2,000 DEGREES OF MOLTEN STEEL

“I trace a pattern on a piece of steel, but I’m not a metalsmith—I don’t forge—I just buy steel. Then I cut it out on a band saw, so it looks like the pattern. I grind it and shape it into the shape I want; it’s a 3-dimensional thing. Then I put it in the oven, at a temperature dependent on the recipe of the steel. Each type of steel has its own recipe, up to 2,000 degrees. I quench it and that hardens it. If you take steel out and quench it quickly, it makes it brittle. If you take it out and cool it slowly, it stays soft. You have to do it just right. Then I take the brittleness out, called tempering, and do a final grind and put a handle on it.”

Phil finds himself branching out from making hunting and utility knives to crafting blades closer to his heart.

“I am getting into kitchen knives more. You have to have your kitchen knife just right. There are a million different blade shapes. A hunting knife is more for skinning, but for a kitchen knife, you want to rock it so you can chop and slice. Custom knives are pretty expensive, but good kitchen knives make good gifts and are dynamite.”

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DOG PAW KNIVES

Career-bureaucrat turned knife-maker Phil Millam knows what he and his customers like and is determined to keep trying until he gets it exactly right.

“Six or seven years ago, I got frustrated at never being able to find the knife I wanted and realized—thousands of dollars too late—that I'm still learning how to do it and why it’s so difficult. I thought that it would be a lot easier than it is.”

“Oftentimes, I see something in a magazine and try to replicate and modify it. Making brass fittings is really difficult, but caribou and walnut handles—those are pretty fun. Hard plastic handles are really durable and look like wood and last longer. There is one [knife shape] in particular I have been trying to duplicate but I am still learning the skills for such a complex blade.”