Knifemaking: discernment, judgement, and the Observer

“The alchemists spent years in their laboratories, observing the fire that purified the metals. They spent so much time close to the fire that gradually they gave up the vanities of the world. They discovered that the purification of the metals had led to a purification of themselves” 

Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

This blade was a commission by a gentleman as a gift to a colleague, another gentleman who is a videographer.  One of the parameters was to work video camera parts into the handle.

I am not a student of film.  I don’t watch many movies or documentaries and when I do I find myself getting extremely upset, sad, or angry at something I most likely have little control over or isn’t even real.  There’s a balance between being informed/entertained and being consumed that I have yet to straddle.  Most of the time I watch things I find to be entertaining or inspiring and even then I get excited and have trouble concentrating or going to sleep.  The world can be a an overwhelming place and mediums such as music, art, and film have the ability to amplify it immensely. About ten years ago I saw Chick Corea perform and it was so badass I couldn’t go to sleep.

Going back to observing the fire that purified the metals: in observation you can be purified or you can be consumed- that is the nature of the flame.  Depending on how something is presented it isn’t difficult to find oneself consumed.  Sometimes that is the intent and is part of what gives life it’s lustre.

I was sent a bit of the gentleman’s work.  It was a brief snapshot of a community based non-profit and it was beautiful.  It was a simple observation of this organization’s past, where they are now, and where they want to be in the future.  From that place of observation a clear and wide view was provided.  Space was left for the audience to decide for themselves what this organization was all about.  That is discernment.  It is about separation- the good from the bad, the bitter from the sweet, the wicked from the just, the right from the wrong.  Because rarely is something completely one thing or the other.

When it becomes one thing or the other, we find ourselves in the realm of judgement.  Judgement is more about polarization- that things are either one way or the other.  This is where condemnation or condonation occurs.  Be mindful when you hear polarizing statements like this:

“If you are not part of the solution, then you are part of the problem”

“You are either with us or against us”

“The friend of my enemy is my friend”

Judgement can be tricky because rarely is it solely about the situation or instance that is being judged.  It is often a reflection of something in us that we don’t like, or might be causing us pain, or shines a light on a place of shame.  When I find myself casting judgement, I find it coming from one of these places.  Sometimes it’s difficult to find one’s way back to discernment from that realm.

I saw a profound maxim on the Facebook the other day: “Judge not, for thou hast fucked up in the past as well.”

There it is.  I fucked up in the past and I haven’t dealt with it so I will cast judgement on those in similar situations because it makes me feel better about the shit I haven’t dealt with.

Not proper observation at all.  You miss out on the nuanced bits of wonder that makes life sweet and also bitter.

This is the lesson of the Observer.  To see that things are rarely one thing or the other.  To look past yourself and your projections and to take things for their core value.  There is something cleansing in that.  It’s a bumpy journey, but a journey worth taking.


For this blade I drew out several designs for the client to look at.  He selected this one, a drop point design and a very effective out-of-doors use knife.  It’s a departure from my normal “let the grinder design the blade” technique.


The runner up designs:

Centerline guide:


After heat treat I take the plunges to the spine…

The handle was going to be an extension of the recipient’s passion.  After a bit of thought on how to work video equipment into the handle, I took a trip to the local pro audio store.
Gaffer’s tape.  Used across the board by almost everyone in arts/entertainment production and operations, be them prince or pauper.  

It’s a woven fabric tape.  It leaves no residue when pulled up.
  The process of sandwiching layers of resin between tape begins…


…and it just didn’t work.  The resin wouldn’t set up for some reason.  It was either due to the adhesive on the tape, the inability for the layers to breathe, the high humidity and low temps, or a combination of all three.  I went at it three times and went through nearly a quart of resin.  I pouted for a bit, and found myself in a funk of judgement.

Once I got past that and explored a bit more, I found Duvetyne.  It’s a light-blocking cotton material used in the motion picture industry.  It’s also used in the fine arts world.  Sometimes stage side drops are made out of them as well.  I wanted to keep to the idea of a blade that is an extension of this particular gentleman’s passion.

By this point I was too preoccupied to take pictures.  This resin is an exothermic polymer and needs a bit of heat in the beginning.  It’s been a bit humid this October and my work area has no climate control so I put it under a heat lamp.  I had to babysit the setup for a bit because I had accidentally set the previous batch on fire by having it too close to the lamp….


 The Observer.  I left the handle unfinished- it’s the backstage area.  She is O1 tool steel, homebrewed Duvetyne micarta, and steel hardware.

This was incredibly challenging and humbling but worth all the bumps and snags.  Look a little deeper: there are profound lessons to be seen.

Sheath coming (very) soon

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