There is a long running argument in cutlery circles as to whether knives were ever made from files on the American frontier. One side of this debate is convinced that all file knives are the product of 20th century home hobbyists that were too ignorant to know cutlery grade steels were widely available from a variety of sources at modest prices. While I can’t determine when the practice was first started, I do know that I have observed many knives made from files collected from northern cultures in museums in Alaska, Norway and Denmark. The Alaska state museum in Juneau, in particular, has both knives and a double-edge “bear” spear made from files by an unknown but highly skilled Native American around the turn of the 20th century. As the collections curator of the Alaskan museum put it, “it isn’t wise to apply the values from one culture to another. If a knife had a higher value to said culture than a file, then there was no reason not to convert one to the other.”
As has been pointed out in Tactical Knives many times before, the fact is the knives that do most of the work in this world are usually very plain, basic tools. Many could even be called primitive if we go by the high standards set by today’s high-tech factories and custom smiths. In the hands of a highly skilled user, however, even the simplest blade can produce beautiful work.
This point came to mind recently as I was visiting internationally recognized anthropologist Dr. Sven Haakanson, who lives in my hometown of Kodiak, Alaska. Haakanson was recently given the half-million-dollar MacArthur Foundation Genius Award for his work in documenting the lives of northern indigenous peoples. He is a good friend of many camps, a talented woodcarver, and is an ardent fan of the working knife.