Knifemaking may strike you as a curious endeavor. With so many good knives available, you might ask, why would anyone want to make one by hand?
That very question coursed through my mind when a friend who worked in the office next to mine began talking to me about the knives he was making. Almost every day he would work the word knife into our conversations in some way. And samples of the different blades he was making would be placed casually on his desk, used as paperweights and letter openers.
I was surprised by the beauty and especially the uniqueness of those handmade knives. They were sleek and graceful, with a more personal and mellow look than commercial knives. I knew that my friend was strictly a beginner at this craft. And he had no great amount of experience in metal or woodworking, either. Yet after just a few weeks of experience, he was making beautiful knives.
Finally, his goading got to me, and I ordered a blade from a company selling knifemaking supplies. My initial project was not to make a whole knife, but just to fashion a handle for a blade that had been turned out by machine. Soon I was gluing, cutting, filing, grinding, and sanding away at my own knife project.
My knifemaking lasted perhaps a year, and I turned out three knives before directing my attention to other crafts and recreations. But I was happy to have had the experience, not so much because I made exceptional knives but because I was able to feel the relationship that develops between a person and a knife that is made for personal use.
A knife is perhaps the most basic and useful of all tools. Most of us develop favorites among the knives we keep in our homes for kitchen use, gardening, sport, and carving. When you reach for a knife, you automatically feel for the one that you like, that has served you best in the past, or that has some unique attraction to you that is hard to explain.
When you have made a knife yourself and have shaped the blade just the way you want it and the handle is made to fit your own hand, a special relationship develops between you and that tool. David Boye says that effectively and even eloquently in this book, but putting the feeling into words captures only part of the experience. Just as you feel the handle of a knife, you also feel the specialness of a handle that is of your own making. And when you have ground and filed a blade to suit a purpose that is clear in your own mind, you have a special, more personal feeling when you use that blade.
In this age when we are flooded with machine-made products for almost every conceivable purpose, the experience of making and using your own special knife becomes more important. Making a knife is like fashioning a key to a wider awareness of your own abilities and relationship to tools. These days, we have too few such opportunities.
- Robert Rodale