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Knifemaker's hands tell sharp-edged story

by Bryan Hendricks | May 3, 2015 at 3:06 a.m.

You can tell a knifemaker by his hands.

They bear the scars of many cuts deep, shallow, wide and thin. They have burn marks and friction rubs.

Bob Dozier's hands have practically been sanded away from years of shaping metal, bone, horn, antler, micarta and leather on industrial belt sanders. One finger is misshapen from an unfortunate encounter with a trip hammer.

Oh, and a knifemaker is never without a knife. Dozier wears a small knife in a horizontal sheath on his belt, as do the other workers in his St. Paul shop. He usually has a folding knife in his pocket, and probably another one around his ankle.

I first met Dozier in 1991, when I was on staff at the Morning News in Springdale. Our sports editor knew Dozier and suggested I write an article about him.

Dozier's response startled me. He said there were a lot of fine knifemakers in Northwest Arkansas, and any such article should honor their craft and not just him alone. He agreed to participate only if I included other knifemakers in the story.

Many bladesmiths, I discovered, had settled in Springdale, Rogers and neighboring towns because of their association with A.G. Russell, the famous knifemaker and retailer whose shop is on the east side of Interstate 49 about a half-mile north of Pleasant Crossing. I featured three who occupy different niches, including Tom Meringer, who made custom swords.

That's the last time I saw Dozier until April 22, when he gave me the rare privilege of touring his shop and watching him work.

Dozier hasn't aged in 24 years. He wears the same haircut, the same kind of shirt and the same kind of shoes.

His hands, though, have aged a lot. They've often been bitten by their creations. Len Waldron, a writer from Bountiful, Utah, writes often of knives and knifemakers. He told me about one bladesmith he recently interviewed who caught a blade in midair that he dropped. Bad move. It was just off a sander and had a razor's edge.

Things like that happen all the time, as Dozier's hands attest.

During my visit, Dozier finished out a giant fighting knife that looks like a small cutlass. Like every Dozier knife, it's made of high-carbon, high-chrome D2 steel. Dozier is so associated with D2 that his nickname is "Dr. D2."

"What use is there for a knife like this?" I asked.

A thin wisp of a smile momentarily crossed Dozier's stern face.

"God bless the people who like them," he said. "It's one of the most expensive knives I make, but if I was in a knife fight, I wouldn't want this great big S.O.B."

Thus ensued a tutorial about knife-fighting techniques and the best blades for that purpose.

"If you can, the best thing to do is run," he said, "especially if the other guy has a gun 'cause then it don't matter what kind of knife you have."

This type of knife has a leather handle. To make it, Dozier stacks leather wafers and colored nylon spacers onto the tang and tops it with a square aluminum ingot which will become the pommel. He then uses a series of belt sanders and wheel grinders to remove "anything that doesn't look like a knife."

This is entirely custom work done by feel. The finish is as smooth as glass, and there is no bump or burr where the leather meets the metal pommel or guard. A hand grips it as if it were born to it.

Dozier is as proud of his leatherwork as he is of his knives. He custom makes sheaths for each knife by cutting and shaping the leather, and by stitching the parts with ancient sewing machines that are in immaculate condition.

Most sheaths are generic types that generally fit different blade shapes, Dozier said. He builds his sheaths to custom fit a blade, which cam-locks securely into the sheath with a loud, satisfying snap.

Dozier does everything in this little corner of St. Paul. He doesn't outsource anything, nor does he mass-produce knives from prefabricated parts made overseas.

He is a master craftsman whose knives are considered some of the best in the world.

His story is in his hands.

Sports on 05/03/2015

Print Headline: Knifemaker's hands tell sharp-edged story

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