Knifemaking: when things break down and the Skin Yer Dinner

“The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands and then work outward from there”

Robert M. Persig- Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

One of the major lessons of life is that things are going to break down.  It doesn’t matter how well the schedule of maintenance is managed, no matter how well oiled and lubricated all the moving parts are, or how diligently things are inspected.

At some point or another things just aren’t going to work the way that they are supposed to and sometimes it takes more than just ourselves to get them repaired.

As I’ve gotten older I’m a little more mindful of this.  Sort of.  It’s been a bit of a process actually.  I do my best to not let my things go to shit.  Some of those things are easier for me to do than others but it’s definitely better than it has been in the past.  Part of this tendency to let things go to shit comes from living in a consumer society.  Things aren’t necessarily built to be repaired.  They are meant to be consumed and thrown away.   If it breaks, buy something newer and shinier and better.  Fixing things takes time and often it is very appealing to go and buy a new one rather than repair what you have as best you are able.  This notion goes for more than just our material possessions.

Sometimes I find myself having to repair things that I have let completely go to shit.  Sometimes it’s in my professional life, sometimes it’s in my relationships, sometimes it’s my truck.  It’s important to not beat yourself up (or anybody else) when something goes to shit, which it inevitably will.

My truck.  I like to drive mid to late ’90s Japanese midsize SUVs because they perform really well, are built on truck chassis, and are relatively easy to fix and find parts for.  Sometimes it’s a little stressful because I don’t always know what I am doing and turns into an exercise in not over-thinking.  It’s also an exercise in observing how you operate when things aren’t working as they should.  I did a brake job the other month.  I’ve never done my own brakes before but the idea of saving a couple hundred dollars sounded good.  The passenger side wheel took me two and a half hours- during which time I removed the entire brake caliper by mistake, and accidentally drained all of the brake fluid.  The driver side wheel took me 45 minutes.  After several attempts to bleed my brake lines of the air inside on my own, I had to take my truck to my mechanic who talks to me like I am ten years old (‘Son, why the hell did you disconnect the brake line?’).

In taking on these sorts of projects, I go through the entire spectrum of human emotion and always become more intimate with myself.  It’s important to trust yourself, and to let go of the fear that you will screw something up more than it already is.  To take that intention of helping something to do what it does and to manifest that into whatever you are working on.

The intimacy thing- it goes for more than knowing just yourself.  Sometimes I have help on these projects.  Sometimes I help those close to me on their things.  It’s good to have someone who can pick up on something you may have missed, who can help you laugh, and help ease your anxieties.  In these situations a lot of the masks come off and you can really get to know someone without pretense or pontification because there is a common goal.  It’s reassuring knowing that when something goes wrong you can help yourself, or help somebody else, or be helped.  The deeper lesson is that things will always break down, ourselves included, but they don’t have to stay that way.

This blade was a commission for a fourteen year-old boy, the son of a really wonderful friend of mine who is an HVAC technician, someone who in his professional life brings the broken and neglected into good working order.  The other week my girlfriend and I were working on her HVAC system which had gone out.  We put a new fan motor in and were a bit hesitant on the wiring.  I called my friend, who came over and wired up the motor and rewired the thermostat on pretty short notice.  His son was with him and asked me for a knife… and also asked that it be called the Skin Yer Dinner…

I started with a piece of 1095 spring steel…


A bit of Texas River Ash…

The Skin Yer Dinner:  Etched 1095 spring steel, Texas River ash handle, Kydex spacers, and brass hardware.  I also threw in a custom Kydex sheath…




Things break down and it’s a part of life…but so is figuring out how to get them working again.

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