Many of you can agree that a sharp blade is just as important to the hunt as a finely tuned bow. For years I’ve used the same knife to skin out game. The blade I used worked just fine and still gets the job done today. Over the past 2 years I’ve been fortunate enough to get to know some new hunters in my area and I’ve noticed many of them share the hobby of making knives. Being around these guys talking about the process of knife making has inspired me to get more familiar with different types of knives and the craftsmanship that goes into making a solid blade.
Through the grapevine, I’ve discovered two extraordinary knife makers in southwest Virginia that are banging the steel and producing some amazing knife works. Since the early 1990’s Charles Vestal, of Abingdon, VA, has been perfecting his craft as a knife maker. Vestal creates a variety of skinners with stainless guard or bolsters and stainless bolts or pins. His prefers to use natural materials for the handles but offers customers the option for a synthetic or Micarta finish. Every Vestal knife comes accompanied with a high quality vegetable tanned leather case that is hand stitched. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s an exclusive waiting list for Vestal’s masterworks but defiantly would be worth the wait. For more information and a photo gallery of Vestal Knives check out his website here.
Less than 20 miles away in Bristol VA, Burt Foster is busy keeping the tradition of knife making alive. Foster’s website answers the question, why we should buy a handmade knife….
“Hand made knives, like many hand crafts represent a slower time when everything a person owned was made with care by a craftsman, and most stuff took a while to make. Even dinner took all day to make! Our society usually doesn’t permit us to live at in the slow lane, and to do so is death in the modern world, but if we can step down sometimes and consider the future, not the next hour or day or week, but for a generation or two, we would put greater value on things that last.”
Foster is a certified Master Bladesmith by the American Bladesmith Society Inc. and likes to build forged, fixed blade knives. He also produces a variety of camp knives, fighters and hunters while specializing in stainless and carbon laminated steel, Damascus steel and even basic, high-performance, working knives. Foster’s website includes a 150-photo slideshow that showcases the step-by-step process of a hand crafted Damascus steel camp knife.
Vestal and Foster are just a few of many local knife makers in Virginia that have taken the time to sharpen their craft in order to create quality products. Their skills are traits that any hunter or outdoorsman can appreciate. I would encourage everyone to support their local knife maker and take the time to respect the craftsmanship that goes into making a quality handmade knife.
A friend of mine in Montgomery County, Virginia was able to do some research on knife making and within a few months he had created his very own masterpiece. He doesn’t consider himself a professional just yet but I’d say he’s off to a good start with his blaze orange skinner.