* All images courtesy of the author
There have been tons of stories on how to be a knifemaker. Most are great and deal with subjects like taxes, suppliers, marketing, sales, bookkeeping and safety. Other great articles cover the technical side of how to make the knives you wish to sell, including stories on forging, grinding, heat treating, handles, sheaths and more.
My story will outline some things I have learned over the years as a full-time knifemaker in a home-shop setting that I think will benefit you, your knives and, most importantly, your family.
1) A Toaster Oven
The kitchen is not the place to be tempering knives, warming up knife sheaths for waxing them, heating Kydex® for the molding, or burning out axe heads. A $5 toaster at the flea market will do all that in your shop and is a bargain.
2) Pots & Pans
Get a selection of pots and pans, cutting boards and a small scale from a thrift shop. Don’t be tempted to use a “good pan” for that one, little task.
3) A Shop Sink
Install running water in your shop, or at least have a five-gallon bucket handy. Make sure there’s a countertop, too, in case of spills.
On that note, wipe your feet off before re-entering a home.
4) A Coffee Thermos
If who like your coffee as much as I do, get a big thermos, fill it in the morning, and take it to the shop with you. This cuts down on the trips away from the shop, as a trip inside the house to grab another cup can turn into an hour away by the time you get the cup, peek in the fridge, check for phone messages, etc.
Plus, every time you re-enter the house, you track shop dirt and oils in with you.
5) Discipline/Knowing When to Stop
Know when to quit for the day. This is one lesson I’m still learning. You get wrapped up in your work and the next thing you know it’s 2 in the morning.
Not only will you spend that night on the couch, but you may spend the next one there too if, as a result, you also forgot the plans you made, dinner, one or more of the kids’ school activities, etc. Besides, it’s tough to make good knives after a rough night on the couch.
6) Do Something Special for Your Family
Use some of your knife money to buy your wife/husband/partner/significant other flowers. Buy them on a regular basis. Put it on the calendar if you must so you will remember. Think of the flowers as supplies, like grinding belts.
This is very important!
7) Mind the Dust
Know that what happens in your shop does not stay in your shop, and act accordingly. Dust from exotic woods will make it into your home. You may not be allergic to the dust but your wife, kids or family pets may be.
Keep an eye peeled for anything out of the ordinary when introducing new woods or materials into your shop. This also goes for smoke from quenching. Use “green” quenchants when you can, including vegetable-based oils and water. And keep the door to the rest of the house closed until you clear the air.
8) Consider Where Your Shop is Located
If you’re considering moving your shop away from your house, think long and hard about it.
Yes, a home-based shop offers some challenges. However, it offers quite a few benefits, too. Namely, the morning commute is a thing of the past, and people know how to find you.
Move the shop away, as some friends of mine have, and you may end up moving it right back anyway.
9) Make the Most of Breaks
Maximize the time between your work by throwing in a load of laundry, starting supper, taking care of a household task, paying bills, etc. This helps your family’s day-to-day quality of life.
10) Test Your Knives in the Kitchen
If you make them, there is no better test of the kitchen knives you create than to use them in making dinner. This is a twofer in that not only do you get the immediate feedback from hands-on testing, but also the household benefit of preparing meals.
11) Double Up Your Shop
With your shop set up, you have all sorts of tools on hand you can use for other projects. From fixing your kid’s bicycle to tuning up a lawn mower, you’ll find taking care of these everyday things can reset your focus for knifemaking later.