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Volcano teen embarks on career as a knife-maker

Nolan Odachi is forging his own way in the world.

Rain drizzled down Thursday morning as Odachi, 17, followed the muddy path to his workshop behind his family’s home in Volcano. In this space, filled with the equipment to shape steel, Odachi forges knives, axes and other tools.

Odachi said he was just 2 when he saw “Lord of the Rings” and told his mom he wanted a sword.

“So she told me that if I wanted a sword, I’d have to make my own,” he said with a chuckle.

The family lived on Oahu at the time, and Odachi said his grandfather started making him small wooden swords. After the family moved to the Big Island, he started making his own wooden swords and bows.

“And over the years, I just kind of got more serious with it.”

Later, a friend gave his mother, who was doing a bit of jewelry making, an anvil.

“And so one day, I kind of stole it from her, and my dad gave me a forge and we tried some smithing but it wasn’t really good,” said Odachi, who was 12 at the time. “It wasn’t really fun. We didn’t know how to make the forge work well or anything like that. So it wasn’t really good. I was kind of put off for a few years.”

When he was 13, Odachi found a blacksmith in Waimea and forged for a week with him, and when he was around 14, he tried again to forge his own knife.

“And it looked horrible, I wasn’t good at all, but I was happy with it at the time,” Odachi said with a laugh. “And so I was kind of hooked at that point.”

Odachi, who graduated at 16, was home-schooled through portions of middle school but attended Waiakea High School for a short time his freshman year before returning to home-schooling so he could have more time in his workshop.

He continued honing his craft, learning from former Big Island resident Vince Evans, who had just moved to Arizona.

After their initial meeting while the family was in Arizona, Odachi said he was able to spend three days learning from Evans, “and those three days, it was a whirlwind because … first he said, ‘What do you want to learn?’ And I was like, ‘Everything.’ Because I don’t know where to start, because the topic is so big.”

Among the equipment he uses in his craft, Odachi uses tools, like tongs and hammers, that once belonged to his great-grandfather.

“My great-grandfather worked for the railroad on Oahu … and when he retired, he brought home a lot of tools,” he said. “He kept them, and then his son kept them, and my dad kept them, and eventually when I got interested in this stuff, my dad was like, ‘Oh, yeah, look in the shop, there’s a box that has tools.’”

It’s a strange feeling to use those tools, he said.

“It feels just like working normally, but I … don’t know if I get any other sense than gladness that I’m using these tools, because I think that tools are meant to be used,” he said. “They’re not meant to be hung up on the wall or left in a drawer to be forgotten.

“I think they should always be in use by someone who knows how to use them. … I think it’s just gladness that the tools my great-grandfather used to use, they still have life in them. I can still use them, and I think he’d be glad — or he’s thinking his great-grandson’s an idiot for going into this (trade).”

Valdeane Odachi said she’s happy for her son, because he enjoys the work.

“He’s a very self-directed learner, and I think the combination of his personal drive, combined with his interest, allows him to get into a really great … flow state where he can just spend hours out there creating and refining,” she said. “I think that’s what a lot of people are searching for in life without really knowing it — to find something that they are really interested in and care deeply about and connect with, and I think he’s just very fortunate.

“He has the resources, combined with the interest and the ability and then the drive, that helps to manifest these creations of his (and) as the years go by, he’s getting better and better.”

Odachi said he hopes to make a career out of forging knives and other tools. He has started selling knives but wants to continue honing his craft.

Follow @odachiforge on Instagram for more information.

Email Stephanie Salmons at
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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