Just can’t control your curiosity, can you?
Well, if you want to know more about me and how Iron Mountain Knives got started, then read on...
was raised in the mountains of Northeast Tennessee, and at a very young age I spent a lot of time camping with my family. As a boy, I found a pocket knife to be a very valuable and useful tool. I was about seven when I was given my first fixed blade knife (a Western Military Knife with an 8 inch blade) that had been my Fathers Navy issue during World War II. By the age of about twelve, I had already acquired a decent collection of Barlow, Hawk Bill and Boy Scout folding knives.
During the mid sixties in elementary school, we would draw names and exchange gifts at Christmas. If you drew a boy’s name the safe bet was to give a cool folding knife. Back then, almost every boy in class would have a folding knife in his pocket…and this was acceptable. Man, have times changed!?!
At the age of eighteen, I completed a SCUBA instructor certification in Jacksonville, Florida, and I moved to St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands to pursue a career in sport diving in 1975. In 1978, I moved to Seattle Washington to attend the Divers Institute of Technology, and completed training for my Deep Sea Diver’s certification. Having completed my training in Seattle, I moved to New Orleans, Louisiana where I made a career as a commercial diver for sixteen years.
In the diving industry, knives are an integral part of the job and a very important tool. I never stepped onto the deck of any vessel on any diving job with out at least one knife in my pocket or on my belt. To jump into the water as a commercial diver without a knife attached to your harness would be viewed as unprepared and ill-equipped as well as stupid. To a deep sea diver, a good sharp accessible knife could mean the difference of success or failure, and in some cases it could mean your survival or that of a team mate.
I began my martial arts training in 1975, and continue today to train and teach the arts. I have been mostly influenced by the Filipino arts that were developed with the blade as the central theme. As a martial artist, I have always been intrigued and fascinated by the blade, its use, concealment and delivery systems.
n 1993, I met and became friends with Master Knife Maker Gil Hibben. Gil and I hit it off from the start as we share many of the same interests. Over the years, I always wanted to ask Gil to teach me how to make a knife, but I didn’t think that it would be possible. In February 2001, Gil invited me to come up to his place in Kentucky for a knife making class, and given the chance to make a knife, I jumped at the opportunity. I spent five days in Gil’s shop making my first knife. With a lot of Gil’s help I was able to finish a small 4 inch drop point with a hand tooled leather sheath.
As I was trying to find my way around Gil’s shop, I would look at the various projects he had in progress. Admiring his work, I was amazed at Gil’s creativity and ingenuity. The energy and mindfulness that Gil possesses and demonstrates is inspirational. As I studied each of Gil’s projects, he would not hesitate to explain what he was doing and why. As Gil developed his ideas in front of me, I found his process of overcoming obstacles and the challenges of knife making were very satisfying.
I made a second trip to Gil’s where I spent a week making another knife. This time, since I understood the challenges of making a knife a little better, I was more reluctant to have Gil rescue me from certain disaster. Again, Gil had several projects on his work bench: there were Bowie knives, Scagel’s, fighters, hunting and fantasy knives, and each one a work of art. As Gil shared his ideas and plans for each knife, I became more attached to the idea of knife making and the concept of making something that was so beautiful. I found a great satisfaction in the idea of turning the most basic of materials into a useful tool that doubled as a work of art.
After this trip to LaGrange, I was “hooked” on knife making and decided to buy some equipment to make my own knives. I made several more trips to Gil’s where I would take pieces to heat treat or finish with some of his trusty advice. I would bring larger and more complicated pieces so I could work through tougher challenges. I wanted to be capable of fixing my own problems, so at this point I wouldn’t let Gil actually touch the knives I was making, but would gladly accept any advice he had to offer.
In August of 2001, I bought eleven acres on Iron Mountain near Mountain City, Tennessee, and began construction on the 2400 square foot building that serves as my knife making shop. At first, I made a few fixed blade knives for friends who had requested my work. I also made a lot of aluminum training knives to sell at various Martial Arts seminars I attended. This was good practice and it allowed me to experiment with designs and processes while I became familiar with my equipment.
ver time, I received more orders for the real thing, so I acquired more shop equipment. I set up a couple of belt grinders and buffing machines, and started doing my own heat treating. I bought a welding machine, so I could weld stainless steel ready bolts for my knives with a hidden tang. I bought a milling machine to make my hand guard process more efficient, and I found a surface grinder to make my blanks nice and flat. One of my best investments was a metal dust collector that keeps the grinding and buffing rooms cleaner. The shop is surrounded by forest, so I opted for a huge wood burning stove to keep the shop warm in the winter.
I travel extensively around the country teaching martial arts, and I sell most of my knives to martial artist that see my work at camps and seminars. So when I am not on the road teaching or training, I am in the shop making knives. Some of my knives are traditional designs that have been around for awhile, but the knives that I sell the most are custom ordered blades and those of my own designs. I get the most satisfaction out of taking a basic idea or concept and developing it into something that is highly functional, extremely durable, and beautiful to boot.
Most of the tactical pieces I design are developed for the specific martial art tactics I teach. Based on practical tactics, I make concept drawings of the knife solely on the function it will provide. Then, from an application and tactical mindset, I make a prototype trainer used to test the application aspects of the knife. After much consideration and some discussion with other experts in the martial arts field, I make some modifications to maximize the effectiveness of the knife. Then I make a prototype in steel. Besides the knife, I must engineer a sheath or “delivery system” that is also practical and functional. Now I began the process of building a sheath that delivers the knife in a safe and expeditious manner. Sometimes this takes more time and thought than the knife design itself. Lastly, I carry the knife in the sheath to get accustomed to its draw, feel, and functionality of the system. Sometimes, there are more adjustments to be made to both the knife and the sheath to ensure a practical and functional tactical knife. My own designs are the ones I carry on a daily basis. This ensures I become extremely familiar with my creations, and helps to make sure I am always working to improve the end product.
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