If you don’t know the backstory, stop reading now and read David’s piece on examining the only privately held Colclesser Brothers Kephart Knife. That knife belongs to none other than Ethan Becker. The other, Kephart’s personal knife, resides in a museum collection at Western Carolina University. Dan Eastland of Dogwood Custom Knives is one of just two custom knifemakers to whom Ethan has granted special access to the knife, and permission to make their own limited runs of “nearasdamnit” reproductions from measurements. He has just completed his run of 10 Dogwood Custom Kephart knives, one of which is destined for exhibit at WCU alongside Kephart’s own knife (which is apparently not in as good of shape as Ethan’s). I am one of the lucky 8 people (Dan is keeping one for himself) who has been given opportunity to purchase one of these extremely limited edition knives.
It arrived midweek, and I posted it to our Instagram feed, but I am just now sitting down to write about it.
I have been able to handle Ethan’s original knife on two occasions, and have handled each of the other limited run being done by Mike McCarter as he has completed them and brought them to our weekly lunches. The hand-feel of this knife feel spot-on, though the tang is “a gnat’s ass thicker than the original” according to Dan. Because he used nickle pins instead of steel, the balance still matches up.
It is 1095 steel, with virtually a full convex grind on each side. I say “virtually”, because there is a slight swedge-like easing to the spine, which like the original gives the knife an almost airplane-wing like profile. The scales are 95-year-old walnut, so they are roughly contemporary with the Colclesser Brothers production knives.
It is for this reason that Dan has included a slight deviation from the original. He has added a pair of extremely thin black G10 liners, almost indistinguishable from the scales upon casual glance. While one of his knives will be shown alongside Kephart’s original in a museum because they look so different today, Dan crafts his products to be around and passed down for generations. It is entirely possible that someday his stamp will wear off and a 100 year old Dogwood would be otherwise indistinguishable from a 200 year old original. The liners will assure that this could never happen.
As Ethan says, “there is nothing on that knife that doesn’t need to be there”. This dovetails nicely with the engineering adage that “perfection is achieved not when there is nothing left to add, but nothing left to take away”. This knife exemplifies form following function.
The Kephart pattern appeals to me, but not just because of its simple utility. I am a fishing guide on the very streams and mountains in which the man himself roamed while he was writing his books and articles for New York Magazine. Horace Kephart is indelibly woven into the fabric of the region, especially for those who have a passion for both history and the outdoors.
I am not sure if I am going to carry and use this knife. There is an intangible draw to carrying it for history and karma’s sake, but I am not yet ready to mess this one up. There is actually buzz about this run of knives in the online knife community. The other knives are going to be in the hands of some serious collectors.
Dan will be taking orders for a “production version” of the knife, which will be available with micarta scales and will be made from particle steel. He won’t be taking orders for these until after BLADE Show, but I might pick up this “workingman’s version” so I have one to use and can keep this one as a collector’s piece. This is the same rationalization that I have in the case of my Kim Breed presentation-quality Damascus Model 15 I bought at the Project Healing Waters auction. I do and I carry the same knife in 80CrV2. Under normal circumstances I am not a fan of “safe queens”.
Whatever I decide to do, I am thrilled to be among the select few to have the privilege of owning such a beautiful knife.