Practice, Practice, Practice.

The only way to get really good at something is by doing the thing you want to be good at.

And then prepare to fail epically at it. And fail a lot!

If you’re around other artist’s, craftsmen and creators you’ll quickly find that they all talk a lot more about their failures than their successes. I suppose it has something to do with the camaraderie that’s built by having something in common with your fellow creators. That one thing that we all have in common being…failure. Epic failure!

K.J. Eriksson Mora with Burlap handle.

Inspired by helping my good pal and professional Blade-smith Tony Roed teach “Knife Kit” classes, I get to learn more about the art of knife making.

Putting new handles on old blades I find at flea markets is my “cheaper” way to practice my “fit & finish” skills.

It’s a win even if the project doesn’t turn out 100% because it makes for another unique, usable knife in the kitchen drawer. And you can never have too many knives…right?

Knife Class

If you’ve ever wanted to make your own knife, I recommend you save yourself lots of time and money and first start out by taking a knife “kit” class.

Professional knife makers know that the magic of knife making results because of great attention to the “fit & finish” of the knife. It’s the part of the knife making process where you attach the handle and file, grind, sand and polish to fit.

Tony Roed & Jeff Olson practicing their knife making skills.

This is the most important part of the knife making process.

Because this is a vitally important part and incidentally often the most overlooked by would-be knife makers, it’s why Tony Roed and I (Jeff Olson) have developed a class to teach this skill.

We provide our students with pre-made knife blanks, rivets and custom knife scales (handle material).

Students go home with a complete knife and leather sheath.

Tony Roed

In our course, students will have the opportunity to select their own handle material for a provided knife blade. They will learn to affix the handle material via epoxy and rivets. They will also learn how to shape the handle with 2×72 belt grinders and finish off the day by making a leather sheaths for their new knife.

Jeff Olson with a “Knife Kit Class” student on the 2×72 grinder.

We’ve developed the class so there’s no experience needed. Students work closely with professional instructors.

Tony Roed on Forged In Fire. Season 5 episode 32.

Instructed by professional knife maker and “Forged in Fire Contestant” Tony Roed along with co-instructor, artisan blacksmith Jeff Olson.

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We’ve chosen the Russell Green River Ripper, Dadley and Hunter knife blanks for our classes. These were one of the most common knives used during the North American mountain man period of exploration and expansion in both the U.S. and Canada.

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These high carbon steel “Green River” blades are identical to the ones used by our forefathers. They have been made by Russell Harrington Cutlery since the early 1800s, and feature proven designs used as working knives for almost 200 years.

Student knife from a class.

We like these knives because they end up being the most used knives in the house. They stand the test of time and that’s why we use them in our classes. We want to send the students home with a working knife they’ll be proud to say they made.

Student Green River Ripper Knives.

For information on how to attend or schedule a group class, you can contact us directly or watch for up coming classes at The Pine To Prairie Folk School, The Fosston Area Metal Arts and The Northern Minnesota Metalsmith’s organization.

Fish Spear Restoration

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I was contacted to do some restoration work on a dark house fishing spear.

The client said I was referred to him by Keith Johnson of Great River Forge out of Becida, Minnesota.

I had accomplished restoration work before on antique items such as turn of the century Rail Road luggage carts and replicated 100 year old chest handles. But never a fishing spear.  I’m not the spear whisperer 😉

The client wanted my work to be accomplished as minimally invasive as possible. He wanted me to keep the spear as original as I could.

In my artist/blacksmith studio, I create metal sculpture. I also enjoy tool making and hammer out the occasional knife.

I felt this would be a fun challenge.

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I was told that this spear was made in the 1940’s by Milton Betts who was a blacksmith in Grand Rapids Minnesota

(The picture above is an example of Milton’s spears.)

Milton Betts was born in 1880 in New Brunswick, Canada. He came to Minnesota in 1894, and worked in a lumber camp near Marcell, Minnesota owned by someone on his mothers side of the family.  During his tenure in the lumber camp, Mr. Betts learned some blacksmithing skills.
Mr. Betts married in 1910 and came to live in Grand Rapids, Minnesota in 1911. After working for another blacksmith for approximately one year, he began his own blacksmithing business in 1912, located on 4th Street. Mr. Betts shoed horses and performed other heavy iron work. He sold his business in 1945 to Clarence Bunnell and retired (almost).
Being something of a workaholic, Mr. Betts did not respond well to a life of retirement.  Accordingly, he converted a garage he owned located at the west end of Ice Lake in Grand Rapids in 1945 into another blacksmithing business.  Unable or unwilling to continue with heavy work, his main work at his new business was to sharpen picks for the Blandin Paper Mills [Located in Grand Rapids] and to produce custom-made spears for spear fishermen. Spears sold for about $10.00 – a princely sum considering the times. He continued working at his garage-blacksmithing business until just days before he dies in 1965.
Although his spears today are highly prized by collectors, it is ironic that Mr. Betts did not spear fish or even angle. He simply was too occupied with his work or gardening – another labor of love for him.
(Excerpt taken from the book “Folk Art Fish Decoys” by Donald J. Peterson)

Roger Cook

I was a little out of my element on the fishing spear end of blacksmithing. I’m fortunate to know Mr. Roger Cook of Dawson Lake Forge in Mizpah, MN.  That’s Roger “smiling” in the picture above.

As luck would have it, I have visited Rogers shop over the last couple of years to discuss spear making in particular with him. Roger has forged many a legendary Minnesota Northern Pike Fishing Spear.

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Roger Cook also makes some of the most beautiful knives I have ever seen.

In my experience, I have found that there’s no substitute for experience.  Roger Cook is highly skilled and always happy to lend an ear and give me advice when I reach out to him.

Here are some of the issues with the spear.

The shaft of the spear was bent as well as the tines and two of the barbs were missing all together.

The shaft was heated and straightened.  That was the easy part. As you can see, the spear had other serious issues that needed attention.

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Talking with other individuals who have many years of experience in blacksmithing and with spears of this type, they opined that the spear had seen some hard use.  That it was more than likely used for sucker spearing in shallow water prone to rocks.

Also, the uniformed bend of the tines suggests that this was deliberately done in order to spear smaller fish.

New tines were forged welded from spring steel and the barbs were filed to shape.

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Matching the tine and barb diameter was more of a challenge than I thought it would be. It took me six tries to get replacement barbs that matched.

The damaged barbs were removed and the tines straightened.

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Once the replacement barbs were welded onto the tines the spear was reassembled.

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Fully assembled the spear still needed the tines aligned.

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All the barbs were hand filed to a suitable sharpness.

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When I told the client his Milton Betts spear is ready to get back out on the ice, he said it was going to be a wall hanger with his collection.

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The restoration journey of this spear was a welcome challenge that bordered on being a religious experience.

I’m sure Milton Betts would be happy his spears are standing the test of time and still getting out on the ice bringing home the fish.

 

Story Board Sculptures

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Story board sculptures are not only good for a student to understand the process of forging a particular item.  They also educate the customer on the skill and patience that is needed to accomplish a project.

Here I’ve turned a story board sculpture into a business card holder that will sit on my display table.

A Busy Year On The Road

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It was a busy year for me this year.

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It started off with my attendance at Thomas Latane’s Norse Axe class held at the Raspberry Island Folk School. 

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The 2017 Summer and Fall also had me collaborating with these two scoundrels, traveling to communities and demonstrating our amazing blacksmith skills to the public 😉

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That’s knife maker/blacksmith  Tony Roed of Stony’s Custom Designs on the right and knife maker/blacksmith Jerry Hobbs of Jerry Hobbs Blacksmithing on the left.  Two talented craftsman who are wholeheartedly dedicated to making sure their customers get their best work.

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They not only run their own shops and travel with me on occasion. They also are heavily involved with the Northern Minnesota Metalsmith’s Club teaching and promoting the blacksmith trade (and all trades) to the young and the “seasoned” alike.

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I look forward to our adventures in 2018.

If you’d like to check out the metal-works of Jerry and Tony, make sure you click the links I’ve provided in this post.

Cheers!