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A Business that Cuts Deep
 
Published Wednesday, March 8, 2017
by DAVID WILEY


Eidolon chef knives. Courtesy photo.


When Zack Jonas first started a night class in 2009 at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design called “Introduction to Bladesmithing,” he had no idea it would be the start of a prosperous career. The class was taught by knifemaker J.D. Smith, who recognized Jonas’ enthusiasm following eight consecutive enrollments in the course. Smith then invited Jonas to become his apprentice.

That hobby eventually grew into Jonas Blade & Metalworks in Wilmot. “Knifemaking has been a successful avenue for me,” says Jonas, who creates about 150 knives annually. About 60 percent of all the knives he sells are kitchen knives, but he also makes hunting and camping knives, letter openers and utility knives. While Jonas’ bread and butter are pieces that are both elegant and utilitarian, his passion lies in creating artistic blades. He was recently commissioned to produce a five-piece set to represent each of a client’s children, given only a single-word description for each as a creative prompt.


 A five-piece knife set commissioned to represent a client's five children. Courtesy photo.


For many of his higher-end projects, Jonas creates an exotic metal known as Damascus steel, which involves stacking bars of carbon steel and nickel in an alternating pattern, heating them to extreme temperatures and then pressing or hammering the layers until they become one solid brick. The process is laborious but adds value through the visual aesthetic known as “acid etching,” which brings out vibrant patterns from the contrasting metals. In addition to Damascus, Jonas also uses exotic woods like desert ironwood or African blackwood, to create functional pieces of art.

Jonas uses a mix of traditional tools and modern technology to create his knives, including an 1800s French anvil, a 26-ton hydraulic press and a propane forge that exceeds 2000 degrees. Prices range from as little as $100 to more than $10,000 for high-end custom work.

Jonas is a journeyman with the American Bladesmith Society, a group of fewer than 190 worldwide. He credits the annual League of NH Craftsmen fair held in Sunapee for the momentum in his business.

“It’s absolutely a cornerstone of my business,” he says, having first been invited to attend in 2013, the same year he officially opened his full-time studio.

His most popular product is a chef’s knife originally designed for a friend’s wedding that he showcased at the fair in 2013. By the end of that week, he’d taken eight orders for the knife at $650 each. The fare continues to generate about 40 percent of Jonas’ annual sales.

“I haven’t had to spend a single dollar on advertising,” says Jonas adding he typically has six to eight months of work at any given time.

In 2016 Jonas was invited to show his work at the 34th annual Smithsonian Craft Show in Washington D.C. “It’s been described as the Oscars or Super Bowl of craft,” says Jonas of the event, which accepts only 120 artists each year. Jonas was invited back in 2017. “Many high-end customers wait for a second visit,” at the show says Jonas, explaining some customers want an
established artist.

Jonas says licensing his designs is one goal as that would allow him to “focus on more artistic projects.” He also hosts classes for other artisans and plans to conduct his own bladesmithing classes.

For more information, visit jonasblade.wpengine.com.


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