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.


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:


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


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:



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:



Laying down a hand finish:

Just a bit more:

Spalted Tamarind:


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

Knifemaking: finding a way and the Desert Fox

“So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more dangerous to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future.”

John KrakauerInto the Wild


The Desert Fox, also known as the Fennec Fox is the smallest member of the species Canid.  They can be found in the Sahara Desert of North Africa.  Living in such averse conditions has allowed for some particular adaptations in order for them to find their way in their environment, most notably their prominent ears (I mean, look at those things):

The ears help them to dissipate heat, as desert temperatures can get up to 117 degrees Fahrenheit during the day. They also have a specially evolved set of kidneys allowing them to go without water nearly indefinitely and their required moisture can be obtained from their food.  Unlike other foxes or canines, they have fur on the bottoms of their feet.  This keeps them from burning their feet when traveling over hot sand.  Their cream-colored coat helps to reflect the heat of the sun.

They are omnivorous, eating insects, lizards, and birds, but are also known to eat roots, leaves and other vegetation.  The Desert Foxes are social creatures, live in groups, and mate for life.

I find this to be an incredibly encouraging little animal, finding home and company in a place where a large portion of its environment is actively trying to kill it.  On days where I’m not sure how to find my own way, I often think of the Desert Fox.  I find that I don’t have to worry about blistering heat, numerous birds of prey, even more numerous venomous snakes, or scarce food sources, and then I proceed to count my blessings and pray that I don’t become complacent in my station from lack of natural predators.

Because finding your way when there isn’t anything pushing you can be just as hard as navigating a desert full of bad things.

I was in Pittsburgh recently, taking an Uber to dinner.  I’ve never particularly cared for riding Uber; it always feels like there’s an expectation for conversation and an uncomfortable and resentful silence if that expectation is not met.  On one Uber ride in Manhattan there was a driver from the Caribbean who wouldn’t stop talking about his kid and showed my friend and I a video of him playing baseball.  All this while driving in rush hour traffic.  This most recent Uber ride was not that.

The man picked us up and the conversation was easy.  After a little while of talking about what we were doing in the ‘Burgh, I asked him what he did for a living.  He said that he had been a private investigator in Los Angeles for twenty years, from the early ’80’s to the late ’90’s.  He said he had seen it all: cheating spouses, runaway kids, you name it. He thought it was all hilarious.  He wanted to write a book.

His friends all thought his stories were great and they had been encouraging.  The only problem, he said, was when he sat down to write he couldn’t get anything on the page.  He just froze.

I know what this is.  This is the crippling self-doubt that almost every writer and creative person I know deals with.  Myself included.  I told him so.  Hell, I know a filmmaker who has a Crippling Self-Doubt Room in his house where he goes before he works on his projects.  If you don’t find a way forward, you get stuck, and your ideas aren’t heard.  Nothing happens and life goes on.  You have to live with the sting of unrealized potential.  That sting becomes more painful as the years go on and there is no more time to realize what could be.

The only thing to do, I told him, was to find a way to be with that debilitating feeling of self-doubt.  Find a way to get something, anything, on the page.  Once there is something on the page finding your way becomes much easier, and it can take you to surprising places.  There is meaning in those places, satisfaction, and everything becomes a bit deeper and beautiful.

This is the lesson of the Desert Fox, a creature that has an unforgiving place to call home yet finds a way to thrive in it, and makes an existence in the uncomfortable.  If there is something eating at you and calling to you, then you can always find a way to make it happen.


We start with flat stock O1 tool steel:

Roughing in the blade choil:


Rivet Holes:

Hand sanding the bevels before heat treat:



Hand-finished satin:

Texas Mesquite.  One of my most favorite materials to work with:


Sanded to 220 before giving the grain a burst:

The Desert Fox:

If you can find a way to exist in the uncomfortable, than you can almost always find a way forward.

fennec fox

Knifemaking: Rock and roll, privilege, and the Sir

“He who conquers himself is the mightiest warrior.”



Warrior, Merchant, Artisan, Farmer.  These are the four classical occupational archetypes of Feudal China.  These archetypes still ring true today.  There are variances and nuances but in the way we go through life, many of us find ourselves in all four of these occupations, even if only briefly:

-The Farmer understands the value of labor.  He is master of working within the seasons to sow his crop.

-The Artisan understands how different mediums and materials go together, and how to craft his goods within that understanding.  He is master of his tools.

-The Merchant understands business- buying low, selling high, and having a good product.  Business at it’s core level is the art of profit and the Merchant is master of this.

-The Warrior understands the above three archetypes.  He is master of himself and carries the weaponry of his choosing.  He serves society.

I have found myself, at various points in life, in all four occupations.  The Warrior intrigues me most.  Speaking as a man, I feel that most of us want to master ourselves, and the things that try to enslave us- our fears, our desires, and our insecurities.  In our occupations and work, obsessions and compulsions can develop, our fears can play out, and we can become consumed.  We can become obsessed with trying to squeeze the seasons dry, or maximizing profits, or with crafting a better and more beautiful mousetrap.  When these things become all that we see, we have failed to master ourselves and aren’t really serving anything except for what we are trying to achieve.  At this point, all the things that really matter get left in the dust.  We lose sight of the world we live in and are not present in our lives.

In order to master yourself you must know yourself.  Sometimes the best way to know yourself is to know others.  And sometimes the best way to do that is in service to others.

I was working a large arena rock and roll show, one of the largest I’ve ever worked.  The headliners had been around for decades, on the top of the charts, and darlings of video-era MTV.  They have recently been selling out arenas around the world.

I strolled into the production office to get my assignments for the day.  There was laundry, grocery shopping for the tour busses, FedEx and post office runs, prescriptions to be filled, and other bits of housekeeping errands that keep a massive touring operation on the road.  Not everything gets done.  Touring is a practice, not a science.  The most successful touring operations are predicated upon this notion.  My job is to take care of as many of these things as possible based on what the tour needs and the priorities of the show.  This doesn’t leave time for anything that may be superfluous or unnecessary.

After the day was laid out and I had my assignments, the tour manager asked if I could add another thing to my list.  There was a very large basket of toiletries- soaps, shampoos, and lotions- that had been collected from God knows how many swanky hotels.  The tour manager asked me if, time permitting, I could find a Women’s Shelter or a shelter for families in transition and drop them off there.  The band and the crew collect them from every place they stay for that explicit purpose.

I didn’t give it too much thought.  I had a lot of things to do and honestly this little task wasn’t real high on my list.  But the tour manager kept asking me about it and so I decided to make it a priority.  After all, I was in a position to take care of this.  I got on the internet and found a facility nearby.  It was a shelter for women leaving bad domestic situations- in many instances they showed up with nothing but the clothes on their back.

I called them and told them who I was and who I was with and asked if they accepted donations.  Yes we do, they said, please come by.

So I went by, even though I really didn’t have the time.  The people at this organization were really happy to get these things.  They wanted to take a picture for their social media page.  All smiles.  They thanked me for thinking of them and to remember them in the future because funding is always tight and every bit helps.

This was all really special to be a part of, even though it was a pretty small thing.  I wasn’t really expecting that and it was nice.  I don’t normally find myself in these sort of situations.  I’m usually wrapped up in my own affairs, serving the things I am trying to achieve rather than broadening my gaze.  I noticed a lightness in me and the rest of the day felt easier.

There’s a lot of talk about privilege- white privilege, gender privilege, and a myriad of others.  When all of the social justice orthodoxy is stripped away, I find privilege to be a form of power.  There’s nothing wrong with being privileged but it’s important to be aware of it.  Many of us aren’t aware that we have that power within ourselves.  It’s a noble thing to use that privilege, that power (which, honestly, many of us take for granted) to help those who may need it.  It’s a really special thing to give or share of your time and talents when it’s within you power to do so.  This type of service can help you to become more familiar and intimate with yourself, and also help to make the world around you a better place.  That is the mark of a Warrior, and the lesson of the Sir.

O1 tool steel, thin stock


Rough grinding:

This is how to heat up your quench oil on a cold day:

Hardened and tempered:

Handfinishing, at around 220 grit:

Hand finishing at around 320 grit:

Ebony wood:




The Sir:

Don’t be afraid to look out for others every so often.  This is part of the path toward mastering oneself.

Just a Bunch of Roadies– This is an organization of Music Industry Professionals that use their time and talents to make a difference.  They facilitate larger operations, but also smaller projects, like the one written about in this story.  Be sure to check out their website if you would like to help.

Knifemaking: yes and no; and Urim and Thummim

“Take these,” said the old man, holding out a white stone and a black stone that had been embedded at the center of the breastplate. “They are called Urim and Thummim.  The black signifies ‘yes,’ and the white ‘no.’  When you are unable to read the omens, they will help you to do so.  Always ask an objective question.”

Paulo Coelho- The Alchemist

I took a philosophy class in college.  The professor was an older gentleman, and a bit mysterious.  He had us buy a very expensive textbook which we never used.  He was the one asking the questions and it was mostly us, the class, that did the talking.  We never learned much about him other that that he had had a bit of celebrity on the academic circuit several decades prior. In his younger days he practiced judo.  Later in life he discovered Tai Chi, and taught that as well.  He never elaborated on any of this.

I don’t remember much of what we talked about.  I was twenty-two and liked to go to class stoned.  I do remember there was some Kant in there, and some St. Augustine, and probably some ideas on relative morality versus universal morality.  I also remember one lesson we had, one about truth, and how all matters can be broken down into a yes or a no.

He gave an example: all cellular communication can be broken down into ‘yes’ or ‘no’.  ‘Yes I will fuse with this protein,’ or ‘No I will not fuse with this protein.’  ‘Yes I will bind to this synapse,’ or ‘No, I will not bind to this synapse.’  Matters that are gray in appearance only remain so until one goes deep enough to find a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’- and in many instances in our personal lives we never get to that point.  Sometimes the truth contains many yes’s and no’s.  Sometimes the truth is much larger than our own individual internal agreement or disagreements.  This is part of what gives life it’s mystery and beauty.

There was one particular assignment, a large one, that came up.  We had to write a 10 page paper on a topic we chose.  The professor had a list of topics to choose from.  We were to choose a topic with which we most disagreed.  I had found mine:

‘True virtue requires true religion’

He then flipped it around and told us that our paper had to argue in agreement with our chosen topic.  I didn’t know where to start.  I didn’t agree with this statement at all and was a bit stumped.  After many starts and stops I found a legal dictionary and first looked up the definition of truth, then of virtue.  I found a way to manipulate those very clean and sterile definitions to find agreement with a statement I didn’t agree with.  I don’t remember exactly what I wrote and I’m not sure how I got ten pages out of that but I was pleased with myself.

I got my paper back.  There were no corrections or suggestions.  Written at the top of the page in red ink was a little note saying that I had made my argument using a clever lawyer’s trick.  I got a C.

Over the past dozen or so years I’ve thought a lot about this.  Truth is something that just is.  It is the yes or the no.  The point is that the truth of things can’t be manipulated.  There is discordance in the world because all of us are trying to manipulate the truth to serve our needs, to pacify our fears and insecurities, to indulge our convictions, and to fit into the way we believe things should be.  In spite of these dances we do, at some point everything will break down into yes or no.  When things appear to be both yes and no at the same time it only means that the truth isn’t fully visible at that point.

This doesn’t mean things are clear or easy.   Black for one person may be white for another, and vice versa.  It won’t always fit into nice agreeable little boxes.  I was working with teenagers and there was a young girl who was acting out horribly.  After speaking with her mother, I found out that her father had left the family to go live his life as a woman.  The young girl had a very strong ‘no’ to her father’s insurmountable ‘yes’.

At some point decisions have to be made and assistance may be needed when one can’t always read the signs of which path to take.  Sometimes we can bring an external influence in to help us to get to our truth, our own personal “yes’s” and “no’s”.  This is the where Urim and Thummim come in.

This two-knife kitchen set was a commission for a good friend and former teacher. He is a man who taught me how to look at matters deeply and to think about things critically.  We were on a farm for this past Thanksgiving and I noticed that he had been reading The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.  This is a book that is special to me, and was given to me during a time when I was having trouble reading the omens.  It was the inspiration for this set, and an exercise of gratitude for this man, a sort of alchemist himself, who has helped me to find my own truths over the years:

We start with Urim, a six-inch boning/filet knife

Because the stock is so thin, I hardened the blade before grinding the bevels:

Rough grinding at 40 grit:

Full flat grind:

Laying down a hand finished satin:

Detail work on the plunge lines:

Ebony Gaboon: the black symbolizes the ‘yes’:

The bit near the ricasso; sanded to 2000 grit:

Profiling on the handle:


Sanded to 220 grit and then oiled.  I let this sit for a day or so and then sand the entire handle up to 2000 grit.  This process helps to burst the grain:


To start on Thummim we need things that cut:

Once again the whole bit is hardened:

Rough grinding:

Full flat grind and finished on the grinder to 120 grit:

A lot of material was removed:

Laying down a hand finish.  A smoother finish makes for less resistance when doing knifework in the kitchen:


She goes into hot acid for an etch.  The etch helps to prevent corrosion and also makes for a more pronounced patina as the knife is used.  It will also darken the blade:

Spalted Tamarind:  the light color represents the ‘no’

With black spacers for contrast:

Once again, sanded to 2000 grit:




Thummim; the no to the yes:

Urim and Thummim:


The name of the professor mentioned in this story is Jonathan Shear, Ph.D., and you can find links to his publications here.

Knifemaking: doing the work and the Operator, Mark II

“The sword has to be more than a simple weapon; it has to be an answer to life’s questions.”

Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings

(you can read about the crafting of the original Operator here)

I’ve always been drawn to people who do things.  The people who speak through their work and translate knowledge and mastery through their particular skill set without having to say much.  This is a day and age where anyone can broadcast claims of mastery and experience to a large audience and it can be difficult to discern who has done the work to back up these claims and who is just trying to get to the bank.

In today’s vernacular, ‘operator’ commonly refers to military personnel who are at the pointy-end of things.  They are the ones who are taking the orders and quietly (or not so) doing the work out of a sense of duty and service.  ‘Operator’ is a title that gets tossed around and claimed where it doesn’t always belong, very similar to ‘genius’.  The ones who actually fit the bill generally eschew such titles.  This is usually a symptom that you are doing the work.

This blade was a commission for a military serviceman doing Ops work.  I wanted to build him a tool that would serve him in the work he was doing.

There was a summer about ten years ago where I was between semesters of study.  I had decided that I wanted to learn how to fix things.  Many of my friends were working at Blockbusters or car washes but I liked the idea of being able to take care of things myself.  I took a really awful job doing apartment maintenance for three and a half months and did just that.

It was not very satisfying.  The job I took was for a rental company who owned properties in my neighborhood so I could walk to work.  It was a pretty slummish company that rented to a lot of college kids.  I ended up having keys to half the apartments of what was called ‘Hell Block’ of a street close by to me.  The summer was when a lot of leases ended so there were many people moving in and out.  As a result the streets and alleys were full of discarded furniture for most of the summer, a lot of which was set ablaze by some of the rowdier tenants.  Sometimes my days started with cleaning up the ashes of incinerated love seats.

Other days started with hauling four-burner stoves up three flights of a fire escape.  Most of the time was spent flipping apartments from where someone had moved out so that someone else could move in.  There was a lot of painting.  Flat antique white for the walls and ceilings and semi-gloss eggshell white for the trim and kitchens.  The apartments weren’t very nice to begin with and after three days of work they still didn’t look very nice.  I tried to remind myself to just make it about the work.

I would spend hours gutting bathrooms- ripping out drywall, removing tiling, and replacing subflooring before redoing everything.  The best days were when I could work by myself and keep my own company.  Bathrooms were a bit more satisfying to do because they would actually look nice when you finished them.

There was one time when a new tenant couldn’t move into her apartment because a homeless person had moved in after we had flipped it.  We went in the apartment after the police took him away and found no less than eight bicycles, some smelly furniture, and a plethora of bizarre pornography.  There were also footprints all over the wall.  We had to repaint that one.

My boss was a middle-aged anomaly with claims of ties to the trash hauling unions of New York City.  I didn’t really believe anything he said.  There were four of us handling most of the work orders:

-Mark was in art school, a bit cranky, and liked to smoke a lot of pot.  Oftentimes it was hard to tell whether he was stoned or not.  I liked him.

-Scott had gotten back from several tours of Iraq, most recently Abu Ghraib.  He was a good guy but wouldn’t get anything done unless he was told exactly what to do.

-Mario was in his late thirties and from Guatemala.  He worked 7 days a week and sent most of his money home to his family.  He didn’t say much but I think he missed home.  The man could eat faster than anyone I’d ever met.  He said that in the Guatemalan Army they only gave you three minutes for lunch.

There was also a rotating cast of derelicts who would come in and work for a week and then disappear.  I never learned their names.

One of the happiest days I had was telling my jackass boss that I quit.  I gave myself a two week vacation before I went back to school.

What I learned at this job was that in order to get through many uncomfortable situations with a modicum of success you have to make it about the work.  It helps to find something bigger than yourself in what you are doing.  The skills I was learning would serve me well much later down the line, and the money would help me buy books and live through the school year and work on my education.  Everything else was just bullshit that came with the job.

To let yourself speak through the work you do, whether you are toppling Marxist empires or replacing toilets in shitty tenements- this is the lesson of the Operator.  In these situations our work speaks through us but also teaches us our lessons.

The recipient of this blade may find himself in harms way and needed a blade that would serve in such situations:

Rough cutting:

Bevels profiled:


Hand sanding:


This is G10, a commercially manufactured synthetic material.  Normally I prefer to make my own handle material but in this instance I opted for something consistently fabricated that would be failsafe in a potentially tactical situation:

The Operator, MkII: O1 tool steel, G10 scales, fabric spacers, and steel hardware.

Let your work be your lessons.