Old World Oasis in the 21st Century at Oaks Bottom Forge
As a designer, a dad, a bass fisherman and someday a gallery painter, Pat Wojciechowski is what you would consider a “creative jack of all trades.” More recently, he’s been excelling in one trade specifically: Blacksmithing. Pat, 57, is the creative force behind Portland’s Oaks Bottom Forge, an old world blacksmith workshop and store specializing in hand forged; handcrafted; heirloom knives.
Describing himself as just a “good ole’ boy,” Pat was born and raised in Mobile, Alabama – a true Southern boy. He made his way to Sarasota, Florida to attend Ringling College of Art & Design, graduating with a degree in Graphic Design and Illustration. In 1984, he moved to Los Angeles and in short time, worked his way up to creative director and serviced a variety of creative industries from print to commercials and movies for many years. However, just seven years ago, Pat developed an interest in Blacksmithing and soon realized that was one of his truest passions. “I love creating things that are useful, purposeful, practical and appreciated,” says Pat.
Oaks Bottom Forge specializes in handcrafted knives using a method called the free hand style – the same old world Blacksmithing techniques that have been used for hundreds of years. They primarily make knives made of 01 high carbon tool steel for cooking, hunting, camping and harvesting as well as other extremely useful tools such as bottle openers. Pat and his team also love to support their community by buying materials from local vendors and providing workshop classes open to the public.
With a passion for the outdoors, it’s only natural, but still surprising, that Pat made his way to the Pacific Northwest and became a knife designer. Although Oaks Bottom Forge was founded in 2013, it’s already the largest hand forged knife company in the USA. That’s quick confirmation that one’s passion may also be one’s destiny.
What sparked your interest in Blacksmithing?
At the time I would commute back and forth from Los Angeles to Portland for two years as my daughters were enrolled at the Portland Waldorf School. Every time I pulled up to the school on Thursdays and Fridays to pick them up, I kept hearing the ringing of anvils. There was something about that sound, so I checked it out and sure enough, it was the sound of 11th and 12th graders Blacksmithing. I met with the instructor, Mr. Tom Myers, has taught me everything I know about Blacksmithing. Mr. Myers has been the woodworking and Blacksmithing instructor at the school for the last 22 years. He’s a master at what he does and is simply just fun to be around.
You had a long career in graphic designs before Oaks Bottom Forge. What pushed you to switch fields?
I didn’t really enjoy watching and, or, being part of so much waste that came with the commercial and film industry “Period”…!
In the beginning, I started making knives because I love creating art that was both beautiful and functional. I only sold them a few different times a year,; for Father’s Day, an occasional birthday or graduation and the holidays.
The first store & store owner that took my knives in was Kristl Bridges of “The Portland Homestead Supply Store”. That so rocked that she would take them in just before the Christmas holidays and it made me feel really great that she believed in my knives, my art, and my craft. Then there was also an awesome friend named Sally Kohnstamm, who believed in my knives. Her family is also connected to and a long heritage with the Timberline Lodge. She suggested that I offer a series of knives to Timberline’s Gallery.
She liked that they were hand forged locally and believed that it would be appreciated by the gallery curator as well. The Timberline gallery had never carried knives before. I was just hoping that “maybe”, they would order one or two knives of “maybe” a couple of the designs To my surprise, they ordered four each of all of the designs. I got them into the gallery and was just so excited that they even considered me. I mean, my knives were now in a gallery that Darryl Nelson’s world’s famous Rams Head fire pokers were in. How much better could life get..? A couple of weeks later, I got a call from Sally saying they wanted four more of each knife and at the same time, the Portland Homestead Supply Store was also needing to add knives to their orders. Every few weeks Timberline ordered more, eventually saying, “they would like to have 20 in their hands at any given time because people are buying knives!” That’s when I felt like I was one of the busiest blacksmiths in town. My two hands weren’t quiet enough for me to satisfy all of the needs. The orders started overflowing and that’s when I realized I needed more help. I’m most thankful for my nephew Mason, who is also a partner of Oaks Bottom Forge. After many conversations and brainstorming sessions, he and the support from my family are the one’s who gave me the encouragement I needed to start the business.
Of all tools, why knives?
They’re just good ole’ functional and practical tools. For most people, the knife just needs to fit their hand and becomes the tool they need it to be. Some people just enjoy collecting knives. I love to paint, but there is just something about the practicality of knives. I love designing things that will become heirlooms.
There are a lot of great knife makers out there, but I don’t think there’s anybody making knives and producing the heirloom knives overall, that we make on a grand scale.
You mentioned being a painter. What type of painting do you enjoy most?
I’ve always painted in a style known as Trompe l’oeil, which is a painting style that by French definition means, “to fool the eye.” For me, I just love painting a detailed still life of interesting items that are assembled with a strong dramatic light and projects an interesting shadow. Some folks talk the language of art; I don’t. I just paint because I just enjoy the process.
My Faith, my family and children. And my dreams. I’m inspired and reminded everyday, to be the best I can be.
I’m inspired by knowing that I’m part of a company that can say our knives are in cities, states and countries that spread from Oregon to Africa. We are fortunate to know that our knives were in hand as they served dinner to the entire U.S. Congress by Chef Jason Stoller Smith. I’m inspired knowing that our knives, prepare and serve nutrition for families and friends. I’m inspired knowing that our knives are taken along on camping and hunting trips. All in all, we say at the forge; “It’s not about the knife; it’s about the knife”.
What kind of workshops do you offer?
After many conversations with my nephew Mason, my vision for Oaks Bottom Forge to expand from a craft knife facility in an effort determined to involve the whole community in our passion. I put together a team full of creative, inspired, and talented artisans and cutlers to create Oaks Bottom Forge. Each member of the team is not only committed to the quality of the knives that they produce, but also to the community in which they serve. Education and skill sharing is something that has deep roots in caring and involved communities. These values live in the hearts of each member of the Oaks Bottom Forge Family, not just as a goal but as a way of life. I originally looked at teaching classes as a way to help subsidize rent. But I love exposing young people and adults into applied arts. It does my soul good. I smile every time I see people in the class and I’m watching the process. It’s one of the best things in the world. The classes we offer in the forge area of the shop where, Blacksmithing 101 & 102, knife building, Bladesmithing and wood working. On the other side of the building we teach copper smithing, leather crafting, two jewelry making classes, book binding, fragrance, knife sharpening and chain mail classes.
Do you feel like old world crafts are becoming more popular?
I do feel like they are becoming popular. Old World crafts are necessary to add and include in your life. Applied arts are a must! It involves so much more than just math, geometry and science.
Does everyone at Oaks Bottom Forge know how to forge knives?
There are 15 of us overall working at the forge. There are five dedicated bladesmiths, with an additional three blacksmiths. The balance of the members at the forge all know how to blacksmith, but it’s not their primary role.
How long does it take to make one knife?
There are over 120 steps to making a knife. It takes quite a while; a good six to eight hours per knife for sure. If we finish eight to ten knives a day, then that’s a big day for us.
What materials do you use to make your knives?
We use an 01 high carbon tool steel for all of our blades, we use hard wood charcoal as our fuel source in our forge, we use a handheld hammer and anvil. There’s no machines used in the forging of our knives.
What’s in the future for Oaks Bottom Forge?
To keep hand forging knives, one heirloom at a time. To continue to keep Oaks Bottom Forge as a cornerstone of the community; offering workshops, providing a quality product, and breathing life into an art that has lasted centuries and remains to be as powerful as it is beautiful.