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Christopher Price

Knifemaker Interview Series, a biography workshop

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What a fascinating past you have, Thijs! Lovely work as well.

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I told Thijs that I would not prod him more than once a day. He also is about five hours ahead time zone wise in the Netherlands from me here in Ontario.

 

Going straight to knives:

 

I know that you have good access to a lot of historic materials that we may never see here in North America. You had once sent me some source references on a specific blade :

 

klein21.png

http://i632.photobucket.com/albums/uu42/CetaceanPrint/thijswebsite/Replicas/groot21.png

This is Thijs' version of the blade (from his web site)

 

Other makers (typically in the re-enactment community) often make something vaguely like this. I have to tell you that I find your specific design has quite elegant lines. (Head and shoulders better than others I have seen.)

 

Now - I have been asked lots of times about this specific pattern - as a * Viking Age * artifact. Although I certainly will be corrected by others reading - I am not aware of any actual Scandinavian, 800 - 1000 AD source objects that look even vaguely like this.

 

Can you describe the original artifact source for this design?

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Thanks Alan and Darrell.

We call this knife a woman's knife, cause of the curved cutting line, ideal for scraping hides, a woman's job


Let me tell you how I came to this knife:

In 1985 a remarkable customer with an even more remarkable order visited my shop: Reinhard Rubenkamp. He needed a couple of wood carving chisels.

I made some chisels before, just a flat bar, one side ground under the right angle and at the other side a tang, stuck into the grip, but the kind he ordered were complete new to me.

Instead of a tang those had a socket in wich the handle was stuck. They appeared to be Celtic tools he intended to use building a pre Christian farmhouse in Eindhoven: the Prehistoric House.

I enjoyed forging those chisels and, coiling the sockets, it feld like coming home, as if I was doing it for hundreds of years, while I never made one.

After a few months Reinhard came by for some more orders, at the same time he invited me to come to Eindhoven.

A German guy was visiting the village, he was trying to make an attempt to produce iron in a celtic iron furnace.

I was interested immediately and so I met Günter Bürger, he was an experimental archaeologist.

I was allowed to join his experiment and a new world was opening to me: the smell of hot loam and charcoal, the sound of the bellows but above all, I was touched by the pictures of iron burial founds Günter showed me.

I dove into that new world and started forging replicas of those founds, experiencing that the iron had to be treated in a completely different way than I was used to.

One of the artifacts Günter introduced to me was this women's knife :




I changed it a bit, elongated the handle and bend that upward, so it became usable at a cuttingboard.

In the beginning the knifes of this type were a bit stiff, but the more I made, the more fluent they became.

So it's a "slightly" modified replica off a Celtic knife.

I know there is a lot of discussion about this knife and later on I have seen drawings of these knifes from Viking areas, that look much more like I'm making them now, then the knife from Siegerland I started with.

Just look at the comments in this post, you'll find some of these drawings:




Maybe someone is interrested in my production way,

there is an album of it on:


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Thanks for sharing Thijs, you're an inspiring individual, and something I aspire to be more like. The historical aspect of what you do is amazing.

 

Zeb

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Hmm - very curious!

 

I am away from home base this week, so don't have access to a report that you had send me a copy of Thijs, a couple of years back. I remember the artifact was 'Danish - Early Iron Age'.

(To the North Americans : in Europe, I have found that they cut up history in different chunks than we have learned from England. In Scandinavia for example, there is no clear cut 'Viking Age'. The defining events marking * our * perception are both from England - starting with the sacking of Lindesfarne about 790 and the Norman Conquest in 1066.)

 

Your starting reference mentioned above :


 

One of the artifacts Günter introduced to me was this women's knife :

 

This artifact is quite similar to the Romano - British knives (c 400 AD) that were my own starting point (referred to in one of my own 'answers')
I find it interesting that such a similar starting point lead us towards fairly different directions!
There certainly has been a long trend in North American Bladesmiths to adopt and explore modern steel alloys, which has marked the direction of their work.
Thijs, you have been involved with bloomery iron smelting about a decade longer than those inspiring the recent 'Early Iron' movement here in North America.
Although you did mention this already, how do you find using historic metals has influenced your understanding and your designs for cutting edges?

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Could not find the answer . . . .

I can only say, I'm driven by my feelings, entering my shop in the morning, mostly do not know what I will be doing that day.
The materials around me will tell me what I have to do.
When I leave my shop in the evening I'm always surprised of what I made that day.
Doing this for over 40 years it became a habbit, don't have to think anymore of what I'm doing and, leaving Ratio, my genetic memory opens up, a bit like an instinct.
At forging the Stiphout ore iron there is a lot of slag to be removed and the iron is literally speaking to you, it's hissing and blubbering and tells you, weld me over again or twist me.
So probably I have no understanding, but just feelings.
Luckely the archaeo metallurgists that surrounded me and observed, reported and analysed my actings do have that understanding.

Concerning designs for cutting edges, regulary I forge some athames from bog ore iron.

There again the metal speaks and designs itself.

 

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=603887663005228&set=pb.100001519982564.-2207520000.1389954981.&type=3&theater

 

https://www.facebook.com/thijs.vandemanakker/media_set?set=a.494675250593137.1073741825.100001519982564&type=3

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"I can only say, I'm driven by my feelings, entering my shop in the morning, mostly do not know what I will be doing that day."

 

I like that approach even though I'm walking totally on the other side of the road.

 

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I don't know the source, and don't know if this has been posted already, but this is reported to be "Drawings of some of the Iron Age Danish specimens from burials."

 







7drawings-of-some-of-the-iron-age-danish-specimen-from-burials.png

Edited by Gerald Boggs

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Could not find the answer . . . .

I can only say, I'm driven by my feelings, entering my shop in the morning, mostly do not know what I will be doing that day.
The materials around me will tell me what I have to do.

 

Thijs - I might be blamed for leading you a little bit.

Truth is - you did pretty much say exactly just what I suspected that you might. Jesus' follow up does point to a different approach, and that difference was one that I really was hoping might come from this conversation!

 

I'm going to poke you with another question that might illustrate this even more, especially as it puts light on to your own work and approaches to it.

 

You have told us that you had started making bloom iron at the Eindhoven Museum (see http://www.eindhovenmuseum.nl/ ). You mentioned that your meeting Günter Bürger started you down the iron smelting path.

 

Modern interest in bloomery iron can be sparked by many different pathways and intentions. For some it is the resulting material, some the technical process, some understanding historic practice.

 

What were you attempting to do when you started, then continued, to make bloomery iron?

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The "bloomery " iron I made in the mid seventy's of the past century was the result of my playing with fire in my backyard behind my smithy in Helenaveen.

I was not attempting anything, just playing around and wondering what was happening.

A lot of wood and work for a little bar, laboriously forged, a few kilo in appearance barely distinguishable from the steel of 1975 of €0,65/kg. It was a nice game, but I stopped playing it, because I no longer recognized its usefulness.


12 years later Anneke Boonstra, founder and director of the Prehistoric Openair Museum in Eindhoven , begged me to set up the forging and iron making in their 50 BC Iron Age vilage Eversham.

I liked her playgarden a lot and made a half fee contract with her.


At that time, the museum was standing on three legs:

1 : Experimental Archaeology, first learning by experiment how our ancesters were handling the materials around them.

2 : Education, then teaching that to people (school class camps etc.)

3 : Recreation, allowing public through an entrance fee.


So there at that place I was attempting to be(have) like a blacksmith/farmer anno 50 BC.

Build and fed my iron furnaces using natural materials from the neighbourhood, wood, loam (sandy clay), straw,leather and bog ore, here called: oer.

Tried to change modern visions into the ancesters one's , to open up a kind of genetic memory, an instinct . . . . all with one purpose: Authentic bloomery iron.

Surrounded by 20 th century school classes and museum visitors from all over the world,

I had to be teacher and actor as well.


There are two albums about Eversham:


Iron smelting experiments in chronological order, from 1985 to 2001.



Iron smelting experiments in chronological order, from 2001 to present.

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Heck of a thread Christopher! Thanks

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Sorry about the gap, some stuff turned from 'hurry up and wait' into 'time critical'. I also have a two knife commission to complete by the end of the month. It was -28 C here yesterday, and there is no specific heat in the shop save from the forge!

 

Thijs : when I was in Denmark in 2008 I had talked a bit about knifemaking with the Danish smith / iron makers I met. They had told me that they envied the freedom they saw in American bladesmiths in terms of the kind of designs. They had told me that in Europe, customers tend to want very exact replicas of historic blades. They felt that this was because there were so many existing samples of old blades 'Everyone knows exactly what a knife is supposed to look like'.

 

Although you are not primarily a knife maker, you certainly use a lot of imagination and creativity in your work.

 

Can you comment on how the 'market place' in Europe for custom knives might be different than what is seen in modern North American work?

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Here a gap too, hope you don't mind, I was chopping firewood lately, so not much time for writing.


About your question about market places:


Hard to say, I do not know the market very well.

What I can say is that the whole custom knife happening in Europe was greatly inspired by that of North America along with the Western markets and festivals.

About 25 years ago, there came increasing interest in Living History and Reenactment and the associated homegrown replicas.

Nowadays throughout Europe there are open-air museums, all grafted on their own local excavation and populated by a rapidly growing army of people playing history.

And of course all of them customers for the blacksmith.

Most people who start reenactment select the grave of a person they want to portray, usually the grave of a rich person, because there is much inside.

For the bladesmith : sword , sax , knives and squeeze scissors (2 blades on a spring).

A huge variation across Europe in a few thousand years of history and every day new discovery's are excavated,so it's not surprising the number of blacksmiths is growing by the day here in Europe !

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Here in Central Ontario, we have been hit by some heavy winter storms for the past week. My area got the worst of it, with -20 C, snow, and high winds causing white outs. Most of the roads here have been officially closed, many impassible with drifting. (And yes, I *have* been out driving in that crap!).

Bone for the blade makers - I have been working on a commission for two small layered steel knives. I'll try to post some images up when I get them finished.

 

Thjis: Two things

 

First - I have only ever written you. I am embaressed to say, I really do not know how to pronounce your name! Can you tell us?

 

Second - I want to give you an open ended question:

Is there anything else you would like to say or comment on?

 

With that, I think we should ask you to recruit your next artisan to interview....

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Well Darrell , hope you don't get frozen !

Those knives must be worth twice now at least !


We rarely get those low temperatures in winter.

I'm waiting on them for years now to prove my theory/phantasy :

The Scharmbeck furnace runs on natural draft when there is a strong frost.



In this film at 0:23 Arnold-Jan Scheer is pronouncing my name : Thijs van de Manakker, wich actually means : Thijs from the Battlefield.



Thank you also for the last question, I send it back unopened to anyone who's reading this, so if there is some one: just ask or comment.

Meanwhile I'll go searching for the next victim.

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Must be someone else from your part of the world, I am enjoying the many different perspectives provided by the greater international community.

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Must be someone else from your part of the world, I am enjoying the many different perspectives provided by the greater international community.

 

This is exactly why I had Thijs in mind for my own interview choice. (That and the fact most of the blade makers I know well were part of the earlier round of interviews by others already!)

Although I know many reading are here in North America, I think getting an international perspective will be illuminating to all of us.

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Thijs,

Thank you for participating in the interview process. A long time ago someone with your name, posted a brief note and a picture of a simple knife in "Anvils Ring" magazine...I remember telling my wife there is a guy in Holland doing what I want to do...it was an inspiring message for me ( to me).

 

On a technical note, I am curious about the variation I see in some bloomery precesses .....Fairly rapid and very slow air flows can create carbonized iron which liquifies and settles below the air inlet ....some of the pictures I have seen show the bloom being formed at and above the air inlet.....is that a common practice, if so ..is it to repeat historical methods or is there a practical reason as well.

Jan

Edited by Jan Ysselstein

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Actually meant if there is anyone interested in reading a next interview ?

I'll ask my Teutonic brother Jens to tell his story here, we are both nibbling on the roots of the same genetic memory.


Wondering however if some one was reading this . . .


Jan, glad to hear my message reached you then.

Thank you for telling me !

Was that you, I spoke with very shortly in Eindhoven at that Slagcircus in September 2006 ?

There should have been a big bloom then in that furnace , but frustrated by the management (out) we blew most of the iron into the slag .

That was the last bloom I made in that museum.

Twenty years before, I was asked and payed for developping the authentic ironage bloomery proces with only local ingredients, loam,wood, leather and the Stiphout bog ore.

Starting with two air inlets, one cylindrical bellow each, opposit each other, no tuyères , dia meter furnace : 37 cm, that gave two spongy blooms near the furnacewall at the inlets.

Iron formed at two hottest spots in the furnace, to connect those two spots, tuyères were build in horizontal, result one (bigger) hot spot -one bigger solid bloom, very low carbon.

While tuyères are horizontal, temperature underneath them is lower, iron wont go there, stays between thuyères and new iron is growing on top, only slag is going down.

Two cylindrical bellows, each content equals 1/2 furnace content, blown like human breathing, about 17 strikes/min.

Blowing hotter or placing tuyères angled down made bloom going down and gave non forgeable iron.

This all with only Stiphout ore: I think every ore needs an own furnace approach.


Thijs.

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Really enjoying this Thijs, thanks for sharing. I've been in the process of building a set of bellows like yours, can you show a pic of them so everyone else can see. Jens would be a great person to interview

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I think every ore needs an own furnace approach.

Thijs I totally agree with that thought.
You mention in several publications that Gunter and yourself can control of the phosphorus content of the bloom. Are you doing this by altering the furnace design or are you accomplishing this by changing the smelting procedure?

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