J. Neilson – Pennsylvania
J. Neilson is one of the more recognized knife makers of our times. His position as a judge on the popular History Channel show Forged in Fire has turned his name into a household term for every knifemaker aspiring to his skill level.
But his home workshop, which he refers to as his “shop in the woods,” is a far cry from the TV show set. Nestled in the endless mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania, its quiet setting and scarcity of neighbors is the perfect setting to develop the skills needed to become a Mastersmith in the American Bladesmith Society. When you see his work there is no doubt about why he was chosen to be on the show.
All aspects of knife making are done by Neilson, using both forging and stock removal methods, including on-site heat treating. He uses both laminate damascus techniques, and canister damascus making techniques, and makes fixed blade knives, mostly bowies, daggers, hunter/skinner styles, everyday carry and historic replicas as well as the occasional tomahawk and sword.
Neilson is a firm believer that a knife and sheath should come as a set and complement each other, so each of his fixed blade knives come with a custom fitted sheath. The leather work is done by some of the best traditional and primitive style leather crafters in the USA, using a variety of leathers, both domestic and exotic. Each sheath is designed for each individual knife using custom carving, tooling, inlays, etc. Being able to hand over a completed knife to a custom craftsman and have them match the sheath to that piece makes for a much more complete set. As opposed to just a knife with a plain “piece-of-hide” sheath.
Neilson has also started adding his own Kydex sheaths for some of his “basic utility” and “bug-out” models as well as neck knives.
Most of his time is spent working on custom orders. However he always seems to have time to change his line of “in stock” items as well.
Neilson forges his blades out of high carbon steels such as 1080/84/95, W1-2, 5160, 52100, 15N20, Cru-forge V and his own Damascus steels, as well as some O1 and L6 blades on occasion, depending on the knife’s purpose or client’s preferences. His damascus steel is also forged from the same steels listed above. Meaning all of his damascus is a “working” steel, not just a “cool to look at” decorative material.
As to the “in-shop” heat treating of blades, Neilson prefers to edge or clay quench high carbon steels whereas most damascus blades are fully quenched, unless an edge quench is requested. All blades are put through multiple thermal, hardening and tempering cycles. Since all of his high carbon steel blades are heat treated at his shop, he can guarantee each knife has an extremely tough and durable edge (58-59 Rc).
Upon finishing, all blades are sharpened and polished to a fine “toothy” edge so your edge will “bite” and then slice through whatever your working with or through. This gives you a very tough, durable and attractive working knife whether it goes into the field or into your collection.
For handles, Neilson prefers to use a lot of natural materials including Sambar stag, bone, ivory and horn, plus a variety of stabilized burls and exotic woods like Desert Ironwood, Amboyna, Redwood, Maple, and other burls, Cocobola, African Blackwood, etc. All are kiln dried for stability and sealed for durability before being buffed to a high finish. Synthetic materials also play a part in his handles. These include some reconstituted stone, faux ivories, colored spacers, as well as Micarta and G-10. These can be used as accents or as an entire piece. There are also more than a few choices for your knife’s hardware (guards, pommels, pins, etc.) including brass, nickel-silver, bronze, copper, wrought iron, etched, lightly blued or “antiqued” carbon steel as well as stainless steel.
J. Neilson Contact Information
J. Neilson Knives