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Russ Kay: "Grandpa and Me ... and My First Custom Knife"
Bar Harbor
Grandpa and Me ...
and My First Custom Knife

About a year and a half ago, I realized that I had really become a knife collector. Nothing else would adequately explain my buying one (relatively) expensive factory folder after another. I tried not to admit this to myself for a long time (Why? Darned if I know.) but the truth will out.

OK, having acknowledged the seriousness of my interest, I started to think about where this interest had come from, and where I thought I might want to go with it. Well, there are lots of things I’d like to do, knives I’d like to acquire, but that’s for the future. What was even more interesting, to me, was the past, where this interest came from.

I finally made a connection with my grandfather, certainly the most important, influential, and revered man in my childhood, my father having died when I was two.

Grandpa had three big, wonderful knives that he kept in his dresser drawer. One was a stag-handled bowie, one was a Case sheath knife, and the third was a Finnish puukko. As a kid, it the early 1950s, I used to take them out of the drawer, remove them from their sheaths, and admire them and fantasize about them, but that’s as much as I could ever do. Use them?! Not likely.

Fast forward 20 years or so. My grandfather died. Eventually, I inherited the knives. I think I did, anyway. I have the puukko, but no one seems to know now what happened to the other two. Conceivably I could have had them in my possession at that time, but I don’t believe so. In any case, they are now long gone. The bowie stands out clearly in my memory, but I can’t picture the Case at all.

Fast forward another 20 years to the present. Having acknowledged myself as a knife collector, I decided that I had to have Grandpa’s knives, somehow. The puukko was easy. At a time when it hadn’t meant very much to me, I had given it to my son Alex, who used to take it on SCA encampments. Unfortunately, he never gave it any maintenance, and it was not stainless. Alex gladly gave it back to me, but it’s in a bad way. I polished off the rust, but there’s nothing to be done about the severe pitting.

The Case I couldn’t remember anything about – not handle shape, material, or size. I’ve looked through old catalogs--heck, I’ve looked at lots of old Case sheath knives--and nothing rings a bell. This one will have to wait, maybe forever.

But the bowie ... that I could visualize so clearly, so tantalizingly. I went to knife shows, looking at old bowies, but I never found one that had quite the same size or shape, or that was good enough. So I finally decided to commission a replica. Last April, I sat down with knifemaker Jim Siska and explained my situation. I had found an old drawing of a blade that matched my memory, and I had copied it and blown it up. I gave Jim the drawing, we agreed on a price, ($375), specs (carbon steel, full tang, amber stag handle, brass guard), and delivery (by Christmas 1997).

Well, Christmas just arrived a little early! I went to the Northeast Cutlery Collectors’ Association show in Marlboro today. Jim Siska’s table, as usual, was at the far end of the room from the entrance. I found that I was dragging out the wait, stopping to talk to people along the way, trying to delay the encounter. But I finally got to the end of the aisle, I couldn’t stall any longer, and there it was. Jim only had four knives on his table, and one of them was mine. MINE! It is gorgeous, just gorgeous. Oh, I wasn’t excited, not a bit.

I had picked Jim Siska to make this knife because I have admired his work, both the art and the craft of it, and I liked the feeling I get when I look at or handle one of his knives. The knife he’s made for me is a period piece, not typical of his normal work, but it’s clearly related to the knives he’s known for, and he admitted that he enjoys making bowies. The grind lines and finish on the 3/16-inch thick O-1 blade are flawless, the point is a work of art, the wonderful stag handle fits my hand like it was made for me (Duh, it was!), and even the plain sheath is elegantly handsome.


Now, some truths. This is undoubtedly a far better knife than Grandpa had, maybe even than he ever thought of having. And if I did suddenly have his knife to put next to this, I’d probably find that my recollection of it was faulty, and the new knife looks significantly different.

This isn’t Grandpa’s knife, it’s mine, made in memory of his. I cherish it, and when I look at it, as I’m doing now while I write this, I think of that wonderful man and all the strength I once drew from him ... and still continue to.

Thanks, Jim, for helping make a dream come true. And thank you, Grandpa, for everything you gave me and for who you were. I’m sorry I lost your knife, but I think you’ll be proud of the new one we’ve got, you and I.
-- Russell Kay, December 7, 1997