“One thing that Spencer is very good at is knowing what I’d like,” Lisa Johnson Aplin said. Lisa is the co-founder and chief operating officer of STA Custom Knives out of Brazoria, Texas. She and knifemaker Spencer Aplin were married in 1993, and together they have a son Alexx who will be 24 in a couple of months, a journalist and sometimes quality controller in his father’s shop. Lisa had no idea that a Sloan Custom Knives creation she admired had already been custom-ordered for her by her husband. Lisa suffers from osteogenesis imperfecta, or brittle bone disease, so although she does not have dwarfism and is therefore not a “little person,” she is a very little person. The one thing that Pete Sloan has plenty of access to is little people in the form of children, 9 to be exact. So, he used one daughter’s hand to perfect the mini knife fit and design.
Lisa’s favorite color is green and Spencer had been admiring a green knife he saw on Facebook that his friend Pete had made. “He asked me if I could make one for his wife,” Pete said. Pete was surprised and honored that Spencer, a maker he greatly admires for his knifemaking in general and blade-carving in particular, would ask him for a knife. Pete told Spencer that he was welcome to make the knife if he wanted, but Spencer said, no, that Pete had a good command of the Wharncliffe design and he wanted Pete to make it.
Humbled, Pete was determined to get it right. But he lived in Medina, Tennessee, and had never met Lisa. He only had Spencer's description of her size to go on. Lisa is 2 feet, 10 inches tall. Pete’s daughter Erin was 5 at the time. So, he roughed out the 440C stainless steel blades and then with a Sharpie marked the first finger groove using Erin’s grip as a guide, grinding until it was just right for her petite hand. Spencer requested the stainless steel because the Aplins live next to salt water, and he wanted to minimize corrosion. Pete said he mostly gets requests for pattern-welded steel.
If you’ve ever seen the movie “Unbreakable” starring Bruce Willis, you know what osteogenesis imperfecta entails. Mr. Glass’ character, played by Samuel L. Jackson, has a form of the condition that allowed him to grow to full height, but his lifestyle is still hampered by debilitating bone breaks. Lisa and subsequently her son Alexx have Type III OI. A genetic mutation causing a lack of collagen, subsequently prompting connective tissue issues. The result is that bones fracture easily and those with the affliction will be short in stature with a curved spine and barrel-shaped chest. Type I is the most mild form of the condition, Type II and Type VIII the most severe and most often fatal. Types III through VI vary in symptoms and genetic causes. OI has been traced through mummies back to 1000 BC Egypt. Even though the condition has been around a long time, there is still no cure.
Pete used stabilized curly maple dyed green from Richard Beam at Nicholas Impregnated Woods to make the handle for Lisa’s knife and a combination blue-dyed and natural sycamore for Alexx’s. Each came with a Kydex sheath and cording to wear around the neck. At the 2015 BLADE Show, Lisa finally met Pete in person and he presented her with the knife. She loved it! “Green is my favorite color,” she said. She uses the knife all the time, opening boxes that come to the shop and for everyday uses around the house. Although it can be used for food preparation, Lisa doesn't cook, she said laughing. Spencer does the cooking. She treasures the knife. “It's one of my favorite's in my collection.” She continues to be impressed with the fit and with how Pete obtained it.
The only thing that Pete could not have accounted for was hand strength or lack thereof. Both Lisa and Alexx had a hard time drawing their knives. Spencer simply heated up the sheaths and worked the knives in them so that they released more easily without falling out. “It not something he could have known about,” Lisa said. “I think he did a great job.”
When asked how she adapts to daily activities in a full-size house at her stature and in a wheelchair, Lisa's answer was immediate and delivered in as cheery a tone as everything else she talks about. “The great thing about being married to someone who works with his hands,” Lisa explained, “is that Spencer can make me anything I might need customized.” The Sloan Custom Knife was an unexpected surprise, but in hindsight typical of Spencer to have picked out exactly what she would have picked out for herself long beforehand.
Pete visited Spencer before the 2017 BLADE Show and the two slept little working hard to finish up knives to sell. Spencer and Pete make knives with similar styles as Spencer shares his knowledge with Pete. And if Pete ever needs another hand model, he can turn to one of his and his wife, Holly's, nine children, some biological, some adopted, some that came by other means: Becca, 19; Carson, 18; Gage, 15; Brant, 14; Makenzie, 13; Leigha, 10; Erin, 9; Madeline, 8; and Grace, 7. The couple used to be foster parents. “There a story to just about all of them,” Pete noted with a laugh.
Contact Pete Sloan at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook at Sloan Custom Knives.
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