Officer Chris Rondeau
Rockaway Beach Police, Oregon
Swamp Hollow Forge: Turning a Dream into a Reality
Officer Chris Rondeau hails from Rhode Island, but now calls Oregon his home. His story is a unique one – see, alongside his day job of serving and protecting the small coastal town of Rockaway Beach, he’s a craftsman. His craft? Beautiful, unique, handmade knives. What started out as a childhood fascination has now grown into true craftsmanship and artistry with the opening of his own small business, Swamp Hollow Forge.
Chris’s first knife was a small nail clipper type knife that his parents let him have to appease his interests. He said it was terrible – not very sharp, wouldn’t lock open and pretty much couldn’t cut anything. Now we see the real reason his parents let him have it. His desire to own a knife only grew from this disappointing first blade and he often slipped out of the house with one of his mother’s kitchen knives. Hanging out in the woods and whittling, these kitchen knives left Chris wanting. He found his first “true” blade when he was 12, while attending a Native American Pow Wow. There was a man selling knives – old, ugly looking butcher knives. Chris picked out an old rusty one that wasn’t sharp, had a rounded tip and looked like it had two boards strapped to it for a handle. As he puts it, “It looked like a spoon”, but his mind was already working. He learned he had bought an Old Hickory skinning blade, a pretty decent knife, and he took to cleaning and sharpening it. He loved his knife and for the next 5 years he carried it with him everywhere until his brother took it, cut himself and got it confiscated by the police.
Chris served 16 years in the US Coast Guard before starting his career in law enforcement with the Rockaway Beach PD. During his time in the US Coast Guard, his passion for knives took a new turn. What started off as simple request from a friend has blossomed into his amazing craft. Chris began making knives. With little money at his disposal he started with old saw blades; what he called cheap, garbage steel. He cut them, shaped them and attached deer antlers for handles. He admits these were not very good knives, but the important part was he was learning. When he transferred stations to Garibaldi, OR where he found a stockpile of stainless steel and began making knives from it, but again this was not a quality metal.
Chris’s Master Chief, a man he highly respected, was retiring from the Coast Guard and he wanted to make him a knife. This time he was going to do it right – he was going to make his first “real” knife. Chris ordered a small piece of high carbon, 1095 cutlery steel. He began to work the metal – shaping and grinding it. To finish the knife properly it needed to be heat treated, but Chris had no fire! So, Chris began to build his own forge. With little money or knowledge Chris made do with some fire bricks and small sticks. He learned through books and his father in-law that the metal is hot enough when you hold a magnet to it and it is no longer magnetic, then you quench it in oil. It worked! He did it! Chris’ Master Chief is still using that knife to this day on his elk hunting trips.
Chris was on to something. He could make the knives he always wanted but could not afford. Nice blades with beautiful handles at a fraction of the cost. He began to study the craft in depth, learning about the metals and their durability. He studied the intricacies of applying heat in the right way to strengthen the edge while keeping the back soft. Chris learned through trial and error too, trashing many blades during the process. Chris was determined, his skills improved and he built a new forge. He had the goal of being able to pass the arduous standards of the American Bladesmith’s Society Test, which you may recognize from the TV competition series “Forged in Fire”. The test is rigorous and made up of four parts. First, cut a free hanging 1” thick rope in one single stroke. Second, chop a 2x4 in half – twice. Third, shave hairs with the blade immediately after chopping. And finally, bend the blade 90° to test heat treatment. After years of self-education and dedication to his craft, his knives can pass this test!
Lo and behold, Swamp Hollow Forge was born. Now, Chris is forging all kinds of knives: choppers, skinners, hunters. He makes specialty knives like Karambits, Damascus hunters and Bowies. Chris Rondeau is a shining example of never letting go of your passions.
Check out more of his beautiful craftsmanship at Swamp Hollow Forge.