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My Knife Life, J.D. Smith

Discussion in 'Custom & Handmade Knives' started by Kohai999, Dec 4, 2017.

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  1. Kohai999

    Kohai999 Second Degree Cutter

    Jul 15, 2003
    Right around the time we came up with the name for our knife busines, High Hat Knives in 1992....we started doing a lot of gun shows in Washington, Puyallup, mostly. It was a decent beginning, we looked for more knife specific shows to sell at and in 1993, we met J.D. Smith at the Oregon Knife Collector's Association show held annually in Eugene, Oregon.

    After studying at the Saugus Iron Works in the early 1980's, J.D. worked as an apprentice to Jot Singh Khalsa and was also a member of the American Bladesmith Society, where he rose from Apprentice to JS to finally, MS in 1998.

    He was producing EXCEPTIONAL damascus blades from almost the beginning....he had/has not only an innate ability to understand what questions to ask, but builds on knowledge with an emphasis on experimentation of both aesthetics and the craft of forging patterns simultaneously. I mean he was doing ethnic (kris, tanto, parang....) blades with sometimes three bar composite damascus within a year of starting to forge damascus, and winning awards at knife shows for it.

    Within a year of meeting J.D., and hanging out, we had attended shows in Eugene, OR, San Jose, CA, Providence, RI.....and spent some quality time chilling at The Forge with Bill McHenry and Jason Williams. He was learning, but he was also teaching at the same time. There has not been a year since 1993 that J.D. hasn't been influencing some up and coming maker.....I've met probably 10 people since that time period that he has directly mentored.

    J.D. was one of the first makers to explain to me, not only HOW to make good damascus, but why he used certain design elements. He LOVES African Blackwood as an example, but he also loves a nice leather wrap, so why not carve a Blackwood handle to resemble leather wrap? It seems like a lot more work, but he explained to me how he could do it relatively quickly, he found it immensely satisfying and it allowed him a signature look that elevated his work.

    That I met J.D. and became a good friend of his so relatively early in HIS career while I was working on my OWN thing allowed me to ask good pointed questions of him, and also engage in spirited debate/discussion, which he is always up for. Why is this a good knife, why does this or that maker do good work, why do I like a particular knife? As my eye and aesthetic was developing his was too, and we were always crossing over and talking about it.

    J.D. is a tall, fit East Coast black man in an industry that doesn't have a lot of black men, fit or not. He told me 30 years ago..."Don't ever forget that I am black, but don't make a big issue of it, either".....and I never have. He didn't have to say that, we both grew up in the NY area, but he said it because of this industry, and the solidly "good old boy" crap that it can represent.

    I came to this as a total outsider, like most of my friends. We sit at the periphery of the room in a banquet to this day, because that is where we can find space to be who we are and not have the billy and nanny goats looking over our shoulders talking smack. Can't tell you how many times me, Pete Stephens, J.D. Smith, Matt Diskin and others would just go out and have a nice meal at a "good" restaurant in Eugene, or some other town in the USA to hang out and talk like we do, get drunk and laugh our asses off rather than try to be "part" of the mainstream, and "fit in". I was resolutely accepted by the people who mattered to me in the beginning and have never tried to curry favor for patrons, power or politics in the knife world, just wanna live my Knife Life as I see fit, and make no apologies for it either.

    YOU do you, I'll do me.....ask me to tone it down, reel it in, "be nice"....nope, that's you.

    J.D. has stories....man does he have stories.....ask him about 9/11 trying to get out of Boston to Eugene for the OKCA show back in the day .

    He has a 31 year-old daughter who is a grad student in Cairo. He speaks Russian, he Salsa dances and he casually quotes Longfellow: “Under a spreading chestnut tree/ The village smithy stands/ The smith, a mighty man is he/ With large and sinewy hands.”

    Last time I saw him(couple years ago) he had this fabulous piece he was working on with Josef Shnayder building completely next level work fit for kings.

    Best Regards,

    STeven Garsson

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Dec 5, 2017
    parfums95, ArchVV, HTMD and 3 others like this.
  2. Win Heger

    Win Heger Gold Member Gold Member

    Feb 29, 2000
    I remember the NY shows back in the '90s. Always admired J.D.'s work and Jot's, too. What they were making were not what I was collecting but I enjoyed stopping to look. I think J.D was down the aisle to the right when you went in, a guy named Fogg was in the same area. Nice write up, STeven.
    Dawkind likes this.
  3. Arthur Washburn

    Arthur Washburn Knifemaker and AMC Freak in Pioche, NV

    Jul 15, 2000
    Nice write up Steve. One of the things I miss about the Eugene show is hanging with JD, Matt and the Montana Mafia crowd.
    Dawkind likes this.
  4. john april

    john april KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Feb 27, 2006
    enjoyable read. the first knife show i attended as a maker/seller, i ended up at the table next to his. i knew who he was. we had some friendly chat and he asked if i might want any critique on my work. i told him i would appreciate any pointers, and he did. i went home and changed what i was doing immediately. very nice gentleman.
    Dawkind and coldsteelburns like this.
  5. Lorien

    Lorien Moderator Moderator

    Dec 5, 2005
    I love J.d. He's super rad, and an all around impressive person
    Steven- I first learned of his work through one of David Darom's earlier books, which had a photo of one of his knives that's in your collection.
  6. Kohai999

    Kohai999 Second Degree Cutter

    Jul 15, 2003
    J.D. is extremely easy to love, Lorien....but of all my friends in the knife world, he can be one of the most difficult as well. He REALLY dances to his own tune, and can be unbelieveably absent minded .

    The Yoroi Toshi dagger was delivered to me the DAY before Phil Lobred drove up the coast to have Eric Eggly photograph it for that book.

    That's J.D. for you.

    It was extremely important for me to have the Phillip Baldwin, Don Fogg, Larry Fuegen and J.D. Smith knives in that book. It was a tangible way for me to "give back" .

    Best Regards,

    STeven Garsson
  7. SharpByCoop

    SharpByCoop Enjoying the discussions Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Oct 8, 2001
    Good stuff. I've worked with him often and our relationship goes back to 2002.

    JD is a formidable personality and a wonderfully gifted teacher. He's just as gifted as an artist, but VERY few artists in his league have cultivated such a field of students which he has. My memory isn't as strong to recall all of them (so I will miss many). Kevin Klein, Paul Cooper, Andrew Meers and MANY more.

    I've told this story before, and it colors your impressions:

    When I was into making kit knife folders almost ten years ago, I brought one up to the ABS hammer in in NY in 2002. I was SO proud of it! It had it all: Rubbed blade finish, Stag scales, damascus bolsters, red liners, fileworked liners, fileworked backspacer, and carved clip. I left nothing untouched.

    I proudly showed it to Mastersmith JD Smith, and he studied it closely. I was waiting for his approval.... :confused: :) :rolleyes:

    He smiled and said: "I don't know where to begin. All the components are fine individually, but there is no flow or continuity from each component to the next. It's simply all too much."

    You can imagine my disappoinment, AND my surprise. Now having had more than a few knives to witness since then ;), I completely get his points. He has such a fine eye.

    Also during that Hammer in JD gave a seminar on filework:




    Steven, your stories are terrific. The GIFT you have is your incredibly clear memory and your vivid writing. Truthfully you have career-earning abilities and ought to add some outreach beyond forums (and Home Depot) to extend yourself.

    You really have impressive skills and it's a needed ability. Thanks for bringing it here.

    mb> likes this.
  8. mb>

    mb> Gold Member Gold Member

    Sep 24, 2014
    I'm enjoying these posts Steven. Keep 'em coming.
  9. Dawkind

    Dawkind Platinum Member Platinum Member

    Apr 3, 2000
    I’ve never figured out JD....I’ve stood at his table admiring his work in Atlanta several times, as he sat behind his table reading the newspaper, only glancing up momentarily and going back to his reading.

    Nice knives, interaction with a prospective Buyer....not so much.

    As the age old adage goes, “I don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.”
    Win Heger and john april like this.
  10. Lorien

    Lorien Moderator Moderator

    Dec 5, 2005
    Last edited: Dec 5, 2017
    parfums95 and Dawkind like this.
  11. jdsmith02115


    Aug 5, 2002
    Steve, that was one the kindest things anyone involved in these pursuits has ever done. Thank you. One small correction however for an otherwise very accurate account. My time with Jot Khalsa was mid to late 80's. I also have since become a grandpa! My daughter married a few years ago.
    Dawkind likes this.
  12. jdsmith02115


    Aug 5, 2002
    Like a snapshot, a single meeting captures only a moment in time devoid of a larger context. I'm very sorry that you caught me in that state. I certainly don't recall that near encounter with you, but if it was 1997, I was having a VERY bad blade show experience for reasons I won't disclose. My apologies if I ignored you.
    Dawkind likes this.
  13. sheathmaker

    sheathmaker Custom Leather Sheaths Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    May 18, 2005
    JD, I don't think I've had the pleasure of making your acquaintance, but based on you comment I think I would be honored to shake your hand and if lucky become friends.

    STevie, great thread, I hope I've earned a spot in the later years of your Knife Life..

    jdsmith02115 and Dawkind like this.
  14. Kohai999

    Kohai999 Second Degree Cutter

    Jul 15, 2003
    Hi Coop, thanks for the kudos, I don't know how to monetize my writing at this juncture, but I do have a cool idea for a book.

    Will mull it over.
    You are most welcome, you have been a highly valued friend over the years, and I wish you congratulations on your granpa-hood! L'Chaim!

    Best Regards,

    STeven Garsson
  15. jjtjr

    jjtjr Gold Member Gold Member

    Dec 28, 2001

    Nice write up.

    I have known JD Smith and collected his knives for well over 20 years. I have been to his house and shop many times.

    Like many great knifemakers, JD has a style that is easily recognizable. JD does things his own way, but if the results mean anything, that is fine with me.

    HTMD, jdsmith02115 and Dawkind like this.
  16. Kohai999

    Kohai999 Second Degree Cutter

    Jul 15, 2003
    Jim Treacy died about two weeks after the post above. I've been hard pressed to move on over it....he was a fantastic human and a knife person of the first order.

    I'm gonna close this thread in dedication to Jim Treacy, and wish him a fine, fine afterlife, with love.

    Best Regards,

    Steven Garsson
    HTMD, parfums95 and jdsmith02115 like this.
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