Jake Beimler points out a knife to a visitor to his stand at the Juneau Public Market.
Jake Beimler plays a dulcimer at the Juneau Public Market in November.
Story last updated at 12/18/2013 - 5:08 pm
Jake Beimler can't imagine a day without blacksmithing.
"The mere fact of creation from nothing really thrills me," he said. "Or taking an old piece of... spring on the side of the road and making a knife that's more functional than a lot of knives at the store."
Beimler owns Bifrost Blacksmithing, a name that alludes to another passion - his ancestry. (In Norse mythology, Bifrost was a rainbow bridge connecting Midgard, humanity's world, with Asgard, the world of the gods.)
Beimler first moved to Ketchikan in 1992, after time in Scotland with the Navy. Later, he followed the smell of coal to apprentice with blacksmiths in San Diego's old town, and, in the early 2000s, lived in Iceland for 3 ½ years.
Iceland is where he met people involved with a reenactment society. They asked him to make them swords. When he was finished, they brought him to a practice and started training him to fight, making him a full member of the group and, later, a training officer.
When he returned to Ketchikan, he started training a group there.
"I love it," he said. "It's part of my Germanic, Teutonic heritage."
The group reenacts the period from the end of the Migration Era (around 700 A.D) to the Late Iron Age.
"It was pretty awesome then," he says of the pre-Christian era also known as the Dark Ages. "People weren't getting congested in big cities in northern Europe yet. A group was usually a family group, or several family groups."
He can trace his ancestry back to the 1066 Battle of Hastings.
On the more recent end of things, the first time he ever blacksmithed was in his father's workshop, and the first piece he ever made that "wasn't just twisting metal" was a railroad spike knife for his brother's wedding cake.
Recycling, Beimler said, has "always been a big part of blacksmithing."
"I love it," he said. "Just taking things that people throw away and making them into something beautiful and functional."
He now has two apprentices at Bifrost. He has also taught classes in Iceland, and a class including straight knives, adze blades, and bent knives at the Totem Heritage Center in Ketchikan.
Most of Beimler's knives' handles are made out of Sitka blacktail antlers.
"It (antler) naturally lends itself to just about perfect handles," he said. "It's resilient and strong, and it's part of Southeast. I want my knives to be from the Southeast."
He and his father also recently began collaborating on dulcimers set up like guitars, rather than the typical setup, which is played on the player's lap.
"I was never very good at (playing a lap dulcimer) because I never had a waist," he joked. "We evened the score."
His father builds them, and Beimler helps with sanding and finishing.
They're also working on other instruments - a particular kind of lyre and a flute with two chambers. "I just get thrilled by the sound," he said. "When I get mad, I start playing it. It mellows me out."
He makes wall hooks, kitchen ironware, spatulas, ladles, gates, horseshoes, and "anything a traditional blacksmith would do."
His favorite creations might be "star blades" he made with metals from a meteorite he folded in with high carbon steels.
Another favorite is knife he made in Iceland via "bog iron extraction." Basically, he collected impure deposits created by bacteria in bogs and made a blade. It was "why a sword was worth a farm back in those days," he said. All together, he said it took him around 2,000 hours.
"I had to do it once. I had to say I took earth and made a knife," he said.
The name of his Viking reenactment group is Grotti, which refers to a mythical millstone that could make anything. When the group started, between all the members, they could make anything they needed.
Beimler said he loves Alaska for many reasons. One of them is that it's "like a forge."
"If you've been here for a long enough time, it makes you into somebody new. And if you can't handle it, you get spat out," he said.
Mary Catharine Martin is the staff writer for Capital City Weekly. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.