Story and Photos by Shane Adams
If I’m being honest, I’ve never been good at anything. I’ve been decent, passable, even proficient at a number of things, but I’ve never truly excelled at any one task.
I’ve grown comfortable with the notion that my true skill was not in perfecting skills but rather in picking up new tasks quickly. I began to buy into the false notion that I was a “Jack of All Trades, Master of None” but have since learned that I was lying to myself all along. How do I know it’s a lie? Because I know James Gibson.
Over the last several years I’ve had the good fortune of spending quite a bit of time with James in classes, on cross country road trips and just hanging out at his workshop and forge, nestled in the Smokies. The time spent in his company has fractured my view of who I am, because I’ve realized I was spending time with a Jack of all trades and a master of MANY, and the only differences between he and I were his diligence and persistence.
In today’s world of curated images, created only to generate clout for The Gram, authenticity can be elusive—if not non-existent. When James greets me with a handshake, I recognize a course grip that can only come from years of hard work.
My grandfather told me once that you could tell a lot about a man by his hands; and more importantly, by his handshake. James’s vice-like handshake, and 80 grit textured palms, would get my grandfathers’ nod of approval, of that I am certain.
We sit down in his small workshop and he begins to share his rich and entertaining history, that is as unique as the hills and hollers he hails from. Make no mistake, he’s a well-traveled man, but his roots run deep in the soil of the Smokies where he was raised, along with his seven siblings.
Raised on meager means, and unbeknownst to him, James began the acquisition of a unique skillset at a very early age—although it was just called everyday life to him. He grew up watching friends and family, learning skills that encompassed how to forage, use natural resources and make his own tools out of necessity.
One thing I’ve noticed over the years is that the best teachers are always students first, and James is no exception.
Every time I visit, I’m greeted with excitement as he shows me something new he is working on, or a new skill he has set out to master. His shop is full of projects on top of projects that are all in various stages of completion. Stacks of museum quality flint knapped arrowheads and knives in one container, while other containers—full of ornate and beautifully carved spoons, trays, ladles and figures—all sit in their respective places.
Everywhere I look I see quantities of handmade items, or the materials needed to create them in the future. And the knives, good Lord the number of hand forged knives scattered about the shop. They are everywhere and I just want to fill my pockets; it’s those knives that first brought me to Knob Creek Forge and, ultimately, James Gibson.
It must be stated that simply writing about his knives doesn’t provide the full story or ethos behind his creations, so some backstory is warranted.
Much of James’ formative years were spent building tools he could not afford to buy. Tools that much sweat and effort went into making, and being cared for, but remained tools none the less. One look at a Knob Creek Forge blade and you can see that it is intended to be used; it almost implores you to do so.
On first pass, to an untrained eye, a JG Knife may appear unfinished, or even a bit rough, until you pick it up and start to use it. Once in hand it becomes very apparent that this is a tool made to work; and work it does.
For those that like a sterile, almost surgically clean aesthetic, these may not be the knives for you. James’ blades arrive looking as though they’ve already seen use and come complete with stories of their own. His blades arrive with character and a unique personality, and if you look hard enough you can almost see what mood James was in the day he created it.
If you are of the same ilk as James, it’s like using a working heirloom that you hope to pass down one day—with real use and memories attached to it. A family treasure in the making, you just have to add the adventures and memories to it before passing it down to later generations, to continue the family legacy.
Some of James’ trademarks as a maker are his custom etchings on the blade, textured micarta scales and a rough forged look on the blade, above the grind line, leaving the dimples and stipples in the blade flat for a very cool textured line.
While James does make a few kydex sheaths, his leather work is something to behold. Hand tooled and stitched, his sheaths are often as much the marvel as his blades, and the pair complement one another very well.
Sheath design is largely dictated by intended use and customer preferences. Larger belt knives usually come in a hand tooled leather pouch sheath, with or without a dangler option. I have several of James’ larger blades and I much prefer the dangler option, as it allows for greater freedom of movement and doesn’t bind when sitting.
Several models are typically paired with kydex sheaths, such as his most popular model—his small but capable neck knife—and a new model called the “Climate.”
James’ blades come in any steel you want, as long as it’s some kind of high carbon steel, typically in the flavors of 1080, 1084, and 1095.
Come to any bushcraft class at Randall’s Adventure & Training and you are likely to see first time students working with a large blade and often struggling with fine tasks.
A quick glace around the circle and you will begin to see James’ influence, with his blades in the hands of our veteran students. His most popular blade is his small neck knife, which you will see around many necks, or in capable hands performing tasks around the campfire.
One thing I’ve noticed, after attending years of bushcraft classes, is that new students often show up with large blades that fit the mold of the “one tool option.” These students learn very quickly that large, unwieldy blades often have serious limitations. Over time, along with skill acquisition, the knives most often used become smaller and thinner—such as James’ “Necker,” that is right at a 3-inch blade and 6.75-inch overall length.
The Necker is a small, thin blade, with a full grip, that just flat out works in wood, with great efficiency, and is everything you need and nothing you don’t.
Another popular model is the Modified Kephart, a 4-inch Horace inspired spear point, with a finger groove behind the guard. At 1/8-inch thick it can take some hard use while still retaining some great cutting efficiency, thanks in part to the high saber grind.
Used as a general-purpose camp knife I find that this design is hard to beat. Whether starting a fire, working in the camp kitchen or used for general bushcraft and camp task, I find this combination to by my personal goldilocks go to knife; it’s enough without being too much. It just flat out works.
When paired with my preferred dangler sheath, I can wear this knife comfortably relaxing by the fire, driving a tractor or side by side or sitting in a deer stand.
I’ve stated before that I’m a knife nerd and have an affinity for a well-designed, and precisely executed, blade that serves a purpose in the field. I can honestly say that every Knob Creek Forge custom I own has performed flawlessly and has been a joy to use.
To shake the hand of the maker that hand forged a blade, that I hope to someday pass on to my grandkids, is special. Even more so when I can share stories of shared experiences; passing on both memories and skills, that I hope will remain part of our lasting family legacy, through these working heirlooms.
For more info on James Gibson and Knob Creek Forge please feel free to look him up below….and tell him Shane sent you! K&G
Join the Conversation, comment on this story below. >>
Knob Creek Forge(865) 216-1525Instagram: @KnobCreekForge54Facebook: @Knob-Creek-Forge-581754145265579
Shane Adams is a native of North Georgia and has spent a lifetime cycling, hiking, paddling, and exploring. He currently works for ESEE Knives / Randall’s Adventure & Training as their Marketing Director/ Utility Player. Along with the rest of the RAT crew he routinely spends more than 100 days in the field teaching, learning, and is an active member of RATSAR. (RAT Search & Rescue).
Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *
Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.