Will Manning contacted me via Instagram because he is/was contemplating a move to East Tennessee. It was his understanding, which I confirmed, that it is a great area for folks in the knife industry (or a random Trout Bum who writes about it). In the course of a followup phone call, Will agreed to participate in our 5 from the Grinder series, and I could not be happier to showcase his beautifully forged blades.
“My name is Will Manning, I run Heartwood Forge – founded on blacksmithing principals i was brought up on, that one man’s trash is another man’s gold. I’ve made knives using salvaged steel full time for the past 3 years and part time for 4 years prior to that. I love the creative transformation that happens when you create a tool using forgotten materials. I also love growing, cooking and eating food… naturally, I make culinary knives.
Question 1: What knifemaker(s) or designer(s) have had the biggest influence on you? Do you have any mentors?
What a loaded question. Anyone’s work I’ve ever seen has had an influence on me. My biggest mentors have been my old boss at a metal shop, he showed me just how much I do not need a boss in my life. Also, Skeeter Prather, an accomplished old time blacksmith in Tallahassee, FL has guided me step by step along the way. Every knife maker brings something different to the table, and I find it difficult not to be inspired by some aspect of any work I see. Earlier this year I was fortunate enough to get to study with mastersmith/mastermind Bill Burke in Idaho – I’ve loved his work and his knives since day one. It turns out that all the younger makers I also look up to have also at some point stepped foot in his shop – Mareko Maumasi and Jeremy Spake to name a couple. I’m totally into Don Nguyen’s, Greg Cimm’s and Brendan Weimolt’s work as well. As a culinary knife maker, Murray’s work has an inherent draw. And I always stop in my tracks when faced with the work coming from the Dragons Breath Forge collective in Connecticut. Outside of that, I’ve got also my eye on David Sharp & Stan Moizis, yeah, folders.
Question 2: What is your favorite knife pattern or style from history?
I don’t really have a particular favorite historic pattern. Likely my unfamiliarity with them…so if you’re reading this, reach out to me and help educate me. When I worked at a living history site in north Florida, I worked about 500 steps from an archaeology lab and I got to see lots of old iron, tools and weapons. This even included the occasional blade. These were strictly utilitarian and likely made by an apprentice smith or someone less skilled in a time of sincere desperation. What spoke to me about these artifacts and continues to speak to me whenever I see historic knives are the signs of age and use. I love seeing evidence of the maker, the user and the materials. We are such a smart species but I love it when I can see some of our primal instincts come out in a piece – either in the design and manufacture, material choices or use.
Question 3: What is the next big thing in knifemaking? / What direction do you see the industry going?
I think we’re entering a peak or a period of enlightenment in knife making… Don’t forget, I haven’t been around that long so take this with a grain of salt. I don’t what’s next. But I truly feel we’re amidst the age of hyper sharing. The advent of Instagram and Forged in Fire has put knife making on a very accessible arena. Ancient techniques are now being practiced by 14 year old bladesmiths in their back yard and masters are able to share live updates from their shop with people that are brand new to knife making. This level of sharing of knowledge is unique to knife making and the culture of communal honesty among knife makers could easily disappear as soon as the millennial crowd learns everything there is to know and shuts their door to knew-comers. We will continue to see a ton of sharing in the coming years. So, the next big thing in knife making is mass education… Maybe we’ll even see accredited universities offering degrees in the craft. I might even go back to school for that.
Question 4: Is there a knife from your lineup that you feel best exhibits who you are as a knifemaker/designer in terms of design elements, aesthetic or techniques used?
As of right now, June 2017, I’d have to say anything that is made from my salvaged san mai. I’ve been putting to use lots of recycled iron/non-hardening cladding as a way to maximize my 52100 and W2 core steels while but also to help cure the sickness I picked up at Bill Burke’s place. I’d say the paring knives I’ve been making lately are really good examples of my inquisitive and experimental nature. Everyone loves a unique and small but useful knife in their kitchen…
Question 5: What is your EDC and why?
Used to be a Kershaw Wild Turkey – but I lost one and the second one was stolen. Now I’m carrying a ZT 0801BW because I had a moment of weakness about six months ago at the gun store and I do have zero tolerance for anyone who wants to steal from me. Currently awaiting my first Stan Moizis folder and maybe when I have a midlife crisis, I’ll get a David Sharp Frame Horn.”
Damn I’m wordy.
If you are a knifemaker or know of a maker who would like to have their work featured in a future 5 from the Grinder post, please contact us at email@example.com.