Passion for craft work becomes business of knives
TROUT RUN — About 15 years ago, Larry Rockwell began making wood into things that he wanted people to have, that were custom made.
“Through my life I have always had a love for wood, particularly fancy figured woods used in items like gunstocks, knife handles and furniture,” he said. “I began to try my hand at building pieces of furniture for around the house and then for sale. I had the idea that I would like to work with wood once I was retired … and so slowly began to acquire the machines and tools to do that. At present, I am blessed to have a well-equipped woodworking shop to build the items I desire.”
Some of those items are pretty specific and unique.
“I have always been fascinated with the idea of something custom built, something uniquely yours that no one else has,” he said.
Rockwell said he was always interested in doing things with his own hands.
“As a young outdoorsman, I would build my own plaques for my deer antlers, stretchers for fur trapping, built my first compound from a kit, fletched my own arrows, reloaded all my ammunition, etc. I still enjoy doing these things,” he said.
These interests and now acquired skills have lead Rockwell into the realm of creating and making knives and turkey calls. He started with turkey class after seeing them at a gun show.
“Unfortunately, my interest in custom items like guns, bows, knives and calls never seemed to work within my budget,” he said. But then he thought, “Instead of buying them, I could build them. I liked the idea of being able to have a call that was beautiful to look at as well as functional.”
His design and construction is a little different then the run of the mill call, he explained.
“They provide, I believe, a platform to show off the inherent beauty and contrasts of the woods I use,” he said.
His favorite woods include various combinations of curly maple, zebrawood, bloodwood and walnut.
“No matter how nice a call is to look at, it’s just a paper weight if it doesn’t sound good to a turkey. I can’t say that my calls will win you first prize at a turkey calling contest (having never entered one). I can say they will perform where it matters most — in the turkey woods,” he said.
After making turkey calls, Rockwell said he wanted to offer a matching call and knife combo, but with no skills in knowing how to craft a knife, he turned to a acquaintance — custom knife maker Rob Hudson of Northumberland.
“I met him two years ago through a co-worker. I was completely blown away when Rob showed me one of his knives. It was just perfect in its fit and finish. That’s when I learned that he had won many awards from the countries top knife making organizations,” Rockwell said.
Hudson’s knives were in great demand around the world.
“He was gracious enough to be my mentor and got me started in the custom knife making world,” Rockwell said.
All of Rockwell’s knives are straight blades, the non-folding type, and are designed for hunting, everyday carry, neck carry, kitchen use and tactical.
“I use the stock removal method for the shaping of my blades. I buy precision ground bars of steel which I then cut out the blade pattern and shape by grinding with a Bador knife grinding machine,” he said.
He only uses a high end knife grade stainless steel.
“These steels are made using Powdered Metal Technology which provides for a very fine grain structure and distribution of alloys within the steel,” he said. “My blades are professionally hardened to 59 on the Rockwell Hardness Scale using vacuum ovens along with a Cryogenic treatment at minus 300 degrees.”
The hardness he speaks of provides a very sharp, long-lasting edge that can still be hand sharpened. The handle materials can be various, from man-made such as Micarta, a composite material or G-10, a fiberglass composite, or natural such as antler or wood.
“Most of the wood I use will be stabilized using a vacuum process whereby the air is removed within the wood and replaced with a heat cured resin. Sheaths are primarily Kydex, custom molded to each individual knife,” Rockwell said.
Rockwell’s work is a reflection is his life-long connection to the outdoors.
“I grew up near Troy, where I spent my high school years pretty much obsessed with all things related to hunting, fishing and shooting,” he said.
After high school he was a military policeman in the Army.
“Part of that time I worked in the Coastal Mountain area of California as a Military Police Game Warden,” he said. “I am especially proud that during that time my partner Brian Robertson and I along with a California State Biologist worked to reintroduce Tule Elk to that area.”
Today, Rockwell was able to say he was part of helping introduce a huntable population of the elk in that area of Hunter Liggett of the state.
“And it is in fact one of the premium hunting locations within the state for this species,” he said.
After leaving the Army and graduating Elmira (N.Y.) College with a bachelor’s degree in accounting he worked for a brief time in a public accounting firm in Lancaster before being hired by the Postal Service, and there he spent the next 30 years working as a letter carrier, supervisor and finally as an acting postmaster in various offices before retiring.
That is when he dived into the hand crafting of his useable, functional art.
Selling of his items is virtually by word of mouth and attending gun and knives shows. He does have a Facebook page that features his knives and some calls and a website, www.rockwellcustomknives.com.
“My desire is to make my knives as well as my calls available and affordable to the individual that works hard for a living, provides for their family yet would like to be able to have something one-of-a-kind they can be proud to own and use,” he said
He loves to see the reaction a customer has when seeing their knife or call for the first time.
“That is one of the things that drives me to create the best product I can. I want each creation to be perfect which can become a problem for me because I constantly battle the tendency to feel things are never good enough,” he said. “The curse of perfectionism, I guess.”