The Big Hunt: Post-Hunt Update
arizona

The Big Hunt: Post-Hunt Update

"The next day is the last day of hunting for us, and once again I take my little girl out. I am really hoping for something, but so far it’s not looking good. At the end of the day we are headed back to the truck and decide to take a rest by the side of a path through the woods to rest my aching knees.
The Ups and Downs of Working in a Family Business
family

The Ups and Downs of Working in a Family Business

I step back from the grinder and stretch my aching back, mentally flipping through the stack of orders on my schedule for this week. I’ve been grinding, heat-treating and cleaning up blades all day and it looks like it’s going to be a late night. Again.
3 + 1 Shows Every Knife Nut Should Attend Before They Die

3 + 1 Shows Every Knife Nut Should Attend Before They Die

Hey, it's John Roy! As a knifemaker, I get the chance to attend a myriad of different knife and gun shows, and I often get asked; “What are the best shows to go to?” Obviously, I can’t speak for the shows I haven’t attended, but from the ones I’ve had the pleasure of going to I’ve compiled a short list of the crème de la crème. So here are my favorites, in no particular order:   California Custom Knife Show Anaheim, CA (October 21-22, 2017) Dan Delevan has known our family for years, and is well known in the knife industry as a great guy and an all-around authority on knives. I stop by his shop whenever I’m out in the Costa Mesa area in southern California. Plaza Cutlery is inside the busy South Coast Plaza Mall and has been a landmark there for a great many years. I love coming to Dan’s shop, he always has the latest and greatest knives; customs and high-end factory alike. Dan is also the promoter of one of my favorite knife shows to attend, the California Custom Knife show.  It’s an intimate knife show, located in the beautiful and ritzy Embassy Suites Garden Grove/Anaheim South and drawing knifemakers, suppliers and attendees from all over the nation. I really enjoy attending this show because of the elegant setting, and the friendly family vibe. It’s also really close to some pretty big attractions, like Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm. We like to plan a family vacation from time to time around Dan’s show, it’s just a fun combination. If you are someone who is interested in customs, this is a great show to attend.   The Blade Show, Atlanta GA (June 1-3, 2018) This is a HUGE show, filled with anything knife related you could think of. It’s held in the beautiful Cobb Galleria in the heart of Atlanta. There are custom makers, forgers, big name suppliers, factory knives, sheath makers, engravers, scrimshanders, the list goes on. The Blade show is the biggest knife show in the US, and has been going strong for a number of years. It’s put on by Blade Magazine, and they do a great job. When you go be sure to check out the schedule in advance, as there are cutting demonstrations by masters of technique, and classes for many different knife related subjects, such as how to expertly sharpen your knife. We have the opportunity to see what’s new in the industry, hang out with old friends, and gain fresh new inspiration for our own design line. It’s also fun to meet celebrities, such as the judges of the hit tv show, Forged in Fire. After spending the day at the show, you might choose to gather with other knife enthusiasts, makers and others at the “Pit” after hours, to relax and have a drink. The entrance fee is reasonable, considering the pure amount of edged awesomeness you are exposed to. Be sure to register early, it makes the entrance process a lot smoother and quicker. I encourage you to check out their website for more info at www.bladeshow.com  You can also check out the exhibitor list to see who will be there, but don’t forget to stop by and say hi to the Dawson gang, we’re always at table #10H!   Big Reno Gun Show Reno, NV (November 10-12, 2017) If you enjoy the finer things in life, this is a fantastic show to check out. The Big Reno Show is held in the beautiful and luxurious Grand Sierra Resort. The show is a wonderland of fine antique guns, modern guns, and of course, high quality knives. There is a lot to see, so come prepared to spend the day. Whenever I attend The Big Reno Show I eat at one of the restaurants in the resort. My favorites are the Charlie Palmer Steakhouse and Cantina. Really delicious food and great service at both restaurants. Lake Tahoe is also a short 30 min trip away, I know a lot of people who plan their vacations around the show. Some high-quality firearms and ruggedly sexy knives, decadent eats and lots to entertain yourself with. The admission is reasonable too, but you may want to get there a little earlier before the doors open to get a place in line.   The Gathering of the USN, Las Vegas NV (Aug 30-Sep 1, 2018) What can I say about the USN show? These guys are some of the best guys you could hope to meet, very inclusive and friendly. Instead of the traditional long rows of tables, the USN show is set up a little differently, with circular table “pods” to create a more intimate atmosphere with makers and buyers alike. There are a lot of custom makers, high end factory knives, knife gear, you name it. I really enjoy talking with everyone at this show, because like me, they are all big time knife enthusiasts. The show is held at Planet Hollywood, a very luxurious hotel on the Las Vegas strip. Trader’s Cove is a relaxing area inside the hotel where you can gather after the show to chat, show and tell, and buy and sell after hours. It’s a great atmosphere with good food and drinks and lively conversation. Now this is Vegas, so of course there is plenty to do outside the hotel as well. Another great show to plan a weekend excursion to, I promise you won’t run out of entertainment options.   And that’s it! Keep in mind there are some really neat shows I have attended that didn’t make it onto this list, simply because I wanted to keep it short and sweet. I suggest subscribing to our email list, you will get a weekly email of what shows we are attending and where. I’ll try to make another post in the future to highlight some more awesomeness no knife enthusiast in his (or her) right mind should miss. Until then, check these shows out and let me know if you plan on coming to one to see me!
Swordmaking: Inspiration and Innovation
battle ready

Swordmaking: Inspiration and Innovation

This is the first installment in a series I'm writing on knife and swordmaking and the stories that go along with it. Over the years, people have often asked me how I got into swordmaking, or what inspired a certain design. Writing's not my strong suit but I hope you find it interesting and informative.   -Barry Dawson My swordmaking has always been hugely influenced by martial cultures from around the world, and particularly by Japanese swordsmiths. They started with a huge handicap compared to swordsmiths in Europe, just because iron ore as we think of it is next to non-existent in Japan, and the iron sand they used in its place was extremely labor intensive to work. (Think 25 tons of iron sand and charcoal shoveled into a blast furnace over three days and nights to produce one batch of tamahagane, like the one shown left.) And even with all that, it would often produce a much lower quality steel. That they were able to overcome that particular sow’s ear and create so many silk purses is a testament to their skill and dedication.  I’ve built many Japanese-style pieces over the years, and a few have evolved into regular models. The shinobi-style Dark Knight’s no-bs-please-thank-you design was inspired by the slim, straight, easily-concealed weapons that ninja were thought to have used (and often had to make themselves.) I designed the Ronin probably a decade after I’d first taken up sword making, and it is still one of my favorites. It’s based off the samurai sword style of feudal Japan and it’s just freakin’ cool. Hold it and I guarantee you’ll feel like a badass.    The heart and soul of any good sword is in the blade. Everything else is cream. I chose the best steel I could find, then I spent a lot of time studying traditional Japanese heat-treat techniques and experimenting, learning to recreate and even improve them in my own shop using modern tools and materials. I had to build or modify most of my own equipment, because it just didn’t exist in those days. Today my clay-hardened heat treat is something I’m very proud of, that produces a beautiful, quality blade with a real hamon or “hard line”. Now, there’s plenty of cheap imitations of hamon on the factory sword market today,  usually achieved by laser-engraving, acid etching or the like. But like file work or scrimshaw, this faux hamon serves no purpose other than to look pretty. A real hamon is certainly beautiful, but more importantly it represents visually the differential hardening of the sword blade. The darker area near the edge is the hardest portion, which allows the sword to hold a nice, sharp edge; then comes the silvery nioi, a thin strand of faintly glittering steel that marks the boundary between the hard edge and the softer spine. The nioi as shown on this Tombstone Bowie, right, is one of the things to look for in a genuine hamon and can't be faked. This type of heat treat allows a sword or knife the flexibility and strength to absorb shock from a blow rather than snapping or breaking. It’s such a completely different operation just trying to grind a long, curved sword compared to a knife, bowie or even a shorter sword that it’s hard to describe. They balance differently, for starters. The longer the blade, the more prone it is to warping and twisting during the heat treat process, so you’ve got to be on it out of the oven like white on rice. All your grinds have to be one long, smooth motion, or you end up with ripples and hollows, and of course the height of the grind has to be the same on both sides. This is surprisingly tricky. The idea can be explained in 5 minutes but can take months or years to master. I call it the “mohawk effect”, from a joke I once heard about a guy who’s shaving in front of the mirror one morning and notices one sideburn is higher than the other. He shortens the opposite side, only to realize that now it’s too short. This continues until, by the time he comes down to breakfast, he’s got a mohawk and a “don’t ask” expression on his face. I had a few swords like that early on that ended up on the scrap pile.   Barry Dawson has been hand-making custom knives and swords for over 40 years. He has since taught his niece, nephews and great-nephews the art and despite being a cantankerous old guy, somehow manages to work together with them on a daily basis in relative peace and harmony. Unless someone moves his tools.
The Big Hunt: What's In Your Bag?
bushcraft

The Big Hunt: What's In Your Bag?

Anyone that knows me, knows I love to hunt. In fact my wife, Lynn, gets a little irritated with me sometimes. “Can’t you talk about something else? Don’t you think other people might not be interested?” Well, I could. But what would be the point in that? Everyone loves hunting. Right? Why wouldn’t they want to talk about it? In my defense, I grew up outdoors. The outdoors, in Vermont, where lakes are lakes and forests are forests. Where we lived there were no movie theatres, no shopping malls and no arcades. (“And we walked to school in the snow, uphill both ways!” I just realized this sounds like somebody’s grandpa.) My dad was also my Scout leader, so my friends and I spent all our free time outdoors; fishing, kayaking, hiking, backpacking, and of course, hunting. When I was younger, hunting with my dad meant us tromping somewhat randomly around the woods, me with my old rifle and a hand-me-down factory knife, both of us hoping we’d get lucky enough to actually surprise a deer. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you, but it gets really cold in Vermont, it snows a lot, and bears and wildcats are common. But somehow, it was still infinitely better than being stuck at home with my two sisters. Go figure. With age comes wisdom, and also better hunting techniques. I’ve picked up a lot of tricks, figured out what works for me and what doesn’t, experimented with tons of gear. Some things you can get away with cheaping out on, but I’ve found there’s some equipment you can’t afford to compromise on, that can make or break you when you’re out in the woods. Accept no substitutions.    A Good Knife Come on, you knew this one was going first, didn’t you? But seriously, my knife gets used for everything, from cutting open my MRE dinner to dressing out an elk. Nobody wants to lug around a 100lb pack, so make sure you choose a well-made, versatile design that’s ready to work and work hard, not just look pretty. I strongly prefer a fixed blade, full-tang knife for my forays into the great outdoors. In my humble opinion, there’s just no comparison in strength and durability (not to mention the danger of it accidentally closing on your fingers) between a fixed blade and a folder. I don’t leave home without my Field Guide. It’s small, lightweight, rugged, and the blade is just the right length for skinning. The Huntsman is another personal favorite that’s large enough to handle bushcrafting as well. For sentimental reasons, the honorary “first cut” is always performed by an antique Solingen knife, made in Germany. My grandpa hunted with it, then my dad, and now me. Hopefully it will be passed on to my kids as well. Rifle/Sidearm Choosing a dependable rifle that you’ve personally put some significant rounds through and feel comfortable handling is extremely important to a successful hunt. The individual weight, balance, trigger pull and recoil of your firearm are just a few of the things any hunter worth their salt should be well accustomed to before ever tucking their hunting license into a water proof pouch and heading out. Notice I mention both a rifle and a sidearm in the title. I carry both, and I know many guys who do the same, but it comes down to a personal preference and what your local gun carry laws allow for. Sometimes a young, sick or startled predator can see the clawless, fangless pink thing wandering through its territory as an easy snack. In my experience, it’s always good to have backup. I’ve used several good rifles and handguns throughout the years, but I think my personal favorites are my Ruger Blackhawk .44 Magnum for sidearm carry, and a .308 AR-10 for hunting. Dean over at Primary Weapons Systems helped me customize my .308 rig to fit my needs, and I love it. I chose a pistol grip and collapsible stock, and carry it on a two-point system in front of me. I find this makes it easier to carry, faster to pull up, and quieter. I’m not a long-distance kind of guy, I like to track and move when I hunt, so stealth is always a top priority for me. I’d highly recommend Dean and his crew when you’re in the market for a premium quality firearm. They’re great guys and they sure know their stuff.   Good Shoes/Socks I feel like good shoes are something I appreciate more and more the older I get. I’m tempted from time to time to buy the “Walmart special”, or the sale bin shoes at the local sports store. That’s fine, there’s nothing wrong with that. I use Walmart shoes for mowing my lawn and cleaning my chicken coop all the time. But when I’m going to be depending on my feet as much as I do during hunts, I want a sturdy, supportive, comfortable shoe. What that looks like to you may be different than what it does for me. But some qualities are universal. Let me share with you a few things I’ve learned that really make or break a good hunting shoe. Thick sole: Arizona terrain is rocky, sandy, silty, you name it. Where I’m at, the ground is also littered in places with sharp, ankle-cracking volcanic rock. Fun. You want a nice thick sole on your shoes to cushion and protect from sharp rocks and sticks, poison ivy and unfriendly critters. Ankle support/cover: See Arizona terrain again, and then add venomous snakes, Gila monsters and scorpions. I broke my ankle in a motorcycle accident many eons ago, (good job, me!) so my achy old guy joint appreciates all the support it can get. Lightweight as possible: They aren’t meant to be running shoes, but if you can find a good quality boot that is also lightweight, you’ve got it made. And don’t forget moisture-wicking socks, a clean pair for every day you’ll be out. Your feet will probably be tired and sore after a long day in the bush even with the best preparation, so you’ll be thankful you spent a few extra bucks to avoid blisters and chafing into the bargain. My personal favorite brand is Lowa Boots. I wear the Zephyr Desert Mid TF. My buddy Phil over at Shooters World got me turned onto them years ago, and I’ve never looked back. They’re well-made and give me everything I’m looking for in a hunting boot. I got an Elk with my dad one year, and had to pack out three loads of meat, 100lbs each time. After making the trip to the truck 3 times, I was REALLY grateful to my Zephyrs.             Camouflage Kryptek camo. Guys, it’s the best I’ve found. My wife, Lynn, accuses me from time to time of being an equipment snob, but really, I go to gun/knife/sporting shows every week. I have the opportunity to see pretty much everything that’s out there, from prestigious old companies to the new, “latest and greatest” offerings. I can see, feel and test the quality of the product offerings first hand, and it allows me to compare right there at the show. I was excited when we made the decision to begin using Kryptek-patterned Kydex for our sheaths. They’ve been one of my favorite companies for years now and just make a top-quality product. Because of where I live, I chose the Highlander pattern for my gear and clothing. I’ve tried other camos, but Kryptek consistently gets me closer to the animal for a good shot. I was downwind from a huge cow elk after a long, sweaty day hunting. She had no idea I was there, and I couldn’t have been more than 10-15 feet away. It happens all the time when I wear Kryptec. Of course, I had a deer tag that year. :(   Binoculars/Spotting Scope So I’ve done a lot of research on this particular item, and have found a really great product that is actually pretty affordable. You’re welcome. I own and love Vortex Optics binoculars. Don’t get me wrong, I like Leopold and Bushnell, great companies, great scopes. However for the money, I feel Vortex provides really top notch, crystal clear vision in a rugged package. I have the Diamondback 8x32, and carry it in a chest rig so it stays close to my body. The last thing you want is binoculars swinging around and getting tangled with your rifle sling when you’ve spotted your buck. Unless you’re hoping to get your 15 seconds of fame via FailArmy, that is.   I’m especially looking forward to my hunt this fall. It’s my first year taking my daughter out hunting, and my dad will be visiting from Vermont to come with us. Three generations of Cook hunters will be roaming the high Arizona mountainsides, so keep your eyes peeled for us. We might need help packing out some meat! Dennis Cook is a professional custom knife and sword maker, one of three generations at Dawson Knives. He's an avid outdoorsman and hunter and lives in Arizona with his beautiful wife Lynn and their four little rednecks.   SaveSaveSaveSave
How To Wear a Knife and Look Smooth as Hell

How To Wear a Knife and Look Smooth as Hell

“Check out my knife!” That's a phrase any self respecting blade lover, or “blady” might use on any given day. Whether it's presenting a new found treasure with pride, or wiping the dirt and grime off a well used, well loved faithful sidekick. “But what’s the secret to wearing my knife?” (To those of you asking; “What secret? I throw it in my pocket and go!” Let me explain) :-) To a knife enthusiast (like me) a well made, high quality blade is the ultimate accessory. It's a statement of rugged individuality in a society that is increasingly hyper sensitive to any tool that could be perceived as a “threat”. So to understand how to carry and wear a knife with respect and look smooth as hell as the same time, we need to figure out the following: What's your purpose for carrying a knife? This might seem like a silly question, since a knife is a tool that can be used for a wide variety of applications, but think about your particular lifestyle and the things you do everyday. Some people are cowboys, bushmen, military or firemen. And others are businessmen, managers, and office workers. Whatever you do during the day I'm pretty sure you're going to come across at least one instance where you wish you had a knife, even for opening mail or packages. The type of work you expect your blade to do dictates what kind of blade you should be carrying. How comfortable are you with using a knife? Everyone has a different level of comfort and experience when it comes to sharp blades, and that is something to take into consideration when choosing your daily companion. I grew up around knives of every kind, and have always gravitated towards fixed blades more than folders. Don't get me wrong, I love a nice small lightweight folder now and again, but my constant companions that I feel safest with are fixed blades, for several reasons. A fixed blade never fails to open, and won't close on your hand. I can't tell you how many times I have carried high quality, well known folders in my pocket or purse and they have failed locking open because of lint or grime. The strength of one piece of hardened steel with no moving parts means a stronger, more rugged knife. Again, maybe I'm tougher on my knives than some, but after awhile the folding mechanism loosens and becomes sloppy. Not a problem with fixed blades. Deployment of a fixed blade is much faster. There are knife fighting instructors that will tell you a fixed blade is much faster to use for self defense, simply because there are fewer steps to having a sharp weapon ready to defend yourself and others. This is also where reason #2 comes into play again. :-) What is acceptable for your life and social interactions? Many of us have everyday jobs with coworkers and bosses, all of whom we need to be respectful towards. This doesn't mean we give up our right to carry a knife (always check your local knife laws) but we can choose to carry in a way that stays true to our needs and beliefs while maintaining a respect for others. Now, I've known guys that strap a 24” katana to the handlebars of their Harley during their weekend ride, or hunters that take 5 different knives and 2 axes with them into the bush in search for the perfect Elk. That's fine! That's awesome! Do that! When it comes to pridefully caring and using your treasured blades, I say let your freak flag fly. I know I do. Honestly the secret to wearing your knife (or knives) and looking like a rugged, capable, smooth as hell guy is to pick the blades that fit your lifestyle, and that you feel confident with. The more comfortable you are with carrying and using your knife, the more that translates over to others. And you never know, maybe you'll inspire someone else to become a smooth as hell badass. ;-) Edgedly yours, Lynn Cook Lynn is a knifemaker and blade enthusiast, and has been her whole life. She is married to Dennis, who is also a knifemaker, and they have 4 beautiful, knife wielding kiddos.
How To Design An Awesome Knife

How To Design An Awesome Knife

“This feels amazing. Really nice balance.” I beam with pride at such remarks now, because it’s the result of years of training and countless trial and error. But I wasn’t always the cool kid. I still think back to my earlier years of training with Barry, and to some of my first design attempts. The term “cringeworthy” comes to mind. I come across some old patterns of mine from time to time and wonder what I was thinking, and why no one stopped me. It’s truly horrifying. But that’s the nature of design I think, the more knowledge and experience you have, the better it will ultimately be. While I am privileged to work with clients all over the world on creating beautiful, functional custom designs now, there was definitely a pretty big learning curve, during which I made every mistake in the book. So what are the key design elements that every knife should have you ask? Well, pull your chair a little closer and I’ll share a few secrets learned from two expert instructors: Time and Experience.   How do I start? Well generally I like to start at the end and work backwards. Meaning, I think about what I want the blade to do really well. Do I want a compact general purpose knife to be used for smaller everyday jobs, a rugged field knife that can handle tough jobs like chopping wood, or a small skinner for dressing out an Elk? All of these applications require different design features and considerations, so it’s good to have an idea of what the blade is going to be used for, or at least what its intended purpose is. Pro Tip: Read all you can about knife and sword history, the more you know the WHY behind a certain design feature the better equipped you are to utilize those features in designs of your own.   Putting it on paper. I hate to disappoint any guys that might be a little more “modern” than me, but when I want to get an idea from my head into the real world I use good ol’ graph paper and mechanical pencils. It’s simple, I can adjust lines easily and also get a good idea of how things look proportionally. Sorry if I let you down, but I’m not a big fan of computers. Technology and I had a falling out. It was a mutual decision to go our separate ways, but it still calls every once in a while to “catch up”. Usually with cat videos.   Rework. Repeat. Now that your spiffy design is all drawn out perfectly and every line and curve is how you want it, we need to make a pattern. So now we transfer the drawing onto a material that is a little more rigid and substantial than paper. (Also, make copies first. Unless you have also come to an understanding with technology.) Choose a material that is easy to work, such as a thin mild steel, or even wood. You’re just transferring the design onto this material so you can profile it true to form, and make adjustments. You can also cut the paper design out and attach it to the pattern material with glue, or trace it onto your chosen material with a dark pen. Usually at this stage you realize the knife isn’t balanced quite right, the guard is too small, the handle too thick, etc. Use that grinder and keep adjusting till it’s perfect. You know you have hit “knifevana” when you hold the pattern in your hand and it feels like an extension of your arm. Sometimes you might have to go back to the drawing board (literally) to make the changes needed, and then try again. Don’t get discouraged, even if you have to walk away from the design and come back to it in a few days with fresh eyes. It’s part of the process, and in the end it pays off with a well-made, thoughtfully designed knife. Remember what Mr. Ford said: “The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.” -Henry Ford ...and keep on motorin'.     Lynn is a second generation Dawson knifemaker. She and her husband, fellow knifemaker Dennis Cook, have four awesome kids, a perfect marriage and never argue. Ever.