Making it as a knifemaker is no easy task and there are countless knifemakers out there worthy of some time and attention. It’s been a while since we’ve profiled a knifemaker on the blog (the last time was probably 2012’s chat with Stewart J. Light). So when knifemaker James Wahls of Indy Hammered Knives reached out to us, I was intrigued.
I did some research and stumbled upon this video:
His story seemed really interesting, so I agreed to interview him about his journey as a knifemaker.
First, could you tell us a little about yourself, such as where you’re from and your background growing up?
Good Question, I’m from and grew up in LaGrange, IN, which is a small town in northern Indiana. When I say small, I mean I had Amish neighbors growing up and is still the place where I get all my sweet vintage blacksmithing tools! My folks and sister still live up there. I love to go back and visit this special place as much as I can because it will always be home to me.
Growing up was much different from these days. We played outside in the woods. Most of me and my friends worked for and had dirt bikes, which we rode everywhere. We swam every day in the lake.
My youngest son is very much into time travel movies and he said he wishes he could travel back in time and be my friend because it sounded like so much fun and that I would have been “a cool buddy to hang out with” (which I think was about the sweetest thing I’ve ever heard from one of my three kiddos!)
You spent years working in health care administration before starting a career in knifemaking. What prompted the change?
Well, as you listen in my shop testimony, I subscribed to the national narrative (or lie) that you have to go to school, get a great education or fancy degree so you can get a great job and make a lot of money, all so you can be “happy” or “successful”. All of which I did, however, none of which brought me peace or happiness.
Not until my world came crashing down, much of which was due to alcohol and overwork, stress and the things that the lie brings, I realized I was broken. That is when I cried out for help, which came from above, to a God I never knew, but who had always known me, and with that He answered, with the peace I was always searching for and the peace that only He can bring.
That is when I began recovery (I’ve been free from the chains of alcohol for over 7 years) and when I began reading the bible. And in the great Holy Word of God it says over 25 times “James – work with your hands” so I listened, which is where IHK began!
How long have you been making knives?
I started making knives in 2013 while working with Jeff White (Bladesmith from Peru, IN). Jeff was my mentor and taught me how to blacksmith. I started IHK in 2014 and have been full time six days a week ever since!
What do you enjoy the most about knifemaking?
There is great joy making something useful that folks need and then also cherish, starting from absolutely nothing (or just raw material) and creating something not only purposeful but beautiful and something that will be multi-generational!
That and sharing my testimony, His story in me, and my knives with all of my awesome customers, not only those who stop in the shop but all over the world, who write to me sharing their stories as well.
What’s the most popular knife you make?
The IHK Skinner is by far the most popular knife. To me, it is the most perfect drop point, pointer skinner out there because it is the perfect size for almost any task.
This is why I included it as a build-your-own-knife in the complete knife making kit as well. I sell this knife 10 to 1 on any other knife that I currently make — the Sojourner being a close second.
You recently started offering knifemaking classes at your shop in Indiana. What inspired you to teach others to make knives?
Ever since I started making knives, I’ve always had folks ask if I would teach them, which I have done one on one over the years.
My lifelong friend and college fraternity brother came to the shop over a year ago. After just finding out he had stage IV cancer and not being able to work, he was searching for purpose. I told him that he should come and work in the shop, make a knife, and let God guide him as he works the steel to find purpose.
Don’t get me wrong I like the show Forged in Fire, but it misses the beautiful serenity that happens in the forge and on a grinder. When your mind is focused on a space so small as a “dime” your mind just becomes empty and clear, allowing for all the noise of the world to be blocked out so that the whispers of the Holy Spirit can be heard more clearly.
That is exactly what happened with Heath Gibson. He realized I should be teaching and with his help we made that happen together. And man has it been so successful! The students have been an absolute blessing and they are learning a new set of skills they never thought possible as well as crafting beautiful knives.
The experience for not only Heath and I but the students is really hard to put into words. The comments from students in the class can be seen on my website, so I will let them speak for themselves. [You can do that here.]
What’s one of the biggest challenges of being a knifemaker?
There are not really a lot of challenges other than just finding enough time to ensure I can keep up with the demand, but God always allows and it’s not a real issue.
The other is not being able to advertise like any other small business in the USA. I cannot use Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube for advertising since I am considered a “weapon.” I have over 1,000 followers on Facebook and almost 4,000 on Instagram, and only a couple people see my posts when I do post.
It’s pretty ridiculous, but that is why I’m so grateful for partnerships like this one right here where you can help me reach those who would have never known I even existed.
Do you have any future goals or things you hope to accomplish as a knifemaker?
I hope the brand (IHK) becomes far more than just me. I built this in part so that my three kids could have the option of working for themselves after high school if they choose. And if nothing else, it gives me an opportunity as a father to teach them how to work with their hands, which after learning that and how to work a hard days work, no one could ever take that away from them.
I also want to become a true source of not just education but high-quality knife-making products to the Midwest. I have a masonic brother and friend that makes my grinders, which in my eyes are far superior to any on the market. They’re made right here in Indianapolis and are about half the price of anything in their league. I also want to focus on exotic woods, pins, and any other part or piece of making knives.
There are just very few sources like this and certainly not ones that you can walk into and see them in full use, prior to making that kind of investment.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Well, I’m a knife nut for sure, so if you’d let me I would talk until Christmas about God and Knives but I think I’ve said plenty! Thank you so much for helping me get the word out about Indy Hammered Knives. God Bless you!