Are you fascinated by modern day blacksmithing and how custom knives and blades are made? We were too, so we took the opportunity to sit down with Josh Navarrete, a master bladesmith and the proud owner of NK Forge & Metalworks in Salem. He has carved a niche for himself in Salem and around the world with his exceptional skills and a heart as sharp and enduring as the blades he forges.
Josh’s journey to Salem began in 1999, a pivotal move that saw him trading the busy streets and life of California for the peaceful, community-driven atmosphere of Salem. “I got tired of it. And I just packed my stuff and moved up here,” Josh recalls about his decision to leave California. The slower pace of life and the close-knit community in Salem resonated with him, offering a stark contrast to his previous life. It was in this nurturing environment that Josh found both a home and the perfect setting to embark on his bladesmithing journey.
Josh’s journey into the world of bladesmithing began in an almost serendipitous manner, rooted in his love for woodworking and a chance encounter with another craftsman. “One day, I was in Portland, in a wood store. There was another gentleman next to me looking for wood as well. But he was a knife maker, he was looking for wood for the handles. I was there to find wood for turning. We struck a conversation and he showed me a knife that he made. And I thought, how hard is this to make,” recalls Josh. This curiosity sparked a passion that led him to pivot entirely from woodturning to the ancient craft of bladesmithing, setting him on a path to becoming one of the most respected knife makers in the Northwest.
What keeps Josh’s forge burning bright is not just the creation of knives but the community that surrounds this art. Salem, with its slower pace and tight-knit feel, offered the perfect backdrop for Josh to thrive. He found not only a place to call home but a community of like-minded individuals who share his passion. “We are a huge community in the knife making arena” Josh explains, emphasizing the camaraderie and shared enthusiasm that unite the local bladesmiths.
Among the many accomplishments that highlight Josh Navarrete’s journey as a bladesmith, his experience on the hit TV show “Forged in Fire” stands out as a particularly shining moment. This competition, which pits skilled bladesmiths against each other in a series of grueling challenges, provided Josh with a platform to showcase his talents to a national audience. His involvement in the show was not just a test of skill but a pivotal experience that brought him into the limelight and enabled him to further his passion for helping others through his craft.
Josh’s venture into the fiery forge of competition was marked by determination and a spirit of adventure. “I was lucky enough to be in the show. Season Six, Episode 19. And I had the chance to win my episode,” Josh shares, reflecting on his triumphant journey on the show. Winning on such a prestigious platform was no small feat. It required not only an intimate knowledge of bladesmithing but also the ability to perform under pressure and adapt to the unexpected challenges thrown his way.
The victory on “Forged in Fire” was more than just a personal achievement for Josh; it was a testament to his skill, creativity, and dedication to his craft. But beyond the accolades and recognition, the show served as a stepping stone for something much greater. “That gave me the opportunity to start this project, which is I act,” Josh explains. The visibility and credibility gained from his success on the show played a crucial role in launching his nonprofit organization, Industrial, Artistic, and Creative Therapy (IACT), aimed at providing free blacksmithing classes to veterans and first responders with PTSD. Josh’s own words capture the essence of his mission: “This is where we provide free blacksmithing classes to vets and former first responders with PTSD to deal with PTSD symptoms. And it works.”
Josh’s participation in “Forged in Fire” is a compelling chapter in his story, illustrating not only his prowess as a bladesmith but also his commitment to using his talents for a greater good. The experience on the show was not just about the competition; it was about pushing boundaries, igniting passions, and forging a path to give back to the community. His victory brought him more than just the title of a champion; it paved the way for him to make a lasting impact on the lives of those around him.
Josh’s work with IACT is a reflection of his deep understanding of the therapeutic potential of craftsmanship and his commitment to supporting those who have served. “We all need therapy. We all have stuff that we need to deal with,” he says, highlighting the universal need for outlets that offer solace and healing. His classes provide a space where veterans can find peace, purpose, and a sense of community.
We asked Josh about the traditional images that are conjured up in our minds about blacksmiths. Gone are the days when the craft was solely about a lone smith, shirtless and sweating, hammering away in a dimly lit cave. Today, Josh’s work exemplifies the seamless integration of age-old techniques with the latest technological advancements, painting a vibrant picture of what modern blacksmithing looks like.
“Today we do utilize modern technology,” Josh explains, debunking the stereotype of blacksmithing as an archaic, purely manual craft. His workshop is a testament to how far the field has come, equipped with CNC plasma cutters, power hammers, and other high-tech tools that streamline the process and expand the possibilities of what can be created. Yet, despite these advancements, the soul of blacksmithing remains unchanged. “We still do the whole forge anvil hammer, you know, piece of steel, heat it up, bring it out, beat it, and repeat,” Josh says, highlighting the enduring essence of the craft.
This blend of tradition and innovation is crucial not only for the evolution of blacksmithing as an art form but also for its accessibility to a wider audience. By embracing modern technology, Josh and his fellow blacksmiths are able to push the boundaries of creativity, producing works that are both a nod to the past and a leap into the future. It’s this forward-thinking approach that has helped demystify blacksmithing, showing that it’s not just for those who can handle the heat of a coal forge but for anyone with a passion for creating.
Moreover, Josh’s approach to modern blacksmithing extends beyond just the tools and techniques; it’s about changing perceptions. “If anybody romanticizes the idea about being in a cave, half naked, all sweaty with a coal forge, with a wife bringing them meals, you know, hey, please do it. It is great. Whatever floats the boat,” he jokes. But at its core, Josh’s message is clear: blacksmithing is an inclusive, evolving craft that welcomes all, regardless of their background or experience level.
When asked about some of his favorite local spots in Salem, it’s more than a nod to good food; it’s a celebration of the local entrepreneurs who make Salem’s food scene diverse and inviting.
When it comes to soups, Josh’s top pick is the 3lephant Noodle Shack, a cozy food cart on Silverton Road. “It is amazing. The family is from Laos, and they’re amazing,” Josh raves, highlighting not just the quality of the food but the warmth and dedication of the family behind the counter. This recommendation isn’t just about flavor; it’s a tribute to the hardworking families that enrich Salem’s culinary landscape.
For taco enthusiasts, Josh points to the Chubby Bean as the go-to spot. “They have the $1 Tacos, which is unheard of,” he mentions, admiring the family’s commitment to quality and value. He also recommended to buy other stuff from the menu because it’s hard to make a living out of selling $1 tacos. Josh’s shoutout to the Chubby Bean goes beyond their delicious tacos; it’s an acknowledgment of the effort and passion that small business owners put into serving the community.
When it comes to his favorite barbecue spot speaks, he was a bit reluctant to single out one spot, and instead gave shoutouts to both Mike Adams at Adam’s Ribs and Mathew Miller at Miller’s BBQ & Cafe. His inclusive shoutout to a couple of barbecue joints underlines the camaraderie and mutual support that define Salem’s business community. It’s a reflection of Josh’s broader view that success is best shared and celebrated together.
For those interested in supporting Josh’s mission or exploring the art of bladesmithing themselves, NK Forge & Metalworks welcomes all. Whether you’re looking to commission a custom knife or participate in a class, Josh’s doors are open. He especially cherishes customers who trust him to create something unique: “I love the customer who tells me Josh just make me whatever. I just want a knife that it’s about the blade is four inches. Just make whatever you want to make.”
To learn more about Josh’s work or to get involved with IACT, visit NK Forge & Metalworks. Join us in celebrating a local entrepreneur who not only sharpens steel but also the spirits of those around him, making Salem a stronger, more connected community.