NTM was a phenomenal experiment. Many moons ago, I was already headed in that direction on my own, when I had an enlightening conversation with Virgil England at the Blade Show in Atlanta. He told me that there were kindred spirits in Arizona who were forging by the light of a full moon, and doing some quite innovative things.
I made contact with Tim Lively and Tai Goo in Arizona, my brothers from another mother. The snowball had just gone over the top of the hill and before long, it had become an avalanche.
There was significant interest in and around my area (which covered a significant chunk of the East coast) and soon a full moon hammer-in was held at my house, and the Blue Ridge Tribe was born.
One of the early credos of the NTM's was: "If the worst happened, and civilization as we know it ceased to exist (think Mad Max) could you still make a knife?"
It was an interesting proposition, and led to some great creativity, evident not only in the knives and tools made, but also in the means of making said knives. Homemade forges, muscle powered tools, and scavenged raw materials were sort of our stock in trade.
And it didn't escape the notice of the rest of the knife world either. The term "primitive" became a topic of hot debate. It was said that many of the NTM knives were primitive. But primitive meant something different to different people. Was a knife primitive because of how it looked, or was it a tool with only ancient styling, manufacturing means, and functionality? Was primitive a style, a look, or was it indicative of quality?
As the NTM's grew exponentially in a relatively short period of time, our tribes included accomplished professional knifemakers, and people with no prior experience who wanted to learn the craft, and learn it our way. When it became available, Wayne Goddard's "The $50.00 Knife Shop," was a welcome volume. The philosophy and sagely advice Wayne provided in print was one upon which many of us had already embarked. It's not so much that we were anti-nice equipment, it's just that we were trying to make high quality knives with less (that whole society as Thunderdome thing) and Wayne's book really helped some new smiths and stock removers get into making knives with a minimum starting investment. It's still available on Amazon, by the way, and a worthwhile investment.
But what fun we had! We had "iron in the hat" drawings frequently, and some great friendships were made around the country and the world. In fact I was privileged to visit Tim Waggendorp's, and Achim Wirtz's respective shops in Belgium and Germany. Lightning had struck, and it seemed the NTM's were an unstoppable force.
The ABS has organization, official leadership, official membership, and very exacting standards. Now please, no one take that as a criticism of the ABS. I have a great deal of respect for the ABS, and am friends with a number of Journeymen and Master smiths. The quality both in performance and aesthetic are high, and all the above is what makes it such an outstanding and prestigious guild. It's also all of the above that has kept it a legitimate and still existing organization. And, that said, it's probably the lack of all the above that contributed to the end of the NTM's as an organization, which it never really was. Movement yes, organization no.
That's not to deny that there was infighting among some of the members and leaders. There was occasional unnecessary contention and antagonism between smiths and stock removers, usually initiated by the smiths. There were no real organizational rules, no official leadership, no membership requirements, and no explicitly stated quality standards, which, at the time, made things fun and free, but at the same time, probably foretold our doom as an organization. Now what I just said were definite issues with the NTM's, quality was always stressed. It was never acceptable to cut corners or make inferior knives.
However when photos were posted, there were knives made by brand new makers with what some might consider substandard knifemaking equipment. That notion some in the knife world was used as a criticism of the NTM's concept of quality. True, many of the new folks' first attempts were a little rough around the edges, and couldn't be deemed museum quality. But we lauded their efforts and proudly displayed them, because we thought it important to be encouraging and inclusive. It's kind of like being given something your child made for you in grade school. Rough, crude, and ultimately priceless. No one was judged on the basis of their experience or lack thereof, at least not at first.
Some iron in the hat drawings drew some criticisms because experienced smiths didn't like getting rough newbie work, when they had gone all out and entered quite salable pieces. In fact it was because of some of the infighting and criticisms that I was asked to become a forum moderator on one of the old NT forums, because I guess I was more adept at peacemaking and cooling down volatile situations. My unofficial official NTM leadership title was Medicine Man, a title not to be found in most corporate structures. We were serious about knife making, but not about much else. I bet there's not a "Medicine Man" degree in the ABS. How about Master Medicine Man? I'm tempted to put Dana Acker, MMM on my business card.
I'm a smith. I do stock removal primarily for clean up and aesthetics. I said this in my previous post, but I was just given a knife I made 20 years ago to do a little clean up work on for the owner. It was a knife I forged completely to the edge, much like Tai and Tim and others, "sharpened with a hammer." Aside from a small amount of surface rust, and work wear, the knife is still in great shape. It was a NT blade, and it has, so far, stood the test of time. Again, I'm not looking for applause, it's just proof that one doesn't have to follow an accepted set of protocols dictated by others in order to make a good knife. Some of us were just born not to follow.
All that said, I have no issues with stock removers. Some of the best knives I've collected over my lifetime were made via stock removal, and they are great knives! I'm proud to own a Bob Dozier knife that I purchased from him personally. Bob has always said, "I'm just a grinder." But that knife is one of my prized possessions, and its quality is impeccable, although it's never seen a forge. Ever checked out a Greg Medford knife? The Jones brothers, Philip and Barry out of Southern Virginia made many if not most of their knives by stock removal, and they made great knives. In fact Philip brought a Katana they had made to our first Blue Ridge NTM's full moon gathering, and we used it to chop wood to burn into charcoal for forging. That Katana was hardly scratched up after a lot of rough use that night, and was still razor sharp when the sun came up. Again, impeccable quality. I miss the Jones brothers; I hope they are doing well.
There are professions where when one leaves or retires, the former members are still considered active participants. Once a police officer always a police officer, once a teacher always a teacher, once a Marine always a Marine...and there are many more. Now I'm not comparing myself to any of those well respected vocations. Not in the least! Their training, reputations and exploits are mountains higher than those of mine.
But that said, once a NTM, I have found, always a NTM, even though the unofficial official organization is defunct, and even its once vibrant forum is largely a forgotten ghost town of the past. I choose to remember the old ways, and promote the leading and teaching of any sincere person desiring to learn the craft as a still worthy goal. And while I have a better than basic shop, I still support the idea of not having to have a lot of expensive machinery in order to learn knifemaking. In other words, when it comes to NTM I eat the fish, and spit out the bones. I have a Rob Frink belt grinder with five different grinding wheels and platens, and I'm still NT and don't feel hypocritical. Neither should anyone else.
Knifemaking should be fun, and something to be excited about and share with others. It's about new and ancient techniques. It's about generating new and lasting relationships, which creates a network and repository of information.
That said, if everything went to hell in a bucket in society, could you still make a knife...?