Local Family-Owned Business Puts Quality Craftsmanship in Every Blade Made
In a shop out back on Hickory Hammock Road in Lake Wales, a family business is thriving. Stephenson Knives creates knives that are as beautiful as they are functional. Three generations are working together to hand-craft these unique blades for a variety of purposes. Shawn and his son, Blaine, both of whom are Air Force veterans, create the knives while Shawn’s father, Dick, makes the sheaths.
The Stephensons have always been inclined towards making their own things, rather than just going out to purchase them. Shawn Stephenson and his son, Blaine, were visiting a gun show when Blaine found a railroad spike knife that he liked. The pair also saw a knife made from a rasp that piqued their interest. Shawn’s father, Richard “Dick” Stephenson, had an old farrier’s forge at the time, so Shawn and Blaine began to use that to experiment with making their own knives.
Through plenty of trial and error, including Shawn ruining his wife’s stove tempering his first blade, the two figured out how to create a serviceable knife. The first knife that they successfully brought to completion was used to clean and gut a 10’6” gator they had killed. The blade they made worked great to skin and debone the beast, and it retained its sharpness incredibly well. That was the knife that started it all.
The Stephensons use a three-burner gas forge for their knife-making. The process begins with them forging all of their own Damascus steel, which is a type of steel with characteristic banding and mottling. It’s created through layering different types of steel, or in a canister. Shawn has created Damascus steel out of a variety of materials, including shrapnel from Afghanistan and steel from Russian tank armor.
The process begins with the right metal. Shawn orders sheets of steel which he then uses to cut out the Stephensons’ own designs, or the custom designs of their customers. After shaping a knife on the grinder, they cut the bevels in. Once everything is looking the way they want it to, they drill holes in the tang, which is the part of the knife hidden by the handle. Then comes the heat treat process, which is done according to what specific kind of metal they are using. Each alloy also has a specific process for tempering as well.
All of this work results in knives that are ready to have handles attached to them. Shawn and Blaine both make handles, though their styles are very different. Blaine enjoys creating gemstone and mineral handles, while Shawn makes handles from wood. Each type of handle has its own process for creating, and just like the blades, a lot of work goes into their unique styles. Shawn is particularly proud of his citrus wood handles, made from locally harvested material. In fact, most of the wood he uses is locally sourced.
The one thing that the Stephensons don’t do on their knives is the laser work to carve their name on each blade. They used to hand stamp their logo on the knives, but the laser work has a nicer look to it, so they use a local tradesman, Joe Beai with Dog Tags N More, to cut the logo into their creations. Having this outside resource also allows the Stephensons to personalize their customers’ purchases on request.
After all the forging, grinding, and assembly, each knife has about five or six hours worth of labor in it, not including the 20 hours a knife has to set once it’s done to allow the epoxies and sealants to cure. This doesn’t even account for the time spent on tasks such as cutting the wood for handles. A lot of time and effort goes into each blade produced by the family. The gemstone-handled knives that Blaine makes can take as much as 16 hours of labor.
The Georgia Hunter and Brahma Island knives are the most popular sellers for Stephenson Knives – who have shipped knives all over the world, including to servicemen in the Afghanistan and the Philippines. The unique citrus wood handle and acid finish on the metal, which gives the blade a dark grey sheen, are good looking knives that work great in the field. The Georgia Hunter was designed by a friend of Shawn’s, a retired Command Sergeant Major from the Army. It’s a cross between a bird hunting knife and a deer hunting knife.
These gorgeous tools need the right sheaths to protect them, and that’s where Shawn’s father, Dick, comes into the picture. Dick had some experience leather working, so he volunteered to create sheaths for Stephenson Knives. Soon, his daughter Molly will be working alongside him. The sheaths are as original and high quality as all the products created by Stephenson Knives. A plain, hand-sewn leather sheath comes with each knife, and fancier ones are available with fabric, deer hair, alligator skin, or even cow hide inserts.
Quality craftsmanship is the central tenant of Stephenson Knives. “We’re just trying to make the absolute best knife we possibly can,” Shawn says of their work. “We stand behind all of our stuff one hundred percent.” They are willing to replace or repair knives that are not meeting their customers’ expectations.
Looking towards the future, Shawn says his wife, Jana, will soon be joining the team. Currently Shawn does the work full time and Blaine does it part time, but the goal is to continue building the business so they can both create their masterpiece making full time. Shawn gives credit to God for his success, and returns the favor by generously donating knives to several charitable organizations that support veterans. This is a family that values integrity, commitment, and hard work, and these values shine through in every blade they create.
by TERESA SCHIFFER
photo by JOHN MAGEE