Knifemaker Jason Knight forged his first knife in high school after a brief and ironic stint with Cutco.
Nowadays you won’t find the South Carolina native knocking at your door to prove his knives can cut through aluminum cans. In fact, when asked to show a collection of his work, he timidly pulls out two blades from his workbench and admits, “I can’t keep a knife long enough to put on display. These need to go out tomorrow.”
Knight belongs to an elite group of only 120 knifemaker artisans worldwide with the certified and illustrious title of Mastersmith.
Visit his home in Harleyville, South Carolina, and prepare to have your feeble hand disappear into his iron grip. Cracked and permanently blackened, his fleshy mitts reveal scars and calluses from years of forging raw steel into intricate and graceful works of art.
Born and raised in the backwoods of South Carolina, Jason Knight is the Palmetto State’s first and only Mastersmith. At an early age Knight slogged through the tangles and eerie landscape of Four Holes Swamp uncovering bayonets and other artifacts dating back to the Revolutionary War. Spending his childhood traversing the sloughs and braided channels, he traces his fascination with knives back to imaginary battles with fanciful beasts lurking amidst the cypress knees and blackwater.
Today, Knight hammers out orders and ships them to sportsmen and collectors all over the world. Rather than outsourcing the handle or guard like many knife makers, he insists on handcrafting every detail. “I forge the steel, I carve the wood, I inlay the handles, and I do my own leather sheaths. So when I put my name on the knife, I know it belongs there,” he proudly states.
His modest workshop is a veritable battlefield littered with fragments of bone, splintered wood, and shards of steel. Amidst the wreckage rests in medieval fashion a forge bearing the head of a dragon, a 425-pound anvil, and a cantankerous power hammer from 1919. Surprisingly, these archaic tools are producing the sinuous and sophisticated pieces of art Knight has become famous for. The craft of forging metal into functional weapons and tools predates written history, but over the millennia little has changed in the overall metallurgy process. For this reason, carving out a name in the cutthroat profession of knifemaking proves extremely difficult.
At 37 years of age, Jason Knight is one of the youngest members of the distinguished club of Mastersmiths. His design and technique carry the mark now internationally exalted as the Knight Method. Incorporating woods, Damascus steel, and precious stones from all corners of the globe, he uses natural forms found in nature to define his style.
“I consider my style to be simplistic. When I make a handle I think of the arms of a praying mantis or the curves of a woman’s leg: the subtle arches, smooth edges, and elegance. I like my knives to look and feel fast like a Ferrari while being practical at the same time. A fast car isn’t any fun if you don’t drive it.”
While most outdoor enthusiasts would not take their Ferrari into the wilderness, Knight designs his knives with the highest standards to accompany hunters, top chefs, and even U.S. soldiers. To demonstrate, he gingerly approaches a brush pile and begins hacking away at three-inch pine limbs. In a matter of minutes with a modest blade he manages to rival the efficiency of a machete without losing any sharpness. His most popular seller, the Bowie knife, is his personal favorite.
“Every culture has a knife they can indentify with. For us, it’s hard because we’re a culture of all different kinds of backgrounds—but the Bowie knife sticks out because it’s fantastical. We fall in love with the idea of it. The idea of being able to fight, the idea of chopping our way through the woods, the idea of being able to explore the unexplored.”
When I propose the idea that the general population might consider wielding a Bowie knife in public as barbarous, Knight scoffs. “I think it’s barbaric when I see people using their teeth, struggling to open a package or to clip fishing line. God didn’t give me sharp teeth, he gave me a brain so I could use tools.”
Currently, Knight is producing a series of eight Bowie knives fabricated using carbon steel and scraps from the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers. He says, “I’m not trying to key in on a popular trend. It’s just more interesting to me when my knives have a story. I’m calling it the 9/12 Bowie because the day after 9/11 is when everyone woke up.”
Despite the awards and international acclaim that his work attracts, Knight remains humble, energetic, and altruistic. Recently, he traveled to Nicaragua solely to teach a handful of underprivileged locals the art of knifemaking.
“My ability is something that should be shared, and I want other people to have that knowledge and skill set. I want them to be able to build homes and feed their families, just like I do.”
Domestically, he offers a special customer program designed to support U.S. troops stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan. In order to own the Desert Eagle knife, one must pay the price for two and Knight will personally send the second knife to a soldier abroad. As if that weren’t enough, just last year for fear of a rapidly metastasizing ego, Knight gathered up all his awards and trophies and casually burned them with trash. He says, “It’s good to be proud of what you make, but I just reveled in those awards and all I got out of it was some plastic. I needed to be humble. I was fatheaded and lived with that pride to where I just started to stagnate. I’m a spiritual person, and I didn’t give credit where the credit was due.”
Since his fiery catharsis, Knight has returned to his passion with a new vitality. Back at the anvil, he hammers out a drab lump of steel into another elegant knife for enthusiasts and aficionados to covet.
As a chef pines over a new stove, or an angler envies a cutting-edge rod, the potential energy exuded by Knight’s knives is nothing short of intoxicating. Most of us may never engage in personal combat or find the need to blaze a trail through the thickets of a swamp. Our imaginations help carry us to that whimsical place, indulging our primal instincts to be constantly vigilant and always prepared.
Whether dredging the depths of some childhood urge to explore or simply satisfying aesthetic appetites, Knight designs and fabricates the ultimate knife that his customers will never want to keep sheathed.