Local Artist Spotlight: Brian Schuch

Originating from a background in wilderness survival, Brian Schuch’s knife making follows traditional practices to produce unique, authentic and practical works of art.

Photos by Chase Burnett

In under two hours, Schuch turned a seemingly unassuming piece of obsidian into a knife blade ready to be fitted with a handle. In the hands of a skilled craftsman, the primitive materials he uses transform rock and bone into functional tools for survival.

His knife making began as a necessary survival skill and has since evolved into his career. He attended several wilderness survival schools and learned traditional ways of living off the land. He realized the desire for hand crafted tools after putting one of his knives up for sale in his friend’s store in Juneau.

“I traveled around the country learning everything I could about wilderness survival and living off the land,” he said.

Traditional knives were made from obsidian and flint; however, Schuch has elevated the craft by utilizing agate, jade and even quartz. The handles are made from caribou antlers and the blades are sheathed in a birch bark or leather cover.

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He begins with the process of knapping, which is often called flintknapping due to the widespread use of flint in traditional practice. He first starts with a piece of bone or antler to strike the stone and remove large flakes. Moving to a copper tipped tool and antler tine, he utilizes the technique of pressure flaking to remove smaller pieces and precisely shape the rock.

The pieces removed are called lithic flakes and refer to a portion of rock removed by percussion or pressure. This technique allows the craftsman to send energy through the stone by striking it and causes the rock to fracture in a controllable fashion.

It’s a simple concept; however, in practice, an incorrect blow can cause the entire piece to break in half. Schuch said this can be one of the most frustrating aspects of the process.

“Sometimes you get to the end of the project and make one wrong strike and the entire piece breaks apart,” he said.

He can produce close to 350 knives per year. Much of his materials are sourced during hiking or hunting expeditions in Alaska. For more exotic materials that can’t be found in the state, he sources globally.

Schuch is also an ancestral skills instructor and has shared his knowledge in a number of privately organized survival retreats. His practice continues to promote sustainability and advances a form of craftsmanship millions of years in the making.