Ask a Tool Maker – Svante Djärv

☞ Hi Svante, this is Jenny from The Spoon Crank. Would you have time for the interview talked about for our blog?

Sure, right now is fine. I’m sitting here working as we speak…

☞ Great, let’s dive in. What is the best part of being a blacksmith?

It’s a privilege being able to become who you were meant to be. I’ve never been a huge fan of having a boss. It’s been a journey. Ah, just a sec… someone just delivered a leather apron. The old one melted. I burn my trousers and sweaters all the time…
 

☞ When and how did S. Djärv Hantverk start?

Well, that’s easier to ask than to answer actually. Everything began a couple of generations ago. My dad was an engineer and a craftsman. His father built, among other things, his own house all by himself and my nan was a weaver. My other grandfather, who was a carpenter by trade, spent most of his spare time crafting, and actually started making a living from crafting during the big strike of 1920. My grandmother used to work at a factory called Bulten. It was pretty unusual for women to work in the heavy industry back then. Basically, I was indoctrinated with craft since I was a child.

☞ What was the role of your mother in this?

She would take care of the household mainly, though she tried to find a job towards the end. She’d often look at all my dirty and muddy trousers in despair. There were no locker rooms in the work places back then so my dad used to always come home in muddy clothes. My mum died when I was ten. After that it was me and the old man only.

 

☞ Did you look up to your dad?

Absolutely! My dad used to buy broken cars to repair. Having a car was important growing up. The alternative was busses and gravelled roads, but having a car allowed us to rent a cottage on the island of Tjörn – the car gave us freedom. My dad would let me join him at work though I wasn’t allowed to do certain stuff. I wasn’t allowed to screw the nuts for example. He used to say “You are the assistant handyman, you must always stay one step ahead…” He was my mentor. I learned to predict what and when he needed something, I learned about metal. Yeah, omg, if I looked up to my dad!

 

☞ When you grew up and considered future careers, how did your thoughts go?

I knew that I wanted to work with my hands, so I studied fine woodworking. After that I joined the school Sjöviks Folkhögskola where I became a certified nature guide. We learnt how to craft our own tools such as knives, kuksas and kayaks. During the second year I made my own kayak, which I took for a five-week journey in Norway. There were plenty of stuff I didn’t have time to try during the course! I just dabbled with forging then. Mainly I worked with wood. Most importantly, at the school I met Elsa, my wife.

At some point during the 80’s, Elsa and I wanted to realise our dream about buying a little red cottage. We managed to end up with a yellow brick house instead, haha. It had a warm garage though, which we could use as a workshop. Somewhere there the journey for S. Djärv Hantverk began. I didn’t really know where it would end. I just knew that I wanted something of my own.

 

☞ When did you start forging?

I was really into fine knife making. I used to buy blades and make the rest such as handles, sheaths and silver-work. Apart from knives I used to make sculptures, kayaks and work on the lathe. I wanted to forge the blades for the knives as well. Starting with the blades as an entry point to forging was slightly overambitious. I could have started with something simpler. The first forge was a masonite shed. The wind used to blow straight through. Minus 20Cº behind me and 100Cº in front of me. Two years after, we decided to invest in a construction barrack. A red one actually. So instead of a red cottage, we got a red workshop!

I was asked to make spoon knives and tools and thought “What? How trivial… I’m a fine knife maker!”. It felt slightly beneath me. But after the third request the penny dropped that perhaps this was something to get into. 

I tried it and really learnt the craft. I slowly realised that I made pretty good edges. There was an old man in the north, whose his name unfortunately escapes my memory, who used to make spoon knives for pretty much everyone back then. But when he died the orders started coming in. The knives being ordered up front meant more financial security for me.

S. Djärv now celebrates 30 years. Or rather, we agreed it was last year…

☞ Do you ever use your own tools?

Yeah, I’ve been carving since I was a little kid. I used to watch the children program Emil [an Astrid Lindgren character; a naughty boy who would carve during detention.] and I liked him. He was a bit of a role model for me. I still carve spoons during summer and Christmas holidays.
 

☞ Do you have any tips for someone who wants to become a blacksmith?

Let’s just say; during the first five years I was on an extremely low income. Then the following five, was pretty much the same. You need to have a passion and a vision and preferably, be totally clueless about money, haha. You need to consider yourself a producer rather than consumer. I still feel like I’ll go broke every time I buy something. With the money we used to make, we’d buy materials and machines. Being a blacksmith it’s not easy to build a business living la vida loca from. Never been used to having money around while growing up has helped.

 

☞ I’ve heard you are very busy now and have long delivery times. Can you let us know why?

We had a delivery time of about three weeks, but now we are around one year a bit depending on the order of course. A private person rarely have to wait for so long, probably about three to five months. 

It all started six or seven years ago due to internet as well as having too many retailers. In the beginning it was stressful, but at the same time it’s nice that the products are sought after. It’s a sign of being established.

 

☞ How much do you export?

Around 50%. Swedish craft is well established and has a good reputation internationally. We, together with Karlssons, Gränsfors and a few others, feel like a united Swedish front in the world.
 

☞ Including Morakniv perhaps?

Including Morakniv, pardon my French, haha.
 

☞  How are you affected by the Corona crisis?

The orders have actually increased. People have time for crafting I suppose. We’ve experienced something similar during previous financial crises.
When it comes to personal health, I’ve already had most injuries due to the profession.
 

☞ Do you have any other hobbies apart from crafts?

I used to be addicted to exercise and completed Vasaloppet [a 90 km cross-country ski race] 10 times and ran ultramarathons.
 
Have you read that book “Surrounded by idiots”? [a book dividing people into four categories; red, yellow, blue or green, depending on their communication style].
 
I’m super red! I’m always short on time. There is always so much to do. It’s the red people’s paradise to constantly develop, improve and invent. They might be annoying but they get a lot done. But then four years ago I was diagnosed with cancer and at the same time got burnt out. I then stopped exercising. For me it’s all or nothing. I just can’t just jog around a little bit.
 

☞ What does the near future behold?

Part of my new mindset is to be less “red”. We are in the middle of a refurbishment here.
 
We’ve been refurbishing every second year and I used to do all by myself. This year I will be making tools and someone else will be refurbishing!

☞ Thanks a mill Svante for your time and for sharing your story with us!

You can learn more about S. Djärv AB and purchase their carving tools at www.djarv.se Feel free to follow Svante on Instagram @svante.djarv

 
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3 thoughts on “Ask a Tool Maker – Svante Djärv”

  1. myron unrau

    It’s good to put the story to the tool maker. I purchased my first carving knife and hook knife from Svante. That occupies a very special place in my spoon/carving journey. Thanks for this.

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