While much of Bowhunting Info’s focus is on hunting big game with archery equipment, there are other indispensable pieces of equipment that one cannot do without if the hunt is successful. One of those is the knife.
From my earliest years, around eight or so, my father gifted me with a pocket knife, and my grandfather was an old hunter who could turn any blade into a fine piece of shaving gear. I got my first set of sharpening stones from my grandpa, and I have been in love with anything with a blade ever since.
So, it is no surprise to anyone who knows me that I have fascination with knives. I am always on the lookout for a new knife. And not just any knife, either. Although I have my fair share of stainless steel knives, I prefer high carbon blades. I am almost never without a pocket knife. And I have lost my share of them at airports because I forgot to take it out of my pocket!
While in Arizona recently I had an opportunity to meet and visit with Barry Dawson and his third-generation family of custom knife makers. John Roy, Barry’s son-in-law, and part of the second generation, showed me around their shop one afternoon. This was an awesome experience for me. All three generations were busy at work at various stages of producing the next batch of knives. One of their designers and active knife makes is Lynn, the only women knife maker I know of.
Dawson Knives has been producing high quality knives since 1973 and they were in full production mode while I was visiting. The Dawson team does all their own work. They don’t farm out any of the knife making operation. They create their own knife patterns and cut them from high carbon stock like 52-100, or 80CrV2 . They have used many different steels over the years including some of the common stainless like 440. However, they are focused on the high carbon steels recently because of their strength and sharpening ability. Each knife is hand ground by one of the family members or their four other employees. They do their own heat treatment of the knives, prepare their own handle material and create their own knife sheaths. They even have some Damascus blades, which are both beautiful and utilitarian.
John led me through every step in their process, from their plasma cutter to the paint room where they apply their unique and custom paint to blades and handles. They also finish their blades by applying a Cerakote© finish that protects these high carbon blades from corrosion.
I was fascinated to see swords in production as well. These are not decorative swords, these are swords that could be used in real combat.
Dawson knives have been featured in numerous magazine articles, and from the looks of the trophies, they have won more knife making awards than you can shake an arrow at! One of the most fascinating items I found was that one of their knives was used in the filming of Mr. and Mrs. Smith, when Angelina Jo Lee, straps one of their knives to her leg.
Since their beginning, John told me they have created over 500 custom knife styles. They are constantly innovating, and currently offer about 32 different styles. Typically, they will produce 20 to 24 knives of each style for their production run, and they are serialized and each knife if etched with the Dawson name. One of their innovations, is a knife/sheath combination that locks the knife in the sheath without the need of a strap. This prevents the knife from falling out, or being lifted without the wearer knowing it, yet was incredibly easy to release when you know how. This style was available in some of their tactical styles, and was really tempting to me!
I was surprised to see that with all the grinding they do, they don’t use any stone grinders. Every knife is shaped from sandpaper bands on machines of their own making. While I didn’t see every sander in action while I was there, it was incredible to watch these guys work these blades by hand to get the exact look and feel that they wanted. They were very conscientious about using all useable stock too. While in the handle making section I notices a pile of pieces that were marked for cutting. I mentioned these and he said these were just scrap pieces of wood, that they would see what kind of handle they could make out of the scrap.
Barry laughed when I asked if they make many mistakes and what they do with them. “We make lots of mistakes. We will try to repurpose the mistake into another knife”, was his reply.
Interestingly, the finish edge on all their knives is made with the Work Sharp sharpening tool. This sharpening tool is a very common belt driven sharpener, and John explained that they use that tool, so their customers can re-sharpen any of their knives with exactly the same sharpening tool used in the production shop.
Dawson knives have been purchased by various military combat units because of their quality and dependability.
Not surprisingly, I purchased a couple of their knives and will be adding them to my collection. One of them, the Trapper in sand viper color, will be on my belt next fall when I try once again to tag an elk.
If you would like more information about Dawson Knives, you can check out their website here.
You can also find some sample images in our Equipment Section here.