MARQUETTE - There used to be a blacksmith in every town. The blacksmith, who made tools, hinges, nails and many other items, was essential to everyday life.
Those days are mostly gone as machines mass produce most of the same items blacksmiths once made. However there are some people that still hold on to the old way of doing things.
Daniel Choszczyk of Black River Blades is what's known as a bladesmith - a specialized blacksmith who makes bladed items like knives and swords. He crafts items entirely by hand from his home along the Black River near Champion.
Daniel Choszczyk of Champion shows a group of kids the job of a blacksmith at the annual Art Faire and Renaissance Festival in Ishpeming in August. (Journal file photo Andy Nelson-Zaleski)
"There's just something about a hand-made knife that's just very different because it's not punched out by a machine," he said. "Every single knife I make is unique. I know the properties and principles of the steel because I'm working with it. I like it because even if I try to make something exactly the same it's not physically possible."
Choszczyk makes blades of his own design and also works on commission. He said making a blade, depending on the style and the detail, can take anywhere from six to 30 hours from start to finish. He doesn't use any purchased steel, preferring older steel which he scavenges from old car leaf springs or pieces of farm equipment.
"I want the older steel. It's a better quality steel," he said.
Choszczyk heats the metal in a forge to temperatures between 1500 and 1800 degrees which turns the steel a bright orange color.
"And then obviously with the hammer on the anvil I start doing all the shaping. I'll flatten it out and I'll stretch where I need to lengthen and then the portion that is the handle is called the tang and I actually have to shape that separately from the blade. The technique is called drawing out," he said.
After further shaping and flattening, he will either anneal the blade - which means to cool it slowly in sand - or harden and temper it by heating it to about 1800 degrees again and then quenching it in either water or oil.
The blade is then cleaned so that the metal is shiny. Choszczyk will run the blade over another heated piece of steel, looking for a change in different colors.
"Certain colors indicate a certain kind of hardness," he said.
Choszczyk then cuts and grinds the blade and selects a handle. He usually uses wood, bone or antler. After fitting the blade into the handle, he uses a knife epoxy that sets at 3,500 pounds per square inch and fits the knife into a vise, leaving it overnight to ensure a strong, snug grip.
He'll then buff the knife down and sharpen it. The last thing he does is etch his logo into the blade.
"I try to do really good quality. I don't take them to the level where they look like something that you would buy from the store. They still have a little bit of that handmade look to them although I'm very particular about my fit and finish," he said.
Choszczyk makes Medieval and Renaissance style weaponry as well as large hunting knives and Bowie knives. He said a lot of his business is people who want functional knives but a growing number of customers are looking for a unique, handmade knife as a collectible.
Christopher Diem can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.