Forging a Legacy
An internationally renowned bladesmith seeks to sharpen the smithing skills of all who wish to learn.
A fiery, metallic symphony emanates from the shed at Jason Knight’s Harleyville homestead: the clank of hammer against anvil, against steel, against iron. The heavy thunder of a century-old power hammer. The sliding of metal into the forge, the necessary pauses, the removal. Inside, Knight directs the orchestra, wielding red-hot metal and moving between stations with masterful dexterity. A pair of cats lounge atop a toolbox, glancing at the show with disinterest, and a couple of dogs take turns checking in and chasing each other in a nearby field. Plywood walls are covered in permanent marker scrawlings: phone numbers, drawings, quotes, and plenty of scripture. Next to the doorjamb between rooms, the most visible markings are clear and bold: “Love is the answer,” it reads.
For Knight, love and the timeless trade of blacksmithing are intertwined. The love of his father when Knight was young, sharing fantastical bedtime stories about dragons and giants, sparked an interest in forging weapons. The encouraging love of his wife, Shelly, enabled him to pursue his passion, attending the Bill Moran School of Bladesmithing in Arkansas in 2001. His love for the art of forging catapulted Knight from being the on-site blacksmith at Middleton Place to winning countless international awards for his blades, specifically his revered damascus steel, and to earning the title of Mastersmith from the American Bladesmith Society in 2007. The importance he places on his faith, based solely in love, brought him to Nicaragua on a missions trip in 2008, where he taught locals how to make knives and increase their daily income sixfold. Now a household name in bladesmithing circles, Knight spends much of his time focused outward, sharing his skills with all who are interested—a group that is becoming larger by the day, he says.
Last year, Knight hosted a monthly “open forge,” where he invited anyone who cared to join to come out to his Harleyville workshop and witness the processes of blacksmithing and forging. Immensely popular, the events proved to Knight what he had been suspecting for some time: people are increasingly interested in making things.
“There’s a renaissance happening, a ‘maker movement’” he explains. “Take a look at farmer’s markets, local shops, online, and the classes you see offered around town. Now, even more than five years ago, people are making stuff for themselves. You see this spark in a person’s eyes when they realize they can make something, and I want to work with that, that desire to create.”
Knight currently contributes to the maker movement in a variety of ways, and hopes to get another idea or two off of the ground this year. In addition to forging blades to sell in shops and shows, he teaches at colleges across the country: this year, he will provide blacksmithing courses at Haywood Community College in North Carolina and at the Appalachian Center for Craft at Tennessee Technological University, and hopes to help create a blacksmithing program at a college in the Palmetto State. Knight also offers three day, hyper-focused individual and paired classes at his Harleyville shop—$1500 for one-on-one, $1200 for two-on-one. The price includes everything necessary to create and learn, and ensures that only serious students apply. So far, a multitude of skilled craftsmen have forged their beginnings with Jason Knight, (and many are becoming famous for their own bladesmithing), including Quintin Middleton of Middleton Made Knives. Crafting blades that are highly sought after in the chef community, Middleton began bladesmithing after a chance meeting with Knight inspired him to make his own knives.
“That’s what I love about this renaissance,” says Knight. “You show people how to make something, and that just inspires them. It inspires them to make anything they can imagine out of anything they can get their hands on.”
Looking forward, Jason Knight dreams of creating a mobile forge that he can take into lower-income communities and teach residents how to make useful tools out of metal. Blacksmithing, he says, ties into science, technology, and the arts, and the tools created using its techniques can be useful at home and in countless trades and occupations. By giving the gift of knowledge to those who seek it, Knight hopes to empower people young and old to better their situations, financially and otherwise.
“If it was my choice, I’d give my knives away,” says Knight. “But I have to make a living, so I have to sell them. I care about keeping this tradition alive, and I care about people, so I will teach what I know, giving the knowledge I have to those who want to learn.”
By Jana Riley