Ken Largin of Kelgin Knives has probably made more knives than any living knife maker, over 75,000. Kershaw Knives made a commemorative knife on his 30th anniversary in 2008. Ken’s long career has several highlights. General Colin Powell gave Kelgin knives to all the POW’s and General Schwarzkopf after the first Gulf War. Ken also made several knives for the late Paul Harvey and for Andy Griffith to use in an episode of the Matlock TV show. Ken and Paula trained the Green Berets in 2009, and a knife selection/sharpening course they helped put together is now used for the 1800 Green Beret candidates that try out every year. Paula has been making knives for 15 years and is best known for the Paula’s Hunter which was carried by the Orvis Company for years. Ken and Paula retired from knife making in 2005 to focus on teaching. They started the Kelgin Knife Makers Co-Op in 2006 next to Smoky Mountain Knife Works to help preserve the craft.
In Ken’s words (1999):
After over 30 years of making knives, I couldn’t guess how many times I’ve been asked how I got started.
From my high school days in California I always wanted to be a craftsman. I explored everything from rug making to leaded glass to lapidary and jewelry from which I made my living for 7 years. After a year on the road doing craft shows with jewelry, I settled in San Diego, California.
Some handmade knives I had seen at a crafts show stuck in my mind and one day I saw a book on Buck Knives and I learned that they were just 7 miles from my house. I got a job there for about a year. I also visited custom knife makers Chuck Stapel and Glenn Hornby in Glendale, California. The love of knife making was instant!!
When I quit Buck I had yet to make a knife from scratch. I had only worked on individual components in a factory setting.
I was working on a full-sized set of sterling silver Buck knives for Chuck Buck. He traded an old Belt Sander for the set.
He traded an old Belt Sander for the set. I was also making miniatures and designed a small butterfly knife to be the first Kelgin custom knife.
I took the colored pencil drawing to a dealer and asked him to buy some for $30.00 a piece. He ordered 150. (Those same knives sell for $250.00- $300.00 today.)
Well, that sent me to the bank to get a loan for the materials. They knew me as a jeweler so when I said I had expanded into knifemaking and showed them the purchase order, I guess it didn’t occur to them to ask if I had actually ever made a knife.
They loaned me $1,800.00 for 90 days. That was motivation enough, now I had 90 days to learn how to make a complete knife.
In 1993 I decided it was time to produce the “dream” of a small 10 person custom knife shop, a bad idea I dropped after 5 years of trying. During this time an apprentice by the name of Paula came along, you all know the ending but Paula’s story is pretty interesting going from chili parlor waitress to full time knife maker.
We decided in 1997 to end the “dream” which had turned into a nightmare trying to have others do for money what we do for enjoyment and pleasure. Paula and I always enjoyed working together on knives (when we weren’t fixing other peoples screw ups in the shop) so we moved to the little canal town and historic site of Metamora, Indiana.
Paula and I now make only the knives we enjoy making. No more filling orders of 500 knives by some crazy deadline and having to compromise how we’d like a knife to look or what it can cost. We now follow Ken’s Philosophy and enjoy working together making quality affordable knives.
In October of 1999 we went full-time on the road. We now tow our car in our trailer/workshop which is SOLAR powered. We teach classes and demonstrate as we look for unique places to stay and work on orders. Our “camp” includes all the comforts of home since it is our home. We even have a guest house, a washer/dryer and a hot tub! All is self contained- we don’t need a campground or any external hook-ups. Check our travel schedule for dates and locations, and come by for a visit!
As we travel we are also persuing another long time dream. We are gathering names of Americas craftspeople in hopes of one day having a huge website to help promote their work. Can you help?