In an era where mass production is the name of the game, owning something ‘custom made’ is becoming rare. I think that is one of the primary reasons why custom made knives, guns and even clothing will always appeal to many, especially hunters and fishermen. We sportsmen and women get attached to the tools that we depend upon when afield or on the water. Using items that were custom made for us adds much to the sentimental value and often to the usefulness of these tools.
Paul Henicke from Cleburne is a machinist by trade who, years ago, turned his expertise of working with metals into an art form by building custom knives.
“I build a wide variety of knives, each with a different design to match the needs of the individual that puts my knives to work. Most of my blades are designed to do multi-purpose tasks such as field dressing and skinning game. A good knife for the hunter needs to have a tip that’s pointed enough to do the field dressing job but have a rounded blade for skinning.”
Henicke says making a quality knife that will last a lifetime is all about tempering the metal correctly.
“The majority of my knives are made from either D2 or 440C steel, both ideal for knife blades," explains Henicke. "The Rockwell scale is used to determine hardness of steel. I temper the quarter-inch of the cutting part of the blade to around 58 Rockwell. This makes for the perfect 'hardness' of the cutting edge. There is a very fine line between being too soft, resulting in an edge that looses its sharpness quickly, to an edge that is too hard, which makes it brittle and difficult to sharpen."
The upper part of the blade needs a bit of flexibility, ie. a “softer” steel which is accomplished in the tempering process.
The proper handle is another very important aspect of custom knife building. Not everyone has the same size hands and although many stock knives are built so that they can be used by just about anyone, regardless of hand size, Henicke makes sure the handle or gripping part of the knife fits the user.
“I use several different materials for knife handles," states Henicke. "Antlers are very popular but it’s often challenging to find an antler with the perfect curvature to making the knife handle an extension of the user’s hand. Many of my clients prefer exotic hardwoods such as the wood from the very dense grain Bocote tree, native to Africa, or Dynwood which is also very durable."
Fish fillets knives are one of Henicke’s specialities and although stainless steel is often used to prevent rusting after regular exposure to water, he favors 1095 regular steel for fillet knives.
“This steel is a bit more flexible but because it is not stainless, it requires drying and the application of a light coating of oil to prevent rust after each use," Henicke remarks. "Most ‘stock’ fish fillet knives are a bit too flimsy and short for heavy-duty fish cleaning. I like blades 6-9 inches long that are strong enough to easily cut through the fish’s rib cage but yet flexible enough so that the user can 'feel' the bone structure during the filleting process.”
Custom knives, just like custom cars or rifles, can be extremely functional and useful or showy, designed and crafted for display. Henicke’s knives are made for work and priced likewise, but don’t think for a minute they aren’t works of art. I learned their worth the first time I tackled the skinning and quartering of two wild porkers! At the end of the process, the blade was brought back to razor sharpness with a few strokes on the sharpener!
To learn more about the art of knife building,
give Paul Henicke a call at 817-240-7983.
LIST OF COMMON BLADE TYPES USED BY KNIFE MAKERS
1. A normal or straightback blade has a curving edge, and flat back. A dull back lets the wielder use fingers to concentrate force; it also makes the knife heavy and strong for its size. The curve concentrates force on a small point, making cutting easier. This knife can chop as well as pick and slice.
2. A curved, trailing-point knife has a back edge that curves upward. This lets a lightweight knife have a larger curve on its edge Trailing point blades provide a larger cutting area, or belly, and are common on skinning knives.
3. A clip-point blade is like a normal blade with the back "clipped" or concavely formed to make the tip thinner and sharper. The back edge of the clip may have a false edge that could be sharpened to make a second edge. The sharp tip is useful as a pick, or for cutting in tight places. If the false edge is sharpened it increases the knife's effectiveness in piercing. The Bowie knife has a clipped blade and clip-points are quite common on pocket knives and other folding knives.
4. A drop-point blade has a convex curve of the back towards the point. It handles much like the clip-point through with a stronger point less suitable for piercing. Swiss army pocket knives often have drop-points on their larger blades.