Thursday, March 22, 2012

Knives, Kindness, and the Economy

A year or two ago Beth and I were asked by a friend if we would make him some pannier bags for a cross country cycling trip he was planning. He wanted to use only recycled materials and have them handmade, so he came to us, bringing a large schwinn tent from th' bike shop we both work at. Beth did most of th' work, i bent up some spokes for th' hangers, etc... All in all it was a lot of work, and Beth added some extras to th' package, like a handmade sewing kit and patches, which actually got used to sew up a slice in his tire. We charged him a very reasonable price, and when he came to pay us he gave us double the amount. Now, Toby doesn't make a lot of money, remember, he works at a bike shop. What we asked for was a big chunk of change for him, yet he still gave more than we asked for. It was a humbling experience. He clearly saw th' effort that went into those bags.
 Here they are on his bike, going across th' country, it's th' bike on th' right. (We lost all our pictures due to a computer crash so this is all we have left.)

I took a bowl turning class a with Jarrod StoneDahl in Wisconsin. He charged me what i felt to be a very reasonable price. I was able to give him a bit more than he asked for. (Which, if you're reading this Jarrod, you definitely earned.) I left with a lot more than i asked for. He gave much more than he took.

bowls turned on a spring pole lathe
Joel Delorme makes custom crafted knives, and likes to make replicas of ancient designs. I saw on his website one day that he had something called a "Foragers Sickle". What!? So, me working at a bike shop and it being winter at th' time, i asked him how much he'd sell one of those for, just to think about saving up for one. After all, what's a forager without a Foragers Sickle? Turns out it's a replica of a bronze age sickle found in Scotland, which to me is really important. I'm a big fan of ancient technology, and i believe that for th' most part, th' further back you go in history th' more advanced is th' skill in producing things used in day to day life. You can read more about this find on th' Bushcraft UK forum here. Joel wrote me back and said he'd trade me for some hand carved spoons. Ok, i said, that sounds like a good trade. Well, i got th' blade, and he got th' spoons, and we were both impressed, and wanted to go a little further, so we made another trade, a fork for a sheath and some sinew. When i got Joels' second package in th' mail, there was also a replica of a medieval carving knife in there, from th' twelth century, you can read about those on th' St. Thomas Guild blog, and on Joels blog. That little knife is fast becoming my favorite. I'll write more about it on our crafts blog, once i've had a chance to use it a bit more. Joel just sent me an email as i was writing this post, here's his thoughts on th' matter:

"As to making the blade and things for you. This is the reason why i do these things sometimes. I know we all need to make a living but sometimes it feels right to do things, not for money, but for making a connection with somebody, even if that somebody is thousands of miles away. In fact it's maybe more important. So much of what we hear about other countries is seen/heard through the filter of th media and through the vested interests of politicians. I think it's important to be able to talk to "ordinary" people and make friends that way." Amen Joel.

 Here's a picture of th' sickle blade (i'll be making th' handle), sheath, medieval carving knife, and sinew.

bronze age sickle and medieval carving knife, working replicas

Del Stubbs of Pinewood Forge, makes some of th' finest carving knives i've ever had th' privilege of laying my eyes on, much less my hands. I use his knives and can literally feel th' countless hours of dedication that went into them- their design, and th' years he spent perfecting his craft, and his willingness to talk to and help out th' people who buy them. He sells them for so little i wonder how he can support himself and his family. Here's a picture of his sloyd knife and hook knife.

Pinewood Forge carving knives

Peter Vido started Scythe Connection in order to promote th' knowledge and use of th' scythe as a valid alternative to tractors and lawn mowers. There's much more to it than that simple statement, but check out his website to get it straight from th' horses mouth, so to speak. I ordered a scythe blade from Peter, he set me up with a really nice Italian made "Diamant" blade, it's like a sword that you cut grass with, and do you know what he wanted in payment? He asked me to make some spoons, what ever kind and how ever many i wanted, as a gift for a friend of his. He didn't even take payment. Here's that blade.

Italian made scythe blade.

But wait a minute, none of this makes any sense from an economic standpoint.
Joel earns part of his income selling his knives, and, like th' rest of us, has felt the impact of th' worldwide economic collapse. Economically speaking, his best choice would have been to sell that knife. But instead he chose to give it away.
 Economically speaking Jarrods best bet would have been to charge me way more than he did. But his time and knowledge are his own, and he chose to give them away.
Economically speaking Toby should have paid us what we asked him too, but he chose to double th' price.
Peter has told me that there've been times when they're so poor they can't even put gas in th' truck to go to town. So why is he trading scythe blades for gifts to other people?
Del could easily charge twice th' price for his knives and no one would even consider not paying it. 

Are these guys, and others who make similar choices going to end up poorer than those who don't? Are they less happy, do they feel th' crunch of a failing economy more because they keep giving away th' little that they have?
The answer to all those questions is a big fat NO. In fact, if we all had this attitude, there would not even be an "economy". People would simply do what they love to do, and would take care of each other. There is such a diversity amongst us all that if we all did what we love th' most, we would fill every need that people have.

Selfishness is not "sustainable". This word, along with "green", is thrown around so much these days that all meaning is lost. The only way this world is ever going to get better, and i think we all agree that it can, and needs too, is for us to give unceasingly, unselfishly, asking nothing in return, simply because that's what we love to do. We've met many people in our lives who've found what it is they love to do, what they were created for, and all those people do it not for themselves, but for anyone who will receive it.  They work night and day at their craft, skill, or what ever you want to call it. They continue on in prosperity and adversity. And i believe this is the only way out of our present mess- to find what ever it is that you love, and do it, no matter what th' cost. It will be worth it in the end.

The folk i have listed here are just a small sampling of people who've decided to live their lives in a way that inspires and encourages others- don't be afraid to add your own name to this list. We basically have two choices- one, in th' words of Ghandi, "Be th' change you want to see in th' world", or two, we write the epithath for the earth, in th' words of th' great humorist Kurt Vonnegut, "We could have saved th' world, but we were too damned cheap." I know which choice i'm going to make.


  1. Guess you might call your little slice of underground economy "pre-mammon."

  2. Hopefully post mammon. We can't quite go back to what it was like but we can try to evolve a new way of life, trying to get what we perceive to be the best out of what we have now, re-cycle some of the best of the past and try to go for a new society, before we are forced into having to do it in a hurry....Does that make any sense??

    1. yes joel, and that's not to say it's always easy, is it? But it is worth it.

  3. And i just want to add, we believe people should be able to charge full price for their hard work and craftsmanship- we don't just think nice things should be cheap. But there is something contagious about Generosity, and when others put out their best it causes us to want to put out our best too. And that's good for the economy! We're not trying to change the economy of the world, but to take part in the small economy of "Doin' our best for Love". And to feel human again! There is something wrong with the work world today. The policy is to do the least work for the most money, or to get the best deal for the lowest price. We need to change our ways and treat each other as fellow humans again. When we all put out our best, we are ALL provided for...

  4. I love this story...from someone who takes great pride in their work. Looking forward to reading your past and future posts.