For Many Makers, Knifemaking Isn’t A Full-Time Job. Here’s How Some Fill Their Days When They Aren’t Sharpening Steel.
One of the more memorable henchmen of the James Bond series is the stout little fellow Odd Job, played in Goldfinger by Harold Sakata, and a popular character in the Nintendo series of Bond video games. He has a hat with a razor-sharp brim that decapitates a marble statue in the movie and guarantees an instant kill in the game.
He’s a master of body paint, a capable golf caddy, and can crush a golf ball with his bare hands. He’s a chauffeur capable of skilled pursuit and evasion in the inevitable Bond car chases. In the end, this man of many talents meets an untimely death by electrocution in the vault at Fort Knox.
Many who make knives choose not to make it a full-time career but a mega-hobby or part-time job instead. There are many of us, both known and unknown, who work “regular” and “boring” jobs to fund our knife passion. Though I write and make knives, I’m a behavior analyst in my day job. My brother Travis is a knifemaker and accountant—boring! I bet you’ll be surprised at some of the unusual talents that support some knifemakers in the daytime so they can pursue their blade craft on nights and weekends.
ABS master smith Michael Quesenberry is well known for his intricate integrals, precise damascus and meticulous attention to every detail. He’s a professional engineer in his day job but not one of the calculator-and-pocket-protector types; he drives a train. He’s been a full-time locomotive engineer for the past 27 years with the Union Pacific Railroad. Meanwhile, whenever knifemaking starts coming with medical, dental and 401(k), he promises to switch careers.
Ricky Bob Menefee
Ricky Bob Menefee describes himself as a “dog catcher.” For the past 24 years he’s been a full-time trapper for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Sometimes his job is predator control, setting foot traps, snares or poison for calf-eating coyotes or lamb-snatching bobcats. Other times he hunts crop-destroying wild hogs via a helicopter or uses dynamite to blast out beaver dams.
“I’ve been lucky my whole life,” Ricky says. “The only thing I’ve ever done was hunt, fish and make knives. Knives have allowed me not to have to find a ‘real job’ because my federal job has good benefits to go along with bad pay.” Ricky specializes in fixed blades and slip joints well suited to outdoor tasks, and his tiny tapered tangs are legendary.
After 20 years in the golf course business, Jason Floyd says he’s a “professional grass grower.” He started as a turf expert and ended up as a golf course superintendent. Now he works as a forge and blacksmithing tool fabricator for Well Shod Farrier Supply and supplements his income with knifemaking. He says knifemaking is better than watching the grass grow. Jason specializes in forged and damascus fixed blades.
I learned a new word from Kelly Kring, who used to work as a “diener” or autopsy technician. He was responsible for moving and cleaning bodies, assisting the pathologist with autopsies and collecting evidence. After that he became an occupational therapy technician in a hospital burn unit. Now he describes himself as “a full-time blacksmith who happens to teach smithing classes at a local college.” He says, “I’ve made knives for many, many people, but don’t call myself a knifemaker.” Kelly is well known in blacksmith circles for being an excellent hands-on instructor.
All the bugs and creepy-crawly varmints better watch out for John Thunert, a self-described “killer for hire.” John works full time as an exterminator. When the pandemic shut down his business, knifemaking took up the slack. John is a Forged in Fire runner-up from season six, episode 18, and has been making knives for four years. “I’ve gotten bored with the other hobbies I’ve been proficient in. Knifemaking and the challenges it presents should see me through another 20 years,” he observes, “and I still won’t accomplish all the things I want to do.” John prefers making fixed blades and forges his own damascus and san-mai.
Many knifemakers know how to weld. Josh Howard of Deerlick Ridge Forge can beat that—he teaches robots how to weld. In the daytime, he works for Polaris Industries in the factory where they manufacture the four-wheeled side-by-side Ranger robots and the three-wheeled go-fast Slingshots.
He writes the programs that drive the automated welding robots, placing precise welds at critical structural points on the vehicles as they are assembled. Josh is a Forged in Fire competitor from season six and specializes in damascus kitchen and hunting knives. He says “Deerlick” is the name of the creek down the hill from his shop, and that nobody actually licks the deer.
The apostle Paul was a tent maker and did enough of that work over the years to support his ministry. Jason Wilder is a Church of Christ minister and supplements his work with knifemaking. After all, the Bible does say “the Word of God is sharper than a two-edged sword.” Jason admits that he may occasionally carry a sidearm and a knife in the pulpit and on pastoral hospital visits.
“Nobody goes into church work or knifemaking to get rich, but my family gets by on the combination of the two,” he notes. “My ministry schedule allows me to make knives, and my knifemaking supports my vocation as a minister.” Jason makes Sunday-go-to-meeting-quality fixed blades, both forged and stock removal.
In addition to forging impressive fixed blades, ABS master smith Terry Vandeventer is an expert snake handler. Terry has enjoyed a long career as a professional herpetologist, an expert in reptiles and amphibians. He started out with snakes as a zookeeper, and eventually built a business breeding rare and unusual snakes for zoos.
While he says he’s past his prime in the snake business, he still has “only” about 75 snakes in his current lab. Terry continues to make knives as a source of stress relief, and says “When the knife business gets stressful, it doesn’t serve its purpose for me.” I don’t know about you, but I’d find the North American pit viper collection a bit more stressful than knifemaking.
Where do birdbaths come from, anyway? Besides, were birds dirty before people started making birdbaths? Do baby birds prefer baths and older birds prefer showers? My friend Bryan Borton has spent nearly 30 years in the concrete-sculpture-casting business with his wife Kristy. He claims to have made thousands of concrete birdbaths, and his most unusual casting jobs include giant mushrooms, his brother-in-law’s headstone, and some great big soda bottle replicas.
He began making knives seven years ago, learning first from me and then from Travis Payne and some members of the Texas Knifemakers’ Guild. His knives are popular among the rodeo and ranching crowd, as you might suspect given his West Texas location.
Robert George is an electrical engineer. Boring, right? Not at all. Robert was the chief architect at AMD (Advanced Micro Devices) for the computer chips used in the Playstation 4, PS4 Pro and PS5 video games.
If you’re a gamer, you’ve probably used his work and didn’t know it. Robert describes himself as a “100 percent bladesmith” because he enjoys the artistic expression of forging close to the final shape. He studied with ABS master smiths Jim Crowell, Timothy Potier and J.R. Cook at the Bill Moran School of Bladesmithing in 2010 and has been passionate about knives ever since.
The List Goes On And On
There are some lists that will always be incomplete, and this is certainly one destined for deficiency. I didn’t have time or space to include BLADE Magazine Cutlery Hall-Of-Fame® member James Batson the rocket scientist, Les Adams the bomb squad technician, Jeremy Spake, who builds armatures for stop-motion animation films, or Grace Horne, who builds custom lingerie. I
also left out a bunch of knifemakers with exotic hobbies like ABS master smith Jordan LaMothe, who performs in musicals, Ryan Breuer, who does ballroom dancing contests, and I’m sure I left out plenty of great stories about people I haven’t met yet.
You and I may have different vocations from each other, and surely don’t have the same jobs as some of these knifemakers. Even so, one thing that joins us all together is our appreciation for knives. Handmade or user grade, for display or cosplay, for vegetable cutting or whitetail gutting, our love of knives brings all of us together in our occupational diversity.
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