“5 From the Grinder” with Michael L. Mann (Idaho Knife Works)

Idaho Knife Works

Michael L. Mann – Idaho Knife Works (photo via CDAPress)

I first became aware of Michael and Debbie Mann when reading about the knives in the movie Revenant. Together they are the founders of Idaho Knife Works, which specializes in making historical period pieces and other traditional knife styles. Their knives have quite the following among the historical reenactment and cowboy action shooting communities. I would buy one in a heartbeat were either of those hobbies of mine, and I am still likely to one day anyway.

I reached out to Michael and Debbie after reading about them, and was thrilled to receive a prompt reply. One thing I have loved about the 5 from the Grinder series is that it has given me a chance to correspond with so many new makers with whom I was previously unfamiliar. Feedback from you all has been universally positive, and we are excited to bring you all more of these. Especially following the Blade Show next month.

So without further ado, I yield the floor to Michael L. Mann of Idaho Knife Works.

First, in a few sentences, please introduce yourself and let us know what led you to making/designing knives.

Hello, I am Michael L. Mann born & raised on the Family Farm in Illinois homesteaded in 1869 and still in the hands of family today. Knives were always a tool on the farm where I grew up hunting and fishing with my brothers. Made my first knife in high school shop class. Continued to make knives as a hobby and because I just couldn’t find a good knife in a store.

Then in the 80’s I took some knives to a Mountain Man Rendezvous where I sold and traded some. Got more equipment in my shop. Then started going to Gun Shows. In 1989 my wife and I set up a Knife Display@ an Outdoor Sports& Rec Show and that’s where our knives as a business took off!

In the mid 90’s,  met an outdoor writer named Cliff Jacobsen who co-designed The Cliff Knife and wrote about it in Tactical Knives Mag. That’s where my Professional Knifemaking really took off!!

2016 will mark my 27th  year as  Professional Knifemaker.


Gluing up one of the Hudson Bay knives for the Revenant.

Question 1: What knifemaker(s) or designer(s) have had the biggest influence on you? Do you have any mentors?

My mentors that have influenced me have been:

1) the late Dennis DesJardins aka Hatchet Face

2) Ed Caffrey “The Montana Mastersmith”

3) Gary Little, Conklin Meadows Forge

Question 2: What is your favorite knife pattern or style from history?

My favorite historical knife pattern is The Hudson Bay Knife which spanned late 1770s to late 1880s.

Hudson Bay

Hudson Bay Knife

Question 3: What is the next big thing in knifemaking? / What direction do you see the industry going?

The next big thing in Knifemaking for me is the introduction of my newest knife design called ‘The Jack Knife’. It’s an excellent hunting knife with 3” blade. The tip is good for caping with a comfortable handle. The guard wraps around your finger to help w/grip. And, I always make a good snug fit sheath to go with each knife!


Jack Knife

Question 4: Is there a knife from your lineup that you feel best exhibits who you are as a knifemaker/designer in terms of design elements, aesthetic or techniques used?

The knife in my line up that best exhibits who I am as a Knifemaker/Designer is The Buck Skinner Knife. As an avid hunter, the belly on that blade makes for a good skinner for game. The rounded handle makes the knife comfortable to use. The finger notch + rounded guard snugs the knife in hand. The sheath keeps it ‘at the ready’ on my side.  I called it The Buck Skinner Knife because it’ll skin a buck and, I’m a Buckskinner/Mountain Mann!

Buck Skinner

Buck Skinner

Question 5: What is your EDC and why?

My every day carry knife is a Cliff Canoe Knife w/Osage wood from  my Family Farm. All my blades are high carbon steel that I heat treat and temper to hold a good edge + easy to sharpen for use. The 4 ¼” 15N20 steel blade on that Cliff Knife  is light weight and a good utility size. The sturdy leather sheath  makes it my Go 2 Tool!


Cliff Canoe with Osage Scales.


They are a bit old-school in that they don’t have a Twitter or Instagram account, but you can check out more at the Idaho Knife Works website, or on their FaceBook Page.

If you are a knifemaker or know a knifemaker that would like to be featured in a future 5 from the Grinder post, please send an email to thetruthaboutknives@gmail.com


We don’t often post outside knife reviews, but we will make exception for the legendary Hickock45.


  1. Thanks for this awesome post!
    Mike&Debbie Mann~The Mountain Manns

  2. Peter says:

    I’m enjoying looking at some traditional patterns.

    Thoughts on design have been in my mind, lately. The deer that I hunt – almost every weekend over a 7 month season – are over 500lb for mature males and thick-skinned. They are usually broken down on the spot and carried out with the skin still on the legs.

    A 3″ knife is workable, but 5″ works better.

    It seems to me that , for such jobs, the fashion for drop-point knives has led t a certain loss of practicality. Either the cutting edge is too for a good skinner, or the blade ends up being very wide. Drop-points are sold as being great for the opening cuts, but that is only a part of the operation.

    My favourite blade shape ATM is based on a 6″ “trade” skinner in the traditional sweeping style, that has been ground back to a straight spine. It now has that sweeping 5″ cutting edge, with a usable point .

    I see a lot of similarity to some of the traditional styles here, although the point has been clipped at more of an angle.


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“5 From the Grinder” with Michael L. Mann (Idaho Knife Works)

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