During the fall of 2007 my wife and I visited a potter’s studio & noticed a display case of beautiful knives. The potter had made the knives and mentioned that he offered classes, so I began to ask more questions. The conversation resulted in my signing up for Gene Tokheim’s Norwegian knifemaking class to be held at the Milan Village Arts School in late January. Five days split over a pair of weekends was enough time to make a couple of knives and solidify my interest in learning more about this craft. Gene provided finished blades, the materials for the handle and sheath as well as the tools. Several of the participants had attended previously and had friendships that went back many years, so the class had the feel of an old-time community gathering. Stories were swapped as we worked & it was inspiring to see the work of the other knifemakers. I was delighted with my first knives and looked forward to making more. Additional knifemaking classes followed as have classes in bladesmithing and pattern-welding blades. I made the blades for knives #3 and #4, the rest were purchased from Norwegian smiths. Other than the blades, all portions of the knives are made by me from Norwegian Birch, Italian leather, and sheets of silver or brass.
Knifemaking is an ancient craft found in virtually all cultures, with each culture contributing its own interpretation to the basic design of a cutting tool. Likely due to my own heritage, the knives I make are based upon the traditional Norwegian forms of every-day and dress knives. The apparent simplicity of these forms masks the effort necessary to achieve a knife that is functional and as pleasing to the eye as it is to the hand. It is the pursuit of these subtleties that holds my interest and encourages my own skill development and refinement. The “simple” knife provides opportunities to explore woodworking, jeweler’s skills, leatherworking, and blacksmithing.
Resources I have found helpful in learning this fascinating craft:
- Milan Village Arts School, Milan MN, Traditional Scandinavian folk arts
- North House Folk School, Grand Marais MN, Traditional northern crafts
- Vesterheim Museum, Decorah IA, Norwegian folk and fine arts
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