If you lived in the old village of Damascus, the name once used for our little community on the banks of Little Goose Creek, you had to be pretty self-sufficient.
That is, if you wanted a log cabin you had to build it yourself.
If you wanted to eat, you had to raise a corn crop for yourself.
If you needed a new pair of britches, a skirt or a shirt, guess who had to raise the cotton, spin the thread and then weave the cloth! You again.
If you wanted a good tool, you might have to make it yourself!
One of the tools that every man had was a good knife!
A knife was indispensable for the early pioneer.
Why, with a sharp knife a man could kill a bear, skin a deer, give himself a haircut or a shave, whittle a piece of wood into something useful around the cabin — or even defend himself against a scalp-hunting Native American.
A man with little more than a trusty knife could survive in the woods for weeks at a time.
And just like the cabin and the corn crop, if he wanted a good knife he might just have to make it himself!
A blacksmith could have made any type of iron tool for the frontiersman: an axe, a froe, a horseshoe, an iron cooking pot, iron nails and even knives.
But we know that a talented fellow didn’t have to visit the blacksmith. He could make his own knife.
We know this because there are people out there who make knives today, starting with just a piece of metal like the pioneer.
Darrell Scoggins is a former student of mine, having graduated from Trousdale County High School several years ago. He is one of those rare young men who are not intimidated by anvils and hot metal.
I recently met up with Darrell, who lives in Sumner County today, and he explained how a knife was made. He should know, as he has been making them since he was 12 years old.
Darrell starts with a piece of metal. Because he makes quality knives, he starts with a bar of steel. But the pioneer generally used a bar of iron.
The steel has to be cut to shape and then heated.
That requires a forge and a very hot temperature — 1,600 degrees to be exact!
As the iron or steel is heated, it changes colors. When the color is right, it is pulled from the fire using metal tongs and set on a large iron anvil.
Then the arm muscles come into play as the hot metal is hammered into shape.
Darrell pointed out to me that he has the finished design for a knife already in mind so that he shapes and reheats and hammers till the knife is the blade he has envisioned.
Making knives is a hobby for Darrell, but he also makes and sells them for others. They might want a Bowie knife, or a hunting knife, or a small knife to carry around on the farm. The uses of a knife are endless.
The metal is subjected to several rounds of heating and cooling until it is tempered, and then it has to be smoothed using very fine degrees of sandpaper from 250 grit to 2,000 grit!
That is only part of the job. The finished knife has to have a handle.
Darrell uses everything from exotic woods to bone to antler.
One wood he has used was a piece of oak recovered from a tree found at the bottom of one of the Great Lakes, where it had set for over 300 years!
A simple knife can take at least three hours, but Darrell has spent as much as 100 hours on a knife!
Not everyone has a small forge and an anvil or the skill and talent it takes to make their own knife. But the spirit of the self-sufficient pioneer is alive and well in Darrell, who also takes leather and makes a sheath to hold the finished product!
You can find Darrell on Facebook (Darrell Scoggins or Scoggins Knives) and find a knife that you like or have him custom make one. And you would be on your way to self-sufficiency, ready to kill that bear or at least do a little whittling!