My Story

I have been interested in knives for as long as I can remember. I started a knife collection as soon as I was allowed to own the first one. I think I must have been around seven or so. Most of the early collection is rusting somewhere, lost in the woods around my parent’s old home in Pennsylvania. I have a few of them though, a two blade Barlow that was my first restoration project. I carried it for years until it became important enough not to lose. I also have the first fixed blade I ever bought, The USAF Pilot Survival Knife, should have gone for the USMC one but I was twelve and got sucked in by the saw teeth. I’ve thankfully never been in a downed aircraft and cannot attest to their use on aircraft skin, but they are useless for anything I have ever tried to cut. It also balances like a lead pipe and the flat rectangular guard gives me a blister after awhile. The leather handle is comfy though. So through trial and error, I had started to learn about form, function, and ergonomics. I also made a hell of a lot of pointy sticks, about the limit of my artistic talent at the time.

I was also fascinated by metal working, particularly blacksmithing. The first thing I ever got to forge was a hammer head in metal shop class at school. We were 12 and the material was 1 inch square, it must have taken 3 weeks of class periods to hammer the thing out. I didn’t know it at the time but I had already learned that power hammers are a bladesmith’s best friend.  It was mild steel so we never learned about heat treating. It is also rusty and lost somewhere. The completed project earned me an A, a point of considerable and rare note in my school career.

From the time I was 14, I started part time work as a kitchen hand and later as a full time cook. The cuisine was, well let’s say basic, but I got used to having a knife in my hand for a good portion of a day. Cutting up food in bulk will teach you quite a bit about handles, edge geometry, and blisters. Kitchen knives get used for many things other than food prep. They cut open boxes, break up frozen food, pry open buckets, lever the tops off of cans when the opener gets dull. So I also learned a fair bit about knife abuse and restoring edges and the tips of knives.

In my early twenties I had a career change and finally went into the metal trades as a machinist/ fitter and turner. I had the good fortune to find a shop that was happy to train as long as I was happy to learn, and I learned a fair bit, measuring, blueprints, tools, job planning, tolerances, material distortion, just to name a few things. All of these things have been a huge help in my career as a knife maker.

People often ask how I got started in knifemaking; usually people who are not interested in knives. The same people who say, “You do what, sorry?” I bought a book on a half price sale; that was the start. It was the Gun Digest Book on Making Knives. I read it and thought I would give it a go. I was in my early twenties and still living at home. Mom and Dad must have been looking for a project because the next thing I know Dad had started a little blacksmith cottage. It has a vaulted ceiling with stained beams, a brick floor with a brick front porch and my mother stenciled the inside walls. She did, honestly. It was a shame to get the place dirty. It is still on their property today and has become the nicest garden shed around.

I had always been taught that if you buy good tools you won’t be sorry. So I got a Burr King variable speed grinder, and a Forge Master gas forge, both of which I still use 20 years later. I spent days at auctions and bought an anvil, large and small vice, drill press, chop saw, and lot’s of hand tools. I stole the old man’s arc welder and oxy set. Then I stood in the middle of my little knifemaking kingdom and thought “Huh, well there you have it…all done.” Except, I hadn’t made a knife yet. Talk about the cart before the horse.

I had enough money left to go to the ABS school and do a few courses. That was a great start and one of the wisest investments in time and money I could have made. I took classes with Jay Hendrickson, James Ray Cook, and manage to spend a few days with Jerry Fisk. Over the years I have continued to develop my skills by spending time with many knifemakers in many places. It has always been a great learning experience as well as leading to some lifelong friendships.

Travel had also been in the back of my mind from a young age. Starting in 1992, I spent several years backpacking around various parts of the world. Ultimately this would lead to me meeting my wife Amanda and moving to Australia in 1999. You would not believe how heavy the shipping container was. Amanda and I are living and working in Melbourne Australia, traveling whenever we can, and going to coffee shops when we can’t.

I received my Mastersmith ranking in 2008 and was fortunate enough to win the B.R. Hughs award for my Quillon Dagger. My worked has been well received and won awards ranging from Best small game to Best Art Knife in shows in the USA and Australia. My work has been featured in Blade Magazine, Knives Illustrated, Knife World, multiple Knives Annuals, La Passion des Couteaux, Excalibur, and other publications. I have been a demonstrator in the USA, Australia, and France. I have also started to teach aspiring knifemakers in one on one classes.

I had a one year break from knives in 2013. It was not of my choosing but the result of a spinal injury and resulting fusion in my neck. It was a tough year and for quite some time I thought my career was at an end. Fortunately, I was wrong. From the start of 2014 I was back at it. Slowly but surely I was back on track. I am a different maker now, brute force and ignorance is no longer an option, Neither are 14 hour days to get ready for a show. I have to work and think differently, but that’s ok in the end. I am really enjoying my time in the shed and am doing some of the best work I have ever done.

Thanks for listening

Cheers

Shawn