Wall Street Journal Article

Got into work this morning and found in the mailroom, to my surprise, the extra office copy of the Wall Street Journal, with an article on the middle of the front page entitled: "Blade Brothers Vie to Make the Cut In a Whack Attack", with the subheading, "Knife Makers Compete to Be the Sharpest One of All; Mr. Harley and His Boars". The article goes on to describe the recent gathering of knifemakers at Texarkana College's School of Bladesmithing. It describes some of the tests to determine blade sharpness, and mentions a number of makers by name. Their list includes Jim Crowell, Reggie Barker, Jerry Fisk, John Fitch, Tim Foster, Jarrell Lambert, Ray Kirk, and of course, Larry Harley. There's even a small digression about Mr. Harley's knife-only boar hunts.

The report seems surprisingly positive, describing the men as blade brothers, their common "Arthurian love of knives", and mentions "the small, but highly lucrative world of custom knife making, where prize blades sell for thousands of dollars." Only one small paragraph talks about how these knives aren't common pocket knives, but weapons capable of great damage ("lopping of a man's arm with one savage whack"). Mention is made of old laws that outlaw carry of such knives, and how for safety's sake, the contestants were required to secure the knife to their wrist for the crowd's protection. This one paragraph , with the exception of the above quote, seems otherwise unbiased, simply the statement of fact. I'm pretty pleased about the overall tone of the article. It doesn't seem to portray knife aficionados as closet nutcases, and aside of the mention of Larry Harley's boar hunts (which would of course offend animal rights and anti-hunting groups), doesn't seem to give any specific group of "anti's" ammunition to further erode and attack our hobby.

If you have an opportunity to read the article, I would recommend it. You may read it a bit differently than I did, so if you get a different take out of it, let us know. I tried to track a link through the Journal's online service, but it seems it's subscriber-only, so I can't furnish a link here. Anyone have subscriber access to the WSJ? It would be great to post a link for all those interested here to see the article for themselves.

Oct 4, 1998
I mentioned in another post that I had the pleasure of sitting accross from Larry Harley at dinner after the New York Blade show. Besides being an absolute scream and real likeable he sounds like he makes some serious blades and I can't wait to see his stuff when his WEB site comes on the net. ( He mentioned this at dinner) Unfortunatly I missed him at his table at the blade show itself.

Larry told us that none of his knives are politically correct and he details what they are meant to do. He also described his Boar hunts and apparantly they are open to anyone who wishes to attend.

He was also described to us how effective a knife is vs. bullet holes from his first hand experience in his hunts. The amount of boars killed in his hunts(with other men) is up there in the thousands.

If I go to another show one of my first questions is going to be, "Is Larry Harley here with his knives." I hope he makes it to New York next year.

I am glad to hear that the Wall Street Journal gave such a favorable review. I'd like to know if Larry who describes himself as "an ole hillbilly from the hills of Tennessee" knows he made the New York Paper. Come to think of it, the Journal is classified as an international paper. That's pretty big time if you ask me.
Here the full text from the online-version

Knife Makers Compete to Be
The Sharpest One of Them All

WASHINGTON, Ark. -- Talk about the cutting edge.

With little fanfare, 17 master knife makers have gathered at Texarkana College's School of Bladesmithing, all trying to prove they are the sharpest. And this isn't about style points. At issue is the art of pounding red-hot forged steel into a surface tough enough to ... slice through a can of Coke.

For Jim Crowell, a tall man with a goatee, this is the pinnacle of his sport. Clasping a huge bowie knife in one hand and a sheet of yellow legal paper in the other, he releases the paper and instantly flicks his knife hand sideways, slicing the paper cleanly in two.

During the next two hours, Mr. Crowell, the reigning champion, and his blade brothers will use hand-forged knives to hack through everything from two-by-fours to thick rope. The winner gets a cheap plaque. More important, he gains bragging rights in the small but highly lucrative world of custom knife making, where prize blades sell for thousands of dollars.

These cutlery virtuosos range from James Jackson, an elegant silver-haired man who maintains Queen Elizabeth's collection of armor, to Larry Harley of Bristol, Tenn., a bearded 280-pound, chain-smoking hunting guide who kills wild boars with bowie knives, to the self-assured Mr. Crowell.

All have one thing in common: an Arthurian love of knives.

As they wait to compete, many nervously strop their razor-sharp blades on the palms of their hands. "You might as well relax," drawls contest founder Jerry Fisk, who once cut down an abandoned telephone pole with his bowie knife. "Only one of you is going to win."

As it turns out, slicing that sheet of paper is just the warm-up. Next: dropping a green apple onto the knife blade from a height of about a foot.

As with every sport, strategy counts. Mr. Crowell grabs the heaviest apple he can find and carefully aims it so the blade misses the core. A solid whack, and moments later the judges measure his cut at 36/32 of an inch.

But he is outclassed by Reggie Barker of Springhill, La., whose cut measures 41/32 of an inch. Mr. Barker, a first-time competitor, came here determined not to embarrass himself. Now he has just impaled an apple. To his surprise, he finds himself thinking: "I've got a chance to win this thing."

These knives aren't Swiss army issue. They are lethal weapons, with 10-inch blades capable of lopping off a man's arm with one savage whack. Bowie knives are so deadly that several states quickly outlawed them after they were introduced around 1830. Even in today's match, a contestant must secure the bowie to his wrist so it doesn't go flying off into the crowd.

Next up is the rope cut, where contestants slash through a one-inch rope hanging by a carpet thread without breaking the thread. Most fail, miserably. Some ropes are launched high into the branches of nearby trees. "You ought to get the Mark McGwire award for that one," barks Mr. Fisk after one failed effort.

Mr. Crowell surveys the field and then steps confidently to the line. Experience is on his side; he once cut through a pair of two-inch ropes in one swipe. But Mr. Crowell angles his knife incorrectly, failing to cut all the way through the rope.

Up walks John Fitch, an aspiring young knife maker from Woolverton Mountain, Ark. With a nasty swipe, Mr. Fitch sends the two halves of the rope flying. He is the only one to score points in this event, and now he, too, looks like he has a chance to dethrone Mr. Crowell.

By this time, nearly 100 people in T-shirts and jeans have gathered on the school's front lawn. They begin to sense an upset in the making. A roar of approval goes through the crowd as Mr. Fitch wins the rope cut.

Now it is time for the day's weirdest challenge. One by one, contestants line up to cut through a soda-pop can. To get full points, they have to complete the cut with the bottom half of the can remaining on a tree stump. Only one contestant, tree surgeon Tim Foster of El Dorado, Ark., manages that with a short, efficient whack. Mr. Crowell earns partial points by cutting the can in half, though the bottom half tumbles off the stump.

Mr. Crowell is now tied for first with Jarrell Lambert of Texas, who performed well in both the apple drop and the can cut. But Mr. Crowell's dream of defending his championship begins to slip away when contestants race the clock to chop a two-by-four in half. Ray Kirk, a ponytailed bladesmith from Tahlequah, Okla., hacks through the board in just 7.07 seconds, while Mr. Crowell takes an interminable 16.64 seconds. "That's when it really sunk in -- my blade was too light," he says.

Next comes the bamboo cut, where contestants can slice a slender piece for partial points or a thick piece for full points. They have only one swipe to completely sever the bamboo. Mr. Crowell narrowly misses cutting the thick piece in half, earning him zilch. Messrs. Fitch and Lambert also come up empty.

But while the favorites are stumbling, some first-time competitors are moving up. Kevin Harvey, a slender South African who spent two years saving up money to attend classes at the bladesmithing school, provokes laughter with his inept attempts in some events, once nearly losing his knife. But he slashes the thin bamboo in half, as does Mr. Barker, the winner of the apple drop.

And Mr. Harley, the hunting guide, comes in second in the two-by-four cutting event, whacking through the board with ax-like strokes in just 8.78 seconds. Many of the spectators have viewed a gory video in which Mr. Harley, who resembles an oversized member of ZZ Top, guides a group of hunters deep into the woods of South Carolina. Using a pack of big hounds, they corner a wild hog. Pit bulls are then let loose to grab the hog by the ears. Then, a hunter walks up with a big knife and jams it into the hog's side until the animal bleeds to death.

Now the crowd gives Mr. Harley back his own version of tough love, shouting "Stick 'em."

Finally, it all comes down to this: Contestants must jab the tips of their knives into a foam ball suspended from a string. This is much harder than it looks, and only eight succeed in getting their knives to stick in the ball. Mr. Harley uses a vicious backhand motion to sink his knife deep into the ball. But Mr. Harvey manages to go a little deeper with an upper thrust.

As the judges tally up the points, a relaxed Mr. Harley plops down on a bench and opines on the proper attitude for contests of this sort. "If you've come to win, you're in the wrong place," he pronounces between puffs on his ever-present cigarette.

That attitude changes when Mr. Harley gets the shock of his life: He is the winner. Messrs. Barker and Harvey tie for second.

All of sudden, Mr. Harley is explaining how the win will help him sell more high-priced knives to collectors or lure more clients to his boar hunts. "It translates to my back pocket," he says, patting his wallet. "I don't want to sound mercenary, but that's how I make a living."

As for Mr. Crowell, he spends the four-hour drive back home to Mountain View, Ark., pondering his loss and thinking about the knife he will make for the next competition in the spring. It's a real dilemma: If the knife is too thick, it won't cut through paper. But if it's too thin, it can't hack through two-by-fours. "It's going to be heavier," he says. "But I don't want it to be too fat."
You're the whip. How did you do that, find a link or transcribe it in here? I considered transcribing the article, but normally I don't have the time all at once to send longer posts. I guess I could have typed it into a document and cut...and..pas...DOH!
Holy Cow/Boar! As Donna said, we had dinner with Larry Harley last Saturday night. He was talking about the contest that he won. The following day, he called me over to his table at the knife show and handed me a version of his Battle Bowie and told me that it was the one that won the contest. It was a forged blade of L6. Whew! I'm not worthy! Great guy, great knives! What's the link to the online article?

Greg Namin
The world is 75% water. The rest is drop zone.

Where was his table located? I can't believe that I missed it. I'm sure he had one hell of a knife.

Sorry, a link to that article wouldn't work. The WSJ.com is for subscribers only :-(
For those who haven't seen those Harley's blades... they're all business! I loved the comparison to ZZ Top, but agree with DonL that the description of the boar hunt may give cause for pause to not only those who haven't seen upfront and personal how vicious those tuskers can be but animal rights wackos who'd rather see humans die than a rat bite the dust testing a new drug. Don't know that I'd want to go up and stick one even if it were being pinned down by a pack of pit bulls! Maybe some of those wackos could be inticed to get close enough for the pit bulls to get confused...hehehe. Gee, did I say that?


[This message has been edited by bald1 (edited 11-09-98).]
Larry's table was diagonally across from Les Roberton's table. Larry had some nice pieces, including, but not limited to, native American style rifle stock war clubs with what looked like obsidian blades attached to the crook of the stock. Borrowing from what Fuzz said in another post, Chris Reeve and Larry Harley could have their own movie comedy entitled "The Gentleman and the Hillbilly". Great knifemakers! Great people.

[This message has been edited by grnamin (edited 11-09-98).]