J. Neilson and Shelley Jack: The Knife Junkie Podcast (Episode 463)
J. Neilson and Shelley Jack join Bob “The Knife Junkie” DeMarco on Episode 463 of The Knife Junkie Podcast.
J. Neilson is an ABS Master Bladesmith working out of his Mountain Hollow Forge in the wilds of Pennsylvania. He came to prominence with the History Channel show Forged in Fire, the wildly popular knifemaking competition show. He was tapped to be a judge on the show for the unreleased pilot due to videos he was posting showing him brutally testing the knives he forged. Ten seasons later, he is still testing competition blades on the show, but he has recently gotten a chance to dig back deep into his craft and see it through the eyes of a sort of apprentice…
Shelley Jack, a nurse and ceramicist from Texas, met J. on a plane and had never even considered the existence of custom-made knives. As their relationship grew, her planned ceramics studio evolved into a knife shop. Since then, she has been learning from one of today’s knife-making greats, and if the knives she’s already forged are an indication, she will hit levels of mastery far before her time.
Find J. online at www.mountainhollow.net and on Instagram at www.instagram.com/j.neilsonknives. Find Shelley and Gypsy Soul Knives on Instagram at www.instagram.com/justshelley_thegypsysoul and on Facebook.
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[0:03] Welcome to the Knife Junkie Podcast, your weekly dose of knife news and information about knives and knife collecting.
Here's your host, Bob the Knife Junkie DeMarco.
Welcome to the Knife Junkie Podcast. I'm Bob DeMarco.
On this edition of the show, I'm speaking with ABS Master Smith, J. Neilson, and Shelley Jack of Gypsy Soul Knives. J. is known for his impeccably forged classic American outdoor fixed blade knives, especially Bowie's.
His reputation and mastery of the form got him his founding role as a judge on the most famous knife-making reality competition TV show, History's Forged in Fire.
Shelley, I just met and got a chance to check out her work at the Texas Custom Knife Show just earlier this past month.
You know, I've been talking quite a bit about that show recently, and I had a chance to meet them both and bring them on the show after first talking with Jay way back on episode 34.
I finally got a chance to meet him there. So that was really cool.
I also got a chance to watch them both do a canister Damascus in real time, which was quite exciting.
I'm looking forward to catching up with them. But first, be sure to like, comment, subscribe, hit the notification bell and download the show.
So you can listen to it on your favorite podcast app.
And if you want to help support the show, you can do so by going over to Patreon.
Quickest way to do that is to go to theknifejunkie.com slash Patreon.
Again, theknifejunkie.com slash Patreon.
[1:33] Do you use terms like handle to blade ratio, walk and talk, hair pop and sharp, or tank like?
Then you are a dork and a knife junkie.
J. and Shelley, welcome to the show. It's great to see you here.
Hello. Hey, how's it going?
It's going great, going great. I want to first say it was really nice to meet you both in person at the Texas Custom Knife Show.
I met you, J., on this show just voice-to-voice a.
[2:03] Few years back. And then Shelley, I've been following you on Instagram.
So it was cool to meet you both in the flesh this past month at Texas Custom Knife Show.
It was a pretty cool occasion down there. Oh, it was a lot of fun, it's funny, well, apparently we got a lot of comments from that video of the Tomahawk to the head.
Yeah, that was a good hit. The biggest thing I've been getting grief for lately is from this one here because apparently everybody got nailed on Instagram, but they left my slow motion of tearing the brains out of a ballistics dummy, didn't have any problem with that, you know, so that was kind of weird.
Yeah, that whole shadow ban thing that they did, I got flagged and I've appealed it a couple of times and they still haven't taken it off, but yeah, he has that graphic video slo-mo of chopping, the dummy's head and like he didn't get flagged for any of his stuff.
Yeah, yeah. As we speak at the end of 2023, Instagram went on this very strange shadow banning of the most, you know, most non threatening knife channels out there.
And somehow, this footage of UJ just tearing apart this ballistics dummy, complete with the red blood, not the green blood.
[3:32] Condoms flinging around my head and everything. and graphic, graphic and nasty.
I'll actually, that was pretty cool to see how those dummies are made.
They, the ballistics dummies guys were at that knife show too.
It was cool. Oh, they they do they do a fantastic job.
I'll tell you a secret little story if you want. Yeah.
Right before we did our demo, we were we were both Yeah, we were both by we were both exhausted.
I mean, we worked harder on that at that show the most.
[4:07] And she was getting a little crazy right before we did our demo.
And she had her first little, you know, knife, fixed blade knife she ever made.
And there was the ballistics dummies that were sitting in a flatbed behind the stage that Doug had already torn through.
And you know, her and I had had conversations about these dummies from the forge and fire and everything else and doing different events and whatnot.
And she was looking a little crabby. I said, Hey, we're here.
You know, we talked about how realist feels. Why don't you pick that one?
Make your back pocket instead of this guy a few times.
And she and she Wow, it's a lot harder than I thought.
And then she starts really going at it. And I was like, Okay, and And like after like 67 stabs, she has a big smile on her face and I'm like, okay, yes, I'm going to be sharing a hotel with this woman.
[5:09] Okay, but she's smiling at the end.
Ballistic dummies make people happy. Just stress, really.
Yeah, it seems like it would be appropriate to have one in many offices throughout the nation.
I know my office could benefit from a fresh ballistics dummy every week, no doubt.
Yeah, actually, that would be really cool, because I'm always trying to fashion, you know, think of ways to fashion, you know, there's the meat man, go to the woods, get some bamboo, buy a whole bunch of pork.
But I mean, you know, yeah, yeah, coconuts, you can you can bash those?
Well, okay. So a big part of that show, the Texas Custom Knife Show was kind of this.
There was a lot of presentation with you and Doug, in front of the audience, a lot of people very curious myself, also about how the show was put together and and all that kind of thing.
You and Doug had a really fun rapport.
You guys do this a lot? Do a lot of traveling together and end up at shows like this?
Or is it because you've done 10 seasons of the show, you guys know each other so well?
I am stuck in a trailer next to Doug.
Doug gets bored very easy. I love Doug to death and if he's listening, he's gonna know I'm telling the truth.
[6:31] He's like one of those children you need to occupy. There's been multiple Instagram posts that Doug has done of stupid things with me in a closet, laying down in one of the forms, standing in front of a tank, all kinds of stuff.
And it's one of those things like, okay, let's just do it because it's quicker to do it and get over with instead of him bugging me all day.
And I have no problem saying that because Doug knows it's absolutely true.
He would agree with me right now.
Well yeah, he was saying you'd be content in your trailer with a couple of horror movies between shoots and stuff like that.
Yeah, sometimes I try to watch the movies and just, I might not even have something on the screen, but if Doug's talking I just focus on him.
I just try to pretend that... Well that's good and true. I don't see you, you don't see me. You're kind of living it, you know?
Shelly, do you share this same love of horror?
And do you get any knife inspiration from it? I know Doug, I mean, I'm sorry, I know Jay does.
No, actually, it's kind of funny. That's one thing we don't have in common.
I don't watch a lot of TV or movies, period.
[7:48] But I have sat down and watched a couple of them. Horror movies have never been my thing.
But I've learned to appreciate some of them. And the theater is different.
Yeah, and in the theater it's different.
But also, you know, there's a whole other genre of just really bad, tacky horror movies.
And those are kind of entertaining to watch just because they're ridiculous.
[8:13] But no, I don't share his enthusiasm with them.
I haven't gotten to watch Killer Klown's Motor Space yet. Oh, God. Yeah, you know what I go for the I only really like the stuff that that actually scares me, you know, demonic possession scares me.
So I will I will move on from there.
But But actually, Shelly, I want to know how you got into knives.
And we're gonna, I want to refresh her on Jay in a minute. But But tell me how you got into it.
And when I was looking at your work at your table.
I was pretty surprised at how, you know, kind of knew you are to it because your work seems much more accomplished.
How'd you get into it? Well, thank you very much.
[9:01] Well, it's an interesting story. We've told it a few times. I was a I'm going to go bake a cake over there.
I was a travel nurse and I had an assignment in Pennsylvania up here.
And I was taking a break in between. You have contracts that are 13 weeks.
So I was taking a break in between that and I was flying home from up here in Pennsylvania back to Texas.
And I got a free upgrade. And on that upgrade in first class, I sat next to a gentleman that was on his way to the Atlanta Blade Show.
And that was him. I had never...
[9:44] I had no idea what custom knife making was, didn't understand the concept, had never seen Forged in Fire.
Say hi to Ray.
[9:56] And he didn't even really, we didn't even really talk about that.
He said something about being on Forged in Fire and I just kind of blew it off like, oh yeah, I think I'd watched an episode.
I had never seen the show before, didn't know what he was talking about.
And the circumstances were very unique, and it just turned into I was coming back for another assignment.
So we exchanged information on that flight, went on some dates, and started talking.
[10:32] And later on, after a month or so, he invited me to his house, and I wanted to say I had done a lot more research about making knives and stuff.
And I wanted to see his shop, I wanted to see what it was about.
And that turned into me forging out my very first knife. And it's the one that I still carry.
[10:56] It's gotta be around here somewhere.
Shelly, are you were you already a creative person going into this?
Or did you discover something when you first started heating and pounding?
No, I had been, in fact, the shop, the knife shop that is being built in Texas now was originally supposed to be a pottery shed.
I like doing pottery and throwing pottery.
So I was going to get a kiln and a wheel and all that kind of stuff. And now it's not.
Now it's a knife shop, probably about halfway from it, I guess.
We're getting there. Yeah, we're getting there. You got a kiln of sorts, and you'll be able to use clay, you know, when you're tempering your blades, so it's not...
We can fire pots that we can destroy doing strength tests. Yeah, yeah. Of course.
Well, this begs the question, is there any similarity between working with clay and working with steel?
I've done a little bit of both, but never hot steel. I've only done a little bit of stock reduction just for fun.
But you get a sense of sculptural, you know, process with that. Any similarities?
[12:11] Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, that's interesting that you bring that up because when I first became serious about this and wanted to learn and he's like, okay, I'm going to teach you.
One of the things that he said to me that made the biggest difference is, that hot steel moves just like sculpting clay.
So, you know, if you squeeze it, and at this point it's going to squish out this way, and if you, you know, squish it flat, it's going to move a certain way.
If you do it, roll it, it's going to move a different way. You're going to get different thicknesses and stuff like that.
And that was the quickest and easiest way that I got to be able to, when I'm working with the hammer and anvil, you know, how am I going to hit it?
And that's what I do is I imagine how it would move in clay form and it translates pretty easily into, you know, the hammer and the anvil moving it and shaping it that way.
And the press too. Yeah, and the press too.
And one of the bases I used that for was during, when we're doing Forge of Fire, they would ask me sometimes, okay, well, we got a three-inch ball bearing.
[13:30] How big of a sword can we make? And I'd look at them, I have no idea.
I can't do, I can barely add multiplication in my head or anything like that. I don't do numbers.
[13:41] You know, this is my hammer for a living on an anvil. You can't expect too much from me.
But take that same three-inch ball and make it into clay and just squeeze it out with your hands and you can figure out exactly how thick you can make it, you know, how long, what you can get out of it, just do it in clay, just assume that you're gonna lose, you know, say, you know, five to eight percent from burn off.
But I mean, you can get a pretty good gauge on that.
But for some reason, I had to tell them every season and miss something over and over again.
Well, that's actually, that's really useful.
And it stands to reason, but I never would have thought of that.
But yeah, also just assuming that you're gonna lose some as you're making it.
I'm very big on simple solutions. Well, that, yeah, and something that you can see.
It's not just like doing numbers in your head or drawing out figures.
Jay, we were talking about horror before. or I know that you live in Western Pennsylvania, right?
Northeastern, mostly. Northeastern, okay. I drive all the way through Pennsylvania.
I grew up in Ohio and I live outside D.C.
So I go across PA a couple times a year and I love it.
I love Pennsylvania and it is full of forest.
[15:05] So I was reading on your website how you said You spent a lot of time kind of isolating yourself there, learning your craft. What was that like?
I've never been the most social person to begin with.
And i had this very very bad habit of when i was trying to have a regular job a long time ago.
I'm a little too honest for my bosses, they didn't like that so i never held a job for very long so i did basically every mundane job you could think of.
Until i figured out i could actually make a couple bucks here and there making knives.
That was back when I was selling Hunters for like $35, $45 a piece.
This was back before there was an internet or anything like that.
The only thing we sold about knives was the Blade Magazine and out here, we come every six weeks instead of every month.
Well, to me, there's a real romantic notion of squirreling yourself away, especially in nature and focusing on your craft.
So what was the what was the solitude to your getting better?
And we broke up some of the solitude of you getting better. How?
Well, I basically had no choice.
[16:30] That was that was really it. What I wanted to do was to spend as much time with my kids as I could. I had two young kids.
I had set up the house and the barn where the shop was, was about 100 yards apart.
I built a whole playset and stuff like that in between so I could make knives and keep an eye on the kids and keep an eye on the house.
That was my basis for trying so hard to actually do this for a living because I was a single father.
And I had two kids and I'm trying to spend time with them and feed and house them at the same time.
Any waiting moment i had where i wasn't doing something to take care of them i was working on knives and trying to build a business i mean i do uh when they weren't with me i'd spend, at least 12 hours a day in the shop and then um back in the day you know when the tv you know computer monitors were you know huge um i'd spend three or four hours a night on oh god what was it Knife forums, British Blade.
[17:47] Afka Blade, something like that.
There was like three or four knife making forums that I'd go on.
And I'd post pics of what I was doing, comment on other people's stuff, ask questions, if I dared, I think I could answer a few questions, but I figured the, you know, the more I was on there, the more people recognized my name and maybe they'd pay attention to what I was doing.
So yeah, it's not an easy way to make a living.
[18:19] You get kids all the time at shows. I want to grow up and make knives like you. No, don't.
Go to school, get an education, get a job, get some health insurance and try messing around with knives, okay?
Please don't. I don't need that guilt on my conscience.
Yeah. I come from a pretty artistic family.
And one thing that's very evident is that if you get an artistic training, get an art training or immerse yourself in that kind of pursuit, it also helps to get other kind of training, business training or law, preferably, I guess.
Just to learn how to market yourself, you know, toiling in obscurity is cool when someone else is like putting the bill, but when you're out on your own, that's hard to do.
So you were saying that a lot of this was pre-internet or, uh, you know, right in the early stages, what, what was it like, I mean, what was it like deciding that that you could actually make a go of being a knife maker before the internet?
And I'll, I'll just say, the reason I'll say that is because right now it seems like, uh, the world is wide open, uh, with Instagram and YouTube and all that. Um.
[19:33] What was it like then i was probably making my seriously for two to three years before i knew there was a thing called the night show.
I need a reason i even look at that because my father is being trained and i can't stand my father was into it and i remember him going train shows and dragging train shows.
And I said, there's got to be something with knives, they do something like that.
And I found this little show in Louisburg, Pennsylvania.
[20:09] And I went to that and oh, God, it was terrible.
I mean, I had deer skins over my I didn't have a tablecloth, I did deer skins and, and most of the stuff I had was chopped out of, you know, ground out of files and saw blades.
And I mean, God, I still even have the teeth from the saw blade on the back.
It was terrible, it was horrible stuff and this guy Keith Bagley from Maryland, he was a farrier.
He was at the show, he was a very nice gentleman, he came over, took pity on me, basically invited me to his shop in Maryland for a weekend because that was right around when Damascus started becoming a thing again.
You know, Bill Moran kind of like rediscovered Damascus for America and that's what got me into forging because I started out as a stock and hold a guy for the first few years.
But I was dumb and pigheaded and I didn't want to buy Damascus like everybody else was. I wanted to make my own.
So Keith invited me down, taught me the basics of forging, forging, welding.
[21:17] I blame him for everything. And the rest is history. and the rest is on him.
Dumbness and pig-headedness often seem to pay off, it seems.
Working so far. Nicely done. So Shelly, you start, you meet Jay, you become interested, your love of ceramics may be postponed slightly to build your knife making shop.
What are the kind of knives you're making and you're in Texas, or you live in Texas part-time or, you know, go back and forth.
What are your uses for knives and what are the ones that you're really drawn to make?
[22:05] I actually, it's kind of funny, I am more of a handle material kind of person so I look at handle material to get an inspiration for the blade that I'm going to make.
I am still only making full tangs. That's going to change this weekend.
We're actually going to start my first hidden tang knife.
[22:33] As far as the steels go, I was just doing, you know, mono steel blades at first, just getting good at grinding and stuff like that.
Grinding is not fun, by the way. That's probably the worst part, because right now I have a blister from Thanksgiving Day weekend that's just now coming off.
[22:53] And so, to answer your question, I don't have a particular style.
Jay probably has a hundred different patterns hanging up on his shop around the wall.
He cuts them out of what's that stuff?
The plastic stuff that you cut your blank? No, it's countertop material.
It's just crayon. Yeah. Okay. So he has all of the different styles and I look at some handle material.
I get a, you know, an idea in my head of a kind of a look or a style I want and I pick a pattern out and, probably the at least the last five or six knives, weren't even a Copy from the pattern I would take you know this part of the blade and this different handle and put them together And you know make make my own hybrid.
Yeah That's that's exactly where this one came from Yeah, a lot of these patterns I've had for about a hundred years and they just kind of hang on the wall But yeah, so this one, This part of it the actual blade with the belly It was a little bit shorter and then this this handle the lighting's not great in here.
It's got that little whale tail kind of look to it and the top profile.
[24:23] This part Wasn't like that on the blank either on the pattern So I just kind of did some elements together and put it together and here we are.
This blade looks like a landscape and there's a bird right up at the tip.
Where's that bird? That was an absolute fluke too.
This is one of the things I love about the moscas. Hold that a little bit closer to the camera for a second. There you go.
There's no way you can redo that. That is crazy.
That is so cool. What this was was a nickel canoe camera so that I was playing around with it. around when we did the canister class at the Moran Museum, William, what was it called?
William Moran Foundation Museum in Maryland.
[25:12] And I just laid some nickel out in a canoe canister with some different, two different kinds of powder.
And that's what it, that's how it came out. We've done a lot of, that's actually one of the fun things, cause I was, I was mountain born alive.
In the shop for a while, between the show and with life in general and stuff like that.
And then Shelly started showing up and showing an interest in stuff that got me fired back up into it. And we've done a lot of experimenting.
One of the first things we did was that crazy meteorite canister.
We had nickel-splitting...
We made a couple of blades out of it. But yeah, we're just like, we just, we, I don't know, I don't know what other people do on dates, but we'd sit around and, you know, have some, something that, you know, appetizers or a meal and we'd be talking about, well, like, what if we put this in a can? What do you think this? Well, how do you think that would?
Well, what's, well, what do you want to mix with it to give them contrast?
Hell, let's just try it this weekend and see what happens. And that's kind of dating.
[26:23] Davey amongst knife makers. Well, just in case, we don't talk too much about forging on this show, just in case anyone who's listening might be wondering, what's the difference between a can and a canoe?
And actually, just break down a little bit what we're talking about, you know, high level.
Simple way to go is if you've watched Forging Supported Fire, we do what we call as a canoe is square tubing with a cap on the bottom and you can fill it with whatever materials.
Oh, I'm sorry, a canister, upright canister. You fill it, powder fills in all the voids and whatnot.
Then you cap and forge it. Those you really don't concern yourself with patterning.
The canoe is when you have that same square tubing, lay it flat and cut one length of it off and that way you can lay things out and you can actually lay a pattern out.
I've done bunches of mosaics that way.
[27:29] And you know space and now and doing different patterns that way so that's basically the difference the upright you don't have as much control.
Can you take more welding takes a little more effort but you can actually control the pattern.
That's interesting so it's a it's a more precise way to get to get what you want and there are other ways to add patterns that.
That, I mean, we've seen on Forged in Fire, a noob like myself, I know you can make cuts and do like a ladder pattern or drill and do that raindrop. It's so beautiful.
[28:05] But what, when you first, you were saying, talking about Bill Moran and how he brought Damascus steel back in the States anyway, once you learned that you said you were doing stock removal, you saw that, was it no turning back at that point, everything you do pretty much is Damascus. Am I right?
Yeah, for the most part. It doesn't hurt the fact that I don't like shiny knives.
Anyway, I like stuff that's dark, that's forged, that etched.
And don't get me wrong, forged finish actually takes more work than a flat ground finish, in my opinion.
I tell people I see people all the time, they're like, Oh, yeah, I do forged finish too. And it's like, no, You just didn't clean that up.
Well, what does that mean? What is forged finish for finish to me is leaving the forge marks on flat keeping everything as flat as possible and, Cleaning all of that scale out of there I've seen too many people that go a forge finish knife that still has forged scale on it when it's finished laying on table That's.
[29:16] Oh, yeah, this yeah, well, it's this is the battleship.
It's good example. Actually, this is my BB 35 knife.
Oh, that's beautiful. So do you see like here, right here? That's forged.
I didn't grind that that's the forge finish. But it's all cleaned up.
There's no scale in it, there's no junk in it.
And when you're doing this type of thing with Damascus, you can normally see the pattern even in the forged finish.
This is actually sand mied, this is plaited from the battleship and it's kind of hard to see but it's sand mied with Damascus right here.
Tell us about this project, about the Battleship project. And before you put that away, you got to give us a full view.
[30:08] I was going to let Shelley, because she's the one that's been talking to everybody and she takes care of all this. I'm the hermit up in the hills in Pennsylvania.
So what is this Battleship? I was getting being submerged in the whole social media that is, you know, stuff that he follows.
She dove into the deep end of the pool. Yeah, like I did. I just dove right in.
And somewhere, I'm really big on history, especially Texas history.
I'm proud of where I'm from and all that.
And in my scrolling, I saw something about a project where the Battleship Texas BB-35 was being dry docked so that they could repair.
[31:00] The outer hull.
And they were in the process of making a project, reaching out to artisans to make things to donate back to raise money.
And I was like, oh my gosh, that would be so cool, you know, to have a piece of Texas history and make something from it.
I was like, you need to reach out to these people.
And someone had already- She told me I was gonna be involved in this.
I had no choice in the matter. Someone had already reached out to him.
I think it was Frank. Yeah, yeah, cuz we're like some guy named Frank something is who you need to talk to, and We got in touch with them and what they do is or what they did they asked, Metal workers of all kinds you didn't have to be a knife maker just something, you know Something that you do with steel and they sent us Well, how what is it?
I like it Oh, it was like a 10 by 10?
10 by 10 plate of the actual hole from the shell.
And I said, here, make something with it. And the thing is, you donate your item back to them, and they're going to auction it off. They're going to have a huge auction.
And we each got a piece.
And it's very...
[32:25] Cool. Well, no, the seal is like 1035.
So it's not something you can put, you know, make the whole blade, you have to either sand my it or, you know, make it the cladding or something like you have to kind of work with it.
And then they also later acquired pieces of the deck wood.
And so more artisans were able to come on making things out wood.
We also got a good chunk of the deck wood to make handle material out of.
No, it was like some kind of oak or pine or something.
It's really hard pressure treated wood, I'm sure.
[33:12] And it's not very pretty when you get it, but what he did is he actually dipped that in when he etched the blade.
He put the panel material in the etchant and then polished it up with... what did you put?
Was that the Australian stuff that you used?
Yeah, I etched it. I did a test piece and in the ferric, the deck would actually turn green, which I thought was kind of cool but after I started it didn't it didn't penetrate very deep into it so I ended up hand rubbing it out and just using some leather dye but yeah this is and I'm strange like this I don't like doing what everybody else does I mean as soon as I mean I was making straight razors and as soon as people started doing that I got bored same with kitchen knives and all that.
I'm just, I, I don't know, I'm still 40s.
That's why I have so many different types of knives on my website.
But this I was trying to look for something because I figure, you know, Battleship Texas, most folks are going to be going for buoys or K bars or something like that.
I decided to look for something in the Pacific theater.
And this is my take on It was San Antonio. I can't remember the name of the company.
[34:35] It was actually a hidden tang version. Actually, the blade was very similar.
Had the fuller, had a double grind, had a tip on it. And it was a company in San Antonio.
They just called them war knives.
They were taking broken sabers from previous battles and reconditioning them into fighting knives.
So they actually had this look and I just made a full tang version so I just swelled this out kind of along the lines of what you're going to do with the NYC dagger.
Took the battleship cladding, palm swelled it.
And etched it, and I just made a full tang version of it.
I do really like it. I'm pretty happy. But yeah, the whole cladding is the battleship plate steel.
And then there's 52 layer Damascus laminate in the core.
But, you know, that's just on the edges. I really wanted to highlight the battleship steel. Yeah. Yeah, it was fun. It's fun to see.
We only want to beat it against something, but... Yeah, you can send it here.
I'll beat it against something.
Whoever gets the Bowser box and can beat the hell out of it, or I'll do it for him.
It's really, really beautiful.
[35:57] I gotta ask you, it's double ground, as we can see.
It's got the fuller in the center. Is the top edge, is the top bevel also sharp?
It is about five thousandths, so it's very close.
I'm not putting an edge on it, but it's pretty close. It's easily sharpenable.
I really like the profile of that, especially like the blade itself.
The profile is evocative of a K-bar, But then when you look at the surface and the bevels, it's not.
And then as you move back on the handle, it's got a different handle that you can totally see the saber pedigree or whatever you, legacy in it.
I think it's beautiful. And yeah, it's very different from, it looks different from anything else. I was just looking at all your work.
And even the conversion between hidden and full tang, that handle profile that I have on mine matches the handle profile that was on the hidden things.
[37:04] I didn't want to do that. I got a teacher out of doing this weekend. Too much.
So these these knives are gonna go and Shelly, you're working on yours, which is a sort of a take on the on the New York City dagger.
The famous pattern. I love this idea.
This is this a knife in the works or do you have this something for us to look at?
Um, well it's that one is out in the shop and it's a full tang.
I've got it profiled out and I am going to do the rough grinds this weekend before we temper it. Grind bevels, drill the holes, heat treat.
Yep, that's what's next. It's going to be her first dagger grind, her first double grind. Yep.
She's learning a lot of stuff very fast. Yeah.
Everything is symmetrical, right? Well, I guess the profile is more of a clip point, but in cross-section, when you're looking at it straight on, where it really counts, all of that has to be perfectly... Yeah.
Nothing twisted on one side or the other or anything like that. It'll be interesting.
It's my first one, so we'll see. We'll see if she cares as much as I do.
The longer I'm... So I've been collecting knives basically my whole life.
The more I talk, the more and more and more I talk to people about it.
That's why I have this whole podcast, so my family doesn't have to listen to this all the time.
[38:32] The more I get into it, geometry keeps coming up. Geometry, geometry.
And I've really discovered this first-hand because I have a whole lot of knives. I am a collector.
Jay, you were saying you were not. I have a whole lot of knives that don't get any use. They're here for my appreciation.
It's like collecting art, but the one that I do use all the time is we have two custom kitchen knives and they are so thin already and then so thinly ground that even when they're dull, they cut like they're not.
Tell me a little bit about the importance of geometry and and is this just new to me or is this like a newer part of the knife conversation these days?
Oh, geez, well, I mean... He's the wrong person to ask this question.
Oh, no, I get it. He eyeballs everything.
I have a very simple answer.
If you're concerned about Edge of the Omnitree, it doesn't matter if it's a fighter, kitchen knife, hunter, belt knife, whatever.
Do not purchase a knife from somebody who does not use them on a regular basis.
Edge geometry becomes a much bigger deal when people actually use the knives they make.
[39:57] I'm not trying to badmouth anybody, but that's the same as when you go to a knife show and you see, oh, well, there's a nice, nice bowie knife there.
And you pick it up and you strain your wrist trying to get it off the table.
And I can't imagine walking around the woods and PA deer hunting with something that's going to pull my pants down on the right hand side. I got to keep piping them up.
Weight and edge geometry are amazingly important.
And I like to think even with the way the Forge of Fire show is with the time constraints and stuff, I think we've shown that more and more, especially with the testing, even though the testing is cedar for television, it is extreme and stuff like that.
A lot of that, especially with the cuts that Doug does a lot of times at the sharpness test, you can see how much the edge geometry really makes a difference on things.
And it's very easy. And I did this when I started, when I first started doing stock removal, before I knew what I was doing. I was making knives because I made this because I thought it would look cool.
[41:07] I didn't know what I was doing yet. It's like when somebody first sent me a pattern to make.
I made one and I had a secondary bevel on it because I didn't know any better.
Somebody just sent me a picture.
When I started using it, then I realized, okay, I'm making this wrong.
I'm using it wrong. I'm making it wrong.
What do I need to do to correct that? And that kind of attitude just bleeds through.
It's just like, it's the same as heat treating steel.
I suggest somebody don't go whatever the new hot steel blade magazine said this month because three months are going to come over another one and everybody dumps it and starts that.
Pick a steel, learn how to heat treat it properly, correctly, then move on to the next one.
Then learn that one and then do the same thing with your grinding like Shelley's done.
We started out very simple belt knife grinds very simple stuff.
Then we started adding Top levels now, we're gonna add double grinds.
We've started adding fullers As you know the same the same thing with geometry handles on all of this, You start you get you got to start with the basics and work up and you've got to use it You've got to I mean I was one of those guys people talk all the time about and buckets full of blades in their shop.
[42:29] I was wondering what I was doing wrong because I didn't have a bucket full of blades.
I would take blades that I screwed up, wrap them in duct tape or electrical tape, take them out in the wood, beat crap out of them because I figured if those knives held up then the ones I didn't screw up would be even better.
But it was a matter of just using it and seeing how it works, seeing how it cut, how can I make it better?
And that's, I don't sleep well anyway, so I spend most of my nights thinking about this kind of stuff. He's his own quality control.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. When I started making knives, I had long, luxurious brown hair.
You know, now look at me. I got a forehead like an elephant in silver hair.
You mentioned weight with geometry, and we all know that the heavier a knife is, the higher quality it is, right?
Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, that's, uh, yeah. Yeah, it's like, that only works when you're picking up gold.
You pick up barter gold, the heavier it is, the better it is.
It doesn't work with anything else.
It is a funny instinct.
People who do not collect or like or use knives, When they'll pick up something, the weight seems to matter. They're like, oh, it's nice and heavy.
Yeah, well, I mean, that's kind of a normal thing. The bigger the knife, the better.
I mean, good God. After going to Australia, I swear to God, if one more person tells me that's not a knife, I'm like, oh my God.
[43:55] But yeah, it's the exact opposite, actually.
[43:59] I mean, you can't see it. Like, you know, well, like this one right here, and I'll pull this out again.
Um, this entire handle between these two bolts is hollowed.
It's cut out. It's completely hollowed out for light to lighten everything, to make things.
I love having a 10, 12 inch Bowie knife or Hunter or fighter on the table.
And somebody grabs it and goes, Oh, Oh, I didn't expect it to be that light.
Well, I mean, who wants to, you know.
Be carrying a forwarding axe all the time or something like that, you want it.
It's not comfortable in your hand, which is another big thing on the show that I think we've shown people, it's not all about the blade, it's about the handle.
It's not comfortable to hold, but it's going to wear on your wrist, going to wear on your shoulders, you're not going to use it.
So, what's the point of making it? So, make it light, make it sharp, make it the edge geometry.
I mean, all of these things tie together, it's not one or another.
It's like when I talk to Shelly about grinding or anybody about grinding, it's not just making a straight pass, it's making sure you're flat, checking this angle, checking that.
You've got to look at eight or nine different things while you're grinding the blade and listen at the same time because you might hear something that you don't see with your eye.
[45:25] I'm babbling now. It's too much to explain. It really is.
And as going to shows and, you know, of course, on social media, looking at all these posts and stuff like that, I started told flying a little bit because he makes me freehand grind everything, no jigs or anything like that.
And, you know, Broadbeck's coming out with these cool platens, you know, that you can do all this stuff with, and, you know, I was fussing about it a little bit.
But then the more, the better I get at it, I'm, I would rather learn the way he's teaching me, because it makes me understand it more.
And if I mess up, I can fix it. I, you know, it's not, it's not something I don't know what the word I'm looking for really but it's like I'm learning the steps instead of skipping over them and having to go backwards I guess.
I honestly have no problem with jigs and stuff. No, I know.
But my point about this is.
[46:36] If you want to use them, great. That's cool. But I think it limits you.
If you're using a jig to make sure your grinds are even, then you're going to be using that jig to make sure your grinds are even.
Take it off. Yeah. Yeah. That's kind of the same point.
That's the thing. If you don't have that jig, you can do things.
You've seen how many different ways you can tweak a blade.
You can't do that all the time when something's clamped to it.
It seems like jigs are especially useful if you're a one-person shop and you're trying to, maybe reach another level, sell as many knives in one pattern as possible so you can kind of zip through them and know that you've got some repeatability.
But this interesting point, you're talking about not skipping steps and really taking your time and going from, you know, being sure you're nailing everything.
Well, when you look at the show Forged in Fire, these contestants are under the gun, they're timed.
It's funny, because my wife and I are total armchair knife makers, we're like, they didn't ask you to take off the canister, why are you lying to me? Thank you very much for that, I appreciate that.
Or like, have they never seen this? You don't put it in water?
Like, you know, even I know that, that's my wife.
This is the first time I've ever made a canister. Seriously? or something.
Right, right. You didn't practice thinking that might come up.
[48:04] But, so, what do those, how is that different?
I mean, I know, Jay, you've done some of the competition on the show when they've, you know, when they had the competition with the hosts.
But what is that like, and how is that different from, say, how you do it on the daily?
It's horrible. It's terrible. I hated it. I hate it. They made me do it. I didn't want to do it.
Now, I told him, I said, you guys told me I could be a judge.
What do you mean I got to get on the floor now?
Now, it was one of those things that, okay, yeah, that's good because it looks like fun and you spend, I mean, I don't know about the other guys.
I mean, they pretty much feel the same way.
But you watch what's going on on the floor and you're a claw on the tabletop.
You want to crawl into that table and run out there and start working with them and let's try this.
Oh, you know, but you can't do that's the worst part for me is just trying to keep my ass in the chair.
[49:01] But yeah, it's totally different. I mean, I don't work that even, even when I was busting my butt, you know, starting out, I mean, I worked hard, but having that clock on you and having the limitations, you really got to think on your And I know me and I talked to Dave too when he did it, and we're like, oh yeah, we've seen this a hundred times.
We've been making noise forever.
There's gonna be a breeze. Nope.
It was terrible.
It's just you really have to.
[49:40] Really take a breath and time management is the biggest thing try to figure out.
Okay I'm gonna give myself this much time to do this and this much time do that and, It still doesn't matter as much as you try to plan it out in your head It all goes south so you end up scrambling at the end a lot of pressure Yeah, there's there's one more coming up or where I was I computed again.
Oh The lat at the end is like, okay, bang, bang. Okay, that's close enough.
I'm done. Come on Get me out of here. I'm at it.
Can't take it anymore uh, yeah, it's it's It's interesting and I don't make swords.
I mean i've made Oh god, I don't know probably about 20 years ago.
I think I made two uh But you know and they they've been nice and tried to take that into consideration, you know making big knives instead of swords.
And this time, I told him, I said, look, you know, 90% of the people come out here don't know how to make swords anyway, or never have.
And I don't either. So, hell with it.
Makes it a little more fun. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I heard, I heard, I heard Burt Foster already beat my butt.
[50:54] I've already gotten killed. So that's okay. Well, Shelley, where, where do you want to take Gypsy Soul?
What, like, what are the, you know, where do you want to take, you're kind of at the beginning of this road, where do you want it to take you in terms of knife-making? What kind of stuff do you want to do?
[51:15] Um, just learning the craft and being able to express myself artistically, kind of, it kind of fills that void.
I don't, um...
Go on, say it. I know you're going to say it. Go on. What? I'm not going to go on Forged in Fire. No.
No, I don't plan on going to the show. And at this point, I am a part of the ADS.
I am an apprentice in Texas Knife Makers Guild.
I'm a member of there as well. I've already tested for my Lone Star Maker and got my Lone Star Maker.
And I don't know if I'm going to test for my JS that's still kind of up in the air You know to get my doing in and I guess I'll make the masses for a little while.
Yeah, and you know the idea of Being a master bladesmith is pretty cool, but it's not it's not a pressure kind of thing, The main reason I like making knives now, it's something that we can do together, him and I.
[52:25] And that's really what it is right now.
It is very cool and exhilarating to go to a show and sell out all my knives.
That's always pretty cool. I've done that twice.
This is the only one I have left that I've got made right now, is that one.
It just hadn't found its person yet, but it really is just a creative outlet right now and Just a learning experience and like I said, we get to travel.
I mean we were able to Go to Australia, this summer and attend the Sydney show gamico hang out with those guys out there and we got to teach classes Everly works for a week. We do classes teaching canisters.
We've been teaching canisters all year. Shelly can peel a canister faster than I can anymore.
I got to keep buckling it till it falls out now because I can't compete with her. She's been peeling canisters all over the country for the last year.
That's cool. Shelly, not as many women knife makers, we don't see as many on the show.
We just watched one last night with a woman knife maker, one of the Forts and Fire shows.
But just in general, have you found a warm embrace from the knife community?
Oh, absolutely. Yeah.
[53:51] I mean, the knife making community in general is very friendly, helpful, anything you need there.
And then, of course, you add the Texas hospitality with that, you know, being in Texas, the first couple of shows we went to were in Texas.
And it was just amazing.
The next show that we have booked is the Texas Select in Belleville with Alana and Cowboy Szymanski. Szymanski.
They just made us feel so incredibly welcomed. That's a really great show to go to.
And so yeah, as far as that goes, everybody's been very helpful and very nice. Any questions I have.
And I like I like going and asking questions and stuff. At first I was kind shy.
But now, I'll walk up to somebody's table like, how did you do that?
You know, and start asking questions and stuff. And just about everyone is very helpful.
[55:01] Excited to explain their technique or whatever and talk about their knives.
That's good to hear because you oftentimes hear about women in male-dominated, industries who have it difficult.
I kind of had a feeling when I was asking you what your answer would be because there's no place I feel more comfortable than a giant room full of knife makers and like-minded knife nerds.
Like I could I could stand there without eating for hours, jabbering and looking at looking at knife at J.
[55:38] Let me ask you this in the period of time, 10 seasons, congratulations of Forged in Fire. That's pretty big accomplishment.
But in those 10 years, how has your knife making been affected in terms of, I don't know, maybe it's in terms of seeing so many competitors try different approaches, or maybe it's rubbing elbows with other judges who are accomplished knife makers and explaining, you know, when you're teaching and explaining, you learn things.
How has this experience affected your knife making?
Honestly, it actually inhibited my knife making for quite a while.
Because when I started Forge and Fire, I already had a two to three year backlog on orders, and it just got bigger.
So, my biggest problem was we'd shoot the show, especially when COVID came.
That was because I'd go on the set on days we weren't shooting and actually use the shop and make knives. Once COVID came, we couldn't even do that.
So, I would go the whole time we were shooting a season and not even touch a tool.
[56:53] And then come home and then be scrambling to try to make knives to fill these orders that are so far back.
And then I was making knives that I had made five years ago and didn't have any interest in making those.
And then I'd be on the show.
And then, I mean, I just turned 54 this month. I'd have kids that were less than half my age showing up on the show and they were doing stuff that I hadn't even tried yet.
And I was like, I can't do this anymore. So I finally broke down and I...
[57:33] I canceled all the orders, anybody who gave me a deposit, I refunded the deposits, I gave them at least six other people that I personally own knives from and have worked with, that I would have no problem having somebody else get work from.
And I really just needed to just get away from that and just kind of go back to what Shelly's doing, Maybe not starting out, but just making what I wanted to.
Yeah, he can go in the shop now and just whatever he feels like making.
[58:10] He just goes out there and does it.
And he enjoys it so much more. I mean, I could see the difference.
And I'm producing a lot. Yeah, yeah.
And he sees something, he's like, hey, I want to try that. And the next day, he's out there and he's trying it.
And there are a lot of things. Like he made his first uh, stainless steel sami, Whatever after yeah like a year within the last year.
Yeah, so, you know He's been making knives for 25 years and he just now got the chance to play around play around with stainless sami And it's stuff like that.
He just hadn't had a chance to do and he gets to do that now That that concept of having to work on the stuff you were working on five years ago.
I'm so done with this Yeah.
And at the same time, seeing the hungry young rogue males coming up, doing all this crazy stuff you haven't done, I could imagine creatively how that must have stung a little bit.
Yeah, creatively. I was like, why am I doing this? I'm not enjoying it. Why am I doing it?
So I decided I need to start enjoying it again.
And he does. He finally has.
[59:27] And I honestly feel like I'm making better stuff than I ever have. Yeah.
Jay, as we close here, tell me what your ultimate knife or your ultimate forge build is that you haven't made yet that you want to take on at some point.
I don't know. That depends on the day of the week.
[59:53] I know... You don't have a nemesis? Well, my nemesis is you and the feather padding.
That's my next challenge. This one here, she doesn't want to do anything easy.
She started making, started off with canisters, then she started layering nickel and meteorite and all that. She doesn't start anything easy.
So it's a good thing I got some experience under my belt because this one wants to try everything crazy. And she never says, hey, let's just make a 1095 pitch knife.
No, no, no. Even the first couple of knives, she made her full tangs.
Well, can we put a spacer in the middle of the scale? Yeah, my second knife was a segmented scale knife.
Yeah, it's like, yeah, let's make 11 piece full tang scales.
Yeah, sure, this is your third knife, no problem.
So yeah, she puts me on my toes. But yeah, the next thing, well, my thing is I.
[1:00:51] Before about a year about two years ago when I was really hard at it I was mostly a hidden thing knife maker I didn't make very many full-time knives at all maybe 20%, of what I made was full time everything else was hidden down with a guard or or you know fully threaded pommels and whatnot and I really, you know, got really motivated and back into things when Shelly started showing up in the shop and normally you start off with full-tang knives with somebody.
So that's what we've been doing. And I've had a lot of fun playing with different ways of etching full-tang knives because I am a.
[1:01:39] Raging jackass when it comes to somebody having a full-tang knife that's etched with a shiny tang.
That just drives me out of my mind because there's a lot of good pattern in those tangs.
I don't give a damn if it's a sandmire or not. Why would you not etch the whole thing?
So, I've come up with three or four different ways of doing it.
My favorite at the moment is still just coating everything with clear nail polish and etching it after you finish it.
But anyway, that's a whole thing. That's going to be another demo I'm sure we'll end up doing.
But yeah, it was fun exploring new ways to approach.
[1:02:17] Something that I've done a million times, but now we can start doing the hidden things, which is what I really enjoy.
Adding guards, um, I was doing that before I started forging when I was doing stock removal. I, I.
Beat myself up about fit and finish.
Long before I ever started forging, so I actually, and I was doing hidden things, so guard fit ups and stuff like that. I think I pretty well had under my belt before I even started forging.
So adding that element to Damascus blade or you know, Damascus guard or wrought iron or etching that and then just making that and, The hidden tang gives you so much more freedom in the handle material too because you're not Stuck with just the sides you've got, you know 360 degrees pommel.
I mean, it's a whole nother canvas to begin with. So I'm looking forward to starting doing that again.
Because I've got a feeling once I start doing the hidden things again, I'm going to go back to doing it all the time.
[1:03:24] Right. Well, we can't wait to see that. And before I let you go, I know I said that was my last question, but I want to, since you're bringing up the different tang types, show, if you will, the integral keyhole that you were showing right before we started rolling.
There's only two knives that I've made that I've kept.
One was the chopper I made on the Home Forge episode that we did with Forge and Fire.
[1:03:51] And then this one, this was my first keyhole knife, where it's all Damascus, top, bottom, it's all one piece, and then African black with he slotted in there.
And I haven't sold this one because I worked so hard on it. I really like it.
I haven't decided to get rid of it yet. So I'm sure I'll sell it eventually because I don't keep anything.
It's an absolute beauty and whoever ends up with it will be no doubt totally totally psyched.
Jay and Shelly, it's been a real pleasure talking with both of you.
Thank you so much for coming on the Knife Junkie podcast.
We're going to talk a few more minutes for for Patreon members.
Get a couple of extra minutes. But thank you both so much. It's been a pleasure. Appreciate the invite.
[1:04:48] There they go, ladies and gentlemen, J. Neilson and Shelley Jack.
It was really cool. We didn't talk about this. But it was really cool to Texas custom knife show walking, watching them work together on a canister, Damascus, and there was a whole crowd that was wrapped in the action.
It was very cool to watch and yeah it just it just solidified that someday, one of these days, I'm gonna bother my neighbors with a forge and an anvil.
All right. Be sure to join us again next week on the Knife Junkie podcast for another great conversation.
Also Wednesday for the midweek supplemental and Thursday for Thursday Night Knives.
We are going to be giving away something pretty special from Northern Knives coming up here real soon. So be sure to keep your eyes open.
For Jim working his magic behind the switcher. I'm Bob DeMarco saying until next time, don't take dull for an answer.
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