Today I am sharing an interview with bladesmith Gerry Drew of GL Drew Knives. Gerry’s slogan is “Hunting Knives Made by a Knifemaker that Hunts,” and is a testament to his 25+ years of experience hand crafting knives and hunting. His pieces have rustic charm, yet are meticulously hand-made and exceptionally well finished. And despite their beauty, these knives are designed to be used and depended on. Needless to say it is a real privilege to get the chance to sit down with Gerry and share his story with you today.
Hi Gerry, welcome to BladeReviews.com – You make some beautiful knives and I love how you design them from a user’s perspective, so let’s dive right in. What made you decide to pick up some steel and start making your own knives?
I started making knives almost by accident. I was doing some wood carving and made my own small knives and chisels for that hobby. I was even asked by friends to make some of these small tools for them. When someone asked me if I could make a hunting knife I got a very bad book from the library on knife making and started grinding down files and old saw blades. I picked up some very bad habits from that book and trying to learn on my own, but I never went back to whittling.
Well I guess you eventually found your way! Tell us a little about your philosophy behind knife design.
My “philosophy” on knife making mostly stems from my stubbornness. I am retired, old enough to be a curmudgeon, and make knives the way I want to make them. I never take orders that don’t fit into my style, and am fairly reluctant to work with someone else’s design. I make knives that the average guy can afford; very usable but as pleasant looking as they can be made. A few of my knives go to collectors that never cut anything but I really like to see them used as well as collected.
I see that you recently made the transition from stock removal to forged knives. Why go that route?
I made stock removal knives for over 25 years and still do. I like the modern steel alloys with their rust resistance and edge holding properties. I could never see any advantage in heating and pounding on a piece of steel; it seemed to me that it just added one more step to the process. But, I took a basic blacksmith course when I retired and found it is a lot of fun and I can be much more flexible with my designs with forging (twists, curves, textures, etc.) Now most of my knives are forged.
I know that these days you actually teach a course on blacksmithing yourself. Can you tell us a little more about the course?
I like to call it a bladesmithing class, Dan. It is a very basic 12 hour knife forging class that I teach five students at a time at the Tryon Arts and Craft School in Tryon, NC. They have a smithy with 5 forges, 5 anvils and a bunch of hand tools, and I am able to teach forging, heat treating, grinding and handle applications at this facility. (This is where I took an introductory blacksmithing class about 3 years ago.) I can’t begin to teach someone to become an accomplished knife maker in 12 hours, but everyone gets a good feel for the process and this helps them decide if they want to pursue knife making as a hobby. We have a lot of fun at these classes and everyone goes home with at least one complete knife.
Too cool, I would love to attend a class like this (and I know that I am not the only one).
Your slogan is “hunting knives made by a knife maker who hunts.” I have to admit that it has a nice ring to it. Please tell us a little about your hunting background.
I came up with the slogan years ago when I was just making hunting knives. Now I have graduated to everything from ulus to tomahawks, but hunting knives are still my favorite. I have hunted all across North America for elk, caribou, bear, deer and small game.
Now I know you really enjoy bow hunting, what is it about bow hunting that you find especially attractive?
Bow hunting is one of my passions and a great excuse to be in the woods. It is a quiet hunt, solitary and a great way to fit into nature and observe wildlife. Because I have to get close to game by keeping quiet I get an opportunity to see a lot of other animals moving around that at times never know I am there. I have watched otters play, bears feeding on insects, coyotes eating berries, etc, etc. Some of my greatest memories are from days spent in the woods with my bow that I never took a shot. Of course I am a meat eater and sometimes even come home with some venison.
Much respect Gerry. As an avid fisherman I totally agree that just getting out there can be the greatest reward.
I notice that you select a lot of natural materials for your handles. Why do you prefer these kinds of materials, and where do you source them?
I prefer stabilized wood handles. Every piece is different, and it makes a tough, attractive and usable addition to a knife. Before I retired I sold wood products to manufacturers and picked up a lot of small pieces of wood that were rejected because they were not straight grained; excellent handle material when stabilized. I have also been known to pick through a neighbor’s fire wood pile if I see them splitting up some nice curly maple.
Hah! If you ever come down to Florida feel free to look through my woodshed! Seriously, your handles are beautiful, I love the choice of materials.
Your knives also feature some stunning sheathes. Do you make those yourself?
Yup, I make my own sheaths. Like a lot of knife makers, sheath making is a necessary evil, not a lot of fun but necessary to sell a knife. You will notice that most of my sheaths are fastened with rivets which make the sheath strong, safe and quick to make. I will hand sew a sheath on request but I always add a few dollars to the price for the extra time it takes.
They are quite nice.
Gerry, you have to tell me a little about your tomahawks – are these forged pieces? Have you always made them? They look very nice!
I just started making hawks and have only turned out three so far. I forged two from old ball peen hammers and one from one inch square bar stock. I think I am going to like making these but there is a lot more work and a lot more hammering involved.
I will definitely be keeping my eye out for more of those, breathtaking pieces with an almost “old world” quality to them.
What else is on the horizon for GL Drew knives?
More of the same. Knives are a tool that was invented by my family when we still lived in a cave and really have not changed a lot since. I am always looking for ways to make my knives unique and more usable but the basic design will never change.
Last question – what knife/knives do you carry with you every day?
If I have pants on there is one of my hunters and a Leatherman hanging on my belt.
A classic combo if there ever was one. Thanks so much for the interview, Gerry. It is a real treat to have you on the site.
Your welcome, Dan. My pleasure.
You can learn more about Gerry’s amazing work by visiting his website.