Knives stir up mixed reactions in people. Some have a trusty hunting or fishing knife that’s like a constant companion on backwoods trips. Others carry a pocket knife for those pesky little frustrations in life (plastic clam-shell packaging, anyone?). Perhaps Grandpa had a knife he was given by his grandfather and left it to you — now it’s part of your everyday-carry. And of course some people shy away from knives, fearing injury or accident.
Regardless, there’s no denying that knives come with a storied history, and techniques and materials for creating them have grown and developed with them.
Deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, one craftsman is honing his skills and sharing his knife-making talents with a new generation.
“I have loved knives for as long as I can remember, collecting them as I was growing up,” explained Michael Presnell.
Once he’d created a knife of his own, he was hooked. He wanted to learn traditional and cutting-edge (sorry for the pun) techniques, and he wanted to experiment with different types of blade metals and sizes, choosing the best handle material for each particular knife.
“Over the past few years, I have become a member of the American Bladesmith Society as an Apprentice Smith,” says Presnell. “I have taken courses in bladesmithing under some of the best Master Smiths in the industry. I love learning new ways to do things and trying out new techniques.”
Good ole U.S. high-carbon steel forms most of the blades, and Presnell heat-treats his knives on site.
“I enjoy working with different exotic woods as well as Micarta, stag, and other handle materials,” he said.
Each knife comes with a protective sheath in leather or Kydex, a tough acrylic PVC hybrid.
One of the more unusual items in Presnell’s stock? The mini-ulu (above). It’s certainly mini, at just 2 1/4 inches long and 2 inches wide, and it’s no doubt a very useful tool for hiking and foraging, since it can be tucked into a backpack without adding much weight. The back edge is a handy flint striker, so you can start a campfire to huddle round, and the sheath that comes with the mini-ulu can be used as a handle. Now if you ever need to make an emergency shelter out of sticks and moss, you’ll be equipped for survival.
You can custom-order Presnell’s knives, choosing blade size and steel, and also the material for the handle. Not a knife buff? No worries: You can order from stock. Just be ready to look up some knife-y terms. We were puzzled by “jimping” and “hamon,” and the description of the Straight Creek Puuko (below) had us stumped. Anyone know what “scandi grind with a micro bevel” means?
Whether you’re a knife newbie or an aficionado of the blade, Presnell has you covered.
“It’s my goal to create a knife that is both comfortable in your hand, but tough enough to use for your daily needs,” he explained.