A short history lesson:
My name is Alec Wachtman. I originally started my journey into metal working when I was about 6 years old. Our local Boy Scouts organization hosted a maple syrup festival every year at which they had a blacksmith making nails and giving them to the kids watching. That was always my favorite place to go growing up. I was mesmerized watching him pound hot steel into beautiful pieces of art.
I saw the first Hobbit movie around a year after it came out. I was captivated watching the dwarves pounding out swords and axes in their smithy deep in the mountain. I knew I just HAD to try it for myself.
My first project was blacksmithing a knife out of aluminum in my grandpas fireplace. I'm not entirely sure where it got off to, but I remember it having a gut hook and a similar shape to that of a rounded butter knife.
My time as a blacksmith:
One year and thousands hours of YouTube videos later, I finally got my first forge at the age of 13. After a few hours of smithing, I realized forging a sword was going to be a lot harder than I thought; I could barely even lift the hammer!
Nevertheless, I persisted. Watching more YouTube videos and experimenting on my own, I finally made my first knife out of steel. It was incredibly crude and wasn't good for much other than stabbing. It was given a paracord handle and then promptly lost somewhere in my garage.
I decided to continue to pursue bladesmithing. I remember hearing a lot of smiths say to make at least a hundred S-hooks before moving on to anything else. They were probably right, but young and naïve as I was, I just continued to try and make knives, swords, axes or whatever else I liked at the time. I never got very far with any of them.
Determined to find me some proper instruction, my mother reached out to several living history museums to ask about an apprenticeship with one of the smiths. I was eventually connected with a man named John King who would prove to be an invaluable resource in the next few years.
A photo of an exhausted 15 year old me at my apprenticeship circa 2016
The knife shop:
I continued delving into the art of knifemaking and bladesmithing. I really got started when I found a small brick shed outside of Smokey Mountain Knife Works in Tennessee. At the time, the shop was owned by Tom Mohr and his father, Rick.
Visiting that shop rocked my world. I had spent hours drawing nearly every style knife that caught my eye. Tom was kind enough to take a look at a good deal of my drawings and ask me about them. He's the first person that ever talked to me about intended purpose in knife design.
I found out they taught classes and would do a full custom build for $200. My family and I were in Tennessee for about three days and they were willing to teach a class the next day. I did a lot of deliberating about whether or not I was going to take the class, $200 was about 50% of all the money I had in the world. I remember confirming the class with Tom over the phone like it was yesterday. Best $200 I've ever spent.
After that, knifemaking went a lot smoother, I felt like I knew what I was doing much better than before. Seeing the process of the craft unfold in person was a mesmerizing experience. Tom was kind enough to let me participate in aspects like profiling and handle shaping, but smart enough to know not to let me try freehand grinding as a first experience.
The belt grinder:
In my time watching knifemaking videos, I realized they all had this fancy looking belt sander. I slowly began to realize I needed a 2x72 belt grinder for myself. It was too expensive for me at the time, so I built my own over several months with the help of my grandpa; that grinder still runs today as a staple workhorse in the shop.
Post belt grinder-present:
After the belt grinder was built and running smoothly, I began to practice and hone my skills as a stock removal knifemaker. I found stock removal to be much faster and more precise than the old bladesmithing method I was beginning to learn.
During my time learning the craft of stock removal knifemaking, I attended a career tech school where I was taught some basic manufacturing and engineering principles including certification programs in both CAD and CNC machining. I founded Wachtman Knife & Tool LLC in 2019 during my time there at age 18. The science of modern manufacturing and it's potential applications for my budding knife company was (and still is) an endless sea of fascination.
I've continued to learn and develop my skills as a knifemaker and don't plan on stopping any time soon. I cannot thank the blacksmithing/knifemaking community enough for what they've helped me achieve. Nearly everyone I've talked to has been incredibly generous with their knowledge and time.
The bottom line:
Knives are my life, I've dedicated years to learning how to make and use them. At this point, when I see a knife, I can't help trying to dissect what processes were used to craft it, what it was meant for, even down to minute details like where the maker sourced their materials. I've spent countless hours in the shop obsessing over heat treating, handle shapes, torture tests and bevel grinding. I have literally put my blood, sweat and tears into bringing you the blades you see today.
Your support means a lot. Thank you for taking the time to appreciate what I've worked so hard on.