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The soul and the work

Michael Pikula

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I have been doing a lot of thinking and searching within myself lately, and I don't know if I like what I am seeing... I pound, grind, and butcher every day, I replicate intimately brutal weapons that were used for the slaughter and butchering of people. I have my mind completely consumed with the finances or running the shop, all of which has changed me in a way that I look, feel and see more and more of the negative, and the things in my last sentence has driven the best part of my life away and I don't know if I can get her back. After almost two year of nothing but sheer bliss and not a single argument, I'm alone again. I don't know if I can continue making what I make and still be the person I want and need to be.


How do you find peace within yourself when it seems like the objects and nature of your work points toward the dark, and you feel you need to enter the light?

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The rock lays there in peace until it is used as a weapon. The sword is no different.


You are a craftsman. If you create a blade of true craftsmanship and art, you bring joy and insight to those that view your work. That is the craft and, I believe, the craft is the light.


The craft is the light.


The darkness is not in the blade any more than the storm is in the sea. It's the world and the acts of evil men that made blades the symbol of the dark, and it is bladesmiths like you and me that are making it a symbol of the light.


Think of how many men in the history of the world have defended their children with a blade crafted with care and patience. Think of the people that looked on their leaders and the blades they carried and slept in peace because they knew that they were watched over.


You cannot prevent someone from using your work to do evil; Nor can the man who makes hammers or pipe wrenches. But, unlike hammers and pipewrenches, you can make something beautiful, and beauty (I believe) challenges violence and evil rather than inspires it.




"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly." -- Theodore Roosevelt


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I always seen that you are very gifted and its sad that you feel this.

It seems that some frustration overwhelmed you, but i think, that there is much light in the craft you do.

I personnaly see swords and such more like objects of honour and pride than of slaughter. You will not judge archery so harshly, but it was more bussiness tool of killing than swords.


Read good books, listen to good music, use this forum as it is cure!

You will be OK within short time

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I agree with Dave and Petr!

See your craftmanship as an honour for yourself and a real satisfaction.

Blades are honourable objects that has always been the accompaniment of good men, protected their family and people!

You can be proud to make what you are making.

If some peoples misuses your products, you are certainly not responsible!


Look outside by your window,think at all the beauty of the world and at all the beauties you've made...

Listen at your favourite music...drink reasonably your favourite "product" ^_^


The sun is always coming again,joy and happiness will be in your hands as soon as you find peace again...and it will certainly be!

Be strong, my friend!

Edited by Jacques Delfosse
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I think you need to ask yourself why you are doing what you do.... That may sound simple but break it down further ... Did you start smithing for the love of the craft? cause you were drawn to the fire? cause you liked creating something? cause you were dreaming of Orc's or vikings and tales of old?cause you wanted to make swords?cause you wanted to be like so&so? to work for yourself?.... list all the reasons you can think of and put a check mark next to the ones that are bothering you right now... set those aside for a while and play with the ones that still bring you joy.... Make a wood working tool instead of a sword.... make some kitchen knives (tool) for some friends and soak up the ego boost they give you in return.... seems to me you are at a crossroad that we all come to sooner or later... I got to the weapon argument in my head before I started smithing.... that argument still goes on and the pull to measure my skills is what keeps it going... In the meantime I have pursued different outlets for my love of smithing and the skills to work tool steel.... Tom Maringer ( probably spelled his name wrong, sorry Tom) said that he found out that one of his knives was used to kill someone and he quit making knives for years... He took up different avenues ( very cool coins making among them ) He is now back to making knives again....

some times it is good to just walk away for a while and do something else... you may find you dislike that even moremad.gif... and then comeback to the love you once had with a new perspective....

Good luck with your dilemma......


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How do you find peace within yourself when it seems like the objects and nature of your work points toward the dark, and you feel you need to enter the light?

Very simple. I make weapons which I know I'll never use. Unlike the times in which they were originally used, I can walk the streets without and feeling safe. That's a fantastic feeling! At the same time I know I can be fully responsible with these artifacts, as well as the fire they are created in. I enjoy the fact that with the aid of fire and muscle power, I can form such powerful materials as bronze and steel in the way I want. At the same time, I'm paying tribute to people who made and carried these artifacts. By recreating them, I can show people just how skilled and intelligent the original makers were. As I focus mostly on the periods seen in popular view as uncultured/barbaric times, I can change that view and give these people the respect they deserve. Also because I make them, it places me very close to the original makers. I can look at an ancient sword or knife, ask questions about how they were made and why they were made that way, and find the answers the maker stored in the artifacts. It's as centuries or millenia disappear, and talking to the maker as if he's standing right next to me. These weapons orinally had both a very positive and very dark role in history. Positive, as they protected family, community, land and homes, and dark, as they threatened them. But however you look at them, they had a massive influence on history, and we wouldn't be the same if they hadn't existed. Knowing history is important, as it teaches you how to go into the future. Facing and holding weapons of ancient times creates a deep and lasting impact, which make people think and talk and bring them closer to reality then any other artifact. It puts the reality of war and harm right in their hands. And that's a good thing IMO. For me it has resulted in that I now do voluntary work for Oxfam, which fights poverty and therefore helps in reducing a major reason for conflict. But in the end, edged tools and weapons are cool, and making cool things by playing with fire is just as cool as it gets :)

Jeroen Zuiderwijk

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/barbarianmetalworking

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Michael,for what it's worth,i think that your thoughts have to do with the nature of the craft(metalworking in general,weaponsmithing is only but a part of it).

There's a number of very solid reasons for why one of the faces of craftsmanship is a gruesome one.Metalsmithing being the ultimate of the crafts,thanks to the molecular changes involved.In parts of Europe,during the Dark Ages,blacksmithing was anathemised by the Church as one of the three "diabolical trades"(along with musicianship and fortune-telling;all three having in common the usurpation of reality-altering abilities normally only reserved for the Creator).


It's not an accident that the scenery of Judeo-Christian hell is wholly borrowed from the smithy.In lore and literature,always and at all times a certain stigma was attached to blacksmithing itself,and it's practitioners(again,all blacksmithing,not necessarily the weaponsmiths,the distinction is slight,anyway).An example would be the blacksmith in "Moby Dick";a good,decent,hardworking man in the past,now having fallen upon evil and sinful times,due,as implied,to some fatally flawed part of his nature,et c.


In my (twisted)opinion such is the price,Icarus-like.The stakes are high,and so,proportionally,is the abyss that one may well get to gaze into.(It's probably a cold comfort that in essence the process of many a shamanic "healing" involved reaching the very bottom of said abyss,before one could begin putting things into their respective places with any truly realised,coherent order).


Personally,i grant validity to ALL the uncountable facets of the tremendous responsibility that is craftsmanship.Some of which may be constructive,some-destructive,even(especially?) unto the craftsman himself.Or i should say that i want to,and try,feebly.It's a lot to even to attempt to gaze into certain corners,let alone to do so levelly.


It's all a gamble,but one does have a choice,and choosing a stiffer challenge is honorable.Sometimes i wonder if professional dental hygenists tend to get into mystifying and soul-searching as much as blacksmiths?Really don't know.(I did hear tell that the dentists bump themselves off more than other professions,and that the vast majority of known serial killers are electricians.Maybe we don't have it as bad afterall...)But i can relate to your quandary,being a smith,(and dwelling in the sub-arctic).Things do get tough.And then there's the dawn,if one makes it that far.


Regards,and keep on trucking!Jake

God is in his heaven,and Czar is far away...

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If I'm reading you correctly, did your girlfriend leave you because you seemed too tied up in the craft and particularly the business aspect? If the "she" is metaphorical, please pardon my presumption. I am sorry you're hurting, regardless.


As to the dark side of the craft, I don't feel it that way. Yes, if one were so inclined one could indeed wreak havok and destruction upon innocent people with the things we make. I see what we (and you in particular) make as art. Sharp-edged art in more ways than one. Swords are power objects, there's no way around that. Read Jake Powning's philosophy of the sword for an excellent defense of that power.


If you tended to make easily concealable "tactical" (ye gods how I hate that term!) knives that are intended for carry by those who get a thrill out of carrying weapons because they have not matured beyond age 12 testosterone levels, and advertised your work as the ultimate killing tool or something, THEN I'd understand the darkness in your craft.


I sometimes make flintlock guns. Talk about a step up in lethality from swords! But, I don't feel bad about it because the people who tend to buy the kind of things I make are never going to shoot anything more sentient than a soda can. Well, maybe the odd elk or two with the .58 caliber I made a while back, but I accept that as the function of a hunting rifle even if it is made exactly along the lines of an 18th century one. If I made MAC-10s or something and sold them to street thugs I'd definately have different feelings about it.


It's all about the intent. Your conscience should bear no more weight about making swords than an auto worker does about making a fast, dangerous machine that could take many innocent lives if driven by a drunk.


Going back to my first sentence, if there was a significant other involved who felt that you were ignoring their best interests, that's a whole nother thing entirely that also has nothing to do with what you make, only with how your time is budgeted. Dunno if I can help you with that one, we all have to find a balance between earning a living and actually living, and I know it's particularly hard on small businesspeople who absolutely must spend 18 hours a day making it work businesswise. This requires a very understanding partner indeed. I am fortunate in that regard, and I don't let a day go by without verbally thanking her for it. Reassurance and acting on that reassurance is very important!


I hope you get through this rough patch and come out the other side better than before, your work is excellent.

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Balance. Perspective. But mostly balance.


We make things of beauty and utility. Sometimes more beauty, sometimes more

utility. Some people put beautiful, utilitarian objects to angry, inappropriate uses.

I suspect many who post here, if they have lived long enough, have felt this way at

one time or another. But as artists, craftsmen and women, we allow our creations

to honor skill, learning, sharing.


Occasionally, the everyday aspects of our lives, making a living, honoring our partners,

seem to be overwhelming. Time to step back, look into our heads and recheck our



As you bring your creations to light and life be proud of your skill, knowing your intentions

are to honor our craft and bladesmiths of long ago and to continue a long and proud,

sometimes mysterious tradition.


We have survived as a human species because we've learned to use our tools for defense

and progress. You make beautiful knives. You are not responsible if someone else

chooses to use the object of your art for evil or inappropriate use.


Also, keep in mind we are in a literal dark period of the calendar. Sunlight is in shorter

supply, but the days are getting longer. I've dealt with Seasonal Affective Disorder most

of my adult life, but I know that there is always more light at the end of this tunnel and things

will invariably get better. If I don't order more tunnel. :o





Edited by Bill Hoffman
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I hope no one minds another reply..


I spent all my adult life surrounded by death and violence..for 32 some odd years I was involved in the military and law enforcement..I have seen people at their worst and I have seen many at their best in just about any situation one can imagine..I have been shot at, shot, stabbed, killed once (I was too stubborn to stay dead..) and I have taken the life of others. Does this make me "evil" or some other way "less" of a "civilized man" because I did what needed to be done? I do not think so...The first time I killed another (outside of the military service..in a "civilian" law enforcement role) I was literally physically sick for a week.


For 40 some odd years I have have an interest in blades and hot working metal of various sorts. I like to flatter myself every now and then and say I do pretty good at it...Once something I make leaves my hands and is aquired by its new owner, there is little I (or anyone ) can do after that.


The first time I heard that one of my blades was used in a murder/homicide (all murders are homicides, not all homicides are murders) was when I recieved a call from a Texas Ranger inquiring if I made a sword for a Mr. Robert Meek. Mr Meek approached me several years before this and ordered a very nice high carbon "viking" style sword with carved bronze fittings, the bronzes were done to his design and carved by the late Jody Samson...I replied that I did make him a sword and looking through my files I described it to the Ranger. The ranger then told me that Mr Meek used this sword to kill and then dismember his wife, and he then left her "parts" in trash bags all over North Texas. The macabre part of this was when the Ranger said they were very nice, clean cuts. I couldn't sleep for several days after that call, but was I in any way responsible for what someone else did with something I made?


Face it we are not making widgets and doozi-watts...They are in-animate objects and they can not "act independantly" on their own. They are like electricity..it can either light a room or kill someone..all depends on how it is used (or abused) in the end.


Several years after this I was shown a copy of a Long Beach PD police report where one of my shortswords was involved in a homicide, this one a self defense action by a home owner who was shot 3 times by some burglar with a .25 auto. Said homeowner could only get to his shortsword to defend himself and he did...the burglar bled out from a massive neck wound before any sort of medical aid could arrvive. Justifiable homicide was the ruling as far as the local DA was concerned. The home owner fully recovered...Here again..a life was taken by one of my works, but the intent was different....


If you are getting "burned out"...that is one thing..I go through that every now and then...I think pretty much everyone does at least once in their career...no matter what they are doing...


As mentioned by Mr. Longmire..if you were allowing what you do to RUN YOU and not the other way around, then therein lies the real problem.


I love what I do, but at the end of the day..the last thing I want to do is swing a hammer. I got "chewed out" and "Bad Mouthed" on another board (that I no longer read due to that) because on my "off time" I did NOT want to go out to the shop and kibbitz..no.I would rather go fishing, spend time with my family (thank the Gods that I now have two of my three surviving children at home now..the last one should be home here sometime in the very near future) or talk about shooting or something else than making a sword or knife...


I make those for a living (and it is a lot of fun still) but you need to take the time to slow down, see what you have and enjoy life.


There is no such thing as a "normal life"...it's just life...You deal with what you have to deal with and your actions have consequences, sometimes they are good..sometimes they are not...YOU have to just live and make the best of it...


Hope this helps




If you wish to know the price of freedom..Visit a Veteran's Hospital...I am humbled by their sacrifice... 

Why is it when the Mighty Thor throws his hammer he is dispensing Justice and fighting Evil..BUT..when I throw my hammer I wind up in a mandatory 16 week anger management course??</p>

I came into this world naked, screaming and covered in someone else's blood...I have no problem going out the same way...


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How do you find peace within yourself when it seems like the objects and nature of your work points toward the dark, and you feel you need to enter the light?


I'm still pondering the same question having been unable to make anything pointy or sharp for some time now. I dabble a bit in the shop but there is no inspiration at present. The desire remains but the fire inside is too cool and I can't seem to turn it up.


The reason is that I deliberately turned the "fire" down to move along and attend to other things and to balance myself. I'm not balanced yet and I did a very good job on myself of turning down the fire because of grief and all that stuff.


I guess my only words of wisdom for you are that you have not quit until you say "I quit" and feel it/mean it. You can stop doing something and set it aside for 30 years and as long as you are just "seeing what happens" you have not quit and cannot be called or consider yourself a quitter.


Sometimes it is good to "jiggle the handle" on art and craft and set it aside for some time. Perhaps you have used your art to complete and balance you as I did and now need something different to keep the balance. Life and the Spirit are dynamic...they change and Humans fear change. As Life and one's Spirit change then we need to re balance and that can be very difficult to do. One often does not know which way to turn when things change (which is why Humans fear change...) and we begin to doubt ourselves, our motves, our direction. We begin to doubt everything and wonder if we have been going the wrong way all along.


Sometimes we suffer a depression and blame our art and ourselves. I have done this.


Life changes and we have to jiggle the handle until what is wrong comes to the light...try different things and embrace the change as possibly being for the better is my advice. try to see the glass half full and believe that this is a wave or a ripple and that all things are cyclic.


And good luck to you. Never stop believing that tomorrow it can/will be better. Try not to wallow as I have done. Try to keep moving in some direction that is positive.



"Imagination is more important than knowledge" - Albert Einstein


"The innovator is not an opponent of the old. He is a proponent of the new."

- Lyle E. Schaller



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A hobby does not control your life.


Inanimate objects do not control your life.


History does not control your life.


Other peoples opinions of what you make do not control your life.


YOU control your life. If you don't like it you can change it.

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Michael, you need to sit down with someone whom you can get immediate feedback from and talk things out. This can be a very good compasonate friend, a minister, or a social worker. There are too many things that could be going on here for me to speculate or to give advice. You could just be suffering from burn out or there could be something more going on. Who ever you chose they need to be able to be objective and honest. Be patient, this process might take a while.


Doug Lester

HELP...I'm a twenty year old trapped in the body of an old man!!!

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I have been doing a lot of thinking and searching within myself lately, and I don't know if I like what I am seeing... I pound, grind, and butcher every day, I replicate intimately brutal weapons that were used for the slaughter and butchering of people. I have my mind completely consumed with the finances or running the shop, all of which has changed me in a way that I look, feel and see more and more of the negative, and the things in my last sentence has driven the best part of my life away and I don't know if I can get her back. After almost two year of nothing but sheer bliss and not a single argument, I'm alone again. I don't know if I can continue making what I make and still be the person I want and need to be.


How do you find peace within yourself when it seems like the objects and nature of your work points toward the dark, and you feel you need to enter the light?



myself, i won't ignore human nature... the classic Hobbes or Rousseau ideas of stuff are good to read but do they apply ...really.. there has alway been a dark side and a light side to human nature, but to look away from one, may not be wise. ...... .. kind of like turning your back on the growlin dog in the room, can come back to bite you... sometimes in a round about way..


for some reason, i feel like life throws us " tests" ... tested, it can help you see who you really are..... (it may surprise you)


take care, and i wish you strength in bad times



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I think that anyone who has done this full time and most who have done it part time have or are dealing with these questions.


For my self, I don't get my balance from my work or anything else in this world, Christ alone is my rock and my defense, He is the light of the world. His yoke is easy and His burden is light, as it says in the Bible. I'd love to talk more about this with anyone, but don't want to be preachy on the tread, just PM me.


I have worked many jobs from house building to making Stinger Missile parts, Law Enforcement to shoeing horses, all jobs have dangers and pit falls. I quit one job (a civilian LE position) because I couldn't do the job and have a good relationship with my then fiancee and family. Different people are build for different jobs. One thing that has helped me is to make a mental list of priorities (mine is something like this 1. Follow Christ, 2. serve my wife, etc.) then consciously decide not to let items on the list move to a higher place then they should be. if something in your demands that you either elevate it higher than you feel it should be or give it up, it is time to give it up or find a new way of doing it.


Here is a link to my PHILOSOPHY PAGE with a couple of short articles about why a chose to be a craftsman and as such have chosen to craft weapons.


It all comes down to your world view.


Hope that helps.


P.S. A good woman is worth more than any career.

Ben Potter Bladesmith



It's not that I would trade my lot

Or any other man's,

Nor that I will be ashamed

Of my work torn hands-


For I have chosen the path I tread

Knowing it would be steep,

And I will take the joys thereof

And the consequences reap.

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Keep in your mind a picture of the Tai Chi Tu symbol, the yin/yang. This might

help you to remember that there is some good in evil and some evil in good,

as well as many other interpretations, male/female, strength/weakness. As many other

folks as well as I have said, find your balance and follow your bliss, your inner

grace and understanding..


If I may suggest, you might find some answers in a book called "The Four Agreements"

by Don Miguel Ruiz. It has some very concrete and good suggestions to help find

direction and strength in our lives. The book has helped my wife and me through

many times of miscommunication and has has given us the gift of laughter instead

of angry words.



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Thanks for all the words, thoughts and support. I won't get into the details of what has been going on because it has nothing to do with blades, but I'm back on track with getting my @ss back into the shop and working. I do feel that I need to reexamine the meaning and thoughts behind my work, but these feels that have been going on have been triggered by something that has made me question absolutely everything, and the nature of my work happens to have fallen into the everything category.


Thanks guys, as I work through this I'm sure things will get better, it will just take some time.

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This is a healthy sign to me, we must question our actions. I didn't weigh in on this topic before because I wanted to get a sense of how the community would respond and I am heartened by the level of discussion.


For me, it is not so much an intellectual question as one of the spirit. I have a difficult time making non-essential objects. There is an obligation and duty that comes from making weapons that pushes me. Even though these objects today are largely symbolic, their essence is a cold reality that requires honesty and sincerity in the making. They are power objects and for me to make them successfully I must reach beyond the mundane and focus my intent. While that might sound pretentious when applied to almost any other endeavor, for the maker of edged weapons it is the sole purpose. I am seeking to create true power objects. I am creating a tool that focuses energy, that enhances the person who holds it and hopefully inspires them to greater clarity. The purpose is not destruction, but creation, raising ones spirit. There was a time when this was understood and did not need to be explained.


So your question is absolutely the right thing to be asking yourself, it is part of focusing your intent. If you decide that there is as much power in beauty and move in another direction with your work, remember the source of your inspiration, you can always drink from that spring.




Phillip Sugden's Doors of Perception

Don Fogg

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I too am impressed with the level of discussion on this topic.


I think that many of us "creative" types have a dark side, and quite a few of us are prone to periods of depression. I know I am. Many of those I know also are. The craft it's self is sometimes the cure, and sometimes not.


JPH said

There is no such thing as a "normal life"...it's just life...You deal with what you have to deal with and your actions have consequences, sometimes they are good..sometimes they are not...YOU have to just live and make the best of it...


I quite agree.


Don's words are also very fine thoughts on the subject, (why some of us have called him Sifu Don at time)and I do not know that I have anything much more useful to say other than this: We all come to that place from time to time. Money stress can play a major role especially when things are not going well. You must not focus on that part of it. Business requires attention, to be sure, but so does self-maintenance. It is a bit like the pot calling the kettle black for me to say that, for I am guilty of same at times.

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Michael, not really much I can add after all the thoughts above, which I really enjoyed reading.


Maybe would help to get out to some hammer-ins and knife shows.


Sure hope all the W2 I've sent for forging didn't add to the stress.


Hang in there man, it always gets better and spring is just around the corner :)


I wish you all the best!

Don Hanson lll My Webpage

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Thank you so much for your words and insight Don, I am starting to agree more and more.


I made a huge mistake in my life, I guess more then one, but currently I am dealing with the fact that no matter what I do, at the end of the day, when the tools are resting, I am alone in the woods, literally. That feeling is amplified by the fact that the person that I knew would always be there for me as my companion, suddenly just up and left. Even on nights that she wasn't here I took comfort in knowing that I wasn't alone and that I shared a special bond of love with someone and even if I was physically alone, I wasn't really alone. During the day when I am working I can manage, but at night there is an empty hollow feeling that I can't seem to fill. I know that one must look inside one's self to find truth, meaning, and being complete, and I made the mistake of relying on the love of another person to get me through.


The closest friend that I have that I can sit down with lives an hour and a half away which doesn't help the whole situation, and while I am finding a new passion and comfort in my work, I am questioning my judgment of living out in the sticks with friends and family far away.


I'm sorry that I am off topic and getting into personal issues that really don't have a place to be in a public knife makers forum. I was hoping to find myself as a separate person from my work this year, but now it seems like that is all I have left.


But one day at a time, slowly I'm trying to pull myself together. It is hard to put full focus and soul into projects when you are feeling and dealing with these issues so hopefully by the time I run out of techniques to test and money to keep me fed I can start making blades that again have the proper energy behind them. I found projects made when feelings of doubt and sorrow are in the mind just don't feel "right."

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I'm the same way...I alienated myself and seperated myself from my "support group" and now have found I can't mentally function very well as an artist without them. I feel your pain.


It's gotta be very hard to make stuff when you can't communicate your feelings or get some degree of support.


But this forum may help to some degree. Telling and talking and sharing and participating helps a lot if you don't let the isolation go too far. Again, don't make my mistake. Take the time to find what you need to feel more centered. If you feel too isolated then you probaly are. Isolation is great for people who have no social need or desire but if you are a social person you may need some social contact to be balanced and feel centered.


If you are like me you need to be in a certain state of balance to make good stuff or it just is a waste of time. Take the time to talk this out and get to where you feel better.


Don't remain isolated (especially here in the midwest at this time of the winter...) if it hurts.



"Imagination is more important than knowledge" - Albert Einstein


"The innovator is not an opponent of the old. He is a proponent of the new."

- Lyle E. Schaller



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I couldn't honestly imagine what you're feeling, but if I were in the position... Maybe, a short term apprentice who fits in just right, could provide companionship, motivation, creativity and financial contribution. There are times when I'm much more productive and less distracted when I'm interacting with others to reach some goal or another. Sounds like you purposely created the isolation, so I wouldn't consider it a burden because of a rough patch. You're lucky your shop isn't on main street, big city somewhere. I'd consider making that hour and a half drive once in a while.


Take care, Craig

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