A Disciple Of Bill Ruple, Burt Flanagan Has Been Making Knives For Nearly A Decade And Crafts Some Of The Finest Slip Joints In The Lone Star State.
Burt Flanagan has been making knives part-time since 2015 and also is a member of the South Texas Slipjoint Cartel of understudies of Cutlery Hall-of-Famer Bill Ruple. Burt’s father was a knifemaker before him but due to extenuating circumstances—he lost his equipment in a robbery—he never achieved the heights he could have.
Flanagan’s mother passed away in 2014 and shortly thereafter a Fedex package from Burt’s father arrived at the door. Inside Burt was shocked to find a 2×72 grinder and called his dad to find out about the gift. His father told him his mother had always supported his interest in wanting to make knives, and through the proceeds from her life insurance policy he knew she’d want to help Burt get started.
In no time Flanagan was grinding away at becoming a highly respected knifemaker. He had a chance to meet Ruple at a Johnny Stout hammer-in in South Texas and—long story short—the legend invited him down to learn how to make slip joints. He did so with his dad in tow and the three have all been great friends since.
Burt also credits The Knifemakers’ Guild for its guidance and is now a member of the organization’s board of directors. When not making knives he works full time for Paragon Industries, makers of fine heat-treating ovens, as the company’s knife industry manager.
Inside Burt Flanagan’s Shop
The shop tour begins with a piece of equipment Burt knows quite well.
“I am a very blessed man to have a career in the knife industry with Paragon Industries. I would never endorse something that I did not believe in,” Burt states. “My Paragon Pro will reach 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit in six minutes. You may think that’s not possible but it’s true. I will tell you that this is most likely the most important single piece of equipment in my shop because this is where it all starts. The heart of the blade is in the hardness, and my Paragon Pro is the ultimate. When I first got my Paragon oven it immediately cut my heat-treating time by two-thirds over a conventional brick-type oven that took over an hour to reach 1,925 degrees. This is to heat treat CPM 154 stainless steel, which I use pretty much exclusively for my blades, along with carbon steel damascus.
“An absolute must for a slip-joint maker is a surface grinder and I use a DoAll D-8. I was taught that two of the most important things in slip-joint making at a high level are for your parts to be flat and perpendicular. The D-8 takes care of the flat part of the equation. I surface grind my blades and springs to within one-half-of-one-thousandth of an inch with this machine. There are many different quality brands of surface grinders available from old to new. Mine happens to be an older model that has been restored and is in great condition. It weighs close to 5,000 pounds and is a hydraulic two-axis automatic beast that can get the job done.”
Big Tools For Big Jobs
Next up Burt extols the virtues of his Oliver of Adrian drill point thinner machine.
“I’ve found it to be true that the first thing a dealer, collector or purveyor—as well as many knowledgeable customers—look at in a custom pocketknife is the nail nick. A proper nail nick, no matter what the method used, should have needle sharp points and be thin and consistent throughout. This machine is the beans as we say here in Texas,” Burt explains, “and allows the maker to properly place the nail nick just before assembly. It is equipped with a built-in diamond dresser with a lever that keeps the 5-inch stone sharp all the time. Although there are many ways to cut a nail nick, most makers say this machine arguably does the best job.
“As with a nail nick there are numerous ways to inlay a shield on a pocketknife. I believe the most versatile way is the pantograph. Mine is a Gorton P1-2 model, which has been restored to almost new condition by the pantograph guru, Tim Robertson. There are many different makes and models that work great. These machines are the predecessor to the CNC machines of today. Gorton machines were made from the mid-’60s up to the early ’90s. My machine was made in the mid-’80s. These machines are capable of doing so much more than just shields; it enables the maker to create just about anything your mind can imagine. I believe we are only beginning to explore what is possible with these machines in the knife world.”
Lastly, Burt highlights his Moen Turbo Platen.
“Jerry Moen continues to change knifemaking for the better,” Flanagan praises. “This great tool virtually takes away the belt-bump factor while blowing a tremendous amount of air over your work, cutting down the heat on your blade big-time. It also greatly reduces the amount of belts necessary to achieve the same finish. I actually use three-to-four grits to accomplish a mirror finish. An LED light kit makes it even better.”
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Great shop machine info for us who admire the few American Craftsmen that exist in the highly automated production world today.
American Hero’s for sure.