When I walk in the door at Oaks Bottom Forge, blacksmith and owner Pat Wojciechowski is at the design table, talking and laughing with a visitor.
Through the glass wall beside him, sparks fly from a classic open-hearth style forge, where several smiths are busy heating, hammering, and working hot iron into the shop's popular knife blades. There's an aproned smith having lunch on a stool nearby, while another blacksmith polishes a finished blade near the door.
The forge is bustling with life.
This is the vision Pat had for a community metal workshop, tucked into a revamped storefront in Portland's quaint Sellwood neighborhood. Oaks Bottom set up shop quite literally in the middle of things. There's a video store next door, a cake bakery across the street, a doggy daycare down the block. Straight off the nearby Springwater Corridor trail, cyclists and pedestrians can watch the smiths in action through the thick glass windows.
He's just finishing a meeting with Bartek Prusiewicz, a local sculptor. Pat's team made a hand-forged miniature harpoon for Prusiewicz, to complete a piece in anticipation of a gallery show.
What better illustration of the continuing relevance of a blacksmith? The doors at Oaks Bottom Forge are always open to the public, and people with all kinds of projects visit the shop to inquire about custom metalwork.
"I want to show people that this is an art as well as a craft, and that it's very much alive," Pat tells me when we sit down together at the design table.
Oaks Bottom's primary focus is creating affordable, heirloom-quality knives. Pat had been working alone before moving to the current location. When he realized he was receiving more orders than he could fill, he began looking for a space where he and a growing community of blacksmiths and artists could hammer every day.
Currently, nine full-time blacksmiths contribute to the production process. While a single knife is often created assembly-line style, the smiths each do "a little bit of everything." They also teach basic knife-making and woodworking classes as part of Oaks Bottom's ongoing workshop series.
Available online and in various retail locations, including Bespoke, the knives are hand forged from 01 tool steel. The blades stay sharp for a long time. A chef's knife the crew uses in the shop was last sharpened in March.
"We literally just sharpened it again the other day," Pat chuckles.
He tells me an Oaks Bottom knife ends up being the go-to knife for his customers. When they have people over to cook, it’s the one their friends automatically reach for and want to use.
But it's not just craftsmanship that makes an heirloom.
"It’s not about the
knife, it’s about the knife," Pat says. "If you really put yourself into a craft, that
creates conversation, and a community grows around that. It’s what happens around the process of making the
knife, or using it. Whether it's the workers, sitting around the shop table sanding handles and talking. Or someone buys a mushroom knife, and takes it with
them everythime they go out. It’s what happens while you’re using it that’s
important. That's what people want to pass on to their children."