Greatest Custom Knifemakers Of All-Time: George Herron

Greatest Custom Knifemakers Of All-Time: George Herron
The tapered-tang Model 6 was one of George Herron’s best-known knives and was named in a poll as one of the 20 best knives ever made. The 4-inch blade is ATS-34 stainless steel and the handle is curly maple. Overall length: 9 inches. Herron made this one in his Aiken, South Carolina, shop. (Jay Mealing image)
George Herron South Carolina knifemaker
The tapered-tang Model 6 was one of George Herron’s best-known knives and was named in a poll as one of the 20 best knives ever made. The 4-inch blade is ATS-34 stainless steel and the handle is curly maple. Overall length: 9 inches. Herron made this one in his Aiken, South Carolina, shop. (Jay Mealing image)

Without a doubt, he was one of the best custom knifemakers to ever pursue the art. He gave information, expertise and precious time freely to those who wanted to learn. He was a crack shot, spitting in death’s eye during the Korean War and walking out of literal hell to fight another day.

BLADE Magazine Cutlery Hall-Of-Fame® member George Herron was many things to many people, and they will never forget the positive impact he had on their lives. The South Carolina resident was a fixture among the finest in the custom knife business for years, a winner of many awards, president of the Knifemakers’ Guild, founder of the South Carolina Association of Knifemakers and genuine friend to those he held close.

‘A Great Human Being’

George Herron custom bladesmith
Mr. Herron hardly went anywhere without his trusty pipe.

George Herron wasn’t just a great custom knifemaker,” began Bobby Branton, a custom maker who knew Herron and collected his knives for many years, “he was a great human being and a great person. You didn’t have to make knives for him to have an interest in you.”

Branton met George and his wonderful wife, affectionately known by the many who know her as “Miss Barbara,” when he was “bitten by the knife bug” and wanted to buy a few of the great maker’s knives.

“I started out as a collector and wanted to buy some John Nelson Cooper knives from a lady in a shop and found out from her that there were a number of South Carolina makers out there,” he recalled.

In his early days as a knifemaker, Branton bought the leading books on the topic by Sid Latham and David Boye. He noticed photos of some of Herron’s knives in Latham’s book and traveled to Herron’s home in Aiken and later Springfield, South Carolina.

“I called ahead of time and asked if I could stop by,” Bobby said. “I bought two knives with all the money I had. We looked around the shop and he was getting ready to go to a show. We went inside and he pulled a big deerskin off the table like a matador, and his inventory was sitting there.”

After Bobby made his first knife, he returned to Herron’s home to get a review of the effort.

“He said, ‘That’s nice, but if you’re going to make a knife, make a knife,’” Branton smiled. “He gave me tips and mentored me.”

A Custom Knifemaker Who Gave Back

George Herron knife collection
George Herron made many folders and varied his styles quite a bit over the years, including bolstered lockbacks, interframe lockbacks, slip-joint gent’s knives and others. The top knife is a slip-joint gent’s knife and the bottom three are interframe lockbacks. The scales are ivory. (Jay Mealing image)

George did the same for many would be custom makers who came calling. Custom maker Wayne Hendrix worked for him in the 1980s and learned to make custom knives from the master.

“He was a heck of a teacher,” Wayne said. “I tell you right now, if I went out there and picked a maker to work for, I couldn’t have picked a better one in terms of making working knives. His designs were simple and his knives were functional. He was a very intelligent man and he had common sense to go along with it. You don’t necessarily see someone with both that often.”

At the time he started working in the shop, Wayne indicated George was considered one of the world’s top five custom makers. Herron built a reputation of outstanding quality for a fair price, and part of his legacy is that his knives were affordably priced. He sold them by the thousands.

Wayne grew close to George, not just in the knife shop but in other aspects of life as well.

“I hunted with him and painted the inside of his house after they moved to Springfield,” he smiled. “It was super cold that winter, and he had an enclosed two-car garage where we set up his shop. We were a lot alike but he was a lot smarter than I am, and I consider him to be my second daddy. I couldn’t have picked a better maker to apprentice under, and I’m still riding George Herron’s coattails.”

The Secret To The Legacy

Custom knife George Herron
Named after Col. John Bigbie, the Bigbie skinner was another George Herron favorite. The 3.5-inch blade of ATS-34 stainless had a tapered tang and a stag handle. Overall length: 8 inches. This one was made in Herron’s Springfield, South Carolina, shop. (Jay Mealing image)

In an era when knifemakers looked to pricing of individual units as a barometer of their profitability, George was different. He never forgot that working people needed affordable knives.

“One time a committee of Guild members came to his table,” Cutlery Hall-Of-Famer and past BLADE publisher and editor Bruce Voyles remembered, “and they told him that he was selling his knives too cheap. He said, with a few words that I can’t repeat, that he would make and sell knives the way he wanted and they could do the same. Now, George sold most of his knives for $150 to $300, and most of those have doubled or tripled in value. None of the guys on that committee could say that their knives have done that.”

Voyles lighted up describing Herron as “a man’s man, gracious, courteous, or mean as he needed to be in a given situation.”

Perhaps the best tribute anyone could provide to the life and legacy of the great George Herron was Voyles’ effort to be at the only place on Earth he wanted to be when his friend passed away.

“We were in New Orleans at Mardi Gras,” Bruce commented. “On Fat Tuesday morning the telephone rang, and it was Bobby Branton telling me that Mr. George was gone. We loaded up and went home right then so we could attend the funeral in South Carolina. There are very few people I would have done that for.”

Such an effort proves one thing for sure. George Herron, larger than life, remains with those who knew him in undiminished spirit.

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