Growing up in Livermore, Tony Olson knew he wanted to work at the Lab from an early age. To get there, he developed a clear way of making decisions.
In high school, he felt lazy — so he joined the Marines, where they could “knock the lazy right out of me.” During his Marine Corps service as an aviation mechanic, he chose the most prestigious detail he could: working on President Obama’s helicopter, Marine One.
Keeping his ultimate goal in mind, Olson went on to guide drones in Afghanistan — “being incredibly pressured is just my bread and butter,” he said — and later taught drone piloting to other Marines.
Service members in Afghanistan are often limited in their entertainment options; frequently they can only watch shows and movies that have been downloaded to a nearby laptop.
One night while watching armored soldiers in HBO’s “Game of Thrones”, Olson thought, “I bet making that stuff is really cool.” When he returned to the United States, he bought an anvil and a hobby forge and started making blades. Around this time, he finally arrived at the Lab with a job at National Ignition Facility.
“It makes me feel like a Viking or a caveman,” Olson said, before bellowing “Beat metal!” He started forging blades that he thought were cool, but it was costing him a lot in materials and time. His wife suggested he start taking commissions and War Knives was born.
“When I was a kid, knives were the cool thing that you can’t have,” he said. “Now I want to make what I like.” Today he’s making only the projects that are most interesting to him.
After moving from the National Ignition Facility to the High Explosives Applications Facility, Olson says his career has him exactly where he wants to be. “Who doesn’t want to blow stuff up?” he asks, remembering a few fireworks from his younger days. “Now I do it in a way that accelerates science.”
And his creative pursuits are earning him attention, as well: War Knives has a presence on Instagram and other social media sites, where Olson’s unique personality can shine through beyond the blades. In addition to his day job and his blade-making, he also performs occasional standup comedy in the Tri-Valley.
As for next steps, Olson has a lot of hope for his forge. In early 2023, he had plans to renovate his workspace, but since it’s outside, the rain kept him from making the upgrade. Now that things have begun to clear up, there’s nothing stopping him from staying on the cutting edge.