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:

Hardened…

…and tempered

Polishing:

….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:

http://www.southernforests.org/

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

http://www.semperk9.org/

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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:

Profiled:

Bevelled:

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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:

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Computer board blank for spacing material:

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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:

Hardened:

Polishing:

Spacing material for the handle.  Computer board blank:

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

quartersawn1

quartersawn2

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:

Hardening:

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:

Glued:

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:

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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.

Shaping.


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.

Knifemaking: Chainsaws, Being Gentle of Spirit, and the Lionheart

‘Only the weak are cruel. Gentleness can only be expected from the strong.’

Leo Buscaglia

A couple of years ago I was out in the country with a good friend of mine, giving him a hand in clearing some trees on his property.  There was a ramshackle house on that piece of property that hadn’t been lived in for years.  We were clearing the trees to make a path for the demolition equipment to come in and tear what was left of this house down so a new one could be built.

We hauled logs and trees that had already fallen.  This area had not been visited by anyone in quite some time and was quite overgrown.  We didn’t bother with any of the larger trees but anything under forty feet was fair game.  We were in the middle of the woods and it was just us.  My friend had two Stihl chainsaws and was cutting the trees down.  I was hauling the logs out out of the way and stacking them to be cut into firewood later.

We took a break- there were a lot of trees left to take down.  My friend had two chainsaws, one for each of us, so we decided to divide and conquer.   When we got started again I grabbed a saw and found that I could not get it running.  I yanked the pullcord.  Nothing.  To be safe I topped off the fuel and the chain oil.  I adjusted the choke.  I gave the pullcord another tug.  When it still wouldn’t start I assumed that I wasn’t pulling hard enough.  So I pulled harder.

My friend stopped me and told me to be gentle, otherwise I would rip the cord out.  I kindly let him know that I was an extremely gentle person.

He laughed.  ‘Maybe gentle of spirit,’ he said and gave the cord an easy tug.  The saw started right up.

That man, always with the truth.  I thought I was being gentle….

The truth of the matter, and what became clear that day, is that behind any kind of power is gentleness.  Not everything in this world can be beaten or bullied into submission, though there have been times in my life where I liked to think so.  As with the chainsaw, gentleness sometimes IS the power.  Out in the woods that day, the one who was gentle was the one who was cutting the trees down and that person was not me.

Gentleness is often seen as a sign of being weak.  This is not true, despite what has been demonstrated to us throughout our lives.  While brute and strength and force have their place, without something gentle behind them they serve only to divide and intimidate.  Gentleness serves as a means to connect.  It acts as a vessel for strength, holding it and giving it purpose.  Behind every great leader, parent, speaker, or creator of things there is something gentle.  Without that everything dissolves into fear and chaos.

This is the lesson of the Lionheart.  To find gentle is to find power.  The road to finding those is courage and bravery manifested, which are traits of someone who is Lionhearted.  It’s not an easy road for certain but the best ones never are.

This blade is a 6in filet/boning knife, built from 1/8″ O1 tool steel stock.  It was commissioned by a man who has quite a bit of Lionheart in him, and was the inspiration for the namesake of this knife:

Rough cut:

Filework on the blade choil.  This makes it easier to sharpen and provides a visual aid in creating symmetrical plunge lines:

Profiled:

Initial work on the bevels.  Removing too much steel will cause it to warp in the forge.  Ready for heat treat:

Hardened:

Removing more material after heat treat:

Hand sanding:

Satin finish:

I should have drilled these earlier, but here we are:

Rivet holes in the scales.  The wood is Redheart:

Ready for assembly:

Profiled:

Shaped:

The Lionheart:

Be gentle with that chainsaw….

Knifemaking: the things that get in the way and the Arrow

“The way we do anything is the way we do everything.”

-Martha Beck

……..

“I guess I’ve been carrying many small things.”

-Mina Tindle- “To Carry Many Small Things”

When I was nineteen I started lifting weights.  I didn’t have a particular destination or goal.  The only real goal that was there was to lift as well or better than I had the day before.  I paid attention to form, technique, and consistency.  I got better as time went by.

Ritual was crucial.  I would allow myself to be very quiet.  I had a taken some dance classes in college and would do these really amazing spine-lengthening stretches.  After my workout I would take a shower, sit in the sauna for twenty minutes, and then leave.  I did all of this without speaking to anyone.  It was like going to church: still, prayerful, and introspective.

I never made notes or kept logs.  I made sure my routines and circuits were simple enough to remember day to day and week to week and so on.  I kept up with this for eleven, maybe twelve years.  When I felt good, I went to the gym.  When I felt bad, I went to the gym.

Then about two or three years ago I noticed I was having trouble finding those quiet and still places.  I had trouble getting to the gym and staying present with what I was doing.  Actually I had trouble staying present in nearly all the things I was trying to do.  I wasn’t sure what to do.  I went to the doctor, got blood work done.  I talked to a therapist.  I was healthy.

My girlfriend noticed this, and put me in touch with a lady she had been studying with.  She said I was probably missing a physical practice and since the gym wasn’t in the picture anymore I should at least talk to this lady, who was in the practice of Ashtanga yoga.  I had watched her take a course of study from this woman to help her heal from a hip injury.  She was calmer, glowier, and looked fantastic with a sort of shimmer about her.  Ok, I finally said, I’ll give her a shout.

I made an appointment with this lady and we talked about what it was to practice yoga.  Her name is Leigh.  She told me that in this practice, if practiced diligently, transformation would occur.  She said that I would notice unpleasant things rise to the surface.  Things would fall away, she said, and those would mostly be the things that got in the way: bad habits, patterns of self-sabotage, and bad attitudes- the fun things. Afterwards I told my girlfriend that if I turned into some sort of New Age asshole who extolled the virtues of kale and hashtagged ‘namaste’, I would prefer she shoot me, bury me in the backyard, and tell everyone I left her.

(Quite a few months later I would find myself in front of a salad bar at a hillbilly barbecue buffet in North Carolina, and I would notice that my first thought was ‘where the fuck is the baby kale?’  My second thought had something to do with being shocked that my first thought was about kale…).

I started meeting with Leigh about every month or so and she was right.  Things DID fall away.  I found myself becoming very protective of my sleep and rest.  I started eating better and found myself desiring fruits and vegetables, which is something completely new.   I stopped going out and I didn’t miss it at all.  I leaned into life a little more.

Then I noticed all the small things I had been carrying.  In Ashtanga, I found that almost everything I didn’t like about myself was held out and dangled in front of my face whenever I was on the mat and often culminated in tears.  I wasn’t aware of all the prickly bits I carry around on an almost daily basis: guilt, shame, resentment, rage, and impulsivity.  I’ve always heard from my friends about how relaxing and grounding yoga was for them.  I have not had that experience.  I sobbed uncontrollably during the first week I started.  I wasn’t nearly as patient as I thought I was, and definitely more judgmental than I ever believed.  Sometimes I find I am so present with myself that it hurts.  Unlike the gym, there is no rush of endorphins for me.  I end with everything I start with and honestly, it really sucks sometimes.

This sounds like a ringing endorsement and you’re probably asking yourself “where do I sign up?”

The truth is that this is a practice that helps you to know yourself, all of yourself, and that is usually going to be painful.  The growth and transformation happens when you find the pain isn’t going to kill you (although sometimes you wish it would).  The idea is not to make the uncomfortable things go away- they aren’t going to.  It’s to create a space to be with them and to go about your life in spite of being uncomfortable.

This blade was a commission for Leigh, from her husband.  Both of them are incredibly loving and kind and supportive people.  Leigh herself is an arrow, piercing those things that get in the way and always doing so with love and encouragement.  She has become a very dear friend and making this knife was a pleasure.

I designed this knife for whittling.  She is built for a smaller hand:

Rough cut, from O1 tool steel stock:

Smoothed out:

Centerline scribed:

Rough grinding:

Hardening:

Tempered:

Laying down a hand finish:

Just a bit more:

Spalted Tamarind:

Bookmatched:

Ready for glue:

Glued and clamped:


Shaped to fit the hand:

The Arrow:

This knife comes with a prayer, the Prayer of the Arrow, to help with all the things that get in the way:

May I be kind to myself
May I be gentle toward myself and others,
And may I move through my world with elegance and grace
May I find a calm mind and go about my day with peace and serenity and
May focus manifest within that calm
Help me to let go of guilt and shame, and help me to be with my anxieties, and to
Lean into my fears and not
be intimidated by them or anything else
May I know that I have enough
Help me to see things for what they are, and to
let go of appearances and of what others may think
Help me to know strong boundaries and to act on them
Help me to not think so much or give so much weight to my emotions and desires
Help me to keep moving forward and to have faith in myself and those I care for
Please keep me safe
And let me know that I am loved