There a lot of pluses to working at ParksByNature: we get to read and think and write about state parks and the outdoors all day, we get to stare at and work with pretty pictures of nature, and we get to help develop a free product that’s helpful to our users.
But the most exciting part of our job would have to be connecting with all of you, and being a part of this great outdoor community. So, when we meet really interesting, outdoorsy people, we just want to be their new best friends/highlight all the cool things they’re doing and share that all with you.
That’s what happened when we were introduced to Connecticut’s Michael Asquino, metalsmith and owner of Thunder Hill Forge, LLC. The business is his passion project: Michael’s an artist and bladesmith who specializes in custom-made, one-of-a-kind knives for hunting and fishing.
Meet Michael – the man, the myth, the legend(ary metalsmith.)
We caught up with the master craftsman recently to talk zen fishing expeditions, his favorite piece that he’s created, and why he partially owes his career to video games. If you’re in the market for a special tool, you may want to reach out to Michael, as we’re sure he’s poised for big things—just remember that you discovered him here!
Michael’s HoG Everyday Carry Knife, from inception to creation.
How it all started: Michael was an art student at the University of Hartford doing drawing and painting. “I had to take a sculpture class for an elective. [I’d] never really done any sculpture before, [but I thought] ‘what the heck? Let’s give it a try.’ So when I walked into the class I saw a whole metalsmithing studio, and my brain was blown away because I had no idea I had access to all this stuff.”
The first thing he made: “We had to make any form of sculpture out of a material we’d never used before. My grandfather used to make nails in his garage—it was cool for me to see as a kid because he had a big kerosene torch—but as I grew older I didn’t really do anything with [metal]. So I actually made a shield that was about 40 pounds, 3 feet tall, 2 feet wide, had spikes, was covered with fake blood, and I painted it red, white, and blue to try and get some shock value [because of the war going on.] At one point I almost cut off my finger, burnt my arm hair off (when you weld there’s splatter; it’s liquid hot metal that’s splattering off the welder) so it can cause pretty gnarly burns)—but everybody loved [the shield] and I had a great time working with it.”
He makes chefs’ knives, too! Here’s the 13″ Hamon Chef Knife. Doesn’t it make you want to chop things like never before?
A zen place: “My grandfather taught me to hunt and fish at a young age. It’s purely an escape. I’m at ease, having a good time, being in nature.”
The hunting and fishing connection: In addition to spending his time hunting and fishing, “growing up, [I watched] fantasy movies and cartoons and [played] video games, [so] knives, swords, weapons just became part of my life. I started collecting pocket knives when I was a kid, swords ten years ago. When I got into metalsmithing I said to myself: ‘weapon making! This is perfect; everything is falling into place.’ So knives and swords are what I really specialize in.”
The Gut Hook Skinner. Don’t you love the teal handle?
Everything he makes: “Knives, swords, ornamental blacksmithing (the formal art of blacksmithing, iron gates, anything to do with iron and forging.) For Valentine’s Day, I’m doing these hand-forged copper roses and hand-forged bangles. I do it once a year as an artsy thing. Everything is made to order; most of the knives I do are one-of-a-kind. I’ll do some series—like maybe 1-3 of the same type of knife but different sizes, different features.”
He’s not just a knife man—we’re all about these beautiful copper roses. (Hooray for all sorts of nature inspiration!
The knives: “Most of the hunting knives are for skinning and dressing, but I do actually make some hunting knives that are purely for killing—especially hog hunting. They’re called pig stickers, or hog or boar hunting knives. It’s a type of knife that’s very long, that’s got a guarded hilt above the handle, and it’s very, very sharp and pointed to actually pierce boars and hogs.”
Where he sells: “Etsy is amazing. I’ve befriended so many people, made so many contacts. It’s not only a form of selling stuff, but it’s a way of seeing what everyone’s doing. I also take commissions by e-mail (Thunderhillforge@gmail.com) and through my website, and I have some knives at a local hunting and fishing store in Stamford. I am looking to branch out to two other shops, too.”
The Blood Drunk Everyday Carry Knife.
The emotional connection: Michael wants customers to have an emotional connection with his pieces: “if you want your father’s name engraved on it, that becomes an heirloom.”
Most memorable piece: “I once spent four days of no sleep and barely eating, just drawing and drawing and drawing and actually testing it out and taking a piece of wood and cutting the shape out and testing how it would perform as a hunting and/or survival knife.” He finally gave the flawless knife to the customer, who “got into a car accident. The car was on his neck and he couldn’t get his seatbelt free. He cut his seatbelt, crawled out of the car, and immediately called me, saying: ‘Dude, your knife saved my life!’”
To learn more about Michael and Thunder Forge LLC, or to collaborate with him on a one-of-a-kind, hand-crafted hunting or fishing knife, check out his website. You can also connect with him on Instagram and/or Facebook.
The W2 Hunter Knife looks right at home in the wild.