Neighbours of Qualicum Beach Article

Dave J Makes Knives for People Who Wish They Could Take Things Home From Museums

Dave and his wife moved here from central Japan in 2011, wanting to live in a clean and natural small town setting with the mountains and the sea nearby, while pursuing his craft.

He says “I started metalwork and making knives when I was about 14, inspired by the beauty and formidability of antique Japanese sword craftsmanship–the juxtaposition of a delicate carved silver plum blossom on the guard of a warriors sword carried 700 years ago. I volunteered at a local jewellery shop every weekend learning silversmithing and spent three weeks at the end of grade 9 in Amish country, Ohio, working with a career blacksmith to learn the basics of forging steel.”

Dave spent over a decade focusing his work and study on tanto, the classical samurai dagger, mainly in 13th to 16th century style and now creates several styles of outdoor knives based on the foundation of traditional Japanese sword craft involving hand tools, natural materials, and traditional techniques. His website became one of the most extensive resources on the topic in English and he had the opportunity to assist and mentor several established knifemakers internationally. He recently designed and released a photographic portfolio book documenting his knifemaking journey over the last decade.

Handcrafted knives from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques
Classical tanto dagger made from reclaimed and natural materials using traditional techniques, in a private collection in Michigan.

“A big part of the process for me is finding something that has been forgotten or discarded as useless and giving it new life; creating something so changed that people look at it and can’t even believe where it came from.”

The process begins with the making and preparing of the charcoal fuel for the forge, then heating an appropriate piece of reclaimed steel in the forge, using hand-powered box bellows to increase the temperature until the steel can be shaped with a hand hammer. Then comes the moment of truth and one of the unique specialties of the traditional Japanese sword technique; a method of hardening the steel with clay and water so that the edge becomes very hard while the rest of the blade remains tough and unbreakable.

Sharpening is done by hand with natural waterstones mined in Japan, and the carved wooden handle and scabbard are carefully fit to the metal parts and finished with a traditional urushi lacquer from the sap of a certain tree. Working by hand using traditional methods and materials means a full sized classical tanto might have a dozen components made from 20 separate parts and take 150-200 hours over the course of 3-4 months to complete.

traditional charcoal swordsmith forge
Hand forging a knife using a traditional charcoal swordsmithing forge powered by fuigo, wooden box bellows.

Another special feature of the Japanese sword is that a single bamboo peg–rather than glue or rivets–holds the whole assembly together, removing the peg allows the parts to be separated from the blade for cleaning or sharpening.  

Typically, a single sword would be the work of seven different craftsmen but working in Canada has required that Dave learn at least the basics of several challenging skill sets. Honored when clients began to add his knives to their collections, alongside centuries-old priceless antiques, a major personal milestone was when clients began to trust him with restoration and repair projects involving their own antique parts and swords. More information on his process and work may be found at islandblacksmith.ca

Originally published in Neighbours of Qualicum Beach Magazine, March 2022, Christine Neeter, OCAC Member

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