The Neo-Tribal Metalsmith Art Movement

Is propane an unacceptable fuel source, if one intends to be "Neotribal", I have noticed thousands of dollars of tools, power-hammers, belt-sanders, presses in many Knife shops. Being of modest resources (broke), I like the minimalist approach.
A recommended tool list for making my first knife a Neotribal, I could of course make one of those sweet looking cutler hammers. I have yet to pick up the Knife making unplugged (is that inappropriate?). Looking forward to setting up my cuchillería primitiva,

Propane is the "Neo" in Neo-Tribal. Of course it's O.K. If you build the forge yourself, out of junk,... it's even better. :)
We got rid of "rules" a long time ago. We're on the "Honor system" now... if it feels "Neo-Tribal", just do it!
some day maybe but not for awhile...we aren't set up for anything more than a small hammer in.

If you have it, we will all be naked under a full moon forging on a true north and south line.
I'm not sure I am ready for that. :9:
Let's go to Tim's place...

I nominate BossDog for that! :)

... full moon party?
... The naked under a full moon part, forging N/S, is the only Neo-Tribal stereotype I’ll ever agree with. :)

Painting faces, dancing around the fire, waving knives at the sky, chanting wildly etc., are optional.
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Sorry, I haven't replied to all this fun sooner. The flu teamed up with a few other evils and took me down for a week. But I got my lazy butt in gear yesterday and headed for the mountains with my new mobile propane forge and found a spot right next to the McKenzie River and fired it up. I still need a better portable anvil set up. Right now Im using a 18 pound jewelers anvil on the ground.
As far as all the rest goes...... I just want to be a part of something big and exciting and to do that I think I have to get out of my own way. I know that in the begining there was a period for more than a year where I was the ONE AND ONLY knifemaker keeping it alive by making Neo Tribal pieces when NO ONE else was. I know where Neo-Tribal would be without me. Im the only one who remembers that because I was the only one who cared to keep it alive then. But I don't need the recognition as a founder any longer. I know what I did. I'm willing to move on and just be me without any badges of accomplishments but I will always state the facts the way they happened and won't allow my vital part to be buried. I was there, yall weren't. Forge On!
When I first started forging knives three years ago the first vid I watched was "unplugged" and I thought YES this what I want to do. So I started doing it. But reality quickly set in hard! People here don't buy them, or at least won't pay the price to cover the cost of making them. I had bills to pay and had to figure a way to pay them so went the forge welded blade route, then tried the stainless steel route - well the SS route quickly killed all the passion I had for making knives and I stopped and found a job.
I started up again full time 3 months ago after a year of not making knives, back to the forge welded blades and some carbon steel friction folders and am enjoying forging again.
Yesterday I watched the Woodmaster primitive knives with Tai Goo and Tim Lively and I felt that urge stirring again. The truth is there is something about this "neo tribal" knife forging that speaks to certain peoples souls and others hate it passionately. It also doesn't help when some push the mystical magic of forging when the truth is that we who have forged and tested our own blades know better (even if we don't say it out loud :biggrin:) - science will beat magic any day of the week. Correct forging techniques and skills combined with correct HT methods are what make knives work as they were intended. Modern machines just make it easier and in the eyes of some, prettier to look at.

Neo tribal forging in my opinion requires more skill and patience behind the forge than just forging a blank out and removing unwanted stock. It's look appeals to only a few and they are a breed apart who generally hunger for the old ways / days and are not too fond of the modern world. It's wild and creative yet controlled and disciplined at the same time. Like the fire we work with. Trying to define it, put a box around it would be like trying to tame the wind because every one of us who has a feel for it interprets it differently and that's what makes it art. Not that the shiny modern knife made from the best super steel isn't art - it's just "modern art".

I take my hat off to people like Tai and Tim who stood for what they believe and stuck it out. It's not easy and most often unrecognized. They inspire the rest of us who otherwise would just follow the pack through ignorance. They open our eyes to new possibilities and this allows us to become creative in our own approach to forging.
There's a trend in the knife making world that modern is better. That super steels hold a better edge, stay shiny longer (or forever) and it's difficult for the new knife maker not to succumb to this as the market for these is far larger. So they fall under the Bling spell. I did.
The reality is we do what we do coz we love it but if it's not a hobby it must pay the bills. So find a balance like all artists do. Make what sells and make what speaks to the your soul, not the worlds - this way you keep the passion alive and put food on the table. Took me a long time to find the balance and it's gonna take discipline to maintain it but I want to make knives with soul, texture, life and when held the hand doesn't want to let it go and the eyes are always turning back to it.

So again, a big thanks to people like Tim and Tai that kept this alive and the others I don't know that stood fast.
Thanks Brother!

Paying the bills really gets in the way of art. Fricken money game sucks and I'm no good at it. But the Mother of Invention created Neo-Tribal. Trying to find a cheaper way leads us to hand tool technology and forces us to become better craftsmen. I remember standing in a hole in my yard up to my waist and working on the ground around me because it was cheaper than building everything up to normal standing height. We used charcoal for fuel because it was cheap and handy and we found out it created an excellent forging atmosphere. I made adobe forges because there was adobe materials and technology all around us where we were. I got good at hammer finishes because it didn't require a belt grinder. Neo-Tribal Metalsmithing is about creating Art and the tools are just that annoying part you have to scrounge together to accomplish the vision. I live in an apartment now and most use a mobile forge set up. I use a small propane forge now for that. The tool thing didn't really mean that much to me, it's just what I needed to do at the time. The unplugged knifemaking thing was never meant to be a Neo-Tribal thing. In fact, that was mostly me trying to find my own identity. I just always like using hand tools. I saw it as a way to be what Tai taught me to be, "more intimate with the art".
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The hands are the connection between the heart and the world.
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Back in the beginning in the mid 90s, commercialization was NOT part of the original concept. It was strictly a recreational/educational thing. However, it wasn't long before the work got better and some of us started selling a few. It was at this point that some of the members wanted to use the “Neo-Tribal Metalsmiths” name as a marketing and promotional platform. I was against the idea from the get go. However, at that time as a local organization, we voted on things like this. Of course, I was out numbered and I've always wished it hadn't been so. However, I understood where the others were coming from and agreed to go along with it. So, a market was created for the type of work we were doing through the original group and all the politics, power plays, head trips, egos etc., came into play.

... I remember the exact words, “Tai, you don’t need to use it as a marketing platform. You’re already famous,… we aren't. :(

It is what it is today, to a large extent because of this shift to commercialization. I would have been happier to see it stay simply recreational/educational, as a base and source of personal inspiration for independent metalsmiths, craftsmen and artists. To me, it was always more about the individual person than the name we used for the group. At this point, anyone can use the name in marketing their work, good or bad, as long as it "looks" neo-tribal (whatever that's supposed to mean)... which in my opinion has diminished the original concept and to some degree the authenticity, innovation, individuality and sincerity of the work.

As the founder (also holding the highest standing official rank as, "N-T Universal Blademaster"), I failed to foresee the inevitable... and let myself get sucked in.

It was never meant to be about conformity to an "aesthetic genre" or "stylized",... in fact, just the opposite. It was meant to encourage and inspire individuality and innovation.

... Let's get this "art movement" back on track!

(For those who choose to see it as an "aesthetic genre" or "style", I think it’s fine,… as long as it’s personal, sincere, doesn't stagnate and leaves room for those who interpret it differently and/or may be coming from more of a contemporary fine arts background.)
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Another sort of a paradox to consider is this…

Yes, the recreational/educational organization called the “Neo-Tribal Metalsmiths” started behind my old shop in Tucson, AZ, USA, 1995 and a "style" of western pop culture knifemaking evolved out of it and was popularized through it.

However, I have always maintained that this type of "neo-tribal metalsmithing" had been going on a long time outside of the modern western world, out of tradition, necessity and practicality. What I did was recognize it as a departure from strict tradition (influenced by modern western culture and technology) and something that was historically overall a fairly new phenomenon, or new era. We gave it a name,… and tried to get others to appreciate it,… bring it to the western world, especially the U.S.A., as a backyard recreational/educational and social pastime…. and also as a source of inspiration and creativity for independent artists.

We closed the gap and made it global. It had everything to do with world art history, (metalsmithing/bladesmithing in specialization), tradition, and our position in the broader time line. We believed there had been a type of disconnect or splitting off over here that needed attention.

... Was there "magic" in those used motor oil tiki torches, stone anvils, little tin can charcoal forges with cardboard shipping tube bellows buried in the ground,... forge flames dancing and flickering in the tribe's eyes, the laughter, the music, the fellowship, the wonder and discovery?... absolutely!

(In memory of Virgil Taylor, and Stephanie Boardley, two members of the original "Tucson Tribe" who have passed.)
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If some of the members had actually made a knife for every time they saw their names in print, and improved the work on it's own merit,… the money shortage thing never would have been a problem for them.
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… and knifemakers should always remember that, one honest knife dollar is really worth ten dollars made any other way. :)
The privileged never understand their advantages. I just wish their power would go to their hearts instead of their heads.
The privileged never understand their advantages. I just wish their power would go to their hearts instead of their heads.

Me too. :)

If your Neo-Tribal work is really so great, quit your whining and lollygagging, and go make some knives. Show us through example. Cut out the superficial boasting and you will be the best! :)

Just be successful, hard working ordinary people and you will understand.
... apparently the "Ghost of the Neo-Tribal Metalsmiths" is bigger than us all,... and has a will of It's own.

Long live the Ghost of the Neo-Tribal Metalsmiths!

"The hands are the connection between the heart and the world."

"The world reflects what you need to see, not only what you want to see."

Sat Nam, This is my song.
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Here's a cool little authentic neo-tribal piece my dad picked up in Mexico back in the 70s. It's by an anonymous unsung unknown true N-T Bladesmith. The blade is from a file and the handle is little stacked pieces of plastic with aluminum. The guard is from some type of steel.

... just for inspiration.


This is what I'm taliking about when I say "neo-tribal" has been around a long time, and has a will and "life" of it's own. It is not of our making, only of our recognition.
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