A! Magazine for the Arts

Isaac Grunstra

Isaac Grunstra

Isaac Grunstra mixes iron, wood and leather

November 26, 2019

Isaac Grunstra learned about blacksmithing through a Boy Scouts of America summer camp. After that week, he was hooked and went on to both start making knives and became an Eagle Scout.

After he earned his associate degree from Virginia Highlands Community College, he transferred to Virginia Tech and earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. He works as an engineer at General Dynamics missions systems in Marion, Va. His bladesmithing is reserved for the evenings and weekends.

“I love bladesmithing because it combines a variety of arts together to produce a piece that is not only beautiful, but is also a useful and dangerous tool. Woodworking, bladesmithing, metallurgy, engraving, fileworking, leatherworking and metalworking are all difficult to learn, but knife making combines them all,” he says.

Grunstra uses a standard smithy setup with a forge, anvil, hammers and quench tank along with a basic machining shop including hand tools, grinders, drill presses and a bandsaw to create his knives.

“Wood and metal are vastly different materials. Each requires very different processes in order to produce a finished piece. Notably, wood likes to change size/shape over time, especially if it gets wet, while most metals are very dimensionally stable. This means that a perfect joint may very well end up with a gap or mismatch if you aren’t careful.

“Most woods that are easy to work with don’t produce the nicest finishes and final products. Since most of my projects involve relatively small pieces of wood, it’s important to get a species with a tight grain pattern so that I get maximum character in my products. Most of these slow-growing hardwoods I buy online and have shipped to me, and I usually spend quite some time comparing colors and patterns to get just the right contrast and overall palette,” Grunstra says.

Grunstra is primarily self-taught as a woodworker, bladesmith and leather worker. He says there is a wealth of knowledge out there, ripe for the plucking, if you are willing to search.

“My first woodworking project was carving knives out of cherry branches as a boy with my pocketknife. I later purchased a carving kit and started to hone the projects a little, then I was introduced to blacksmithing, and the two skills grew together.

“I don’t have a primary mentor, though there have been several people over the years who have helped me out. I do enjoy teaching others what I know, and I’ll occasionally bring friends into my workshop to work on their own projects,” he says.

Grunstra uses social media as his main marketing connection. You can find him on Facebook or Instagram as Grunstra Iron Works. He handles his orders through grunstraironworks@gmail.com and direct messages on his social media sites.