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:




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:


Computer board blank for spacing material:


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:


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