BY STEVE KNIGHT // July/August 2017
The small Henderson County lane seemed to get smaller at each fork in the road just before it dead-ended into a pasture at a nondescript green gate. Up a tree-lined, dirt entrance sat a metal building. It, too, was nothing fancy, but suitable for the shop of bladesmith Josh Fisher.
Fisher, of Brownsboro, Texas, started making custom knives in his spare time about 10 years ago. He was fortunate to be able to lean on the talents of knifemaker Tommy Gann, who lives nearby in Canton.
“I started building little-old-bitty knives,” Fisher says. “Then I met him (Gann). He is a pretty good knifemaker. I learned from him.”
Fisher says there wasn’t rhyme or reason behind his foray into making knives other than he had a lifelong interest in knives and that making knives allowed him to be his own boss.
“I always liked knives, hunting and fishing and things,” Fisher says.
It was not much of a leap when Fisher quit his job last year to become a full-time bladesmith. He already had been recognized for the best hunter’s knife at the 2014 American Bladesmith’s ABS Expo and best utility hunting knife at 2016 Blade Show and had knives featured in “Knives of 2015” and magazines.
Fisher doesn’t design a knife strictly to be an object displayed in a cabinet. To demonstrate that they are also utilitarian, he uses one to cut a 1-inch rope with a single slash.
“They are definitely art, but also art you can use. … Collectors buy them as investments and people (buy them) who like nice stuff, stuff that not everybody has.”
Fisher’s bestseller is a mid-sized knife that is popular with wild pig hunters. “It is big enough you can do some chopping or do whatever you want with it, but small enough you can carry it with you,” Fisher says.
The differences between custom-made and mass-produced knives are the techniques and materials used.
For most of his knives, Fisher works with carbon steel. He starts with a quarter-inch thick piece of steel that he places into a 1,500-degree forge. He removes it from the forge and shapes it using an anvil and hammer.
“I forge my blade and after the blade is forged, I will flatten it all out and get everything true,” he explains. “Then I get a centerline on the blade and grind the blade out. Then I finish it out.”
It is a slow process. After heating the blade until the steel is red hot, he quickly moves it to the anvil where, using a hammer, he begins pounding out the rough shape of a blade. When the steel begins cooling and becomes harder to shape, he places it back into the forge and reheats it. Fisher keeps repeating the sequence until the blade is the shape he wants.
Forging a blade is a skill honed over time. He has had to learn from trial and error when to pull the hot steel from the forge and when the steel is too cool and has to be reheated.
“In the heat treatment of a knife, weird stuff can happen,” he says. “They can warp on you or crack on you if you don’t do it right. I don’t mess up a whole lot anymore.”
This year, Fisher added an array of electrical tools to do some of the work he had been doing by hand. His biggest piece of equipment is an electric press, which he uses to shape a knife’s tang, the portion of the blade that slips into the handle.
He also uses the press to make Damascus blades in which many pieces of steel are welded together to create patterns. This technique originated centuries ago in India and was revived in the 1970s.
Fisher uses a large sander with a 36-grit belt to clean the steel and a 120-grit belt to apply details. “It is all hand-sanded and hand-rubbed satin finished on these carbon blades.”
After the blade is polished, he creates handles from pieces of exotic wood or stag horn. The entire process of crafting a single knife can take several days.
For more information on Fisher’s knives, go online to jnfisherknives.com. Steve Knight is the outdoor writer for the Tyler Morning Telegraph. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Facebook and the website TexasAllOutdoors.com.