‘SAVIK’ The Story of Jonathan VanBallenberghe & His Knives

Tucsonan Jonathan ‘SAVIK’ VanBallenberghe is an esteemed filmmaker and a clandestine craftsman. Read on to learn more about his inspirations, philosophy and knife traditions (in his own words)…

I was born and raised in Alaska, and I’ve always enjoyed learning about the subsistence life practiced by many Alaska Natives. Now I live in Arizona, but I spend a lot of time in the Inupiat (Inuit) village of Kotzebue. My friends there call me Savik – Inupiat for “knife.” I’ve made many knives as presents for my Inupiat Friends, and these knives are worked seriously hard. They cut salmon, butcher caribou, slice rope, trim cardboard, and do just about everything else. My knives are tools that can endure heavy use. But my philosophy is that tools – especially those used every day – should be elegant. I’m inspired by old Inuit camp knives, medieval chisels, antique American rifles, and Amish farm tools.

There is a long tradition of repurposing metal objects into knives. This practice is probably as old as the art of forging itself. My favorite steel for knifemaking comes in the form of crosscut saws from the 19th and 20th centuries. Designed to cut through huge trees, these saw blades were made from high-carbon steel that stays hard and sharp for a long time. Transforming the tarnished antique saws into shiny new knives is a long process that begins with my forge, in which the steel is annealed (softened) so that I can reshape it. After much cutting, grinding, sanding, and polishing, the blade goes back into the forge to be re-hardened. Every knife made this way has a story behind it. The same blade that slices a potato today once helped to build farmhouses more than a hundred years ago. The knife’s story has another important part, of course: the handle. I like to use figured black walnut from old farms in Nogales, Mexico, desert ironwood, antler, and walnut from old Winchester rifles.

Watch Jonathan ‘SAVIK’ VanBallenberghe make a knife.

SAVIK KNIVESĀ are available at Sunshine Shop Tucson. Please stop by the shop or call us 520-389-4776. Note: we have a rotating selection available on our Etsy Shop SunshineShopTucson.