Cutting edge: local knife company delivers high-quality custom blades

Cutting edge: local knife company delivers high-quality custom blades

October 01
22:24 2017

In his dimly-lit garage, Brad Vaughn slides metal against his grinding machine.

As fast-moving sandpaper meets steel, sparks illuminate the dark around him. The sound is ear-splitting, but he doesn’t seem to blink an eye.

“You develop a physical memory in your body and your hands to sweep that blade on there perfectly straight,” Vaughn said. “It takes practice and years of experience.”

Vaughn, owner of Denton Knife Works, specializes in custom knives of all kinds and sells them at the Denton Community Market. 

“All my life, I’ve been a mechanic, an IT [person] or a machinist,” Vaughn said. “I’ve done a lot of things in my life and working with my hands is something I really enjoy.”

After being laid off, Vaughn said he searched for something to keep himself busy. Never one to sit still, he learned the craft from a neighbor who specialized in martial arts training knives. He began selling his knives on eBay and eventually decided it was time to set up shop.

“I’ve always been a hobbyist and an opportunist,” Vaughn said.

Vaughn’s 20-year relationship with crafting has been distinct. Before knives, it was Native American flutes, and before that were intricate pens.

“I’ve been making knives for four or five years, but I’ve been a craftsman all my life,” Vaughn said. “It’s all about applying your craft skills to a different medium.”

The knives are made of high carbon steels or aluminum, depending on the type.

Denton Knife Works owner Brad Vaughn shapes a blade using a homemade grinder. Paige Bruneman

DKW often sells knives for everyday use, but for Vaughn, customizing them to a specific dimension and style is an enjoyable challenge that sets his business apart.

“It’s nice when people buy an everyday utility knife, but when [the knives] have a specific purpose to them, that’s when they’re fun,” Vaughn said.

While there are customers who simply want a knife that fits their exact dimensions, there are others who want a sentimental value to them.

“Some of them are made for long-term memories, not just an everyday knife but something that they hopefully keep for life,” Vaughn said.

Charley Smith, who also works in the knife business, introduced Vaughn’s knives to the gun show market. Smith said Vaughn’s attention to detail is what made the knives succeed, but it also made Smith a frequent customer of the business.

“The things he makes that he puts a lot of time and effort into goes back to a time in America where things were handmade,” Smith said. “And you just don’t get that.”

A fair amount of Vaughn’s tools are homemade, too.

He constructed his own grinder, which sands metals at 3,200 rotations per minute. He also built his own gas forge, which heats the metal up for easier molding.

“Brad invited me to come watch the process from start to finish at his house,” customer Kristopher Trivis said. “I was amazed at the amount of love and craftsmanship he put into every one of his knives.”

When used properly, this craftsmanship can be useful and personal. However, Vaughn said there is a sense of respect that needs to be held for the product.

“Let’s face it — [what] they’re initially for is a utility blade,” Vaughn said. “Unfortunately, in society today, you’ve got the kind that use it for misleading purposes.”

But Vaughn said that could not be further from the truth for DKW.

As he walks around his garage, he shows off the numerous pieces he has worked on. He holds up a knife with thin sheets of papers embedded into the handle. Another one with a bright green color is swirled into a marbled pattern.

Each one seems to have a story.

“It’s like an heirloom that you can pass down,” Smith said. “You look at something that’s handmade that somebody put some blood, sweat and tears into, [that] goes back [in the day] where people had that work ethic.”

And luckily for his customers, Vaughn wants to continue this work for years to come — even during his upcoming retirement.

“I was doing it full time, and decided to go back [to work] and make a little more money in the real world,” Vaughn said. “[I’ll] keep this going so that when I retire, I can get some income and just keep myself busy.”

In the future, he hopes to teach workshops where others can learn from his expertise.

“I have a lot of interest in teaching,” Vaughn said. “People want to learn how to make knives. I’m thinking in the future I might put together some kind of school or workshop.”

Featured Image: Denton Knife Works owner Brad Vaughn uses a homemade gas forge for heat treating metals. DKW is a local business that sells all kinds of knives at the Denton Community Market and online. Paige Bruneman

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Amy Roh

Amy Roh

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