BLADE Magazine

Dads And Daughters: Passing The Art Of Knifemaking Down

The Older Generation Is Teaching The Next Crop Of Makers The Ropes Of How To Turn Steel Into Knives And Knives Into Memories.

Though it isn’t rare for kids to follow in the footsteps of their parents when it comes to choosing a career, the path to becoming a well-known custom knifemaker may just involve a bit more dedication than most other vocations.

For American Bladesmith Society (ABS) master smith Josh Fisher and Wolfgang Loerchner, the adventure has been quite rewarding as their respective daughters, Karis and Elizabeth, have become quite accomplished in their own right. 

Josh And Karis Fisher

The 2021 Texarkana Hammer-In was a memorable one for the Fishers, with Karis earning her ABS journeyman smith (JS) stamp, Josh his ABS master smith (MS) stamp, and each taking home the annual award for the best knife submitted by a JS and MS.

“When I was younger, I would always sit out in the shop watching my dad make knives,” Karis remembered. “Over time, I slowly started messing around sanding on pieces of metal, thinking I was making a knife. This eventually led to my interest. My first knife was a small full-tang hunter with a pink handle that my dad helped me make.”

Josh, no doubt, was ready and willing to help his daughter hone her skills when the time came. “Karis has always been pretty good at grinding blades,” he smiled, “but she struggled with guard fit up for a while and finally got that figured out.”

Of course, there were challenges and an obstacle or two along the way as Karis gained knowledge in the custom knifemaking world. She spent time at the forge, hammering away in preparation for ABS recognition, but that got placed on hold for a while.

“Yes. Definitely, I had a few setbacks,” she reflected. “I first attempted the ABS journeyman smith test in 2019 and failed. I then tried to retest the next year, but due to [the pandemic] it was canceled. In 2021, at the Texarkana Hammer-In, I finally got to retest and passed. Looking back, I think it worked out for the best because I was able to come back and win the Keeslar Award.”

The Joe Keesler Award is an annual honor for the best knife submitted by a successful journeyman smith applicant. If nothing else, the award validated the hours that both Josh and Karis had dedicated to her custom knife and bladesmith upbringing. And making the year extra special, Josh received his ABS master smith designation at the Texarkana Hammer-In, and later the B.R. Hughes Award for the best knife submitted by a successful master smith applicant. It, too, is an annual honor.

Josh added that sheer space and equipment limitations have impacted the progress of the Fishers’ work from time to time.

 “One of the main obstacles is working around each other in the shop,” he said. “We currently only have one grinder, so we sometimes have to wait for the other to finish before getting to work. Another grinder is definitely one of the next tools we are going to have to get.”

Bog oak comprises the handle of a Karis Fisher fixed blade with a recurve damascus blade.

Despite a little inconvenience, Karis has come a long way in a relatively short period of time. Family and friends are impressed. 

“All my relatives have always thought that it was cool,” that I made knives, she observed, “but my friends have always thought it was a little strange, especially the fact that my Instagram account has no pictures of me, just my knives.”

Her mom, Kim, is a big fan. “My wife loves to go to knife shows,” Josh related, “so she has always been supportive and happy about Karis and her work in knives.”

While Karis isn’t sure of an exact moment when she knew she wanted to make knives, the idea was never far from her mind. “I think I’ve always kind of known that it was something that I wanted to do,” she noted. “I enjoy making all types of knives, but small hunters are probably my favorite right now. I recently made my first slip joint, and I think they could easily become my new favorite.

“Probably my favorite part of knifemaking is seeing the finished product. But, if I had to choose an actual step, it would be all of the small embellishments and final finishing of the knives. If I had to pick a least favorite part, it would be hand sanding the blades!”

Wolfgang And Elizabeth Loerchner

Wolfgang Loerchner (left) and Elizabeth (right) had to share space in Wolfe’s crowded shop in the early days—at one point including long hours seven days a week for about a year—but it has all paid off. In the middle is Wolfe’s granddaughter by his eldest son.

The year 1982 was momentous for Wolfgang Loerchner. He made his first knife, and topping that achievement, his daughter, Elizabeth, was born. 

“It almost seems as if this path was destined for her,” he smiled. “Knives were a part of her life from the very beginning in various ways—observing the stages of the creation of a knife, the many shows, photos, and articles of the knife shows as seen in various magazines, observing friends visiting, and the many conversations that surrounded all aspects of knives. In some way, shape, or form, knives have always been a part of Elizabeth’s life.”

Elizabeth made an early step into knifemaking and then regrouped. Her second foray has been hugely successful.

“Having always had a strong interest in the arts, knifemaking was something I considered at one point when trying to decide my future,” she commented. “I made one attempt at knifemaking in 2003-2004. However, it quickly became apparent that the timing was not correct. It was not until several years later, after visiting the Milano Show in 2009, that I became truly inspired.”

Elizabeth and Wolfgang were sitting together on their return trip from the Milano Show, and she presented him with the idea of teaching her again. Of course, he was more than happy to get started, and Elizabeth began working on a knife design immediately. In January 2010, she sat down with her father once more—this time in his shop—and custom knifemaking quickly became a huge part of her life.

“I’ve had a couple of personal situations that did set me back,” she related, “but they have not kept me down. All around, there has been full support of my decision. Everyone has been happy to see me working in the arts and also to be carrying on what my father has been doing.”

Elizabeth’s mother, Dianne, shared a positive perspective. “I was glad for her, that she was able to use her artistic abilities to create knives. During her high school education, Elizabeth was always happiest when she was in the midst of creating an art project. In the few years directly after high school, she was thinking about steel and what she could do artistically with steel, which seemed a logical first step to me. 

“Elizabeth has an artistic flair that is unique to her, different from her father’s, and allows her to create pieces that carry more of a whimsical note to her knives. This is reflective of her deep creative ability. When she asked her father to teach her, I was a little hesitant since she had been living away from home for several years. While there were several tense moments, overall it was a good experience for both of them.”

Elizabeth’s knives have been recognized by aficionados worldwide at such exclusive venues as the Arts In Metal Show in Stresa, Italy, including this piece from the 2014 event. In fact, both she and her father have been regular exhibitors at the elite Italian show. (Francesco Pachi image)

The commitment of time and energy made for a few challenges in the learning process, but the entire experience has been worth the investment for Wolfgang and Elizabeth. Each has a distinctive design and artistic expression, coexisting, learning, and producing outstanding objects of art.

“One of the greatest obstacles we probably had to face was learning to work so closely side by side for so many long hours,” Wolfgang recalled. “There were other small obstacles. Working together in this way involved learning a whole new form of communication. We would often be saying the same thing but speaking it in a different language. Many mistakes were made as a result, but in due time we found our way to overcome this obstacle and work through things more smoothly and efficiently.”

Elizabeth recognizes the fact that she has learned to accept constructive criticism and teaching moments from her father. Wolfgang, on the other hand, points to a new method of communication developed as they worked together. Still, Elizabeth is adjusting.

“The most difficult part has been living in the path or shadow of my father,” she noted, “with the sense of needing to live up to the expectations of others. Creating my designs, it only seems to come naturally that my style is so similar to his. There are many reasons for this, and I constantly strive to find that fingerprint of my own.”

Elizabeth has always been an accomplished artist, drawing and painting with passion. Holding a file seems to come almost as naturally as working with a paintbrush or pencil. So, as her hand-eye coordination came together almost effortlessly, working in steel and making lines flow in knives was virtually second nature.

Fixed blades and integrals are the favorite types of knives for Elizabeth, and she appreciates their aesthetic qualities. 

“There is something about the power and strength of them,” she reasoned, “and what seems to be a limitless canvas. There is something pleasurable about working with folders and how the knife changes, whether open or closed. When working with daggers, fixed blades, and integrals, the limitations of working around the mechanical parts have been removed, and I find this gives more freedom to my designs.

“The most pleasurable part of knifemaking,” she added, “is the filework. Watching the steel slowly come to life, seeing the design come out of it as if it always lived there, is highly rewarding. The final finishing of a knife can be the most frustrating part. This is when any possible flaws start coming to light. Since I am my own worst critic, it can turn into a never-ending process of doing multiple things over and over again.”

Nonetheless, the Loerchners know they were destined to work together, one to learn from the other. In turn, each helps the other reach new heights of artistic expression.

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