by Natalie Saar
Art comes in lots of forms, including some that are a little… sharper than others: knives. RAW artist Nathan Zimmerman makes zimKnives, and they’re so much more than cutlery. There are many different techniques and styles that set each one apart. Nate has spent years honing his craft, culminating in an appearance on the show “Forged in Fire.”
Nate’s interest in making these complicated objects began at a young age. “Having an engineer for a father, I started working with my hands at a young age. A couple of excellent jewelry teachers in middle and high school gave me an affinity for metalwork. In college, I began working for a knife and tool sharpening company whose owner has been incredibly supportive throughout the years.” That support helped Nate move forward with his passion and dig deeper into the art. “One day, I decided to try making a knife after watching many YouTube videos. Eventually through sharpening and making better and better knives, I've been able to get my own shop and create a little business out of it.
“Learning to make knives involves lots of research into the tried and true methods that machinists, smiths, and artists have been using for thousands of years, and applying them to your needs, that, and messing up knife after knife until you finally get one right.”
As you can imagine, each knife takes a great deal of work and can take a surprisingly long time to make. “I prefer to work in batches of four for efficiency's sake, but one knife I can finish in a few days if it’s all I'm doing. Some of my more elaborate pieces get worked on for months or years. I recently was invited to participate in the Battle of the Bladesmiths at the New England School of Metalwork where four of us made a knife start to finish in two hours.”
That experience helped Nate explore other ways of making knives, as did his experience on “Forged in Fire” where he used a new method. “I had been making stock removal knives for a few years at the time, and after watching the show, I decided I wanted to learn to forge. So, not thinking I had a chance to get on the show, I applied and bought a forge. There were a series of interviews, and in between these, I forged two knives. I forged my third on the show, and the trip really made me love forging, and especially forging with other skilled smiths. It was a great learning experience, and I'd love to go back now that I've leveled up my skills.”
Don’t be fooled by how beautiful and intricate these knives are though. They all have a place and a purpose. “Most of my knives are derived out of an intended use and function, and their form flows naturally once I determine the parameters of the design. Lots of times I begin a project to try out a new process or design, like with the CNC milled Dagger with Bronze and Dyed Maple. I began that project to practice my 3-D design and CNC programming, and eventually it turned into a really special piece that went home with a collector at the RAW Milwaukee presents CONNECT showcase.”
If you’re interested in working with knives, one of the best things you can do for yourself is to get out there and learn. Travel is a great way to make that happen. “Almost every form of art, manufacturing, and craft relies to some extent on the items that were originally made by the blacksmith. From tools and fasteners, to wheels, containers and measuring devices, forming and shaping metal in a precise and efficient manner was, and still is, one of the most important skills a person could have. Modern day smiths continue the legacy and the craft of their forebears in every city across the world.”
Keep an eye out for zimKnives as Nate continues to make his mark in the world of artisanal knives.