10 Questions with Jim Stewart of Bark River Knives
By: Jason Thoune
on September 23, 2015
Today, we’re back with our highly popular segment “10 questions with” and I had the opportunity to speak with Jim Stewart of Bark River Knives. Jim has a passion for knives and has a unique design style all of his own. He’s also one of the nicest guys you can possibly meet.
Q: Jim – as most folks reading our blog know, you are Mike Stewart’s son. Mike is unquestionably an industry legend and in many ways a man who has really created the semi-custom/production knife market. What are some of the challenges and opportunities associated with being the son of a knife making legend?
A: Man, that’s a great question. I’d say that some challenges that any family members that do business together face, centers on patience! We all love each other and we want to do well, so there’s a lot of pressure we put on each other to make sure the product is the best it can possibly be. Sometimes that can strain, but ultimately, it brings us closer together as a family. It brings us all a sense of pride and accomplishment knowing that we all helped together to lead to the success we see today.
I have a wealth of opportunities through the knife industry and I’m grateful for every one of them. The business contacts and the friends (one in the same) I make lead to a great knowledge base, and we all know that knowledge is power! This allows us to not only capitalize on opportunities that arise, but let us make our own.
Q: Having seen your own designs and customs your knives really have a unique look and style that sets your work apart. What influences your designs and how do you go about bringing these designs to life?
A: Believe it or not, I’ve pulled a lot of visual influence for knives from the tactical market. Integrating certain features and adapting them to the Bark River style is always a fun experience. A great example would be the front-end of my Springbok. The visual pairing of the front point of the handle with the beginning of the grind line draws your eye to the blade and really helps the look stand out from the crowd. Almost like using the rule-of-thirds in photography and filmmaking to help bring the eye to where you need it to be on that frame or shot.
Q: Talk to us about some knives or knife projects you would bring to life just for fun.
A: Just for fun? One word: Razors. Straight razors are a natural leap for edge junkies like me. Bringing metal to that level of refinement and a literally hair-splitting edge is definitely a BAMF feeling. I’ve been studying and shaving with straights for 2 years now, and they are incredibly addicting. I’d love to spearhead a run of high-end quality straight razors, complete with video instruction. I’d even go so far as to find soaps and brushes and offer a package.
Q: What is your official capacity at Bark River Knives and what do you do on a daily basis?
A: I am head of Process and Project management. I organize the 100+ unique materials for each batch run of Bark River Knives and make sure it is all on hand and machined before we start each batch. Including all fasteners, liners, guards, pommels, etc. This is on top of finding, adapting, and implementing hand-finishing techniques into a larger scale production run. We fit the Mid-Tech production model to a T. My work is typically within 3 month projections with several batches of knives varying across our entire line. When I finish planning that quarter, I move onto the next. It never ends, and I love it.
I also am directly involved with designing and prototyping future projects. All new models have been overseen by both my father and I.
Q: What is your favorite Bark River Knife that has been produced and why?
A: I may come off as self-serving, but I love my Springbok. I designed it to be quick in the hand, deft, sharp, and stout without sacrificing comfort. When you pick it up it becomes an extension of your arm for any task that you can throw at it. I designed it selfishly, to be an answer to any hunting or bushcraft task that I needed. After bringing it to market, I was relieved to find that I wasn’t the only one who felt that way!
Q: Jim – I know you are a bit of a Star Wars fan. What Bark River Knife would Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader carry and why?
A: I’m a huge Star Wars fan, and I love that you asked me that. I’m really excited for VII this December! Luke would carry a Parang to get himself through those dense Dagobah swamps, if the Force were to fail him. Vader? I think he’d wear a Bravo Survivor. Black sheath, Black Canvas, with a red liner to represent the Sith. I don’t think it would print much against that cape. All too easy.
Q: You’re a smart guy that stays up-to-date on current events and the knife industry. What is the biggest challenge we face right now?
A: The biggest challenge, as knife enthusiasts and makers, that we face is the obfuscation of knives as weapons. This falls into the “unthinking knee-jerk emotional reaction based on fear through misunderstanding” paradigm that we have to combat every day. When anti-knife (and anti-gun) legislation is written and pushed through, it is never in the interests of the vast majority of citizens that are completely law-abiding. It may be written with good intent, but it is written by people that have no knowledge of the subject they are writing about and from an emotionally reactive standpoint. The laws created to “combat violence” do nothing but hamper good people, leaving criminals to still act exactly the way they were before. Instead of realizing this, politicians just repeat themselves in a different way. What is it called when something is repeated over and over achieving the same result, but expecting something different? Insanity.
Q: I grew up working with my family in a small family business so I know the challenges it can create. To me, I always felt the highs were a little higher and the lows were a little lower but the thing that brought me to owning my own business was the fact that good or bad I was responsible for my success or failure. What are your thoughts on family businesses?
A: I feel the same way. Working for yourself and succeeding feeds into that sense of personal accomplishment that is matched in no other way. To alter a platitude, The path to success is paved with bricks of suckage. You have to take the lows in stride, and use those points as learning experiences to gain a higher ground. You have no failures. You merely find ways things won’t work, which is a success in itself. Working with family can be trying, but if you work together and help each other through those lows, the family itself all grows closer together and more successful. I think other people can see that bonding strength, and it brings respect with it.
Q: What knife do you EDC most typically? Why do you choose that model?
A: I EDC 2 knives. On my belt is always one of our Ultralite Bushcrafters. Sharp, small, and because it’s super light, it doesn’t feel like it’s there. On my left side, I carry a Pro-Tech Integrity Manual. I have a lot of respect for the level of engineering that goes into it’s simplicity and materials. When we come out with [REDACTED] later, I’ll switch.
Q: When you are not building world-class knives at Bark River Knives what do you do for fun?
I’m a filmmaker. A talent rarely used, but I love producing content. You can find my YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/drax02 Be warned, though. It’s some pretty terrible stuff. But, the feeling of accomplishment I get from doing it recharges my batteries and lets me hit that same moment of zen I feel when creating knives. I hope one day to be experienced enough to create at least one short film a year and submit to film festivals. Of course, if there’s knives involved, they will be Bark Rivers.