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Christopher Price

Knifemaker Interview Series, a biography workshop

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As a craftsman I'd been continually refining my skills and developing my technique base and I'd reached a point, I believe, where I realized I had to stop practicing and to start performing....in an artistic sense.

 

You never know when someone will say exactly what you need to hear.

 

Thanks Hallam

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Thank you for your kind assessment of my work...being regarded as an artist does actually bring a much needed freedom in terms of allowing oneself to go beyond accepted or pre-defined rules so in that sense it's quite helpful to have that sort of recognition from others, especially those who have more of an insight into the process of making.

Labels are very important things. "Artist" does bring a certain freedom and acceptance with the term. I decided long ago never to argue about what "art" is, but to only concern myself with what "good art" is or should be. And I think "good art" starts with "good craftsmanship." Without doubt, you are both artist and expert craftsman. :D

 

Since Ford mentioned the Unno Shomin tsuba, I'll step a little out of bounds and post an exercise Ford did in 1995 with this very same tiger/tsuba as inspiration. Notice Ford's expert use of very simple (and hence difficult to do, believe me, I've tried) chisel cuts, with the varying widths adding expression and tension to the almost caricature of a tiger. Apologies for my altering the color/contrast to better show the carving. B)

 

Ford's original photo and truer color can be seen here: Ford Hallam Older Work

 

FordHallam_kata-kiri-tiger.jpg

Shibuichi panel with a kata-kiri design of a recumbent tiger, after Unno Shomin. About 65mm long and done in 1995.

 

Now for my question: I’m personally very inspired by your adaptations of traditional Japanese designs in your more contemporary looking pieces; do you have a sense of particular direction where you’re going with your future work, or are you, like myself, simply wandering creatively wherever chance takes you at the moment?

 

And, while a lot of your work seems to be sword furniture, have you considered making knives and swords themselves? Is there a bladesmith Hallam in the future, 'cause I hope there is?

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Now for my question: I’m personally very inspired by your adaptations of traditional Japanese designs in your more contemporary looking pieces; do you have a sense of particular direction where you’re going with your future work, or are you, like myself, simply wandering creatively wherever chance takes you at the moment?

 

And, while a lot of your work seems to be sword furniture, have you considered making knives and swords themselves? Is there a bladesmith Hallam in the future, 'cause I hope there is?

 

The direction one's work may take I think is a tricky thing to predict. I feel as though the more experience I have as a maker the more sure I am about my own aesthetic language so in that sense I reckon I have a strong sense of who I am artistically but as to where it will evolve I hope to be presently surprised :rolleyes: . There is a deal of chance, I would say, in the exact direction the work takes at any moment but even there the decisions are probably very much influenced by my guiding aesthetics and philosophies. One theme that seems recurrent for me is the juxtaposition of the apparently natural and organic against inorganic texture. A mother of pearl dragonfly wing against a patinated steel pebble would be an example of this expression that intrigues me so much. I'm still working on this delicate balance.

 

I've made a few blades over the years, even won an award for blade design in Japan, and will probably explore this "canvas" at some stage. I frequently draw blade designs, have long been a fan of contemporary knifemaking and have been buying the annual "Knives" catalogues since high school. I was introduced to the craft by a good friend of mine while still at school. Brent Sandow, who's father was a respected gunsmith here in Cape Town back then, gave me my first handmade knife and even allowed my to do a little work in his studio all those years ago so the seed has probably been a long time germinating.

 

I'd like to work more closely with the grain patterning and incorporate some dynamic sculptural carving directly into the blades. I think the conception of contemporary "art" knives can be pushed more in the direction of more coherent sculptural expression while at the same time not losing sight of ergonomics and functionality. It'd be a big enough of a challenge to come up with something original and authentic in this field, with so many genuinely remarkable artisans producing fantastic work, that I'll have to give it a go sometime ;) ...I may need to collaborate with a real bladesmith though. :D

Edited by ford hallam

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If we call art the expression of one’s vision of the world into something tangible, visible, physical that still retains the intangible, invisible, non-physical aspects that the designer/maker wants to convey; I believe that your work certainly speaks in that way.

Tom, sorry for interjecting. Ford, if I may ask a question, what is the most important aspect/s of the process as you see it these days?

Edited by Jesus Hernandez

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Hi Jesus,

 

I read your question this morning and have been mulling it over all afternoon.

 

I can only speak for myself but but for me, the technical and design aspects aside, it the initial emotional feeling that an idea evoked in me that I try to to express in the work. It's this that drives my aesthetic. It's those very personal and intimate experiences we savour when we encounter something that really moves us in some way that I'm drawn to trying to recreate in my own work. All the technique, skill, colours, textures and effects are all in service of that essential pursuit. This is what I mean when I say the actual subject matter as such is not that significant for me rather it's how I can use the subject to capture a particular feeling. It was the idea behind the phrase "metal haiku" that I coined a few years ago for the kagamibuta I'd done.

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the initial emotional feeling that an idea evoked in me

 

 

Thank you, Ford. That is very insightful for me.

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Thanks for suffering through all my questions, Ford! And, for my final questions (yes, this will eventually end! :D ), would you give us a brief discussion of your choice of traditional work methods? What is your view of modern tooling as opposed to “strictly traditional” tools and techniques.

 

What portions of your business are restorations, and what portions are original work? What does your typical work day and work week look like?

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Sorry for the delay...I was dragging out the experience to better enjoy it :rolleyes: Just kidding, I've found these questions, and the opportunity to reflect quite satisfying.

 

I suppose I have a well deserved reputation for being something of a purist in terms of embracing hand tools and rejecting power tools. In reality though, and I may deny this later, my position is perhaps not as extreme as it may first appear.

 

The first point I would make regarding power tools is how their use may affect the development of basic skills. As an example, if someone has always relied on a belt grinder or milling machine to achieve flat surfaces there will unlikely be any opportunity to develop any proficiency in using a hand file and consequently the work this person makes is limited to only those sorts of shapes that are possible using these particular machines. Learning to things well by hand and developing the skills to do this then allows one to later make use of power tools without being limited by them. I'm pretty handy with an angle grinder and would never wear myself out hand filing up a die, for example. I'll grind it to within 0.5mm and finish by hand. I know this will give me a far more accurate form than any precision engineering shop can.

 

I'll go further and claim that ultimately when it comes down to more complex and subtle forms the accuracy and sensitivity that is possible by skilled hand means is going to be far superior to anything a power tool can produce. What I must stress here is that I'm not concerned with production speed at all, I make no trade offs sacrificing absolute control of my creative processes in favour of efficiency. I recognise that in a competitive market this is a luxury but as someone attempting to express very subtle aesthetics I don't want to miss any possibility to respond to the processes or what the materials and forms have to offer. Power tools simply work too quickly, and noisily!, to be absolutely attuned to such a degree of sophistication...in most cases. :unsure: I wouldn't mind a small power hammer to play with though. :)

 

I do very little restoration these days, since moving to South Africa, 6 years ago. I take on the occasional tsuba but mainly more as a favours really and generally only decent quality stuff so I at least get some enjoyment out of them.

 

As for typical work week....what's that? :blink: I mentioned the illness I suffered a few years back, this has had a serious impact on my working habits. Frustratingly, I simply don't have the strength and stamina I was always able to rely on so nowadays I tend to break my days into 3 hour shifts. It's generally a slow start in the morning as my hands are often a bit swollen but I use the time to take care of correspondence (quite a lot most days), the forum and research. I took on an apprentice recently so the studio is coming alive around 10am Monday to Saturday and typically we'll be in there until 6pm everyday.

 

Most of the pieces I produce are my own conceptions but recently there have been a few commissions. I've been very fortunate in that my clients tend to leave me to my own devices and make almost no demands in terms of what I ultimately come up with. I don't find it hard to immerse myself in a concept that someone else has proposed though. I think this is because subject matter isn't that critical to me...it all about what I do with it that excites me.

 

I project I've just completed and which the client received this week is good example of this. I was asked to make a pair of tsuba based on the famous Miyamoto Mushashi "sea cucumber" design. As it happened I'd long wanted to explore this, seemingly simple, form so I was able to really "get into it". The client also asked for a little bit of gold decoration so that they would better fit the koshirae they were to complete. I decided to work with a fairly classic motif and to enjoy seeing how I might combine these 2 elements to do something new. I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge and the client is very happy so it was a very satisfying experience all round I think.

This is one of the tsuba, copper with fine gold nunome zogan.

DPP_0036.JPG

You can see a photo essay of the project and some more images of the completed set here.

 

With my own work I tend to allow the process to build up on it's own, it something that's naturally evolved over the last few years. I'll get inspired by something and begin putting the building blocks together. This will involve gathering reference material, reading related stuff for insights etc sometimes studies on art, philosophy even music or poetry. At the same time I'll be doing loose sketches, making the odd notes about possibilities and ideas...but really the actual conception is taking place in my mind. I'm able to "see" and feel quite clearly in my mind's eye what it is I'm aiming for but the physical details still need to be worked out.

 

By the time I've prepared my alloys and perhaps done a bit of "experimenting" with technique I've usually settled on the basic forms and I get started without much more than that clearly laid out. I feel more comfortable allowing the process to evolve like this, with each step informing and shaping the next. This probably reflects how I've reached this point in my life and career too.

Edited by ford hallam

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That winds up my questions - thanks for those thoughtful answers, Ford. I know I'll be musing over them for some time to come - there's a lot of thought provoking stuff there. And looking forward very much to your upcoming book(s) and more videos.

 

Is there anything you'd like to add that we haven't already covered, Ford?

 

And at the risk of opening a floodgate, are there any questions from the readers out there in Internet-land for Ford?

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I just want to add, that I am very grateful that people are still finding this thread useful, and feel compelled to add to it. I'm going back to the front page and adding dates to each of the links, so we can better understand when a participant held the views represented here. I have commended this collection of interviews to people excited about metalwork, but unaware of how to start - each maker's story, vision, and motivation, are a treasure for us all to learn from, inspire new beginners with, and have as an invaluable community resource.

 

I am convinced that the best metalsmiths in the world are represented well here, and that there is simply no other place on the internet that holds such wisdom as Mr. Fogg's forum provides.

 

 

Thank you all.

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And Bart Janszen (screen aname is b_art79) from over on The Carving Path has sent me this question to ask Ford - and I quote:

 

Got a question for Ford and I thought it would be nice to do that in that particular topic.

So maybe you could ask him for me?

I was wondering where he gets his inspiration, is it only other metalwork (from Japan?)

nature, maybe at the bar??? And what are his favorite books? Inspirational as well informative...

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Thanks Tom, for the opportunity to ramble on here. I hope I've not been too self indulgent :rolleyes: . I found that I was able to reflect on a number of aspects that previously I'd not thought much about. I've been thinking further and may have to get back to writing long blog entries again. :unsure:

 

 

And Bart Janszen (screen aname is b_art79) from over on The Carving Path has sent me this question to ask Ford - and I quote:

 

Got a question for Ford and I thought it would be nice to do that in that particular topic.

So maybe you could ask him for me?

I was wondering where he gets his inspiration, is it only other metalwork (from Japan?)

nature, maybe at the bar??? And what are his favorite books? Inspirational as well informative...

 

Hi Bart,

 

this is a very difficult question to answer briefly. In terms of initial inspiration of a single piece it can vary hugely. Something about a painting or antique piece might strike a chord and suggest an idea for me explore further through my own aesthetic language. Sometimes, as I've previously written, it's more a feeling that intrigues me. A subject/object might evoke a feeling that I'm inspired to try and recreate in my own medium, metal.

 

I study the classical guitar and I've always found music, specifically classical music, to be a constant inspiration in terms of composition and treatment of my materials and how I use my technique. Closing my eyes and really listening to and feeling the notes and their relationships inevitably conjures up all sorts of ideas and compositions. I have a very good visual memory so I've got a lot of imagery to draw from.

 

I also read a great deal. History, philosophy and art, including poetry, all provide insights and possibilities to explore. the problem is deciding which to pursue. Funnily enough, although I enjoy a drink I can't ever remember conceiving a creative work when not completely sober. :wacko:

 

regards,

 

Ford

Edited by ford hallam

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Thanks Ford for your willingness to share your gifts and insights, both here and over on your forum.

 

Great stuff, Craig

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Thanks Craig, the net is quite amazing in how it allows us to communicate our passions with like minded people anywhere on the planet. I'm happy to be able to be part of this community of metal lovers.

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Is there a chance that this thread might still have some more to add? I've been reading through it for the past month or so, and I would be very sad if it came to an end. After reading the first 10 pages in its entirety and many more in part, and still going, I cannot even begin to describe how valuable this has been to me and my outlook on the craft, as well as on the fine gentlemen interviewed. Thank you Christopher for starting this. Hopefully it is not yet done

 

John

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The problem is the way it's set up. Each person interviewed is supposed to interview another one, and since Ford is extremely busy with his own forum it kind of ground to a halt.

 

Anyone you'd like to see interviewed? I hereby authorise you to restart the thread, just remember the person must agree to be interviewed and must also agree to interview someone else!

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After nearly a year of stagnancy, I am pleased to say that that period has come to an end.

 

Our next...victim...will be the one who started it all- none other than Christopher Price! I was very surprised that he has not been on the other side of the proverbial fireside, and I can hardly wait to hear what he has to say.

 

We'll start this off with the basics. Tell us a little about yourself and how you found yourself swallowed by the craft. When you first began, where did you envision yourself ten years from then? What was your early inspiration? Where there any people in particular who introduced you, or was it more of the lone smith teaching himself?

 

We'll go from here, can't wait to hear what you have to say!

 

 

John

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Ooh, this'll be good! I also can't believe nobody has done Chris yet. It's about time. B)

 

Thanks, John.

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I just wrote about 10 paragraphs that just disappeared.

 

 

 

Crap.

 

 

 

I will start over, but this may take some time.

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I just wrote about 10 paragraphs that just disappeared.

 

 

Crap.

 

 

I will start over, but this may take some time.

 

Sorry to hear that :(

All the time you need is yours, though, no rush

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This is going to be a bit shorter than my first attempt, my hands are cramping after all the typing. Sorry.

 

At any point, feel free to drop in additional questions, and I'll try to answer them.

 

 

 

It all started out when I was a kid, playing lots of Dungeons & Dragons. We'd get into arguments about why the table said a longsword did the same damage against one armor as another, and eventually wrote our own rules that accounted for different weapon vs. armor types. Additionally, I had the good fortune of growing up in Germany as a teenager, and got to see lots of castles and museums, and living in a much older culture than my own.

 

After a stint in the Army, I went back to school in the mid-90's, and my interest got fired up reading about people making armor for SCA events. I was most curious, though, how it had been done in antiquity, because no matter how accurate the forms were these guys were making, it didn't live up to what I'd seen in the "real thing" growing up. I found the Arador Armor Library's early bulletin board, and asked the provoking quesion of how armor was heat-treated, and was told to "go ask the knifemakers, they do that all the time". So I did.

 

 

Ended up finding one of the early Neo-Tribal sites, with Tim Lively and Tai Goo holding court. I was stunned and excited that such incredible work could be done with a "washtub forge", tongs, hammer, anvil, and files, and not much else. It certainly seemed achievable. I watched the forums split, and was myself a champion of the NT approach for many years before realizing that there was a whole legitimate world of work outside that style.

 

My first knife, an embarassment to the craft, was a folder made from 1/4" round mild steel, and some walnut scraps held together with copper wire pins. Having seen blacksmiths do their thing with fancy curls and such, I copied the approach, ignoring everything useful about a knife, but making a clever little tail, which locked the blade open against one of the pins. You can see it here: http://tidewaterforg...14392&k=D4SCKNf

 

Eventually I started getting better, but it wasn't until 2004 or 2005 I started attending Hammer-In's, at Larry Harley's place in Tennessee. A weekend with the "greats" was like a complete mind-meld, and seeing things done first-hand was a revelation for me. My craft immediately improved, at a quantum level, and I began to hunger for next year's gathering so I could find something new to learn and improve my skills. I have many people to thank, including Larry Harley, Ron Claiborne, Mike Blue, Randal Graham, Ric Furrer, Richard Williams, Bill Wiggins, Wes Byrd, Don Fogg himself, and probably more whose names I can't remember anymore. These men mentored me, offered me suggestions, gave me materials to experiment with, and critiqued my work. I would not be doing as well as I am now, if not for them. Later I started seeking out other mentors, and reconnected wtih Tim Lively, found Jeff Pringle, my friend Alan Longmire, Jesus Hernandez, Steven Fowler, and the Stagmer brothers.

 

My goal for quality wasn't ever measured in years, but in numbers. At one point I told myself it would probably take 100 knives before I could call myself "good", and while I lost track at some point, I think that was pretty accurate. There was a distinct moment in time when my work went from crude to finished, from random to well-designed, from poor heat treat to much better control. There are still things I'm learning, but I think we can all say that, but I consider myself of journeyman quality even though I've not taken the ABS tests.

 

 

 

After years of exploring all different blade styles, higer performance steels, and a couple of complicated techniques, I rediscovered my love for the old stuff. This came after hearing Ric Furrer and Mike Blue talk about it in 2006, but it took a while to sink in - and boy did it ever sink in. Allow me to paraphrase Dr. Blue, "you can make a japanese sword out of a bar of 1095, but it just doesn't feel right. If you want to make the old work, you have to use their material, or else it doesn't have the same chemistry or character." That had more impact than I can describe, and my path of learning about home-made steel stared then. I've been to multiple hammer-in's where I helped run a smelter, and eventually ran a couple of my own, to get a taste for it. Last year I shoveled over 500 pounds of magnetite sand with Alan, with a blown out lumbar disk, so I could start making my own steel. Ric Furrer once said he hoped that all the work he produced would be of his own steel, and that too resonated with me - it's a lofty goal, and I don't know many smiths actually doing it (maybe Jeff Pringle) but it's one I've internalized, and hope to someday be able to lay claim to. I'll make blades of modern material to keep exploring technique and get some bills paid, but my passion is in the old stuff. For me that has meant Norse and Early American work. I am staying away from Japanese, primarily because in my brief flirt with it, I got far more criticisims for not doing it "by hand", that using a power hammer was "not authentic" and other such nonsense. If the market is going to be that picky, they can look elsewhere than my shop. I can do bilster and shear steel, thanks to a demo Ric did, and this forum has more than enough information and inspiration for Viking gear than I'll ever be able to absorb. That's where I'm focusing my efforts for now, and hope someday to be able to make a reputation on reproduction work of high quality and attention to detail. I guess my big goal is, to do similar stuff Owen's been doing with the Hoard, making a modern version of the old thing a museum might want alongside the original, where the only difference is age and weathering, but materials and morphology is accurate to the original work as much as possible.

Edited by Christopher Price

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There's nothing like living in a place with so much history (and especially castles :D ) like Germany.

It's always fascinating to hear about old world crafts in such a modern world and how they found that way, and you are no exception! I sometimes feel that we all have a little (or a lot) of those times trapped in us, and going to the smithy brings us back a few hundred years.

 

You mentioned injuries with your lower back- how has that effected your work? With taking nearly a year off, have you had any changes in outlook? In the recent months, have you seen any changes in method, or was it more fuel to get back to doing things as they used to be? I've always thought it would be almost like relearning everything over again, using different tools and processes, and I'm curious on your insight.

 

With museum work in mind, what are your thoughts on modelling existing work versus crafting originals? I know some people who absolutely thrive on replicating the skill and passion that went into making a historic piece, and others who are just the opposite. If you prefer one to the other, has that changed at all since you first began?

 

I'll leave you with that while I sort through the dozens of other questions I have.

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Good questions. Thank you.

 

I feel like I got cheated in Germany. I was surrounded by all the best research I could want now, but was too dumb a kid then to realized it. Often, when seeing people post up stuff here from research, I might recognize something I saw once in person, but didn't seem interested enough in it at the time. I guess I lacked the imagination then to think I could ever actually make something like that, so never focused on how it was constructed, or the material science, or finer details... it was always just "cool sword!!" and "Pointy Dagger!" back then. I wish I had a year to spend just going around from place to place, and documenting items I might want to re-craft someday, or at least take notes on construction methods and degree of finish.

 

 

November of 2010 saw me almost parylized on my bed after a week of worsening symptoms from a badly ruptured disk in my L5/S1 vertibrae. Considerable amounts of narcotics allowed me to hobble around, mostly to the surgeon's office, and I was face-down on his table about 2 weeks later. I am lucky in that I have a nice government job with lots of accrued leave I could take for my recuperation, which has gone pretty well. There is a small amount of nerve damage that leaves the outside edge of my left foot without full feeling, and I've learned to compensate for it, and doing my exercises keeps things in pretty good form. I really need to lose a lot of weight, but that's hard to do, as the other effect from the surgery is a large mass of scar tissue right where my upper gluteus connects to my back, and it gets very tired and sore after a mile or so of walking, or any excessive standing. I take my cane when I travel, since it's hard to find a comfortable position for long on a plane, and driving longer distances sets up a lot of stress too.

 

That affects the shop a little bit, since I must avoid at all cost the old habit of He-Man lifting things that are too heavy as I did without any thought at all before. I generally smith in a sitting position, which limits how hard I can hit a piece of steel, but preserves me from over-doing it or bending improperly too much. I find I try to really focus on what I'm going to do before I do it, which I think makes me a more thoughtful craftsman. I have been frustrated with the low level of productivity in 2011, but I had a lot competing for my attention and less energy to do it with, so shop work came in last in that race. 2012 is, I hope, going to be a much more productive year. I have several unfinished forgings to work on, and ideas for a half dozen other pieces, with customers lined up for much of it.

 

I guess my main point here, is that I try to conserve my energy and not over-exert myself, which means less fooling around and more purposeful work, which I hope is reflected in the blades I produce this year. Let me know if I hit the mark.

 

 

 

I see my attraction to historical replicas as a means to an end - I want to know just what it took to make them in the first place. There might be a high-tech way to replicate something, but when I'm holding an antique in my hand, and realize that it was hand-made, with hand-made hand tools over a thousand years ago by the light of the sun and fire alone, it's a very humbling experience and I have a massive amount of respect for the ancient smiths who did the work to make such durable goods. I would like to be able to claim I've lived up to that example before I go too far down the path of original creation. Once I own those skills, I think my own creativity will be better appreciated and marketable.

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This is excellent, keep it coming!

 

Being an Eagle Scout myself, I couldn't resist bringing up scouting. Half the reason I joined the program was because of that thrill of adventure and the great outdoors (the other half being my old man B) ), and because of it, I had my first real exposure to smithing. In your experience, do you bring bladesmithing to scouting? Kids that age absolutely love sharp things and fire, and the two go naturally together.

Is there a large amount of interest in the younger generations that you have seen?

 

Similarly, do you, or do you foresee, teaching students in the future? In the spirit of tradition, have you ever thought about having apprentices, or if you have already, what was it like being the one to pass on the skills? Do family or friends ever help out in the shop, or do you prefer to do your own work?

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