Opening my mailbox to the latest issue of Cowboys and Indians magazine is almost like a religious experience. Gingerly turning page after page savoring all the western flavor, I stopped cold on the page showcasing the most beautiful pocket knife I had ever laid eyes on. The headline said ?Every Man Has A Story.? ?The ad went on to describe an ancient Japanese layering technique called Makume Gane, a Spruce pine cone handle and a Damascus Steel blade. All combined to honor the layers and depth of extraordinary men.
But wait, I am a woman. I have an amazing story and in fact, I am a storyteller. I needed my own knife to reflect my layers and depth because I believe I am an extraordinary woman.
The only thing I can afford in Cowboys and Indians is the postage to get the magazine to my mailbox. This did not stop me from dreaming. I posted the picture on Facebook and asked if anyone knew someone who could make a knife like that.
And then a friend of a friend knew a guy and a phone number was sent.
His name is Keith Thompson. He lives in Bowling Green, Kentucky and making knives is his passion. He drives a truck for Fed-ex Freight to pay the bills so he can make extraordinary knives for his friends and for the occasional Yankee woman from the North.
?Keith, I don?t know the first thing about knives. I just know the knife I posted a picture of is the most beautiful work of art I have ever seen. Can you make that knife?? Keith sent some pictures to my phone and he gave me the name of his website, BlindHogBlades.com. He told me he makes fixed blade knives and he does not usually make pocket knives.
Steps In Making a Knife
In a very unassuming way, Keith goes on to describe the steps involved in making a knife. When we reached step #7, he realized I had no idea what he was talking about so he invited me to come to his shop and watch the process.We can make a complete knife in a day.? A road trip to learn something new is my most favorite thing so I quickly booked an appointment.
In the meantime, he sent me a picture of a knife reflective of Native American art. It was made from the jawbone of a coyote and it had a Damascus steel blade with a pattern like none I had ever seen. He asked my budget and I said I would be lucky to pull together $200. He said he would make me a special deal on that one and could I handle $70. Grinning ear to ear, I was going on a road trip and document the process of making a knife and I was going to come home with an amazing original that I could afford.
Family Man of Faith
Keith?s wife Judy met me upon arrival. She said ?Keith is underneath the house fixing a broken pipe but come on in. Judy and I became fast friends as Keith attended to the leak. After a quick shower, Keith unveiled knife after knife laying them out on the leather couch.
He loves making stuff. He showed a wood Rottweiler cut out with a scroll saw he made for his wife. He said he had just laid the wood floor in the living room and he had learned to do the wall woodworking reminiscent of a log home. Keith describes his curiosity about how things are made. I looked at a smokin? pipe and wondered how they got that curve in it. I googled it and then watched some videos and began to make one. I ended up making three of them and gave two away.
He brags about his brother Kevin as being ?the smart one” in the family. “I make knives but he is the ‘brains’ of the business. He and I are business partners-He’s the President and I’m the knifemaker. Kevin took the lead with marketing items, like the website and logo, and also handles the accounting and other business-related items.” With a lot of pride Keith says, ?Kevin is a Chief Marketing Officer in North Carolina, with years of marketing experience, ranging from Fruit of the Loom, to Iams Petfoods, to Proctor & Gamble, and more. He likes to refer to himself as a storyteller.”? And looking me in the eye he says, ?you know marketing is not sales.? I know only too well marketing is the story you tell.
Humble and Self-Taught
Keith downplays his talents saying he never went to college and is self-taught. I just shook my head reflecting on all the college educated people I know that don?t know how to do a darned thing. It is clear that his intelligence comes in three dimensions and he learns by physically doing. Money and politics are of no interest to either brother. Name and reputation is the priority.
Can’t be in a Hurry
If I had a dime for every time someone has told me that I need to go on the TV show ?Forged in Fire? I could retire. (The show is a reality series featuring world-class bladesmiths competing to create history?s most iconic edged weapons.)? He works 60+ hours a week driving a truck and says ?knife making cannot become a job because I already have a job. I can make you a high quality knife as long as you are not in a hurry for it.
Keith wants to teach people one-on-one how to make knives.Come out for a day and make a knife.? Keith has learned a lot about knife making from his Amish friend Sam. Both men are eager to share their expertise and to help others learn the craft. He further reflects when he says I am not the best truck driver. I have been driving for 20 years. 90% of the time I put that trailer where it needs to go. But other times I have to pull up and straighten and sometimes I am in sideways but it is just a job for me. On the other hand, if it is something I am passionate about that is another story. I don?t necessarily come up with anything new. I look at all these knives and get ideas and put my ideas together from other things. I use parts from this one and parts from that one that I think would look good together.
Let’s Make a Knife
And with that, we are off to the shop to see this man of understatement make a majestic knife.
He is systematic and loves to explain each step. He also wants to assure a novice that it is a simple process requiring few tools and expense to make a knife. He showed me though that a few tools make the process much faster.
Rough Cut The Blade
The first step is to cut the steel in the shape of a knife. He had already rough cut a number of shapes. He introduced me to the bandsaw as his tool of choice for creating the rough shape.
He uses a belt sander to smooth the edges.
Mark the Center Line
The center line of blade is then marked with dye.
An edge was put on the blade grinding from both sides.
Fine Tune?The Blade
The blade is fine tuned to the exact thickness.
Add the Acorn Stamp
Keith has a specially made punch of an acorn to mark his knives. The unique acorn design is the company’s trademark, and ties to their tagline of “Even a Blind Hog Finds an Acorn Once in a While.”
Making the Handle
There are many materials to make a knife handle. Keith used Micarta in the video. Micarta consists of layers of canvas, linen or paper covered in resin. The micarta used in this knife appeared black when he started. Grinding through the layers brought out an interesting sage green with layered design. Other materials commonly used include acrylic kryptonite, mother of pearl, antler and pine cones embedded in resin.
Heat Treating The Blade
Keith maintains that anyone can make a knife that looks like a million bucks, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it is high-quality and durable. To ensure the highest quality of Blind Hog Blades knives, Keith will drop every blade, from shoulder height, on its tip to the concrete floor. His knives are so tough that they actually chip the concrete and not damage the blade of the knife in any way. He says “Many ‘designer’ knives may look great on someones shelf or desk, but they are more artwork than a working knife. I’ve found that most customers are looking for a functional knife that will last for years through all kinds of conditions and still hold its edge and strength. That’s the underlying driver of Blind Hog Blades. We try to make knives that are unique and beautiful, but more importantly, functional.”
The heat treat process brings significant hardness to the blade. Some of that hardness must be removed before the knife can pass the drop test.
The Drop Test and Antler Test
In addition to the “drop test,” Keith tests the knife on an antler. He says it is an extremely hard material and he insures there are no nicks in the blade by doing a “chopping test” on the antler.
Keith tests the sharpness of the knife by shaving the hair on his arm.
Note: This was my first meeting with Keith and my first introduction to knifemaking. I video recorded the event while trying make notes and pay attention to the process. I am truly NOT a videographer and I am even worse with video editing, but as amateur as these videos are, it still tells a story in Keith’s own words which is priceless.
We ran out of battery and disk space in two cameras and missed recording the drop. I can assure you there is a chip missing from his concrete floor and the blade tip is perfect. It was the fastest knife he had ever made and he sold it to a friend at work.
The Finished Product
Keith sanded the black linen Micarta to expose the layers of sage green. It is a work of art and craftsmanship.
Keith Thompson – Knifemaker
Blind Hog Blades
Bowling Green, KY
Polly Riddell writing under the pen name of? ? ? ? ? G. Polly? Jordan is The Story Teller. She is a freelance journalist writing business spotlight promotional stories and positively in love with telling the God stories.
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