Legend had it that the best blades were quenched in ”dragon blood.” Vulcan, Odin, Hepaestus, Luchtaine and many ancient engineers like them fathomed the secrets of earth, fire, air and water. They hammered hot rods of steel in order to build it into any shape they wanted. Blacksmiths today may not know the secrets of the old gods but the same creative impulse to build is there. A chemical reaction replaces old magic when a thing of beauty is forged but the concepts of creation remain between the old world and new. The mind is a receptacle of memories, emotions, and ideas which synthesize to create something complex from something primitive. Pressure unites them all.
If you believe that a blade is a blade, then you already know the entire store behind it. But if you know that a blade is a creation imbued with the legacy of the creator, then there will be a visceral story to tell, even before the creator is gone. Every knife tells a story. Some stories are better than others. Every creator creates something. Few creators build the kind of blades that Jack Stottlemire does and his military career will tell you that he has a lot of stories to tell.
With a matchless eye for lines this “bladesmith” has developed a style of his own. Jack Stottlemire creates elegant and understated knives with some very fearsome edges. I’ve admired Jack’s knives the moment I first saw them. In our ‘tactical-knife’ culture where manufacturers continue to move towards creating overwrought, ‘clutter’, and essentially sharp ‘paper-weights’ Jack moved the other way. He engineers metal into sophisticated yet functional weapons with some very lovely proportions.
The eyes instantly know what the mind does not as quickly pick up. These things are badass works of art with beautiful polish, finish and grace of line. They are pretty to look at but they’re also for the battlefield.
In 1982, Stottlemire enlisted into the Marine Corps and was stationed in Hawaii before doing a tour on the Korean DMZ. His goal to become a first sergeant in an Airborne unit was realized when he joined the Army. While in the Army Stottlemire began handcrafting bows as a hobby. Authentic, old-school stuff, he told me by telephone. Bows crafted out of locally acquired wood and deer sinews. The name Rustick came by way of combining his nickname and archery: (Ru and stick) made the name Rustick Archery and later became Rustick Knives.
At Fort Bragg Stottlemire joined a Special Missions Unit (SMU) right before the September 11th attacks on our nation. He put 12 combat rotations under his belt: Operations Just Cause and Desert Shield/Storm, the Balkans Air War, and Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. Add 13 surgeries to that list. After 26 years of service he retired as a US Army SGM, serving as a Special Operations soldier, Army Paratrooper and as a US Marine. Stottlemire didn’t just sit around.
Rustick Knives, became his one man shop in Fayetteville, North Carolina near the Cape Fear River. He initially studied knife making under Master Sergeant (Retired) Chris Williams of Wilmont Grinders. The pair worked together in Iraq. Stottlemire learned knife making basics from Williams and widened his purview by attending Elmer Roush’s Scandinavian blacksmithing class to learn the “old ways”.
The blacksmith was a central figure in Viking Age society and they left behind many spectacular swords, spears, axes, knives and arrowheads. In fact the art of a blacksmith was especially essential to the Viking warrior. Blacksmiths weren’t merely craftsmen. War needed creators and creators needed war for each to exist. Without weapons a warrior was nearly reduced to a fighter with a philosophy; warfighters need blacksmiths or bladesmiths like Jack. In today’s modern age warriors still hang onto the old traditions. Certainly commercially made knives can be bought, but like the ancients, warriors will purchase the best they can acquire. Stottlemire builds tough weaponry that has been combat-tested by some of the most elite fighting men in the world. Quite a few West Coast SEALs make up his customer base but word gets around the different branches. Stottlemire guarantees his work for life. His fan base is loyal and they send him pictures of his knives being used in the field.
Stottlemire told me over the phone that as soon as he started creating knives that the work came in quickly. People liked his work and a lot of it is through word of mouth and filters through his website. It’s a full-time job that he does seven days a week. He stated the military prepared him to learn anything. He could break down the most complex missions into basic tasks and he does everything by himself: from stock removal, forging, grinding, heat treating, handles and coatings in the shop. He loves what he does. He felt that his hands desired to build and build he does.
Rustick Knives has a complete blacksmithing shop where he forges knives and axes. As they become available he posts them for sale. These items include names such as the Vandal, Kuko Karambit, PUNK (Personal Utility Neck Knife), the Ripper and the Kraken named after Army Ranger and 1st SFOD-D operator Jim Erwin. Take a look at what he’s wrought. His work engross the mind. How many hours he puts into his custom pieces is unguessed and it’s certain that he goes by how he feels. To make quality requires dedication and well place yet destructive hammering. Out of descruction comes creation.
The Kuko Karambit is a nice little slicer for everyday carry. Handmade from 1/4″ thick 80CrV2 German tool steel the 3 3/4″ curved blade has sharpness on all three sides. Stottlemire purposely made the ring oversized for use with gloves. The blade is cerakoted to prevent rust and corrosion. The 7 7/8″ overall length of the knife allows it to be used for concealed applications, and the ring makes for a quick draw and superior retention. The scalloped G10 handles will take a lot of abuse. The knives ship with a custom, handmade kydex sheath. The Karambit is $225, the Kydex sheath $25 and the Blade-Tech Klip is $10. All of the work is gorgeous yet there is strength in these distinguished pieces.
I knew by talking to Jack on the phone that he truly loves America and his military brotherhood. He only buys American-made products, works with other veteran run businesses and works to support the military community. Many friendships were made and lost during his nearly three decades of service.
The world is more familiar today with the term PTSD, and how music, art therapy or creative writing help to address the emotional and psychological needs that arise from combat-related trauma. Losing friends, living with injuries, divorce can make life hell for those coming home.
Stottlemire told me that creating knives was a way to deal with many of his demons that were stifling the life force out of him. Many warriors hide their wounds from others and don’t feel they can be consoled out of their torment. They retreat into isolation where they sit with doubt, despair and dark confusion. In Stottlemire’s case he was nearing the bottom when he found something that would turn his life around. Help didn’t come by way of bottle, anger or violence. Chris Williams grinders gave him respite from the pain he was feeling. Therapy came by occupying his hands and mind. Soon knife making was the craft that was sustaining and cheering him onwards.
True creation requires an empty space in which to build something new. Mature creators are able to do something that copy-cats cannot do; they actually create art while copy-cats create commerce; they are nothing but replacers. Stottlemire understands the diffence between the two. His custom pieces are legacy pieces while others pay the bills. Therapy came by way of emptying the mind in order to let something new come in. The love of knife-making became the possession he needed to build worthwhile tools.
As I said before, if you believe that a blade is a blade, then you already know the entire store behind it. But if you know that a blade is a creation imbued with the legacy of the creator, then there will be a visceral story to tell, even before the creator is gone. Every knife tells a story. Some stories are better than others. Every creator creates something. Few creators build the kind of blades that Jack Stottlemire does and his military career will tell you that he has a lot of stories to tell.
If there’s dragon’s blood in this world then Jack has been there to taste it. Warfighters battle dragons everyday and some succumb to it. Some call it demons, but it is the metaphor for the dark, evil and mindless thing we can become. Those who choose to face it fight their fiercest battle. Those who win over something difficult should be regarded with respect. And if they create something of beauty I believe we should hold it in high esteem. I believe Stottlemire has created legacy pieces that can be passed down from father to son for generations. His life has been a testament to the kind of man he is and the kind of blade you’ll buy.
I hope you’ll love them as much as I do. Thanks Jack. Looking foward to all the new stuff that will come.