Wyo. knife-maker's craft still has edge

By Nathan Payne

Gillette News Record

Published: Wednesday, June 22 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

Once he's crafted the metal that will become a knife, the steel will go through weeks or even months of shaping and polishing before it is fitted with a handle or attached to a folding frame.

It is a practice of perfection for Rexroat who will not stamp his "MS" that represents his Master smith status or his scrolled "Rexroat" on either side of the base of a blade if it is not perfect.

Rexroat became a Master smith in 1999.

When he reached that status, he became one of only five Master smiths in Wyoming and one of only 110 in the world, according to the American Bladesmith Society.

"To get your Master smith, you have to make five knives and this is one of them," he said as he unzipped a case that holds a Damascus steel European-style dagger. "There used to be only 50 Master smiths."

In his basement workshop, Rexroat shapes and finishes his knives surrounded by walls of tools and blade blanks. He makes everything from large custom Bowie knives to intricate folding pocket knives.

"I get bored with just doing the same thing," he said. "I thought I'd be making hunting knives or something, but it's all a learning process. You get good at one thing, then you go on to the next and the next."

For the Master smith test, a knife maker must make a knife that can pass a series of tests. They include cutting a free-hanging rope, chopping through two pieces of wood and holding a sharp enough edge to shave hair. After that, a candidate must present judges with five knives to be judged for quality.

The "MS" emblem on Rexroat's blades represents more than two letters or even a title.

For him, they represent 30 years of constant innovation and learning.

His custom knives cost anywhere from $500 to $5,000 depending on how intricate the work is. Rexroat's knives, many of them clad with mammoth tooth or walrus tusk handles, have been taken all over the world. He has sold knives to customers in Russia, Australia, southeast Asia and just about everywhere in the United States. They have been featured in art shows and even in the Denver Airport.

"A lot of my stuff goes overseas," he said. "One time I went to Manhattan, and all I could say is holy cow."

Rexroat never expected his hobby-turned business to take him outside of Wyoming, let alone across the country or world.

Five of Rexroat's knife designs are made commercially by Al Mar knives, an Oregon specialty knife maker. And recently some of his blades were installed on knives made by Triple Eight Professional, a California knife manufacturer.

Despite his success as a knife maker, Rexroat doesn't see himself getting rich and retiring on what he makes from knives. Some of his most intricate pieces can take as much as a year to complete — a year of hard work that sometimes doesn't work out.

"I'm going to have to keep my day job," Rexroat said.

Information from: The Gillette News Record - Gillette, http://www.gillettenewsrecord.com

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