Knifemaking: being where you are and the Whiskey Jack

 ‘There are a lot of good places,’ said Whiskey Jack. ‘That’s kind of the point. Listen, gods die when they are forgotten. People too. But the land’s still here. The good places, and the bad. The land isn’t going anywhere.’ 

Neil Gaiman- American Gods

A couple months ago I was working a Christmas show for the Ballet in town.  About midway through the three week run they started planning for next years show.  They were redoing some of the backdrops, which are gorgeous, and they had flown in an artist who paints them.  I was the one to pick him up from the airport.

I didn’t know any of this.  I was told to go pick up a gentleman at the airport and given a phone number.  A large French gentleman got into my rental car.

He apologized for his delayed flight.  I’ve heard that the French appreciate bluntness so I asked him what he was here for.

He told me he was a painter and that he was here to look at the scenery backdrops.  A backdrop is a large painted background that the dancers perform in front of.  They set the scene for the different locations in the ballet’s story.  Here is one from an opera rental company in Utah:


The French gentleman said he sort of stumbled into this profession.  He was a painter living in France.  He fell in love with a ballerina and they married.  Sometime after this he was asked if he would paint for the scenery department.  Gradually this became his livelihood- painting settings for the theatre.  He now lives in New York.

He told me that it wasn’t always like this.  He said his passion was painting monsters- not the horror movie kind but something a bit more fantastical.  Since he was a child he said he’s always loved monsters.  He struggled to sell his work.  He went through a divorce.  He moved to a new country.  But he was always painting, be it monsters or backdrops.  He said that he went ten years without doing any scenic design, but he was always painting.

It’s these things that help keep us sane and help us to be where we are and to get through the hard things that we need to go through to grow as people.  They help us to remember that we don’t have to go anywhere or shy away from our experience as long as we have something to ground ourselves in.  This is what I got from that conversation with that gentleman.  This idea is also where the namesake of this blog comes from.

This is also the lesson of the Whiskey Jack.  ‘Whiskey Jack’ is an anglicized version of Wisakedjak, a trickster deity with a strong heart in Native American Folklore, specifically of the Cree tribe.  Whiskey Jack is a character in American Gods by Neil Gaiman, believing that no matter what happens the land is still there regardless of what we do to ourselves or others.  There are things we do and make and say and write that exist outside of the tedium and mental minutiae of our modern world.  Things that help us to keep our center when our hearts are breaking or it feels like everything is crumbling.  Things to help us be with our joy and to be with our grief.  They don’t go anywhere.  Remember these things, the beautiful things we do, when the world has made you weary.  I try to remember this when I am exhausted, when I don’t want to get out of bed, or if there are jobs or conversations that I really don’t want to do or have.

This large French gentleman’s name is Alain Vaes.  Please check out his work.

I started with 1095 steel and worked out a 6in bowie style blade:

 Full flat grind


HardenedLots of sanding… 

I like a heavy blade but I put these big holes in to lighten it just a bit.

This is one of my absolute favorite shirts.  I’ve worn it all over the country.  There are kind souls in my life that told me while the armpit stains are endearing, I probably shouldn’t where it out in public lest I scare small children….

….so I made it into handle material.  It’s not going anywhere either.


The Whiskey Jack: etched 1095 spring steel, homebrewed Micarta scales, brass liners and hardware.  Shaving sharp, he is built to be used.


Be where you are, and keep doing whatever it is that helps you to stay there.  This is the lesson of the Whiskey Jack.

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