Jerry Fisk Knifemaker

Jerry Fisk: 50 Years a Bladesmith – By Del Corsi (Extended Free Preview)

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Jerry Fisk: 50 Years a Bladesmith
By Del Corsi

Knifemakers are a profound and complex group of people. Most relish working and creating alone, but at the same time they work well in groups and seem to thrive in crowded settings. It is always fascinating to learn how someone began a career in knifemaking – each maker usually has a great story about building their first knife. (Most still own that knife and without exception, mention how rough it looks!) Their passion and work ethic are quickly revealed after asking a few basic questions. Behind the scenes you will usually find a patient, hard working spouse at their side. Marketing and people skills are a necessary part of the knifemaking business, such a gift for those few who come by this naturally. Some knifemakers are larger than life and have a huge presence. In a nutshell I’ve just described legendary knifemaker Jerry Fisk.

When talking or interviewing certain folks, there can be an outer shell or barrier to crack before they fully open up, particularly when discussing their failures or bumps in the road. Not so with this legendary bladesmith! The only thing cracking with Jerry were his hilarious anecdotes, flavored with just the right measure of dry wit. He’s as sharp as any of the blades he makes, and failures are his favorite subject! Numerous layers are an understatement when discussing Fisk’s vocation, we will peel a few off by starting at the very beginning. It was a grade six field trip to the recreated James Black forge in Washington, Arkansas that provided the initial spark to his knifemaking career. Fisk fondly remembers watching a man working at a forge. He was dirty, playing in the fire, and making lots of noise; “Doing all the things my mom said not to do.”

Another early influence was a blacksmith who would set up along the side of the road with a card table selling his wares. Jerry’s dad was a minister, after church they would pass by this man’s table as they headed to a local restaurant for lunch. “I would have them drop me off and go without dinner; in my house if you missed a meal you waited until the next one! I gave up my meal to watch that man. He would whittle on hickory and chop with a knife as people would stop,” Fisk said.

Those knives sold for forty dollars apiece, and Jerry couldn’t believe people could spend that much money on a knife. Later in life he would sell his first knives for eight dollars each. His reasoning: “The local hardware store sold knives made by two guys named Case & Buck for fifteen to twenty dollars each, they even had their own display cases! I had no idea they were knife companies; just thought they were two guys.”
There were five boys in Fisk’s family, his dad made $1.65 an hour. On their 13th birthday he would bring the boys in, then gave them an orphan calf saying, “Good luck.” The boys were never bought another thing except for Christmas presents and their birthday. For a long time, Jerry worked two eight-hour jobs just to make ends meet. He remembers some tough winters too, adding, “If you didn’t work you would starve.” His work ethic is well known, so is his independence and strong spirit. It’s no surprise that sole authorship is prevalent in all his work, you get the impression talking to him that this aspect of the craft is mandatory, at least for him.

One might call his approach to marketing and sharing knowledge outside the box, but his methods are so far beyond normal that the box is not even recognizable. A great example of this is the Micro Invitational Show that he puts on at his place, one of the features are the incredible coon possum treats the hosts provide, sounds yummy… hey, I wasn’t messing around about thinking outside that proverbial box! Jerry has been putting on this Micro Show for 18 years, attendance is limited to a select number of makers and collectors. Each year the collectors vote on what two or three knifemakers they want to invite the following year. Don Hanson, Ricardo Vilar, and Lin Rhea are three of the regulars who attend every year. Jerry said the main criteria are, “Quality work and a sense of humor.”

Another example Jerry told me about is just as intriguing; “I am in the process of forming a little group called the Club of Scoundrels. They will pay a yearly fee, and one of the things offered this year was a Henry .22, I’ve designed the engraving. The receivers will be gold plated and engraved, there’s also a matching small game knife. The second year it will be a .45-70. The guns will match, serial numbers, everything will match! I’m having these makers do something they will not normally do, I might get ten custom axe pieces from a particular maker, maybe ten tactical knives from a different knifemaker.”

As I said, Fisk is very astute, and quicker than the crack of one of those .45-70 rifles he mentioned. Anyone fortunate enough to get some hands-on instruction from this Master Bladesmith is extremely fortunate. It is one thing to make a great knife, quite another to wear all the hats that include marketing, sole authorship for embellishment, and all the rest that one dons in order to operate a successful business. Jerry Fisk has not only mastered all the above, but he also eagerly shares this information with others.

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Jerry Fisk: 50 Years a Bladesmith – By Del Corsi