About two years ago I decided I wanted to purchase a custom knife to compliment my first custom longbow. As I searched through the various custom knife builders and looked at their offerings, one knife maker in particular kept getting my attention, Shawn Swafford of Swafford Custom Knives. Shawn’s knives were beautiful to the eye and from what others had to say about his product I was confident his quality would live up to my sometimes high expectations. Another factor that helped me decide to call Shawn was the fact that he was also a Traditional bowhunter!
After a brief conversation with Shawn I ordered a “Autumn Hunter” model with Bolivian Rosewood Scales, Mosaic Pins and a belt sheath. When it finally arrived a few weeks later I was even happier that I had decided to order with Shawn. The quality was second to none. To say this knife was beautiful was an understatement. In fact, it was so beautiful I called Shawn and told him I was hesitant to use it for fear of putting the slightest scratch on it. Shawn laughed and said he heard that all the time and to use the knife. After all he said, “that is what it is made for.”
Well, use it I have and I am as happy with this knife today as I was two years ago. It has served me very well, and while the sheath shows some wear from the countless hours afield, the knife still looks as good as it did when I removed it from the packaging. I have dressed several deer, cut rope, branches, leather, cardboard and probably other materials I have forgotten. None are a match for this knife. It sharpens easily, takes a VERY sharp edge and will hold that edge for a very long time. If you asked me to name one thing about this knife that could be better I would not be able to give you an answer. It is just that perfect!
So, over the years I have told anyone that would listen how great Shawn’s knives are and I have been planning this article for sometime so that I can share with you the same information. Additionally, I reached out to Shawn to get some history about how he got started along with what makes his knives so special. What follows is the answer to those questions in Shawn’s own words. I hope you enjoy.
Shawn Swafford made his first knife in the late 90’s but he didn’t get serious about making knives until around 2009. This was when he started his business Swafford Custom Knives. All his knives are made start to finish in his shop. He does all of his own heat treating and leather working also. He fells this gives him total quality control and he wouldn’t have it any other way. All the materials Shawn uses materials that are made in the USA including US leather that is tanned in the US. He uses only D-2 steel as it performs great with the heat treating recipe he has developed. Not all D-2 knives will perform the same even if they are the same hardness. So not all knives of the same steel type, by different makers, are created equal. It all comes down to the heat treating process utilized. There is more involved in heat treating a blade than just reaching a target Rockwell hardness. It is just one part of the equation although an important one. In addition, all of his blades are sub-zero treated and triple tempered. This results in a blade that has excellent edge retention. I have used my Autumn Hunter exclusively and extensively for almost 2 years and I can confirm Shawn’s blades hold an edge very well. Shawn’s blades are tempered to a range of 60.5 to 61.5 Rockwell. Each blade is tested for hardness on his personal industrial Rockwell tester. The resulting blade is very hard yet the edge is not brittle. As such, the blade will go a long time before needing sharpened. These are all things that aren’t visible in the finished product but will be very apparent when using the knife. The feedback Shawn has received on his knives performance in the field has been nothing but positive. In fact when I asked him about customer feedback he responded that to date he has only had one knife returned and that was due to some burled wood that refused to be made into a handle and cracked when the highly figured wood moved. It is easy to tell when you speak with Shawn that he is very proud of that record.
They say that form follows function, but in a custom knife form is also function. All his blade designs were arrived at by years of experience in the outdoors by both himself and others. The handles fit your hand in any position you choose which is important in a hunting and fishing knife. All of his handles are well rounded and void of sharp edges for comfort. They just fit your hand well. I have rather large hands and to be honest, when I ordered my first knife from Shawn I was worried that the mid-sized Autumn Hunter would be to small for my hands. This was not the case and I have been very happy with my choice. The blade designs are time tested and void of gut hooks and other non-essential items. His blades are fairly thin, trim, and ultra sharp. Less is more, in his opinion when it comes to knives and I fully agree with him.
Shawn enjoys all the beautiful woods, both exotic and domestic that are available to make the handles out of. The range of color and figure that is created in nature is mind blowing.
His knives are used by hunting guides across the US and abroad. A professional hunter in South Africa uses his knives in his daily work. A world champion race car driver also owns one of his knives. But more of his knives are owned by average working class people. Basically, anyone who appreciates a well-made knife is a potential customer. Shawn told me that most of his business is repeat customers which is rewarding.
For Shawn the most rewarding part of making knives is having a customer choose his knife to accompany them on their important outdoor adventure. Shawn told me that he may never be able to go on an Alaskan sheep hunt but one of his knives did this fall. Knowing that one of his knives is on the hip of the hunter as he slips through the bush in the dark-continent is what his dreams are made of. The joy of having a part in a first time hunter taking his or her first deer makes Shawn smile. Those are the things that keeps him building knives.
Shawn Swafford is located in Pratt, Kansas where he operates Swafford Custom Knives. Please be sure to visit his website and check out his line of knives. I am sure you will be glad you did! http://www.swaffordknives.com/