Conversations: Knifemaker

Knife Maker Extraordinaire Fort Meyers resident Gordon Romeis, 57, sold his first knife in 1977 for (if he remembers correctly) $35.00. Since then he’s made somewhere around 2,000 knives. It clearly is his passion. Gordon was in the Cub Scouts when he got his first knife and by the time he started attending Fort Meyers High School he thought about making his own knife. “This was back when they had a shop class and you could do such things. I decided to make my first knife out of a file. Around 1980 I had made a few knives and realized I liked the process and exploring my creativity.” Gordon works only a few hours a day in the backyard shed that doubles as his workshop because he is a full time environmental consultant with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. “I enjoy making a special knife for someone based on their desires,” said Gordon. “There is a satisfaction in creating a product that pleases someone. Also feedback from folks who actually use the knives is gratifying. I make knives for hunting, fishing, and kitchen use. I have also made knives for Navy Seals, Army Rangers and law enforcement officers. My knives are made in two basic types, the narrow tang where the handle end of the blade is completely surrounded by the handle and the full tang where the metal of the blade runs completely through the handle from edge to edge and to the end.” Gordon who is a member of the prestigious Knife Makers Guild to which only masters of the craft are admitted doesn’t have a favorite type of knife. However there are certain type of knives he won’t make. “I do not make knives out of materials that do not last. I do not make folding knives or switchblades. I do everything I can to make these things as well as I can, both technically and aesthetically. I have made some swords but they were more an exercise in technical creativity than something that I want to do. I do not do repair work on knives that I did not make. Peaking of repairs, my knives are guaranteed. If it breaks or comes apart due to a flaw in the parts or the completion of the knife that is my fault. I will repair or replace the knife. If the knife has been abused such as being used as a pry bar I will inspect the knife and determine if it can be salvaged. I make small carrying knives that are less than four inches overall. Some fillet knife blades are around nine inches long including the handle. The average knife blade is about four inches long.” The prices of Gordon’s knives reflect the craftsmanship that he puts into each product he makes. “The minimum price of one of my knives is $50. The most I have sold a knife for is $850. The price of a knife is based on the materials and the time it takes to make it. Prices start at $50 for small blades. Hunting/skinning knives range from $150 to $250. These are all priced with Micarta handles (woven fabrics typically linen or canvas cloth encased in phenolic resin and attached with industrial strength epoxy). You can literally pound on this with a hammer and it’ll just dimple. If it was a piece of wood it’d bust all up. So it’s waterproof, blood, grease, whatever proof.” Different dyes can be mixed in to produce colors such as maroon, black, tan, red and green. Other handle materials can increase cost. Micarta is my go to handle material for its durability. Other materials include various exotic woods, stag horn (a classic material from the antlers of elk), bone and mastodon ivory. I obtain the materials from various supply companies. I like to purchase materials at trade shows so I can choose the most appealing materials possible.”  Gordon uses 440C stainless steel in his knives although Damascus steel is also available. Disparate places provide the jumping off point for Gordon’s design inspirations. “My designs come from different sources,” he explained. “Some designs are classic shapes that have stood the test of time. Some are customers designs that incorporate their thoughts on what will work for them in their particular circumstances. Sometimes I see a need and come up with a design that I think will address that need.” Is one type of knife more popular than others? “There does not seem to be a consistent leader in the category of popular knife. Sometimes I sell out of kitchen knives, while other times I sell all the Damascus knives that I have.” It takes Gordon a minimum of six hours to make a knife. The process of tempering steel is an alchemist’s dream that is composed of many different, time-consuming steps. Gordon does some of the work himself but the pounding together of layers of steel that will eventually form the finished blade is done by friend Brad Vice of Jacksonville Alabama. This material is made by layering different types of steel and folding them into a single billet. “I don’t think my neighbors would appreciate a 400-pound power hammer stashing it (steel) over and over,” said Gordon. In Pennsylvania a heat-treater does further tempering. “It’s put in a vacuum with electronic coils and taken up to 1,900 degrees, then down to approximately minus 300. After I get the finished steel (that’s already been cut into a pattern) back I finish grinding and put a handle on them.” Gordon is clearly a perfectionist. “The hallmark of the custom knife is quality. Every operation, each step, is fitted together to make the best blade that I can produce. I am my harshest critic. If a fatal flaw is found in the process of making a knife and that process cannot be fixed the whole knife is scrapped.” Gordon’s knives are one-of-a-kind classics. At the end of the day when all the sweaty, grunt work is finished Gordon experiences a very special kind of satisfaction. “I love making tools that people can really use. When someone tells me ‘I field-dressed two hogs and a deer with this knife, and it still shaves, well, that’s all the testimonial I need.” For more information on how to contact Gordon Romeis and learn about his knives go to his website: – www.romeisknives.com Available on Amazon as eBooks by J.M. Garlock: “The Centurion Chronicles” Book One, Book Two, Book Three “Knight Hunter: Vampires” Book One