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Christopher Price

Knifemaker Interview Series, a biography workshop

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I like to think of it more as luck. To me, mastery is when you plan something and you know for sure it will work. With me, I think ,well lets try this and see what happens. The majority of the time it doesn't work as planned. BUT.... once in a while something does like this blade. Of course no one will see the first attempt at a blade this style because it was a total flop and junked out. Plus, this blade you do see was hardened twice as the first tempering was really bad, and this second tempering seems to be acceptable but still not exactly as intended. Most of my time is spent trying to save something that didn't quite work out as planned.

No, I am sorry Sam I do not have a photo of it before hardening.

 

Louie ( Yasutomo )

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You're being too humble ( a good thing). ;)

The mastery comes in knowing how to push through the glitches, if possible, working with the materials, and persevering until you've got it. You weren't defeated by the failures.

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If I would be defeated by my failures I would have never started on this craft in the first place and I would have quit the first time I burned myself at the forge. When it comes to swordsmithing , I guess that I am just a perfectionist. ( In most other aspects of my life I am far from being so ). I get something in my head and can't let it go and if it doesn't work out that way I really get bummed. The problems come when I try the exact same thing 2-3 times because I have it in my head that it should work that way and every time it doesn't. Sometimes it takes me that long to realize I am doing the wrong thing. I think my wife feels that I have some form of obsessive compulsive disorder when it comes to swordsmithing but seems to tolerate it.

Anyways, thank you for the compliments.

 

Louie ( Yasutomo )

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If we weren't obsessed, I guess much wouldn't get done.

 

Speaking of that, I'm going to have to bow out now as I'm leaving Monday for a show. It's been a pleasure Louie to hear from you again and hear your very interesting story. Thanks for sharing!

 

So I'll pass it on to others if there are more questions.

 

Jim

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I guess there are no further questions. . I have been out of the main stream for so long that I have absolutely no idea who to interview next. So.....I will have to turn it over to Don or some one else to continue on with this thread.

I am planning on attending the Chicago sword show May 2 for half a day ( baring any unforseen problem should arise ) and hope to have the tachi completed and with me. So if anyone would like to see it in hand they would be welcome to. I will be the old gray haired guy walking around with 2 long blades in shira saya.

Thank you Don for including me in this interview series.

 

Louie ( Yasutomo )

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Thanks for the insights, Louie. In my limited experience I've been able to handle one or two of your blades in person and found your work to be some of the most inspiring. If you ever wanted someone to take on as an apprentice, I'd be first in line, giggling like a little school girl :lol:

 

Thanks again,

 

Dan

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Allright, after a long hiatus (I was on spring break), Louie has asked me to again keep the ball rolling.

 

 

With that, I give you all... Don Hanson.

 

 

For those not familiar with Don, you can check out his website, the Sunfish Forge... I know I had to look around a bit before starting this.

 

Don, if you could tell us a little about the beginning... you say on your website, that you stared knifemaking as a hobby. What drew you to it? What were your early influences... your muse? And was that ironwood fighter the first thing you made, or were there several "prototypes" along the way?

 

Also, I'm curious to hear your description of going from hobby-maker to full-time. The old joke, is that one must win the lottery until the money runs out, have a rich spouse, or be happy living in a straw hut in order to make it. How did you make that decision, and make it successful for you?

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Thanks Christopher,

 

In high school (late 70s') in Tallahassee Fl, I cut and sold firewood, I also worked for my dad fixing and selling vacuum cleaners. After high school I took a welding class bought welders and open a small welding business at the store. We started adding different stuff to our vacuum store, like wood stoves, knives, fishing tackle, marine supplies. We bought a 25' boat (later a 32' boat) and went into the commercial fishing business (grouper and snapper). Then opened a seafood market at the store, which my bother and sister ran. Business was good and soon found the vacuum cleaner business didn't fit in with all the other stuff, so we sold that part and expanded the rest.

 

During all this my dad started making knives in 1980-81 and I was fascinated. He showed me the basics of grinding, heat treating, etc. and I was hooked. I made a few simple knives, kitchen, fillet. hunters and a 'Rambo Knife' :) (the iron wood fighter you mentioned above). Well, work got in the way and I had very little time for knifemaking.

 

Jump ahead 1989, we were tired of working 8 days a week. We decided to sell the business, our homes and most of our worldly passions. We sold it all and bought a 400 acre farm in the Ozarks and moved in 1990.

 

After moving and building a small house, we were debt free and broke. I decided to become a fulltime knife maker ;)

 

More to come later, gotta get to work for the Blade show!

Edited by Don Hanson

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Thanks, Don. I look forward to hearing more. Feel free to share pictures as you can, as well... I'd especially love to see your father's work, to get an idea of what inspired you.

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Christopher, I don't recall many photos of my father's work but I'll look. He made hunters, and a bunch of kitchen knives, probably 2000+. BTW, Papa-Don (my father) is still around, he doesn't make knives anymore but does wood work and goes fishing. He's doin good.

 

Back to 1990. My father brought a Square Wheel grinder, a drill press and a buffer to Missouri. Late winter that year my brother, father and myself found ourselves making simple knives on his front porch with snow blowing in on us. (I did tell y'all we were from Florida didn't I). Man that first winter was cold! We did the stock removable thing using steel from old saw blades. We made a bunch of knives and were selling them for $25 to $50.

 

Summer 1991, we built a good size shop and continued making knives, all working together. We soon grew tired of this and started doing our own things. My dad stayed with knives for 5 or 6 more years, my brother got into making custom furniture. But I was bit hard by the knifemaking bug.

 

I started forging blades in the early 90s' and making slip joint folders. Also started making a little pattern weld steel, by hand and in an old rivet forge. I was still making a lot of saw blade knives, 300 a year or so.

 

About 1994 or 95 I had sold knives to everybody within 3 counties and needed a new market. I did my first knife show in St.Louis. I had enough money to get to the show and pay for my room but not enough to get home, I did have 30 knives and figured I'd sell a few. Well, I sold 25 knives very fast when the show opened (had 5 that nobody wanted). I told my wife, ''we would be eating steak tonight''. Beans get old after a few years :) A case (24 cans) of baked beans in 1994 cost $9.

 

In 96 or so I bought a worn out 25lb Little Giant and rebuilt it. Pattern weld steel was all I thought about and all I wanted to do. Got an old 100 lb Little Giant and started makin damascus by the foot, many feet's. :) Started making auto folders about this time and soon they were all I was making. I really got into the higher-end auto and folder market with the help of a few dealers and doing more shows.

 

Built my new shop in 2000 and bought a truck that wasn't 10 years old, first in a long time. I continued making just folders but in 2004 something clicked and I got a strong itch to make big forged blades. I was OK until I decide to add clay to one before I heat treated it. I haven't been the same since! The hamon disease is a bad one and there's no cure. The hamon work of Don Fogg has been the strongest influence in this area.

 

I had been an ABS member for a number of years but had not planned to go for the stamps, mainly because I only made folders. Well, I figured since I now make fixed blades, I should go for it. Got my JS in 2005 and MS in 2007. One dealer recently referred to me as a product of the ABS. I would like it to be known that I was not produced or taught by the ABS, I'm just a member :)

 

Wow, maybe my longest post ever...

Edited by Don Hanson

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To answer your questions a bit more directly. My secret to being a successful fulltime maker, is first be debt free, have a good place to live and work and need little money to live on. Well, and you need to make knives that folks want to buy. It works for me. I went fulltime because knifemaking was all I wanted to do and I was unemployed.

 

What inspires me. My father would be high on this list. Thanks dad! Old knives, both fixed blades and folders.

Other makers, I don't copy but enjoy looking at fine handmade knives.

 

The work of Don Fogg, Jim Schmidt, Tony Bose and Bill McHenry have probably influenced me more than any others.

 

Thanks,

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Thank you for the very complete response... it is thought-provoking, and very informational.

 

Clearly, you've followed your passion, with an eye to profit, quite well. If you had the free time to explore different styles, what intrigues you that you haven't mastered? Where would you take your knifemaking from here?

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Christopher, I really haven't mastered anything. I make a pretty good forged blade and a pretty good folder.

 

I'm already making what I want to make but would like to become more efficient and better at it. I am moving away from linerlocks and back into traditional slipjoints, just always liked em better. The big forged blades are here to stay though.

 

Might want to make some nice kitchen knives at some point down the road but I'll just keep on doin what I'm doin. It's fun!

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What are your favorite steels to work with, and why?

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Don,

to add to Christophers question.... Do you take orders or do you make what you want and sell it when it's done? which do you prefer if you do both.... Thanks,

Dick

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First, I like simple carbon steels and have no use for stainless or high alloy stuff. My favorite steel by far is W2, or this specific batch of W2 I now have. Reasons are, the hamon potential is off the charts, never seen anything like it. And the sharpness and performance from this very fine grain steel is phenomenal. I like it so much I have bought over 20,000 lbs :D

 

I also like Howard Clark's 1086M, very good hamon and great performance, it's good stuff.

For damascus, my fav is 1084 and 15N20 with a pinch of W2 added, for spice :) Great contrast and performance.

 

I don't remember if I mentioned earlier but I really get excitted over good carbon steels and power hammers, particularly Little Giants . I hope to have another 100 LG sometime this year, a brand new, nerver run hammer :D

 

Dick, I stopped taking orders in 2007 because it had gotten out of control. But I do work with regular customers and have started adding a few names back to my order list. I don't do custom orders, I usually put someone down for a folder or bowie etc. and will discuss size and handle material when it's time to start. I would rather just make knives to sell at shows and on my site but keeping a small order list is not all bad and works good for me.

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It seems everyone has their favorite blades, one that just spoke to them on a deep level. If you have one or two of those, that represent a turning point in your work, an epihpany of craftsmanship, or are just plain beautiful, please share it with us... some pictures and what about that blade speaks to you, why you made it, and what you learned from it.

 

Thanks. I'm almost done... I know Blade is coming up, and people are busy, so we can relax the interview schedule a bit this month. Just one more question after this, and I'll hand it over to Don for the next victim.

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Christopher, we lost power here for two days, due to a very bad storm. Closest thing to a hurican I've seen since leaving the Gulf Coast. What a mess! I will also be out of town for 4 days and out of touch. I'll add a post and some photos when I return, probably Thursday.

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No problem, man, life happens. Glad to hear you're ok.

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Well, all's well here and I'm back in the shop.

 

Here are a few that spoke to me. Not really turning points but just a few that I like.

 

The first is an early auto folder I did, based on the old Sunfish pattern. I was getting into mosaic danascus and my wife was doing a lot of scrimshaw. Made 9 or 10 years ago.

 

Next is a large auto I made a couple years ago. Interesting damascus and great fossil walrus ivory.

 

Next is a small fighter, 8.75" W2 blade and fossil walrus ivory. I just really like the lines of this one.

 

Next is a bowie with a 11" W2 blade with fossil walrus. I like the long clip and pointy blade, hamon's OK too.

 

I call the next one 'Wicked Cutter'. 9.5" 1086M blade and fossil mammoth ivory. Just really like the flow and lines.

 

Last shot is a few slipjoint folders, old school with a twist. I like the old patterns but also like damascus and fossil ivory. So I mix it up a bit. The top two are a favorite pattern of mine.

scrimautosunfish.jpg

blanton_auto_06.jpg

Walrus_bowie1_08.jpg

wickedcutterII_4.jpg

chicagoslips_07.jpg

smallfighter1.jpg

Edited by Don Hanson

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Wow. Just, wow.

 

You seem to have done it all. Incredible hamon, fine jewel-quality work with your own patterns and filework, gorgeous use of rare materials. Clearly, a master of your craft. Thank you for sharing.

 

 

Last question.

 

What's the single most important thing a new, young maker can do to improve their work? Is it all about the heat treat, is it skill at the grinder, is it just developing an eye for the work... what do you reccomend for people to pay attention to as they progress?

 

 

Answer that, and it's all yours... pick our next victim, and have at them. Again, I know Blade is coming up, so don't worry about hopping right to it if everyone's busy this month. We'll live.

 

Thanks!

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Thanks for the good words, Christopher!

 

The single most important thing a new maker can do, is make 100 simple using knives. Test them, sell them, give them away and get feed back on how they work. After 100 simple knives, a maker should have a good handle on heat treating, grinding and fit / finish. I see too many new makers trying to doing embellishment and using high-end materials before they know how to make a good knife.

 

I feel the most important aspects of a knife are, the lines, the flow and the performance. It has to look right first before anyone will want it. It has to perform for them to want to keep it. An ugly knife with good heat treat and performance will not work, just as a good lookin knife with poor heat treat wont cut it.

 

Just like Doctors and lawyers, a new maker must practice, practice, practice :D

 

It will be awhile before I can pick our next victim, but if someone wants to jump ahead of me, that's fine. I'll do it, but probably after the Blade show.

 

Eddit to add;

Also, I'm curious to hear your description of going from hobby-maker to full-time. The old joke, is that one must win the lottery until the money runs out, have a rich spouse, or be happy living in a straw hut in order to make it. How did you make that decision, and make it successful for you?

 

I left out the most important part of my success and the above question reminded me. I don't have a rich spouse but have a very suportive spouse. My wife Tina, built our site and takes care of the site, books, taxes and everything else so I can spend my time making knives. She also receives a salary from our knife business and is a valuble asset.

 

Thanks!

Edited by Don Hanson

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Thank you, Don.

 

I hereby propose we hold off until after Blade... part of what makes this thread work well is getting people to keep the chain of interview rolling. You'll have questions for someone I would never think of.

 

Just let us know when you're ready, and again, thank you.

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Don told me he's casting the net for the next victim.

 

Any progress, Don?

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