Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Dave Murphy – The Continuity of a Name and a Style

Each country has its household brands and knives are no exception. In the United States the all-conquering knife in question is a Murphy. David Zaphaniah Murphy, born in Portland Oregon, in 1895, produced a style of straight knife that would soon find its way into every American home. A blade forged in excellent carbon steel with a simple handle, but one that had the particularity of being produced in molded aluminum. The knife was robust, light, cheap and didn␣t need any special cleaning, which was why all housewives used it in their kitchens. Different shapes were produced for different uses, with models for hunters, scouts, and butchers, etc.

Oregon, where nature is particularly wild, is a state with a strong knifemaking tradition and home of one of the greatest American Knife manufacturers, Gerber. The firm␣s directors could not ignore the creative talent of the man whom his buddies called “Zeph,” so they gave him a major order between 1938 and 1941. When World War II broke out soldiers needed to be equipped with combat knives. Gerber had already produced a high-quality range, but it was not possible to satisfy al of the requirements, and the models were costly to make. So Gerber once again called upon Zeph, who created a model using his already tried and tested methods: a robust blade and a handle with guard in molded aluminum. He made them for Gerber until 1941 or 1942.

In 1941 he created the “Murphy Combat Jr.,” then in 1942 the “Murphy Combat,” which was produced until 1945, all of them based on the same principle. Manufacture continued until 1954 and the country was soon inundated with them thanks to the vast stock made for the Army. His son David Murphy, born in 1928 and who worked with his father until 1954, set up in Gresham, Oregon where he continued working in the same tradition until his retirement in 1994. Up until then Gerber had always closely listened to then his advice, whose slogan “legendary blades” has always rung true.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Bill Moran – Renewal with the Forge and Damascene

Bill Moran has continued the heritage that James Black and Bill Scagel left to American bladesmiths. This man, whose generosity and talent are legendary, is a national living treasure. Now over seventy-five years old, this forge wizard has always lived in Maryland, working, learning and discovering on his own. After such a long working life (he started in 1942) one can only imagine how many times his hammer has struck his anvil.

William F. Moran was born May 1, 1925 on a 155 acre dairy farm called Gayfield near the small village of Lime Kiln, Maryland. Bill slyly remarks that “gay” didn’t mean that same thing in those days as it does now.

At about ten years of age Bill made his first knife, utilizing the blacksmith tools and his father’s crosscut saw for blade material. By using the forge, he could use broken harrow teeth for raw material and not upset his dad. During this time, he learned to “draw” or temper his blade, he was about 14 or 15 years of age.

He was making some pretty good knives and by World War II, he was dividing his time equally between farming and knife making. 

In about 1958 Moran had to make a decision. The farm was small by modern standards and he enjoyed making knives more than farming. Orders were piling up so he sold the farm. With the money from the sale of the farm he built his shop at the present location near Middletown, Maryland. It consisted of a concrete block building that was one large room and an upstairs storage. It had no running water, no indoor bathroom, and no telephone. There were no hours posted on the door.

Relearning the strokes and techniques of his two illustrious predecessors, he privileges the essential. The shapes of his knives are rather sober, but he forges blades of an incomparable quality. James Black liked to work silver inlays into the handles of his knives, and Bill Moran has continued this style, imagining the most beautiful scrolling. Bill Scagel, who loved the stars, sometimes placed a silver crescent moon, sun or stars on the handle or leather sheath, another idea that has also been continued by Moran.

Not only the very best steel, but also meteorites, have had occasion to pass through the fires of his forge, and even damascene, which he rediscovered. His first damascene knife dates from 1972, an event that shook the world of cutlery! But although he has always worked alone, he has never lived as a hermit; on the contrary he has generously shared his knowledge with everyone, going as far as to found the American Bladesmith Society, whose charter he wrote and whose chairman he was. With a view to educating the younger generation, he set up a metal smith school that receives students all year round. In homage to his illustrious predecessor, he insisted that the premises be built on the very site where James Black had his forge.

With the talent of a genius and creator of a style admired by all professionals, Bill Moran is an artist in his own right. Bill passed away from cancer on February 12, 2006 at the age of 80 at Frederick Memorial Hospital. After his death, one of his Bowie knives sold for $30,000 at auction. According to his obituary in the Washington Post, Moran willed his forge and tools to the Frederick County Landmark Foundation.


Apart from his influences regarding the forged blade, pattern welding, and Damascus steel, Moran’s influence has spread to other realms of the cutlery industry beyond Art Knives. Production knife companies have made copies of Moran’s knives. Spyderco has long made a drop point-hunting knife, inspired by a Moran designs. Blackjack Knives made several tactical versions of Moran’s fighting knives. Paul Chen’s Hanwei Forge of China made a Damascus steel version of the Moran Kenshar, complete with silver wire inlay. Custom Knife maker Ernest Emerson has long stated that the Moran ST-23 was one of the inspirations for his CQC-8 folding knife.

In 1986, Moran was inducted into the Blade Magazine Cutlery Hall of Fame. Two years later in 1988, Moran and the ABS founded a Bladesmithing School in cooperation with Texarkana College. The campus was located in Washington, Arkansas near the place where James Black, made his first Bowie Knife. In 1996, Moran was inducted into the American Bladesmith Society Hall of Fame as an inauguree. From 1988 to 2001, Moran taught at least one class a year at the school. Upon his retirement from teaching in 2001, the school was renamed the “William F. Moran School of Bladesmithing”.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Jimmy B. Lile – Rambo’s Supplier

Fashions come and go and knives are no exception. James B. Lile set up his bladesmith workshop in Russellville, Arkansas, in the 1950’s. Capable of making all kinds of knives, he was soon attracted by one in particular, the survival knife, which he started to produce in a variety of styles from the 1960s onwards. A pioneer of the genre, he built a solid reputation for himself particularly in the military.

Ever since John Nelson Cooper, no other knifemaker has been so solicited by the film industry. When the film Rambo was being shot, Sylvester Stallone, its star, had to be armed with a combat and survival knife. Having heard of Jimmy Lile’s talent, the man who would be known as Rambo asked him to design and manufacture a model that would be unique in its kind.

Thanks to Jimmy Lile, knifemakers renewed their contract with the movies kicking off a new and hopefully long collaboration, with many different craftsmen being asked to produce knives for other films, starting with Jack Crain for Predator.

The whole world was submerged the survival knife craze, thanks to the movies. This contributed to the rise in popularity of the art knife, particularly since Jimmy Lile did not neglect to present a “First Blood” model to the president of the United States, Ronald Regan.

The name of Jimmy Lile has certainly become a legend, and although he passed away a few years ago, the man named “Gentleman Lile” by his peers left behind him other models that are no less famous. Including a folding model with a completely new and patented blade-blocking system with an interframe handle.

Whenever this gentleman sold you a knife, he had the unforgettable particularity of warmly shaking your hand and, looking you straight in the eyes, pronouncing a “thank you” full of gratitude.

Jimmy Buel Lile was born August 22, 1933, the son of a coal miner. He made his first knife at he age of eleven by grinding an old file into a blade. Jimmy Lile passed away on May 5, 1991, at the young age of 57.