2023 sees 20 years of Handmade Tools!
I grew up in suburban Essex, but have spent most of my adult life in very rural Devon, where the pace of life suits me much better (ie much, much slower, generally with a smile and a cream tea). My parents encouraged me from a very young age to use real tools to make (and break) things, no plastic or wooden hammers and saws for this little boy! I was fortunate that I had a large back garden, two younger sisters to avoid and a garage full of my father’s tools to fire up a passion for using my hands. With knife collecting and then making being a large part of that learning curve.
I went to university and trained as an archaeologist, obtaining an HND and BSc in Practical Archaeology from Bournemouth University at the end of the 1990’s. After several years of travelling around the Southeast of England, digging up the dead, my habitual making of things was leaning towards the historical. At this time hobbies such as bushcraft and primitive technology were still pretty much in their infancy or just the loony fringe of nerdy. After looking around for places to learn these ‘primitive’ skills, I stumbled upon a new Masters Degree program in Experimental Archaeology at Exeter University.
So, at the end of 2002 I moved to Exeter and read an MA in Experimental Archaeology (the course is now an MSc and they come out to me for a bit of ferrous metallurgy and blacksmithing tuition each year). During the course we learned many useful old skills including flint knapping, basketry, bronze casting and pottery. Having an interest in knife making and wanting to learn forge work, I steered my academic path in that direction, though it turned out more technical/theoretical than practical for the most part. However, a chance conversation with the basketry tutor (basket maker Linda Lemieux) resulted in my moving to Dartmoor and sharing her partner’s workshop when I finished the course!
By the end of 2003 I was set up as a full-time knife and tool maker. In the early days it was selling knives at craft fairs and basketmaking tools to Linda’s students. Gradually, I started getting known at woodfairs and in bushcraft circles, so more interesting tools were being added to the range. I demonstrated at shows using a set up such as an itinerant smith from the Iron Age would use and made some pieces for museums and reenactors, but most of my work was still pretty modern.
Some years later I applied to exhibit at TORM: The Original Reenactors Market, simply because it sounded fun and I had a spare weekend (I would normally be at a knife show, but my lift pulled out). I barely took enough to cover my fuel, but I did come away with lots of cool new ideas and contacts. With each passing year I add new tools to my range and get to learn a little about the crafts that they are used for. If you ever want to see close to my full current range, TORM is the only place to do it with my 30ft long pitch! I get a special buzz from the fact that so many of the other traders use my tools to make the really cool stuff that they have on their stalls.
20 years after I started the business, the historical and older styles of traditional tools are my main focus. I do still make knives, but not so many as I used to; I get bored easily and there are just so many cool old tools that I still need to make instead!