Jarrod talks about Reid:
I can't remember exactly when I first learned of Reid and his work, most likely on instagram. It was probably his crooked knives and birch bark canoe models that caught my attention. Then in 2016 we were able to meet face to face at the first Greenwood Fest. To me he felt like someone I had known for a long time. Over the course of the Fest we got to know each other more and nerded out over woodworking, canoe building and knife making. Sometime later Reid asked me for some feedback as he was developing his crooked knife and during our discussions about knife design, blade geometry, and the technical ins and outs of blacksmithing I gained a deep respect for his work and knowledge. Recently we asked Reid to design a spoon knife that we could sell to our students throughout the year. His spoon knife is one of the best knives I've ever carved with. Reid's work follows high standards and is of the utmost quality. I am honored and proud to offer them for sale to my students. Reid has some inspiring things to say about being a full-time maker. Check it out.
Our Interview with Reid Schwartz
Tell us a little bit about you, where you live, your training and education.
I was born and raised on a sheep farm in New Hampshire, reared between the woods and our 1800’s homestead in a working-class town. Aside from the farm, my parents ran a small animation company. When I was a kid they worked for a lot of science, history and art programs which was really cool—and it was pretty real at times too, with the palpable stresses of self-employment. It was a creative house where art was looked up to and talked about. Drafting and drawing was encouraged and a lot of time was spent putting pen to paper and looking through Renaissance art books.
When it comes to training I suppose the important parts started early—with normal rural-kid jobs like laying and mending fence, splitting chord-wood and mucking barns. Lessons from those cyclical, subsistence and maintenance chores are still fundamental to my studio practice today.
I attended Art School in Massachusetts where it was made obvious pretty quickly that I cared too much about skill and execution to fit in. There was friction from the start and in many ways it felt like learning what not to do, rather than what to do. The savior of it all was in the facilities and the free reign we had to learn about tools and machines in a self-directed way. I wasn’t confused about the art world and ended up taking an apprenticeship in a cabinet shop, staying on a number of years, learning the trade skills to support myself, aside from my art degree.
How did you get into blacksmithing/tool making?
I had the good fortune of being exposed to foundry and blacksmithing in the first weeks of university. The call was strong and elemental—in the first few heats of an iron bar my whole world changed. Seeing metal as plastic and changeable was the first shock, followed closely by the intense reality of phase change—the ability of the same piece of steel to be glassy and hard or tough and soft—something that still captures me with its mystique and tradition. Within months my buddies and I were teaching ourselves to forge-weld, making crude hatchets, chisels and knives. Weapons too, a lot of spear points and arrow-heads in the early days. Around the same time I learned about Japanese and Chinese carpentry and it was another shock to my system—the beauty and deep philosophy surrounding those tools shifted something.
Where do you get your inspiration for making?
I struggle with the concept of inspiration, often it feels separate from the work—as though it's a thing to wait for and have in place first—before engaging with the work. The truth is that I show up regardless, and usually, it's through the flow and process of making that I receive the feeling of inspiration by being shown where to look next. When it comes to motivating myself to do the work: I find a dedication to be my best advocate: “I will dedicate this day’s work to..." and so on.
Why do you make tools?
I’d love to have a firm and confident answer to this question, but all I’ve got is mystic intuition. I’m called to the work and it drives me. I love to fail and I love to learn and it feels right. Its medicine for me, and for the world—to make useful things with their own power to create, to build them with intention, and fill them with love and honesty. That is magic to me.
What is your ethos as a maker?
All informs all. This is the core of my ethos for making and for living, an idea that threads of truth and energy bind things together, that seemingly disassociated skills and concepts overlap and inform each other, that there is a lot to learn from anyone and from anything if time is given to see, that the small details deserve a big listen.
What is your making process?
I strive to keep things simple and direct. Blades are forged by hammer and anvil. Heat treatment is conducted in hearth. Knives are sharpened on a grinder along with lots of sandpaper and stropping compound. Handle stock is cut from Locust slabs from a nearby sawyer. Blanks are cut and shaped on a bandsaw before being shaped by hand. I employ a bunch of tools for the shaping and smoothing task: drawknife, multiple spokeshaves, sloyd knives, hook-knives, kanna, floats and scrapers too. I have some simple wooden 'jig-sticks' that fit each knife and let me carve them clamped in my shave horse. Tangs get hot inserted into handles, burning and converting the wood into mastic pitch. Lastly the wood and steel are treated with oil and left to polymerize.
How do you view handwork vs. machine assisted work in your making process? Can you talk about how it is involved in your work?
Machine assisted work is mandatory for my tools meeting any market at all. Without my grinder it would take days to sharpen a single hook. Without my bandsaw it would take days to process a slab into handle stock. I prescribe heavy influence to the Japanese tradition where machines are used for skilled, but heavy-roughing work with the final and most critical touches left to knife and hand work. With twelve years behind me as a full-time maker I can speak to the repetitive use injuries that I carry and reflect on what the devastating alternatives would be if I didn’t have these tools available to me.
What is your vision for the future of craft/your craft?
I’d love to see the craft scene in the US mature and settle into its momentum. I’d love to see some co-evolution and restraint when it comes to fads, and I think the conversations I see happening in lots of niches—over ownership and intellectual property—are super valuable and necessary. Its too big to make some blanket statement about it all, but I dearly hope for my own path and my own generation that we can rise as a community, hear each other out and foster an attitude of respect and professionalism.
What are your challenges as a maker?
The internet, Instagram, Social media, Colonial thought. We live in a wildly extractive society driven by some very unattractive emotional desires and rationalizations. Finding balance and being able to stand on my own two feet has always been a struggle, but the rewards and pitfalls of putting yourself out there has never felt more painful or unrealistic and immediate. Its weird to say that craft has little to to with my perceived challenges as a maker—rather it's the social stuff and forceful nature of communication and commerce today that is the struggle for me.
What is your advice to other aspiring professional makers?
Be patient. Show up and do the work. Listen to your intuition and be honest with yourself about your motives. Steep in thoughts of a long and low and even burn. Avoid professional bias—it will stifle your ability to see and to hear.
What is on your list of next projects or future projects?
The list is long which makes me happy. I’ve tapped into some deep (for me) source material from medieval times. I am currently chasing down some old archeology books with hopes of images to pursue; Nordic stuff, Russian stuff and more Native stuff, some two handed crooked knives, some pjål, gimlets, and clog irons to name a few.
A funny/surprising fact about you
I've been a member of Bat Conservation International since the age of five or six. My love and obsession with bats was so strong as a small child that I petitioned my parents for permission to transition to a nocturnal lifestyle. I regularly caught and ate bugs past the age of eight. House Flies were by far the most delicious. Ants the least palatable.
A limited number of Reid's hook knives will be sold in-person only at our workshops this year. Find out about our upcoming classes on the Workshops/Events page. For more on Reid or to purchase his tools online, visit his website www.reidschwartz.net