Sunday, October 23, 2016

Dan Delavan and Gus Marsh at California Custom Knife Show 2016

Dan Delavan from Plaza Cutlery and Gus Marsh at the California Custom Knife Show October 22-23, 2016. At great show, saw some old and new friends.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Mark Centofante Looking at his Dad's Older Knives

This is Mark Centofante looking at some of the knives that his dad Frank made more than 50 years ago. It was a magic moment for both of us.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Dwight Towell, The Quiet Man from Midvale, Idaho

I can’t keep a knife, Dwight Towell says with a sheepish grin. Every time I make a knife for myself, somebody wants to buy it. That’s about as close as he comes to boasting. He’d never say so, but Towell is one of the top knifemakers in the world. Collectors pay thousands for the handmade knives that come from the austere little shop on his Midvale, Idaho, ranch. The wait for a Dwight Towell custom knife: five to six years.

A recipient of this year’s Governor’s Awards in the Arts, Towell is no stranger to prizes. They include the American Knifemakers Guild’s top award and the Beretta Award for outstanding achievement in cutlery. A Towell dagger engraved with gold on blued steel graced the cover of a brochure for the Art Knife Invitational in San Diego, to which only the world’s top knifemakers are invited. It sold for $12,800.

Dwight, quite simply, is one of the half dozen finest knifemakers in the world, and since there can be no fine art without craft, an incredibly talented artist by any measure, said Cort Conley of the Idaho Commission on the Arts. That he could manage this while being an admirable husband, father and rancher humbles most everyone who knows him.

The Towells have ranched in the Midvale area since his great grandfather, Alexander Towell, homesteaded there in 1881. As a boy, Dwight Towell always had a knife. I was always whittling or carving my initials in something. He and his wife, Celia, ranched and raised their family less than a mile from his great grandfather’s homestead. He made his first knife, a hunting knife for his son, in 1966.

There were only about two-dozen people in the country making handmade knives then he said. They wanted $7 for a hunting knife. I thought that was a terrible price for a knife so I made my own. That led to more and better knives, friendships with master knife makers and an apprenticeship with Winston Churchill of Vermont, one of the world’s top engravers. The output that began with a single hunting knife now stands at more than 1,200 knives.

In 2004 Towell retired from raising cattle hay and alfalfa, his son-in-law handles the ranching now, to devote himself full-time to knife making. At 76, he still looks like the rancher he is, jeans, flannel shirts, Western hat and still works in his shop every day.

His current project is an engraved dagger decorated with 14- and 24-karat gold and semiprecious stone from Russia. Thirty-eight hours into it — Cilia Towell keeps track of his hours — he estimated that it was 25 percent finished. The knife is a high-school graduation gift, the sixth he’s made for a grandchild.

Prices for his working knives, as opposed to what he refers to as fancy knives, start at $350. Enthusiasts buy them for their workmanship and high-quality steel, known for holding an edge.

One of my customers is pretty high up in Coca Cola, he said. He sent a knife back to me to be sharpened, and I still could cut the hair on my arm with it. When I asked him what he’d done with it, he said he’d used it to skin three bull elk. Another knife, returned after an African hunting trip, really did need sharpening. He’d used that one to skin a hippo. Increased emphasis on fancy knives” has reduced his production to about a dozen knives a year. Fancy knives take far longer to make than working knives do (220 hours for the $12,800 dagger).

He starts by drawing a design on paper. Then he outlines the knife’s shape with a carbide-tipped scriber on a bar of steel and cuts it with a band saw. Grinding and sanding with ever-finer sandpaper, ending with a hand-rubbed finish, follow that. The only thing he doesn’t do himself is heat-treating, which he hires out to a specialist with an atmosphere-controlled furnace in California. Towell engraves the knives with help from a microscope and air-driven graver tools. The finished product can include gold, jade, Seraphinite, springbok antler, mastodon ivory or other exotic components. I like designing knives and working with new materials, he said. Each knife is a new challenge. One thing his plans don’t include is retirement.

I have too many people waiting for knives. As long as I can make it from the house to the shop, I’ll keep working. What’s the old saying? If you enjoy doing what you do, it’s not work.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Be Careful What You Sell on eBay

I listed a 1997 NKCA Sunfish or Elephant Toenail by Smith & Wesson with 2 blades. It was up on eBay for about 2 or 3 days, when I received a message from eBay that my listing was removed because I violated the eBay policy on Ivory. I was shocked and did not understand what was going on. I called eBay and they said that someone there had looked at my listing and saw the word “Elephant” and assumed that I was selling Ivory.

Here is the text that I put up on eBay and a few photos, you decide for yourself.

1997 NKCA Sunfish or Elephant toenail by Smith & Wesson. With two shields (S & W and NKCA) inlaid onto the jigged brown bone handle. The two-blade knife has NKCA club knife etching on the master blade. The serial number is 1524.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Chuck Stapel – Knife Maker to the Stars

Chuck Stapel began making knives at the age of ten, when he discovered that he didn’t like the handle of a paring knife he got as a birthday present, and decided to make his own! He already had some training from his father, who had dabbled in knife making most of his life as well. His father’s interest began in the Navy during World War II, when, while stationed on a LCS in the Pacific, he began taking old hacksaws and files, and making them into works of art. He later presented some of his works to his son, which helped inspire Chuck to shape creations of his own. 

Taking the craft of knife making seriously after high school, Chuck continued to hone his skill, and after building his own workshop, spent every available moment working on new designs and techniques. Living his whole life in Los Angeles, California, only a short walk to most of the Hollywood Studios, Chuck’s knives soon found themselves not only in movies and television shows, but in the private collections of many of Hollywood’s biggest stars.

After becoming a champion trap, skeet and sporting clay shooter, Chuck began to be invited to many celebrity charity events, wherein he was asked to make “Trophy Knives” for the top prizes and for charity auctions. He was embraced by the world of Country/Western music stars as well, who also became great fans of his work.

Chuck’s knives have appeared in dozens of movies such as “Quigley Down Under”, “Switchback”, “No Mercy”, and “Little Nikita”; in hundreds of commercials; and in countless television shows such as “Wild side”, “Magnificent Seven”, “Thunder In Paradise”, “Walker: Texas Ranger”, “Knightrider”, “Jason and the Argonauts”, and “Magnum P.I.”

His knives are prized as works of art, and collector’s items, and are displayed at many museums, such as the Roy Rogers Museum, and Gene Autry Western Museum, and in the private collection’s all over the world, including such celebrities as Robert Stack, Tom Selleck, Roy “Dusty” Rogers, Jr., Chuck Norris, the Mandrell Sisters, Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton, and John Milius.

Chuck had made to order and donated knives to over two hundred charities, including Paralyzed Veterans, Quails Unlimited, Ducks Unlimited, Wild Turkey Federation, California Waterfowl, Irlene Mandrel’s Wish Upon A Star Charity shoot, the Boy Scouts of America, St. Jude Hospital, the Hollywood Celebrity Shoot, the Charlton Heston Celebrity Shoot, Ben Johnson’s Celebrity Rodeo for “Little Britches”, Pike’s Peak Charity Rodeo, Roy Roger’s “Happy Trails” charity, the Holy Cross Children’s Hospital and Free Clinic, to name just a few.

As an investment, Chuck’s knives are traded, sold and exchanged all over the world. In fact Chuck holds the record for one of the highest prices paid for a custom knife when one of his specialty knives was sold for over $12,000 at the Irlene Mandrel Celebrity Wish Upon A Star Shoot, held at the Rio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas in 1999.

With the introduction of his exclusive website, Chuck can now offer his “One of a Kind” knives to enthusiasts and collectors all over the word with a click of a mouse button. He will also be offering a special “knife of the month”, limited edition numbered knifes, collectibles and corporate gift items. He especially enjoys the chance to be able to impart his own personal story and history behind each of his knives for everyone to read!

Chuck divides him time these days between his knife studio in Los Angles, and another in Hawaii. He spends a lot of time traveling to dozens of charity events where he both competes in shooting sports and creates special knives.