When I was very young, I had this mental picture of a knife maker as a man deep in the mountains pounding a red-hot piece of steel with a hammer. J. Neilson actually fits this description, as he lives on a remote farm in the mountains of northeast Pennsylvania. A fan of historic blades, Neilson became interested in knives as a sword collector, finding inspiration from Mongolian and European cultures as he started tinkering.

It wasn’t long before he bought his first knife kit and things took form soon after that. Neilson began making knives using the stock removal method, but fell in love with forging, learning most of the techniques by trial and error, not under any blade smith’s wing. He makes some pretty fantastic blades, all the way from woodslore-type knives to a giant scythe. Neilson told me of his work, “I get bored easily so I like to try my hand at many different styles, not just knives but really unique items, too.” Neilson doesn’t like to sketch out his blades; he lets them take shape after removing metal here and there.

Scandi Bushcrafter
The British bushcraft movement inspired Neilson to try making a Scandinavian style-ground blade made out of 1084 with burl wood handles. I was able to inspect one of his blades close up, and the grind was spot on as far as flat grinds are concerned. It would take off nice long strips of wood with no problem. The overall knife is 8.5 inches and 5/32 -inch thick, with a high .25-inch bevel and a stabilized wood handle, further illustrating that he has a wide variety of tastes.

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When I was very young, I had this mental picture of a knife maker…