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Christopher Price

Knifemaker Interview Series, a biography workshop

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Now that sir, is some fine and skillful work :) I enjoyed reading your interview. It was a nice fresh view :)

 

Darned skippy! I am humbled, amazed, and intrigued. I was glad to see you laid the back on that machete blade the same way I do, though. :) That seax is awesome, especially the inlaid guard and pommel. Thanks for showing all of that.

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Wonderful work,great info..thanks much for all of that.Judging by your experiments with the "wings" on the spear,you must not go for that Ypey reconstruction,with the little tenons...With my severely limited experience,and without trying,too,it seemed like Ypey's deal has potential-the tenons may peen against the mandrell,adding some security...Anyway,really appreciate you taking the time,thanks!

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The Ypey reconstruction is a good representation of that method; from what I have been able to determine the spears with the tenon’d ears were usually connected via brazing with copper/copper alloy, not welded on. I don’t have any pro or con evidence for peining the tenon – yet! ;)

Most of the spears I’ve been able to get a close look at were welded, and there is evidence for both L-shaped and Y-shaped preforms for the ears – when you can tell, that is - usually they are rusted enough to make a search for seams unsuccessful.

Here’s one that has tabs on either side of the wing, with the visible tab outlined in red. It is not the sort of thing you can pick out in a photograph with any certainty, especially on the spears with the carved sockets.

spearweld067.jpg

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Wow,Jeff...that's very interesting.Yes,now that you say this it all makes perfect sense-the tenon and mortise is to create a brazing joint,critical in copper work of that kind.Both L and Y shaped flanges being the correct forge-welding technology,the thin-walled socket not being the easiest thing to weld,they,of course,match it in thickness and it all works.Thanks for a great photo,but what in the world is that oval shape at 90deg. to the wings?(sorry about the insat'able curiosity).

 

I can only suppose that the seam rusting into seamlessness is an indication of a nearly perfect diffusion...May we all forge in such a manner as to have our seams that hard to find....

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I can only suppose that the seam rusting into seamlessness is an indication of a nearly perfect diffusion...May we all forge in such a manner as to have our seams that hard to find....

 

Well, it helps if you are working bloomery iron! B)

 

what in the world is that oval shape at 90deg. to the wings?

 

The remains of some decoration, many of the winged spears had incised lines or grooves decorating the socket…

 

spear_R518.jpg Spear_R517.jpg

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The Ypey reconstruction is a good representation of that method; from what I have been able to determine the spears with the tenon’d ears were usually connected via brazing with copper/copper alloy, not welded on. I don’t have any pro or con evidence for peining the tenon – yet! ;)

Most of the spears I’ve been able to get a close look at were welded, and there is evidence for both L-shaped and Y-shaped preforms for the ears – when you can tell, that is - usually they are rusted enough to make a search for seams unsuccessful.

Here’s one that has tabs on either side of the wing, with the visible tab outlined in red. It is not the sort of thing you can pick out in a photograph with any certainty, especially on the spears with the carved sockets.

spearweld067.jpg

 

A crazy thought: what if the wings were attached (one way or another) before the socket was rolled? seems easier to work 'em with the socket still flat. 'cors the hard part would be getting them to line up parallel to each other after rolling the socket... :wacko:

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After a bit of scambling for the next interviewee I've been lucky to get one of my original choices of knifemakers whose work on Don Fogg's website I have always looked forward to seeing – J. Arthur Loose. I'm not going to break any new ground with the first questions but rather stick with old favorites – none the worse for having been used before….

 

Jól – can you please tell us how you first came upon pattern welding and knifemaking, how they became compelling to you and what your first hand's-on experience with them was like?

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Thanks, Jim.

 

Firstly, it's a pleasure to be introduced to you and your work. Thanks for sharing.

 

As for how I came to pattern welding & knifemaking...

 

My inspiration originates with my parents, who were archeologists specializing in the American Southwest, where I was born. They took me on digs from six months on, and I remember seeing Navajo and Hopi indians and appreciating how their appearance differed... most notably I remember the jewelry, which both men and women wear. Not wanting to appropriate their cultures, I began to wonder if my ancestors ever had a similar tribalism, and a worldview less about dominating nature and more about holistically engaging it. Sure enough, they did.

 

My folks also took me on backpacking trips from a young age and taught me about the interconnectedness of ecosystems... they both ended up working for the Forest Service in Oregon later on, so these things were often dinner-table discussion. Then we moved to suburban D.C., where I became massively disillusioned about development, progress, corporate society & yuppy greed. It's hard to explain Reston, so I won't bother.

 

Most of my inquiries were answered by a combination of anthropology, ancient literature & archeology. It was the metal things that really lasted and had their tales to tell... pins, nails, tools, jewelry, knives, swords; having always been artistically inclined I realized I wanted to learn how these things were made, and make similar things. I decided to go to art-school and learn jewelry & metalsmithing, so at the age of 17 I bolted out of suburban Hel and went to Portland School of Art (now Maine College of Art,) which was known for having a good metals department and which offered nature in abundance. The department head was Tim McCreight, who has written many jewelry books and one knife book. We actually had a knife-making unit where I made my first knife, which I must confess, has gotten rusty a few times over the past 17 or 18 years...

 

firstknife.jpg

 

I made one other knife in college, a folder, which I gave to a friend. After school I just needed a break, so I moved to NYC and bartended for a few years, until I got the chance to move up to Vermont and live in the house my grandfather built to work with a jeweler whose work I really enjoyed. That lasted a few years and then I realized I needed to work for myself. I made jewelry for a while before deciding that I really should answer that ever-present calling to make blades. The next piece I made I also still have and those three knives are the only plain carbon blades I've made to date.

 

It was always the magic of those pattern welded blades that moved me and so I jumped headfirst into the damascus. The moment of the first etch is almost always a deep pleasure. For almost a year I made tons of damascus in a coal riveting forge on a railroad anvil. I applied for a Small Business Administration loan, hoping to get rejected to I could qualify for a much better state loan... alas, they gave it to me. I got a proper anvil, built a treadle hammer, heat-treating salt tanks & a D.Fogg upright forge and kept plugging away. It's a real balance between doing things to pay the bills in rural Vermont and figuring out how to make my learning curve pay for itself. It's been a slow but steady progress and my goals are laid out in decades.

 

I think that the compelling things for me about the pattern welding, and especially the Migration Era / Viking Age work are the subtleties... the patterns are deceptively simple; to line them up and weld everything together and then forge to shape is really very complicated. Yet, when done right, they still look effortless and organic. Simple pattern-welded blades still capture some deep sense of mystery, and most folks respond very strongly to it when they see it. I like reminding folks about that sense of mystery, and also those of awe and responsibility. Holding a dirk, dagger or sword puts the power of life and death in one's hands, differently than a gun, for example. I have a strong sense of justice, and feel that killing these days is too easy, what with all the button pressing and trigger pulling. I think folks would think differently about violence if they had to hold a blade and be mere feet from those they'd kill and conquer.

 

I suppose I really enjoy making objects that might prompt folks to look back in history, to look at the roots of where we are now and ask questions.

 

I know I have lots of them myself.

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firstknife.jpg

 

 

Let me guess, you asked Tim if you could make a sword, and he said no, right? :D

 

 

Excellent beginning. Thanks for playing, Jol.

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Nice. B) I had forgotten the archaeology connection. You were on my extremely short list when I had the interviewing chance, just so you know. ;) Can't wait for the rest of the story!

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Let me guess, you asked Tim if you could make a sword, and he said no, right? :D

 

Excellent beginning. Thanks for playing, Jol.

 

Heh. Yes, you can certainly see that swords were on my mind with that blade. ;)

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Jól – I find it fascinating that archeology was a part of your upbringing. The only thing that I wanted to be as a kid was an archeologist and I see my choice of blacksmithing and bladesmithing as springing directly from that early fascination. You seem to take archeology and anthropology somewhat personally – at least to the extent that you are looking back to your early ancestors and some of the beautiful objects which they crafted and left behind. Beyond artifacts you also seem to have delved into their culture and especially mention ancient literature. Can you explain some of what you found out and maybe give us a sense of what role it plays in your work?

 

Nice first effort by the way - the rust rather complements it.

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What I found out is most likely fodder for problematic discussions here, suffice it to say that I question the basic, underlying axioms of much of modern Western civilization. For instance, the difference between a cyclical view of time and a linear view of time, or the difference between an uncertain, self-determined and multifaceted afterlife or a guarantee of an individually conscious afterlife; between dichotomized body/spirit or holistic perspectives, and between demonizing the natural world or simply accepting and engaging it.

 

The differences in perceptions of the Volund myth as Western culture shifted on these subjects really tells the tale!

 

There was a time when self-sufficiency and self-determination were prized above most other things; when a King's worth was measured by his generosity and the steadfastness of his word. When a cultural icon in the form of The Smith stood up to involuntary servitude and the diminution of the creative spark. More than anything else, what I discovered led me to take life here and now, and not to compromise that for sometime later. It has led me to live in the mountains of Vermont, surrounded by nature, and away from the banality of sub/urban consumerism . It's also gotten me fired from almost every job I've tried to hold... I'll do all I can for someone who asks nice, but most employers don't seem to think they need to, and this is a genuine moral issue for me.

 

So working for myself is the fairly natural outcome of all this. I'd say that's the biggest impact, actually... I'd really rather be my own taskmaster, and I'm committed to doing this on my own, and my way. I certainly wouldn't have banged my head against some walls long enough to break through otherwise.

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Wow.

 

 

The smart-alec in me might say, "that explains a lot," but I really think there's much more going on than meets the eye.

 

Your thoughts are definitely worth pondering, Jól. Thank you for sharing them with us.

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Jól – when you spoke earlier about further education in metalwork you say that your "…goals are laid out in decades". I'm not sure how many people think that far into the future (I'm already having trouble with next year). Can you tell us of some of your goals and how they might fit into a larger plan? Please feel free to include any goals which don't specifically include metalworking.

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It started with the decision to go to art-school for metalsmithing when I was about 15 or 16. Of course in school, most of the instructors completely failed to understand that my vision extended beyond their four year program. It's a funny thing about most traditional paths... they stem form a time before the absurd immediacy of the modern age, and hence, go slower than most people expect.

 

Other goals included settling down in a Northern, woodsy place where I could live closer to the natural world. I am extremely fortunate to be able to live in the house my grandfather built, a mile outside a village of some 180 people. I can pump my water, heat with my own wood, grow some food and soon I'll be eating eggs from my own chickens. Next Spring we plan on keeping bees and maybe a dairy sheep.

 

There's goals like my tattoo... that's one I saved for literally ten years. I kept my skin nice & blank despite offers & opportunities for some real nice work because I always knew I wanted to be covered in one, unified design based on Urnes artwork and accounts of tattooed Norsemen. Once the right artists fell into place I got started, and it's been just over three years or steady work, and we're still needling away. Music has been another patient endeavor- I taught myself mandola / bouzouki / tenor banjo and play Irish traditional music, with the very satisfyingly fulfilled goal of getting free beer at the local session. I also built a Germanic round lyre some years ago, and have plans for an electric / acoustic version... I have some nice musical projects lined up for that baby.

 

It was almost ten years ago that I started working for myself with blades as the main focus. At the time I knew it would take many years just making simple damascus and small knives before I was ready to start working larger. There's so many factors to balance at any given time- working technical knowledge, working technical experience, managing cash flow for living expenses, investing in tools, materials, education etc. It's like having a chess game in my head, playing against the unpredictability of self-employed income and I've got multiple moves laid out at all times. The ultimate goal is to keep getting better, and to make even more complicated pieces with new and interesting techniques. The next pressing move is to rebuild my salt tanks so I can work much longer swords.

 

Ten years from now I'd like to be making interesting complicated Migration style pattern welded blades; pushing ground within the framework of the traditional style. I'd also like to push the decorative and embellishing techniques, such as niello, inlay, granulation, carving and more. I also have some ideas for more conceptual projects involving blades as mythic objects, but I'm just not up to the technical level where executing the pieces would really pay off yet...

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I also have some ideas for more conceptual projects involving blades as mythic objects, but I'm just not up to the technical level where executing the pieces would really pay off yet...

 

 

Ooooohh that sounds very interesting J.

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Jól – I'll ask one last question before turning the interview process over to you. From what you have written so far you have a richly envisioned future in bladesmithing and other crafts laid before you which you are eager to follow. Your drive to grow technically is accompanied by a deep appreciation for the cultural history of handwork. Do you plan to teach your craft and your ethos as a craftsman to any you might find who prize them enough? How might that work for you?

 

P.S.: Thank you for the chance to interview you. It was a pleasure and I hope that we might meet someday - Jim.

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Notice for all, I've edited post #1 to include links to each interview. Might save people a little time finding one they'd like to re-read. I'll try to stay on top of it as this progresses.

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This was a great idea Chris. It's a great way to get to know people that we might otherwise not.

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Jól – I'll ask one last question before turning the interview process over to you. From what you have written so far you have a richly envisioned future in bladesmithing and other crafts laid before you which you are eager to follow. Your drive to grow technically is accompanied by a deep appreciation for the cultural history of handwork. Do you plan to teach your craft and your ethos as a craftsman to any you might find who prize them enough? How might that work for you?

 

Thanks, Jim.

 

I do think that teaching is important, and that for all the Internet is worth, anything of substance must be passed in person. How that happens is an interesting question. I occasionally receive inquiries from people who want to know what I think of my art-school experience in Jewelry & Metalsmithing, and if it was worth it. I always tell them that as long as they can attend without accruing any debt, they should go for it. When I went to Maine College of Art (AKA Portland School of Art,) tuition was $8000 a semester! Now it's approaching $30,000. I can assure you that if you want to be any kind of craftsman in the United States of America, you're going to scrape by for a long time. Maybe always, even if you're good. You'll never do more than that while bearing any kind of debt load. When I got my Small Business Administration Loan to go into bladesmithing, I was required to attend a basic business class. The first thing they said was "Don't go into business because you love what you want to do, do it for one reason only: because you think you'll make a lot of money." Sad, but true. Ironically, they further mentioned that going into debt to start a business was unwise, for your competition will be folks with family wealth, or retirement benefits- in short, lots of free working capital, and no debts to speak of.

 

I did it anyway and have only raided the change jar for beer money on a semi-monthly basis ever since. ;)

 

What I fancifully envision is a general return to real guild systems as a direct challenge to corporate structures. As much educational good as the ABS does, it does fail certain traditional guild functions. The first being too much educating! ;) The second being the failure to whip anyone caught undercharging for their work. It's also not as invested as it could be in hands on training from Masters on down. There could be funds available for the fostering of apprentices, or collective benefits such as health care, or even retirements.

 

Now that would be a real guild!

 

But to answer the question- When and if I approach the need for employees, it will be presented in a context of apprenticing. I'd even like to have a guesthouse available. I've been abused by so many employers who said they wanted the business to be like "family," that I can only imagine they have a different concept of what the word means.

 

But this plan is for old age, Gods willing.

 

Thanks again, Jim. I'm still waiting on some responses, but will continue the thread as soon as I can...

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Sorry to keep everyone waiting, between preparations for Winter and the usual chaos it's taken me a while...

 

Still waiting on a response or two. :)

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Jol,in your opinion,what can a smith do to foster the give-and-take type of relationship with the archeometallurgical academia?I may be misguided in thinking that such an exchange can tremendously benefit both sides.Do you think that it's a one-sided deal,that the metalworker has more to gain,and the researcher can happily live without the empiricist?

Thanks,Jake.

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Hey everyone- my domain and hence, my e-mail went down, unbeknownst to me until Sunday, for the better part of a week, and it's still not up. The folks I've asked have either been too busy themselves or not gotten back to me / lost in the e-mail. Thanks, Netsol!

 

I'm also crazy-go-nuts right now with business and Winter preps and some house-issues that have arisen, so I'm going to hand the reigns over to Chris.

 

To answer Jake's question, I think the way to foster that is to become familiar with academic work and academic language. There's definitely things to be learned on both sides. Ideally, art has always been an exchange with science...

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