Steve Shackleford Blog

First Family of Swedish Steel

“Mammoth Spider” by Thomas Lofgren features a blade of a net-pattern mosaic damascus forged by Mattias Styrefors, a mammoth ivory and mosaic damascus handle, and sterling silver detail. (Lofgren photo)

 

Thomas and Claes Lofgren

 

Among the noteworthy Swedish knifemakers who have burst on the international cutlery scene in recent years, one of the names that stands out is Lofgren—father Thomas and son Claes.

    It is the family’s favorite sport, fishing, which brought Thomas to handmade cutlery. An annual family rite is to spend 10 days fishing—and fishing only—in the Lofoten Islands of Northern Norway. The waters are fish rich and it is not uncommon to pull out one in the 18-to-24 pound range. When you catch them you have to fillet them, which calls for a pretty good knife. Hence, Thomas began making such knives about 20 years ago. The first one cut reasonably well but was so ugly he felt obligated to make another one, and he has not quit making them since. He learned a few things from a book on knifemaking but the real trigger for improvement was an encounter with Roland Stromberg, an experienced maker. Roland taught him how to sew a nice sheath and from there showed him how to improve the general quality of his work.

    Having a technical background, Claes started getting interested in the craft in 2000, which made knifemaking just that much more important to Thomas. Since then there have been many elements of progress, emulation and sharing between father and son in the knife field. Now they are both part-time makers. Claes also works for an industrial company, and Thomas was instrumental in coordinating the 2005 and 2008 Sävsjö International Knife Expo. Thomas also found time recently to write the book, Making a Sheath for a Nordic Style Knife. It includes 150 of his own photos and sold 2,600 copies in its Swedish version, was translated into French and is now being published in German and Russian. Meanwhile, He exhibits at many shows in Sweden, other European cities (Paris, Helsinki, Solingen, Nontron), and in the USA. 

    His knife motto is “What stops growing will soon be dead.” Consequently, Thomas is always trying to improve, learning new techniques—Claes’s contributions are important in this regard—looking for new materials, and experimenting with fresh combinations of shapes and colors. “I like challenges, to walk on thin ice, even if I am not a very good swimmer,” he quipped.

    All his knives are distinctive. Even on models of similar design, he introduces many different decorations of handle and sheath, and combinations of colors and materials. In the past few years he turned toward even more high-quality materials. He is using less wood and more mammoth and walrus ivory, hippopotamus or warthog tooth, giraffe bone, etc. If he uses wood, it is often stabilized and colored. Once in a while he will embellish his knives with gold and silver, or a small precious or semi-precious stone. He prefers mosaic damascus for his blades, especially that of Conny Persson or Johan Gustafsson, or sophisticated damascus by Mattias Styrefors and André Andersson. His knives have won a number of awards in judging competitions at Swedish and American knife shows.

 

LIKE FATHER …

Claes’s background includes welding, most notably operating a robotic welding machine for three years. As the company he worked for expanded, a part-time position for supervising the planning of materials supply was created. Claes applied for the post and got it.

    For years he knew his father made knives, but Claes was not interested. However, in 2001 he watched his father and Johan Gustafsson board an airliner for the Knife Expo near Los Angeles (Pasadena), and “felt envious when Dad took off.” Wanting to experience the USA and California—and, of course, “California girls”—Claes saw making knives as one way to pay for the trip. His knowledge of metalworking and materials, plus the teaching of the basics by his father, resulted in very quick progress. Five months after making his first knife alone, he entered it in a judging competition at the Ludvika Show in Sweden and won in his chosen category. It was an enormous boost. By February 2002, he already had enough pieces ready to accompany his father to the Knife Expo. Since then it has become a sort of tradition for father and son to attend the Knife Expo and Ludvika Knife Week, as well as several other European shows.

    Claes’s knives share several points of similarity with his father’s. Both makers prefer mammoth bark ivory (the “bark” is the outside crust of the tusk), the same steel suppliers, quality sheaths in the Nordic style, and the same way of naming knife models. Nonetheless, not all the similarities are the result of Thomas’s influence. It is often Claes’s ideas and imagination that inspire his father.

    There are also some differences between the two. “Thomas’s knives are well made and imaginative, but with a more traditional approach. He has a feel for elegant and functional knives,” Samuel Karlsson stated. “Claes’s knives are more daring; his designs are more adventurous and extreme.”

    Being younger and with more of a technical background, Claes probably experiments more than Thomas. “The worst thing that can happen is that it goes wrong and I have to start all over again,” the younger Lofgren observed. “It can cost some material but I think it’s worth a try. I find it exciting to cross the line to find new approaches.”

    I would be remiss if I did not mention that Anna, Claes’s younger sister, also is a very good maker and has won prizes in judging competitions at Swedish knife shows. For the moment her knifemaking career is on hold as she works with her partner on restoring a farm they bought and caring for a 2-year-old boy. Meanwhile, Claes’s partner, Monika Bengtsson, also is making her first knives. “I think that I can retire now, before they all become too good for me!” Thomas laughed. “The only person not making knives in the family is my wife, Ann-Charlotte. But I can tell you that she bought two small blades …”

    Father and son makers are not uncommon, and father and daughter are less frequent. But if you add son, daughter, partner of the son and maybe one of these days the mother, a real first family of Swedish steel is in the making.—by Francis Anglade

Thomas and Claes Lofgren

+4670 834 9229 (Claes)

+46381 135 73 and +4670 69 77 405 (Thomas)

lofgrenknives@telia.com

www.lofgrenknives.com

Specialties: Both make one-of-a-kind knives in similar styles and materials

Blade Steels: Mosaic damascus forged by Conny Persson, Johan Gustafsson, Joe Olson and Henry Hilden, and damascus forged by Mattias Styrefors and André Andersson

Handle Materials: Mammoth (including bark) and walrus ivory, hippo and warthog tusk, giraffe bone and woods (the latter often stabilized and colored)

Embellishment: Occasionally gold and silver, and precious and semi-precious stone inlays; some engraving by Jonny Walker Nilsson

Sheaths: Nordic style

Author! Author!: Thomas wrote the book, Making a Sheath for a Nordic Style Knife, which sold 2,600 copies in the Swedish version and has been translated into French, German and Russian

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