Do you know the Mississippi self-made knife maker, Todd Davison? He is a true southern gentleman by nature and Davison happens to be one of the finest slip joint knife makers in the country.
Years ago, while admiring a friend's pocket knife, he asked his buddy where he purchased it and the answer to that question..."I made it"....amazed Todd. How could someone actually MAKE a knife? That short encounter started the ball rolling and the creative genius of this skilled knife maker was born.
Completely self taught, with the help of folks like Bob Loveless, Tony Bose, and Rick Menefee, Todd completely threw himself into full time knife making.
Right from the beginning, Todd numbered (inside the liner) all knives made. By knife 200 he was making real improvement and by 400 his knives were approaching perfection. As of January 2016, Todd is working on knife number 1400+/-.
With knives priced in the range of $600 to $1200 depending on the handle material and pattern, Todd has turned his passion and skill set for knife making into a business crafting quality pieces perfect for any collection.
Tracking the number of knives made and the progression of prices Todd receives, it's fair to say that Todd's knives represent true investment appeal over time.
Photos of Todd's knives are great but to truly experience the quality and perfection you must hold and closely examine one of his knives with your loupe.
Todd holds an extra special place in the Frank’s Classic Knives family and we are especially delighted to own a growing collection of his works of art. Some of which...since we can't own them all... will be offered to our customers over time.
Todd does it all, start to finish. Heat-treats his blades, cryogenic quench and the blades are hollow ground on his grinder. Using 410 stainless for liners and bolsters and CPM 154, D2, and ATS-34 for blade stocks, Todd’s appreciation for quality materials is easily recognizable.
Handle materials include: micarta, wood, stag, jig bone, mammoth and elephant ivory, you name it and he's used it.
His knives are hollow ground, cryogenic quenched, many are coined edge, some with a lanyard tube, shield is inlaid and double pinned, razor sharp, closes dead center, hand finished, great walk and talk and shipped in a zipper protective case. Trust us, one purchase will have you wanting many.
Knife World Publications, PO Box 3395, Knoxville, TN 37927 Vol. 38 No. 11 November 2012 www.knifeworld.com
by Mike Robuck
Traditional pocketknife maker Todd Davison is a rebel with a cause. Davison has the gruff timbre of cowboy actor Sam Elliott and when he’s not making pocketknives he likes to ride his Harley, but he’s a self-made knifemaker that likes to do things his own way. Davison, 49, doesn’t use patterns when he makes a pocketknife.
“I don’t have any patterns,” he said. “I’ve had guys call me and ask for patterns and I tell them I can make them one that is close, but I don’t have patterns. That’s just the way I learned how to do it. I drilla hole in a piece of steel and that’s where I start at. A lot of people say it’s the wrong way and that I should use patterns, but to me a true custom knife is your own design.
“A lot of the knife guys kind of dogged me out and have made me the dark sheep because I don’t use
patterns. Some of them seem to kind of frown on me for not following suit. I just try to do the best I can and really the guys who are building knives, they’re the ones that are doing it every day. They know what works and what doesn’t work and what is the best and what isn’t the best.”
Growing up in Mississippi, Davison used knives for hunting and fishing and eventually ran across a custom knifemaker. “They were kind of crude but they were cool to me,” he said. “It just amazed me and I came home and bought a bunch of stuff and thought I’d try it.”
Davison didn’t have a lot of help in the early days of his fixed blade career, but he did come across the name and number of another knifemaker in a knife magazine, which at least lead to some tips over the phone.
“I picked up a Blade magazine and I was looking for someone to talk to and ask questions,” he said. “It just so happened that when I got that magazine there was a guy in there with his phone number. I called him up and asked him a million questions and guess who it turned out to be? It was Bob Loveless. I called him and starting asking all of these questions and I didn’t have a clue who he was.
“He was always nice to me. He never told me he was too busy and he laughed at me for some of the things that I was doing, or trying to do. He set me straight and after all of these years I finally figured out who he was.”
After periodically making fixed blade knives part time over the past 25 years, Davison started making traditional pocketknives eight years ago and then went full time six years later. Davison said he started out by taking old pocketknives apart and then putting them back together. He also consulted vintage knife catalogs and studied traditional patterns.
“After I got to where I could put them back together I started making the pieces and parts and tried to put them together,” he said. “I kept trying to make them better. Tony Bose helped me a whole lot. I got to where I could make a pocketknife, but I really didn’t know the specifics of how everything was supposed to work, the fit and finish it was supposed to have, the action, the grinds. The perfection came from Tony Bose.
“He’s the one that really helped me and he’s helped a lot of others as well. I’ve called Tony Bose so many times that I was expecting him to say ‘Todd, don’t call me anymore,’ or tell me he was just too busy but he never did. He always took the time. It didn’t matter, he would answer every question I ever had the best he could.”
Davison has made all manner of pocketknives, but is primarily known for his single-blade knives with micarta and wood scales.
“I make a swayback, but I make mine by either looking at a picture or it’s something that I make up myself,” he said. “I can look at a picture of a knife and make it by the picture. “A knife I make may look like the one I made before, but I never drew it up from the last one to put on the next one, so it’s all brand new. I think that’s a little more unique.”
While Davison can make a knife with any handle material, he favors the strength and utility of micarta scales. Davison came up with his own “striper” micarta scales as a way of setting himself apart from the crowd, and to add a little color.
“Micarta is the strongest material there is, but I thought I would try to make a pretty micarta knife,” Davison said. “They used to make those candy stripe [celluloid handled] knives and then you had ol’ Scagel that made a lot of knives with stripes on them. I was trying to make the best knife I could and make the prettiest knife out of the strongest material. Those stripes in the handles, across the bottom of them, just barely above the bottom of the micarta, there’s two sixteenth inch pins that run the full length of the handle underneath there and they’re pinned together and then pinned to the liner so they can’t ever come out.
“Tony Bose told me I was crazy. He said it was hard enough to make them without doing that.”
Davison also likes to use stabilized wood from Wood Stabilizing Specialists International on his knives. I think it’s just really super stuff,” he said. “They used to use wood on a lot of the old pocketknives, but some of them would crack and break. This stuff I use now is penetrated all the way through, and it polishes out good and seals real well. I’m trying to make them last a long time, and I’m just trying to build the best knife that I can.”
Davison will use stag, jigged bone, elephant ivory, or mammoth ivory for handle scales if that’s what a customer wants. His knife blades ran the gamut from the traditional wharncliffe, spear, clip and drop points to a utility razor. His models include trappers, swaybacks and other assorted jack knives. He has also made two-bladed, threebladed and four-blades knives, and vows to make more multi-bladed knives going forward.
Davison heat-treats his blades in his shop in Lyons, Kansas, and the blades are hollow ground on a 14-inch Bader grinder.
“I do my own heat treating and I test every one of them,” Davison said. “For all of my tainless steel I try to get them between 60 and 61 Rockwell, sometimes it’s between 61 and 62. I do a cryogenic quench on them so it raises them a point or two. “I use 410 stainless for the liners and bolsters and for blade stock I use a little bit of everything. I use a lot of ATS-34, D2, and CPM 154. I’ve used about everything that there is. I can pretty much make it out of anything they want.”
If a customer wants a high polish on a blade, Davison said he tries to steer them away from S30V and if it’s going to be a user knife he’ll suggest a belt finish.
Aside of his phone calls with Loveless and Bose, Davison said he’s only stepped foot into one other knifemaker’s shop, which was Rick Menefee’s shop in Oklahoma. “I’ve talked to Menefee on the telephone and we both decided that when you are learning how to make slip joints it’s suicidal,” he said. “You work on a knife for three days just to tear it apart and throw it away. There’s just so much in there. The hardest thing for me was to learn how to hide that (pivot) pin in the bolsters, which is usually hard for everybody. I’ve had several knifemakers call me to try to figure out how to do that. It’s not easy to do.
“There’s a lot to making those knives. A lot of people just don’t know what really goes on with making a pocketknife. There are just so many things that make a difference. Everything you do makes you do something else different.”
Each one of Davison’s knives has a number stamped inside the liner, and he has numbered every pocketknife that he has made. As of September, Davison was into the 920s with his numbered knives. When he finishes a knife, he writes down the number, what kind of knife it is, the type of shield and scales, the length closed and the date it was made, all of which makes it easier for a new or old customer to order a similar knife from him.
“I’ve known his dad for a long time and he actually gave me knife No. 100,” said Jim Reavis, a knife collector in Pueblo, Colorado. “I’ve gotten all of his 200, 300, 400, 500 and up knives to date and I’ve ordered them all the way through 1,000. They’re quality knives and the craftsmanship has definitely improved from 100 to 900.
“He is quite the character.He’s one of a kind. He’s done bronc riding, trained horses and he’s done a lot of other things. He’s just a quality, down to earth, good American. His word is his bond.”
Davison also uses a chainsaw file to put filework on the inside of his springs.
“I started off doing that because of the way I cut the spring. When I started I didn’t have any way to get a good finish in there,” he said. “I didn’t have a machine to get up into those curves to give me the finish that I wanted. So started doing that so I could put a mirror finish and to make it as perfect as I could down in there. I’ve done it on every one of them.
“I can get more of a precision finish in there plus it kind of gives me a little better way to adjust the tension on those springs. With a mirror finish it reflects off of the liners so when you look down in there it’s really lit up instead of dark.”
Lately Davison has been selling a lot of linerless micarta or G-10 shadow knives, which are both durable and lightweight.
One advantage of Davison’s free wheelin’ knife-making ways is that he can make changes on the fly when he is making a knife. He said he’s always trying to think of ways to make a better knife, or to make something different than what the rest of the knifemaker herd is doing.
“Ever since I started making pocket knives I’ve gone 10 or 12 hours every day, hard,” he said. “Most people hate their jobs, but I get up out of bed and instead of sitting there and drinking coffee I grab my coffee and take it out to the shop. I’m ready to go. I love it and you’ve really got to, because learning how to make those things takes some time.
“This is about all I do. I have a Harley and I go ride it every once a while. I’ll take a trip down to Mississippi to see my kids, but other than that I really don’t have any other hobbies. I’m either making knives or taking a short trip on my Harley to see my kids. That clears my mind and relieves all of the stress. When I get back I’m ready to go. I’m always thinking of how I can make a better knife, or a different knife.”