Saturday, April 23, 2022

My one-of-a-kind Bowie knife

Back in the late 1980s I decided I needed a Bowie knife.

I bought a full-tang Bowie knife blade blank-- really just a blade-shaped slab of steel-- from Dixie Gun Works. Turned out, it was pre-hardened for some reason, and files had no effect on it. Someone my dad knew offered to soften the steel, grind it into shape, and re-harden it for me. So I let him do so. He ground it "roughly" which turned out to be a little rougher than I would have preferred, but it worked out well in the end. He put a false edge on the top point-half. He also installed a brass guard on it, after asking if I would like him to do so. 

When I got the blade back, I took the old broken hickory (I believe) handle of a grubbing hoe that had belonged to my paternal grandfather and made handle slabs from it. The wood was so hard, having seasoned for somewhere around a century, that it burned up a couple of drill bits (and made a ton of smoke) trying to drill it for the rivets. Trying to saw, carve, and sand that rock-hard wood was a nightmare and took far longer than I imagined it would. But it has been sturdy!

Eventually, I got the wood shaped, drilled, and sanded. I used Liquid Nails and some cutler's rivets to attach the handle scales.

More about the knife after the pictures...

The knife is 15 3/8" overall, with a 9 13/16" blade. The blade thickness is 3/16".

It has no maker's marks on it but has plenty of identifiable scars from years of hard use. 

I made a leather sheath, tacked together with brass-headed tacks. Then I covered the leather with some brain-tanned deerskin. A red "white-heart" bead hangs from the sheath, near its throat.

It has been unchanged since I completed the project about 6 months later-- other than sharpening as needed. It holds an edge very well. It can shave hair, even after chopping wood without sharpening it between tasks.

I carried it daily for years, and used it to cut down small trees, chop and split firewood for campfires, flesh deer and elk hides, and just general camp chores. I've used the butt as a hammer, too. About the only things I avoided doing with it is digging holes or using it as a throwing knife. It was my most-used tool, by far.

I'll never sell this knife, and probably wouldn't ever give it away while I'm alive.

The knife should outlive me by centuries. I post this story, and the photos, in the belief that the internet may survive us all, and if someday, someone is in possession of this knife and wonders about it, maybe they'll find this post and be able to use the photos for positive identification and to know its origin.


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