TO JUDGE BY conversations with friends and acquaintances over the years, my family isn't the only one to treat the gifting of a knife as a rite of passage. It's an acknowledgment that the recipient has passed a milestone, having become sufficiently familiar with spatial relationships and mortality to avoid severing anything too terribly important from themselves or others. It's also the entrusting of a reliable tool, perhaps the most useful one that humans have invented and can own.
I no longer have the first knife I received--a somewhat unwieldy device that included a fork and spoon--but I still own the Colonial Forest Master camp knife that I bought on an elementary school field trip to Bushkill Falls ("the Niagara of Pennsylvania"). My classmates and I pretty much cleaned out a box of them in the gift shop as our teachers patiently waited for us to snap up our souvenirs. The little folder is a bit worn these days and the blade has a few chips out of it. That's because it was put to hard use over decades of whittling, repairing, cutting twine, and opening packages.
People are skittish about knives these days. Government officials in the United Kingdom have moved on to restricting blades after discovering that gun control wasn't the crime eradicator they'd imagined. Now the Brits are seriously considering banning points on kitchen cutlery. The assumption, apparently, is that nobody will rediscover the lost art of scraping hard objects against abrasive surfaces to reshape and sharpen them.
The fact is, it's not too difficult to make knives from scratch, as anybody who has seen History Channel's Forged in Fire knows.
"Let me show you this," my dentist said to me a year or so ago with a big grin.
In the middle of my exam, he pulled out a shaving-sharp, fixed-blade knife that he'd made himself. For fun, he installed a forge in his workshop and has developed a truly dangerous set of skills (and fingers perhaps a bit larger than you might want to encounter during a dental exam).
My nephew doesn't forge blades, but he frequents junk shops and flea markets looking for old steel files and rasps that he can grind to a fine edge. Originally self-taught, he's picked up pointers from a...