Friday, August 25, 2006

Montana Steel

As some of you know, we just spent a week in Glacier National Park. There will be a flurry of posting in the next few days because we had a great time and can't wait to talk about it.

On our way into the park, however, we met an interesting guy. His name is Mike and he's lived on a ranch nestled between Glacier and the Flathead State Forest for all of his life. We stopped by his house looking for directions and were invited in.

Mike is standing next to a home-made forge. He uses it to craft some of the most beautiful handmade knives I have ever seen.

This is one of the main knives that Mike makes. It's an old design that features a button hook on the end, an artifact of the days before zippers. He also makes a version of this knife with a bottle opener. Some of you may notice that the blade is made of damascus steel. Mike forges his own damascus, over five hundreds of layers thick, out of salvaged stock ranging from old saw blades to machine parts.

Mike's forge is heated with LP gas and forced air from a compressor. If you look closely you will see a small bar of red-hot metal on top of the center firebrick. It's a rollerbearing from a large machine that will be hammered into a new blade.

The anvil is an antique that Mike traded his brother for a riding lawn-mower. He says he got the best of the deal. Six of Mike's eight brothers live on the ranch.

This laborious forging will create a blade of the highest quality. Mike was very humble about his craft, but every knife he showed me was a work of art. We spent over an hour in his kitchen as he explained his process, showing us the pieces of bone and antler that would become knife handles and discussing various knives he had made. When it was time to leave, he gave us directions to a service road that lead into the state forest where we could camp for free.

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