of a fireplace:


Computer board blank for spacing material:


Drilling the rivet holes to attach to the tang:

The grain is quite lovely:

Brass rivets- the middle is the Father, the right is the Son, and the left is the Holy Ghost:

Clamped and glued up:

The Hippo:

Knifemaking: finding connection, making playlists, and the Songline

“The melodic contour of the song describes the land over which the song passes … certain phrases, certain combinations of musical notes, are thought to describe the actions of the ancestors’ feet.  An expert song man … would count how many times he has crossed a river or scaled a ridge – and be able to calculate where, and how far along, the songline he was … A musical phrase is a map reference. Music is a memory bank for finding one’s way about the world.”

Bruce Chatwin- The Songlines

When I was nineteen I had a summer job working at a large water park.  More specifically, I was working in the kitchen of a restaurant in a large water park.  We were serving expensive diner food, cafeteria style, to about 10,000 people in swim suits a day.  It was an awful job.  I cleaned grease traps, grilled two hundred pounds of chicken a week, worked the fryer, sliced peppers, and steamed sausages.  I had to shave everyday and my work uniform always smelled like burnt french fries, no matter how many times I washed them.

I worked with about half a dozen Polish guest workers, all of whom were grad students and law students in Poland, and, despite an obvious language barrier, were wickedly smart.  They would teach me filthy things to say in Polish, and I would burn them hip-hop CD’s.  If I were working the fryers, one of them would invariably walk by and toss an ice cube into the hot oil and then laugh hysterically as I danced like a scarecrow while getting spattered with 350 degree oil.

My favorite job was washing dishes because nobody would bother me.  There were about five different tiers of management and anytime I screwed something up there would be anywhere from two to three managers coming to tell me about it.  I preferred the solitude of the dishroom and somedays I would be in there for twelve hours.  To this day I have a little bit of eczema on my left pinky finger and I swear it came from that filthy dishroom those years ago.

It was a 25 minute drive from my parents’ house to work.  I had a Sony mini-disc player, which had just come out, and I made a special go-to-work disc that I hooked up in my car.  I listened to that list all summer.  It got to the point where I knew exactly where I should be by what song was playing.  I would start the car and press play and The English Beat’s “I Confess” would take me out of the driveway.  I would roll up to the last stoplight before the interstate entrance about midway through “Alex Chilton” by the Replacements.  If I hadn’t hit my interstate exit by the time Boyz II Men’s “End of the Road” came on, then I knew I was running late.  Without any stops or traffic problems I would end up at the security gate by the time Stiff Little Fingers’ “Just Fade Away” was in full swing.

I knew the songs of both tree and pothole, of billboard and gas station.  I couldn’t discern if I was connected to the songs, or if the songs were connected to the drive, or the drive was connected to me.  I imagine all three were intertwined.

A few years later and most of the way through college, I had gotten in the habit of taking a walk every Sunday morning to a very old and picturesque cemetery near campus.  I had a very special list I had listened to every Sunday for about two years.  It was more nuanced than the Stiff Little Fingers and the Replacements, but powerful nonetheless.  No matter how hungover I was, once I had put my headphones in my feet knew the path out the door of my tiny apartment, and onward through every rock and cobble and briar and headstone.

I’ve made many playlists since then.  As someone who has trouble finding connection, I find making these lists help me to connect to my world.  Many people remember their youth by the music of the time, but sometimes this paints a rosy picture while glossing over the more bristly bits.  And one doesn’t walk through life without encountering the bristly bits.

For the past five or six years I’ve built a playlist which has faded the lines between myself, the music, and the experience.  Even with some 24 hours of music, I can start it anywhere and instantly remember where I was, what I was doing, and how I felt when I decided to add that particular song.  This list has been my most recent Songline, reminding me of incredible highs, heartbreaking lows, and everything in between.  Some sections are difficult to listen to, while I find myself frequently returning to others.  The experience, music, and myself all become one.  And while it’s still being built, it serves to remind me of where I’ve been, where I am, and where I’m going.

This is the lesson of the Songline, a knife built to travel.  It is designed in such a way as to be an extension of the hand and to connect one with one’s work, just as we oftentimes (if we’re lucky) connect ourselves to our journey and those around us.

The design is based on the Nessmuk trapper knife, popularized by George Washington Sears.  Sears was an outdoorsman and writer.  He carried three primary tools when out in the wild: a double-bitted hand axe, a small two bladed folding knife, and a larger fixed blade similar to the one below which he called the “Nessmuk”:

This one starts roughed out in 1095 hi-carbon:

Establishing a center line:

Full flat grind:



Spacing material for the handle.  Computer board blank:

Qaurtersawn White Oak, for strength and wisdom along the journey:



Bursting the curls- oiled at 220 grit before final sanding:

The Songline:

You can read more about the history of the Nessmuk hunter here:

Know Your Knives: The Nessmuk Knife

Songlines and the Dreamtime- this article is a good place to wet your feet:

Indigenous songlines: a beautiful way to think about the confluence of story and time

Knifemaking: finding a reason to celebrate, karaoke, and the Bon Vivant

“There are three things, and three things only, that can lift the pain of mortality and ease the ravages of life. These are wine, women and song.”

Spider Nancy, from Neil Gaiman’s Anansi Boys

It can often be difficult to find a reason to celebrate in a world of great uncertainty.  Many times accomplishment is drowned out by the next item on a to-do list, or what the next day is going to bring.  When many of us are only one bad month from being out on our asses, the one certain thing is that the only easy day was yesterday.  For this reason, a celebration may feel inopportune or indulgent.

It is also important to acknowledge our triumphs, however small they may seem.  Doing something better than you did the day before, or righting a wrong, or simply finding connection and warmth in a difficult world- these are all excellent reasons to take a moment and celebrate the life you have.

There is a biker bar near my girlfriend’s house.  It’s a weird and wild place.  The entrance posts a sign that says ‘No Gang colors, hard or soft’.  Once stepping inside you will find pool tables, faux potted plants, paneled walls, and a vibe that screams 1987.  There are muted televisions ensconced in twinkling string lights and shining with professional sports, like a blue-collar beacon of hope for the lone souls who find themselves in its glow.

My girlfriend and I go every so often because they have karaoke on Monday through Thursday.  When life bares its teeth we’ve found that singing is a pretty safe way to exorcise the demons and write a love letter to the things that move us.  Officially, we go once a season but sometimes it’s more, because, unofficially, some seasons are rougher than others and necessitate a need for song.

The weirdness of this place doesn’t stop at the decor- the cast of characters is pretty unique bunch.  Imagine if ‘Cheers’ took place inside a carnie’s tent, and the cast of ‘Roseanne’ were the patrons.  Many of the people come to sing and we see familiar faces each time we go.  There’s an elderly lady in a mumu, using a walker and holding a tambourine- her granddaughter comes to pick her up at 11pm sharp.  Over near the pool tables is a group of people who look like they are IT techs for an insurance company, or a large accounting firm.  Sometimes there is a painter who comes, still in his work bibs, to slur out his own renditions of times gone by.

Overseeing this whole operation is the gentleman running the sound system.  With his meticulously permed hair and a mustache that gives Burt Reynolds a run for his money, he is the master of Song (and also not very far out of 1987).  The man is a living and breathing compendium of pop music history and his business is a celebration of song.  He has a little quip about the song and the artist after nearly every song, no matter how obscure or far off the beaten path they may be.

When the music starts, this strange bar in a weird little corner of the universe becomes a celebration.   In the most unlikely of safe spaces there is a surprisingly inclusive environment that reveals itself under the banner of song.

There is an older lady showing us pictures of her poodle on her phone before she is called up to sing Patsy Cline’s ‘Crazy’ with an understated beauty hinting at the soft pain of the past.   When a small, mousy man gets up to sing “God Bless the Broken Road” the room goes quiet, and even the seasoned, most loosewire of alcoholics stop to listen.  My girlfriend gets up to sing Dolly Parton’s “Here You Come Again” and is joined by three bleach-blonde women who take it as their battle cry.  There is the old timer who sits on a stool singing Tom Jones with a gusto that not even arthritis can stifle.  All of this is very sweetly and gently curated by Mr. 1987 at the mixing board.

With a little help from my friend Jameson, I find myself belting out Adam Lambert, or Celine Dion, or Billy Ocean.   In an uncertain world, I am very certain that I will sing the shit out of Def Leppard.  There was an instance when while singing I looked out and saw the painter in his spattered work bibs trying to chat up my girlfriend, who wasn’t having any of it.

There was another instance where I found out how to incite a riot at a biker bar on karaoke night…

On Fridays at this bar there is usually a heavy metal band, but on the Friday after Thanksgiving they were all out of town.  Even Mr. 1987 was out of town.  The bartender called in one of his friends to run karaoke that night and we decided to go.  I get up to put my mark on Journey’s “Any Way You Want It“.   Around the second verse, the part that doesn’t include the lines ‘any way you want it’, the display screen scrolling the words shuts off.  I stopped singing because I needed the words, because really, who knows all the lyrics to the second verse of “Any Way You Want It”?  People started screaming and got out of their chairs.  Three or four people came up to the front and started yelling at me to sing.  I was starting to get a bit concerned for my safety when my girlfriend popped up with the lyrics on her phone.  Crisis averted.  As it turns out, you can deprive people of a great many things, but for the love of all that’s holy don’t deprive them of their Journey.

Celebrating the life you have and love: this is the lesson of the Bon Vivant.  You may not always love it, but then again you definitely won’t always have it.  So take a moment to celebrate and indulge.

This blade was made for a chef.  We decided to go with the top design, a German style blade.  Being the last knife of 2017, I decided it would be a celebration, an edged version of a Celine Dion song, an opulent eggs Benedict.  The handle is made from about eight different materials and is a craftsman equivalent of both a Bechamel and a Hollandaise:

Smoothing everything out:


Still smoking after quench

Sometimes large and thin blades warp a bit after quench.  This is corrected with a blowtorch and three carefully place pins in a vice.

After grinding the bevels:

Hand sanding the blade:

After about three hours per side:

This is a brass deadbolt guard.  The brass makes a nice contrast to the other handle material as a spacer:

It’s important to wear gloves when cutting brass on a table saw because little brass shard are shot at your hand during the process at a velocity that might surprise you, as evidenced by the blood:

This is a bolster of Texas Pecan with the brass, ready to be glued to the handle:

Since it is going to a chef, I used an old apron I had for handle material:

Cut into uniform pieces….

…layered in with fiberglass resin…

…and clamped up:

The apron turned out much thinner than I expected, so I filled it out with a denim micarta I had made from my old blue jeans.  Here is everything getting fit together:

Here are all the individual pieces: Pecan, River Ash, brass spacers and pins, computer board pieces, apron and denim micarta:


It comes out looking like this:

Shaped up:

Somewhere in the sanding process:

The Bon Vivant:

Knifemaking: The Things That Come to Us- A Restoration

“i imagine that yes is the only living thing.”
― e.e. cummings


There are many things that come into our own personal worlds- children, possessions, problems, blessings and a myriad of others.  It’s not so important how or why they enter our lives, but what we do with them.  It expends a great amount of energy to ponder what we may have done to deserve the painful and traumatizing events that come to us, and an equal amount of energy is wasted when we wonder if we are worthy of the good things that are brought our way.

Because when we start dwelling on the why’s and how’s, we tend to become overwhelmed and lose sight of what best needs to be done with what comes into our lives.

And within that judgement of why and how, we start to say no to things.  We become afraid we may be hurt, or that we may fail ourselves or those we care about.  Perhaps we are afraid of making ourselves unsafe.  Whatever the reason, in saying no we shut ourselves out of the blessing may be inside of a painful situation.  We say no to what may be a path forward because it is dressed as something unpleasant.  It is then that we become prisoners in our lives instead of seeing the ways we can be shaped and grow.  We should say no to things that are harmful and do not better us, but it’s always good to say yes to what life brings us.

The summers are slow for me, and sometimes I have to get creative in the ways I support myself.  I end up saying yes to many opportunities that under normal circumstances I would decline, usually due to time constraints, time away from loved ones, or a high probability of bodily endangerment (or a combination of all three).  Over the years the things I’ve reluctantly said yes to have usually been the most rewarding.

One of the times I said yes this summer was to a tree job in rural Virginia.  I was on a crew to cut down a huge dead tree.  Removing dead trees can be dangerous.  Rotting can occur in any number of unseen places of the tree, causing structural instability, and the tree may not fall where or when you desire it to fall.  This particular tree, though dead as a doornail, fell exactly as it was supposed to.

The client was an artist, and brought us French-pressed coffee.  We talked for a bit and I told him about making knives and how I got my materials.  He told me that he had some slabs of black walnut and that I was welcome to them.  They had been milled by a neighboring man who had run an abbey in South Korea, saying ‘yes’ to whatever fleeing defectors and dissidents from the North that the world brought their way.  Later he sent me an article about the man who cut the wood, you can find it here.  Black Walnut is expensive and isn’t something to normally fall into one’s path, so, in the practice of saying yes, I happily took some.

A week or so later I said yes to doing a bit of work on a good friend’s farm.  My friend is a busy lady and sometimes needs a hand with the upkeep of her property.  She and her family are good friends of mine.  I worked for her son for several years and like to get out to their property as often as I can.  It’s really beautiful:


She had a set of knives she wasn’t sure what to do with.  They belonged to her late husband, and came to him from his grandfather, who was an Austrian immigrant.  He came to the United States in the early 1900’s and made his living as a chef, choosing to say yes to a new world and a new life.  She told me she’d like to have them restored so they can go to her children and stepchildren to remember their father.  I told her I would have a look at them and see what I could do.

Tools of the trade, from left to right:  A carving knife; a fish knife; a French slicing knife; and a 12″ chef’s knife

So these knives came to me, at least a hundred years old, and of deep sentimental value.   I started by removing the cracked and broken handles.

I cleaned up the corrosion and oxidization from the blades, but left much of the etched patina from their years in the kitchen.

In a continued practice of saying ‘yes’ I chose to use some of the Black Walnut I got from the tree job for the handle material.  It fit nicely into the story of these knives.  This is what it looks like sanded and polished.

All of the handles started as thin blocks cut from the Black Walnut.


The filet knife was only half-tang, so I extended it with mild steel from a sheet.

I added a G10 bolster and spacer for a bit of contrast.

After glueing and sanding.

Getting the fish knife ready for glueing and shaping.

The French slicer was tricky….

…but also an elegant challenge, with its tapered tang and integral bolsters.


Finished, they came out rather beautifully:

Say yes to the things that come to you whenever possible.  It’s always worth it on the other side.