Made in Croatia

Ivan Mlinar, a Young Bladesmith Mastering His Craft in Koprivnica

By 7 February 2020

February 6, 2020 - While much of the younger generation prefers gadgets to traditional crafts, there are exceptions, such as Ivan Mlinar from Koprivnica. 

A lot of young people have left Croatia to find the place when the grass is greener. But not all. Meet Ivan Mlinar, a young bladesmith who is fulfilling his dream and finding the grass green enough in Koprivnica.

When you realise that Ivan has been involved in reenactment since he was a child, it isn't surprising that he fell in love with swords and knives. As he grew, he was showing more significant interest in making them himself.

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Apart from the influence of the reenactment scene, Ivan's unusual career decision also had its roots in his time at high school, and Ivan's interest in the show 'Forged in Fire'. After many episodes, he decided to try something by himself. He started his search for different types of steel, different kinds of material which he found in the local landfill, such as springs. But as he began gathering equipment, he needed to figure out how to shape this material without a proper forge. So he improvised. He took some planks, wooden beams, bricks, sand, and soil and made his forge. Besides this, he also made pliers which he is still using.

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As time passed, he experimented with many types of steel to see how much he could get from a certain kind. Also, he figured out the scheme of the forging and also how to spend less material. That is how the first hardening knife was born. It was quite surprising how durable that knife was. Ivan was satisfied with it and decided to get more into this story. He got quality materials as well as a gas forge. As his friends were buying brand new mobile phones and Play Stations, he was investing all his money into the workshop.

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In April 2019, things started to get serious. He dug more into research, made better knives as well as their functions and handles from various woods. At that time, he met a man from England who was interested in his work and wanted to buy something from him. According to Ivan, everything was dealt with within 15 minutes. The man was pleased, money sent, and Ivan more confident in what he was doing. Step by step, the circle of people who knew about Ivan started getting bigger and bigger.

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Ivan contacted one of the most famous and one of the best bladesmiths, Kyle Rover. Kyle is a Master Smith in the American Bladesmith Society and also a professional who enjoys sharing tips and tricks with beginners. As Ivan and Kyle were talking, Ivan figured out he needed to start from the beginning. "When you start doing something, you want to be the best immediately. Later you figure out you need to learn taking step by step." So he started again.

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Ivan is now a member of the American Bladesmith Society. There are three levels you can achieve: Apprentice, Journeyman Smith, and Master Smith. To become an apprentice, you have to pass the exam. After three years, you can apply for the Journeyman Smith as in, you have to make a knife good enough to pass tests of durability at one of the Master Smith's workshop. This society holds on traditionally, so they only accept knives that are forged.

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There are no Master Smith in Croatia, and the nearest one is in Germany. One of the conditions all members have to respect is they always have to help other people if they are asked for advice. Also, members have the privilege of having their products published on the web site of the ABS.

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As his love for forging was growing, he wanted to turn his hobby into his job. At the age of 20, he opened a workshop under the name "IM Bladesmithig". The whole process started in November, but as bureaucracy in Croatia takes some time to do its job, the workshop officially opened its doors in December. I was curious about how that went.

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"You really need to prepare your nerves for that. No matter when you come to the office, they are on a break, launch, or have zero interest in you. To be precise, they weren't quite sure what they needed to do, so they just sent me to another person. They don't want to reveal to you all the details you have to know, so you could fail, close your firm and return the money to them."

Strange, but not surprising.

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People in Croatia still aren't familiar with the quality of forged knives. "People like shiny knives, they care only about stainless steel. I always say you have to take care of the blade. But, people don't want to buy things which they have to take care of. They tend to buy cheap knives, but it always turns out that cheap things are the most expensive ones."

There are always those people who think they know more than the person who's the actual job that is. Ivan has no problem with explaining to people how things are, but still, not everyone believes it.

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Depending on the difficulty, it takes him from a couple of days to a couple of weeks to get a knife done. He also made handles and cases for knives and all that knowledge he found by himself. There are not many people in Croatia whose job it is, so Ivan had to take care of it in his way.

As for further plans, he mentioned starting a YouTube chanal as well as a webpage where all of his products will be available. One interesting thing is that a lot of people asked him for some instructions. They are more than just keen to learn from him, so he is currently thinking about some courses. But now, several orders are awaiting him as well as his wish to make katana, sword, and wakizashi.

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Make sure you support young people by following Ivan on his Facebook page and Instagram. In the end, maybe it's time for replacing your old kitchen knife with a brand new IM knife.