The knife world has lost a man who was a giant in both the literal and figurative sense. He was best known (in the material sense) for his Battle Bowie design, but it was his larger-than life personality that touched so many people.
It was a phone call this afternoon from Mike Crenshaw that led me to look into Larry’s background and work, as I did not know him myself. I am very sorry that I never had the chance. Mike’s social media eulogy for Larry describes a man whom I very much would have enjoyed meeting.
RIP Larry Wayne Harley. If they don’t have ‘shine and bacon up in heaven Larry’s teachn’m how to forge in Hell. You’ll be sorely missed.
Knifemaker Kim Breed also had some colorful words to describe his friend.
I was lucky to know him. He was the friend you always wanted – a pain in the butt most of the time, but you knew he would always be there when you needed him.
As I mentioned, to just focus on Larry’s knives (like the Battle Bowie above) would be to miss the greater aspect of his legacy. Larry started the ABS Youth Hammer-in program, and dedicated a great deal of time to passing on the art of forging to people of all ages.
From BladesmithsForum: (actually an archived piece from a 2009 local paper)
One of Larry’s stated goals is to educate and train more bladesmiths…particularly, the youth. Through the American Bladesmith’s Society, he partners with Smokey Mountain Knifeworks in Sevierville, Tennessee to host a ‘hammer-in every year during the second week of June.
“The knowledge is being lost,” he says, “but, through the hammer-ins we can introduce it to the youth. Give a boy permission to play in a hot fire and what have you got. I’ll tell you, though, girls seem to get wired up faster than boys and do a better job, but all the kids learn fast.”
“I like teaching kids as much as I like making knives,” he says. “I’ve been teaching for about 15 years.”
His friend Wes Byrd elaborated on this teaching philosophy:
One of the things we did come to complete agreement on was that if you gave us a chance to teach a young person how to build a knife that we would impart a great deal more than just the art of forging a great knife. We could teach life lessons about hard work and sweat, determination to be a little more stubborn than the steel you are working with, as well as physics, chemistry, metallurgy, history, and a little art. Larry always felt that the real payment for teaching a youngster of any age was the irrepressible smile that was always on their face when they realized THEY COULD DO IT.
Later in his career Larry was a participant in the National Geographic program Lords of War, where he was one of 4 experts who served as appraisers on a weapons-themed riff on “Antiques Roadshow”.
“I was drawn to the history involved in the show,” said Harley, owner of Lonesome Pine Knives and known in some circles as “The Hammer.” “My trips to the New York Knife Show over the years got my name out there. A video of me that got put up on YouTube also got me noticed. This guy knew this guy who knew a guy with the production team putting this show together. They interviewed me and we hit it off because our passions and our interests and what they had in mind for this show were just a dream for a guy like me. We get to fire guns, cannons, and see these incredible items attached to such history. Man, its good. It’s like Antiques Roadshow meets Top Shots…”
…(One item) left him in awe of the blade craftsmanship that took place more than 600 years ago at the time of the Samurai.
“It was a sword that dated back to the time of the 47 Ronin,” he said. “Their master killed himself and the Samurai were supposed to follow but these 47 ronin, that means samurai without a master, decided to avenge him. Making blades myself, this was a once-in-a-lifetime event and I enjoyed every second. This blade, made over 600 years ago, almost perfect. I could not believe its shape. I could not believe the history in my hand.”
Harley hopes his down-home humor intertwined with weapons brings a piece of northeast Tennessee to the masses. He feels like it is a formula that can work.
“Hillbillies sell well on TV right now. And I’ve been a hillbilly my whole, young life,” he said.
Requiescat in pace Larry, I am sorry to have never met you, but thank you for your role in shaping the world in which I am now immersed.