Reworking the Endings

One of the great joys in this business is taking otherwise useless or nearly useless things and restoring their usefulness.  In a way, we continue their stories.

I went to Abbeville, SC, to pick up a few sawblades from Grant, the grandson of John A., a lumbermill owner. The mill was opened around 1906, was in full use through the 30s, and saw some use through the 50s.  Now, the remnants of this old mill belong to Grant.  He had posted some old sawblades for sale on Craigslist, and I went down to see if we could use them.  They were leaning against trees in his back yard, former pieces of a milltown and a piece of our country's manufacturing history, now going to disuse.  

When I pulled up in the Camry--a source of a bit of good-natured laughter from the fellows who weren't sure how they'd get blades into that trunk--Grant told me a little bit about his family history and what these sawblades signified.

We had to do a little cutting to fit them all in (46" and 55" across respectively). But Grant was very kind and excited to see that the steel still had some life in it. A lot of life as it turns out.  As Luke and I have tested it, the steel has turned out to have remarkable flexibility and edge-holding properties.  Perfect for turning into an excellent kitchen knife.  

Luke and I will take these and cut them. 

And work with them into something new and useful again.

I have a lot of respect for people like Grant who understand that what we are doing is continuing the memory of his family. Rather than destroying an heirloom, we are hopefully creating them. The family that gets a knife from his blades will know the history of its steel--and in some small way will know Grant and John A..

Things left unattended will decay. Even our kitchen counters bear witness to this truth. But with use and care, we can check that decay, slow it down, or reverse it. That's why I like making kitchen knives from rusting blades. It feels very redemptive.

I am very greatful to be able to be a part of this work of rescuing would-be losses. Anything we can do to keep these pieces of history out of the front yards of suburbia and off the walls of Applebees is worth doing.

 

A Letter

“Our place of safety can only be the community, and not just one community, but many of them everywhere. Upon that depends all that we still claim to value: freedom, dignity, health, mutual help and affection, undestructive pleasure, and the rest. Human life, as most of us would still like to define it, is community life.”

Wendell Berry from The Art of the Commonplace


Luke and I during the last few months have made the decision to leave our respective professions and do Bloodroot full time. Our leaving had to do less with business and more to do with community. We see a vibrant, beautiful group of people who are attempting to live out a certain ethos of friendship, food, tools, earth, dignity, respect—the list can’t ever be exhaustive—these friends are in Manhattan apartments and rural South Georgia farms. They might be chefs, home gardeners and cooks, people just trying to live more simply in the middle of busy lives. What holds us together is the notion that the people we feed are important to us and the food that we serve is a gift. 

The ‘business model’ would have Luke and me trying our damnedest to supply for all demand, to raise our prices to all the market would bear (or cheapen our product to flood said market), to exploit all our resources, and to scale Bloodroot to the point that we could retire having branded a concept and left it for dead. But we bought into Bloodroot because of the concept of community that Wendell Berry speaks of. We are buying into this ethos, not a business model.

Both of our lifelong earnings may be decidedly less than had we stayed on our respective beaten paths. Our real security, however, must lie in supporting the work of our families and friends.  Our posture must be one of gratitude and not one of entitlement. Luke (and Helen, Wren, Nell and Muir) and I (and Katy) look forward to being in community with you in the coming years. We are already thankful for the ways that you have let us be part of your stories and look forward to continuing to support your work with quality work of our own.

 

Celebrations

Today was a celebration. Not that it was supposed to be, but it has become so. Not many celebrations begin with an early morning breakfast business meeting or prominently involve being with three wild kids younger than 5 years-old, working on a Saturday, flying squirrels, or fungi, but today did.

I am thankful that I am able to live in such a way as to enjoy the deep pleasures of being an artist/craftsman and a work-at-home dad. My son, Muir Jordan Snyder came into the world two months ago, joining Wren and Nell in siblinghood. In addition I’ve chosen to take at least a year off of my Ph.D program and pursue quality daddy-time- a decision made possible by your interest in Bloodroot, for which I am more humbled and grateful than I can express. Bloodroot has become my full-time work and is becoming much more than a nights and weekends affair for David as well. It has been such a pleasure falling-into this “career”. After 6 years of graduate school for my hobby to grow so much as to present a new path and save us from being early-careerist nomads like so much of our generation makes my breath come short in my chest.

A customer sent us a bunch of antler sheds for his order and extra, which we received today. Nell (2) helped me sort them (making big piles all over the shop and yard) while I marked the sections to cut out for handles. Each shed came off of a deer that would probably score on Boone and Crockett quite handsomely. Darn those Texas genetics. The chickens were out and dust-bathing on the dirt floor of the shop and cleaning up the ticks that have already become active. Later, when I went to feed the neighbors’ chickens for them while soothing Muir we took a detour back through the woods by the creek and picked up a few morels to add to some others I had gathered a few days before for our dinner. Some of my earliest memories are morel hunting with my parents in Michigan. It is the food of the gods.

After dinner I made a fire in our fire pit from the scraps of the spalted pecan we cut up for knife handles and the girls pulled up their folding chairs to enjoy it. At dusk Nell, in her mostly nonverbal way made it very clear that we needed to go to the steps on the deck that face the old water-oaks highlighted by light Western sky, all-together, so that we could watch the family of flying squirrels come out to play. It has become a ritual this last week. Tonight there were at least 7, running up the trees and gliding to the next. They have a specific pattern that they follow for the first 10 minutes or so after they leave the nest, following each other like they’re playing follow the leader. While we watched an American toad came out from his home under a pile of scrap wood and the girls got a good close look.

I am deeply satisfied with where we are and what we are doing with Bloodroot Blades. David is a remarkable friend and great partner. We hope that very soon he will be able to step out more fully into our craft like I have recently. 

Thank you all for making so much of this possible. Bloodroot has become a community, and we regularly feel the generosity of people around us, donating materials and encouraging us in our craft. It’s been a pleasure to get to know you all a little bit. 

~LS

A Sword.

My first real duty as an uncle came yesterday. And my nephew, Nicholas, asked for a sword. I remember being his age and absolutely needing a machete to lay waste to whatever privet or orchid stood in my path. So I procured a piece of mild steel, and we set out to work. He gave design and use advice and a significant number of well-aimed hammer strokes.

Essentially, the uncle's duty in the universe is to enable habits that make mothers nervous. My brother gave Nicholas a drum kit for Christmas a couple of years ago. And now Nicholas has a sword. Peter and I are tag-teaming on this one. Death to all ear drums and shrubbery.

P.S. I like how Ivy is photo-bombing this picture.

History

A while back, a customer asked if we could incorporate two family artifacts into a knife that he would use for fish.

He wanted us to use a quilt made out of his great-grandmother's Sunday dresses

and the cover from his grandfather's canteen which had seen the D-Day invasion at Normandy.

It was all a bit scary, frankly. But we took the job, knowing somehow that we might help preserve the memory of the people to which these objects belonged.

After some failures and tight moments, we were able to transform these two heirlooms into scales that would make a beautiful and interesting knife handle.

We cut the fabrics to shape, layered them with resin and compressed them. You can see the result in the picture above.

After grinding and finishing, the handle came out very well.

The quilt became a marbled, subtle version of the original material.

The canteen snaps and catches became a steam-punk kaleidoscope of metal and canvas.

That the blade is made from a Volkswagon front end and the canteen was made in Japan further complicates the story.   

I am the grandson of a Dutchman who hid from the Nazis in haymows and survived a sniper attempt during the war. 

It has been an honor for Luke and me to take part in this continuing story.

-david

 

Art

I love forging. I think in every craft the artist has their favorite process, where they feel their right brain doing something indescribable, something outside of themselves. I protect that feeling as it's the lifeblood of my joy in what I do. That that process is what does it for me is one of the main drivers of why we've chosen to approach our work the way we have. There are perhaps more efficient ways to make knives and make money, but those reduce the joy in the work for me, and I think if that were to happen you would know. It would bleed out into the design and become tired, and you could see it as such. 

My parents, who I learned much of my craft and art from, routinely ask me if I still love what I do, now that it's a business- now that there are waiting lists, deadlines, accounting, "customers" and pressures, and my answer, in some ways to my surprise, is absolutely yes. 

I love it mainly because I have been careful to protect it, to identify what I love about it and maximize those aspects. This is why I don't use patterns and make every piece as a one-off- every knife is freehand design guided by conversations with a specific person, someone I know in even a small way. I can imagine how they will use it, how they will hold it, and from that relationship let my right brain fashion what it wants. Forging and profiling (those processes are inseparable) in themselves are probably 75% of this process in my mind. 

A very successful knifemaking friend shared one of the secrets of his financial success: named knife designs or models that can be discussed, written about, etc. The design aspect is fully at the front-end of this process though. Once you develop a new model, you make many of them. Different handle materials perhaps, but essentially the same design. This is indeed a very powerful way to run your business, and much more accepted, but to do that would make me lose the everyday design process that I currently enjoy.

Starting with recycled metals is as much about keeping the forging/profiling process fresh (every piece is a different shape and requires a different approach) than for the materials' interesting sources, or for the environmental benefit. It does mean that not all of my knives are vetted, tried and true patterns, but it also means that I can't stop thinking about function, about every aspect that makes a good tool good. That way every knife, every day, is design school- there is no simple production- and the more I learn, the better the knives will be- the better I'll fit each particular person to the tool I build them. 

I also like just making things for imagined customers and for myself, and these often come up on the site or on Tom's shop (Sharp and Shiny Shop). They're a good way to stretch and experiement with specific techniques. Tom understands kitchen knives in their detail and use more than most and has been quite helpful in guiding my thinking and critiquing my work. For a review he graciously did for me see the Sharp and Shiny Shop subforum in Kitchen Knife Forums.com HERE

~LS

A New Layer

David has been working overtime this week making his handmade coffeebag laminates from Charlie's coffeebags at Jittery Joes coffee roastery. Charlie helped us identify the bags and their sources from coffee producers all over the world, which I think is cool as can be. No longer is it "light" or "dark" color bags, it's a piece of Brazil, Ethiopia, Colombia, or Indonesia.  

From top to bottom: Indonesia (cherrypicking the green stripe in the bag), Ethiopia (with a wild texture), Indonesia (rich brown with purple lettering), Colombia, and at bottom, Brazil, done-up with a black-dyed resin. 

 

These knives were purchased for the faculty of a cooking school by the dean, a returning customer. Honesuki-style petties in a variety of profiles, Western grinds and sharpening (50/50), all at 61-62 HRC, three from reclaimed "waste" files and two from a reclaimed old lumbermill circular saw blade. 

This is what the Brazilian bag looks like without dyed resin:

Thanks Charlie. 

Thanks Jordan. 

David, you rock. 

~LS

Fresh cider

You can keep career, money, nice cars, TV- I'll take fresh cider. With her usual stroke of genious my older sister asked for a cider press for her 16th birthday. It shows her wisdom to want something that blesses others as well as her- an unusual wisdom for her age. Now it's our fall custom to bring it out for the NC mountian apple crop. Happy Thanksgiving!

 

~LS

 

Knife for My Father-in-Law

While my father-in-law was working his way through graduate school, he worked in a machine shop, and, yep, this knife (for him) began as a file that he used.

It is a 6.5" petty with a a crazy piece of coffee bag laminate. The other side has a little bit of blue on the heel.

I worked the grind angle nearly to zero and convexed the edge just a bit. The steel specced out at Rockwell 62. In layman's terms, this knife will cut really well and not require much sharpening at all.

Proud of this one.

The first deer of the season...

I like the 40s magazine feel of this filter...

Luke and I went hunting this past week and after 10 minutes in the stand, a deer walked out. Then a second. So I fed my neighbor and myself. And for the first time got to try using knives that we made to do the dressing and the butchery. Man, I like being able to field-test blades. The blade on the left was not good for the dressing but was invaluable after we broke the deer down. The blade on the right was good for both (Luke's make).

I also was able to test an experimental design--the deep-bellied skinner--when we field dressed the animal and was very pleased with its performance.

It was a good day. And it justified the day off work.