Knifemaking: soldiering on and the Rio Bravo

“Tomorrow is the most important thing in life. Comes into us at midnight very clean. It’s perfect when it arrives and it puts itself in our hands. It hopes we’ve learned something from yesterday.”

― John Wayne

soldier on: phrasal verb with soldier. to continue doing something although it is difficult

  • Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary and Thesaurus

This blade was a commission for the father of a gentleman who is a professional videographer.   I came to know this gentleman after building a knife for him.  He called and asked if I could make a blade for a very special person- his father.

When I first met with the client, we talked for about an hour.  He showed me a short film he had made about his father, his father’s deep love of football, and how it brought the two of them closer as adults.  The film was quite stunning.  The NFL thought so too- it won their family tickets to the Super Bowl.

In the film, he told his father’s story of how he lost a chance to play for the Baltimore Colts, losing out to Johnny Unitas.  What followed was a strained relationship where the client really didn’t get a chance to know his father.  The film documented how football brought bonding and healing.  He asked if I could make a blade with an element of the game that his father loves.

I felt quite a bit of anxiety in making this blade.  I had to design it and give it a life for somebody’s loved one whom I had never met before.  It took a very long time because I really wanted to make the right statement.  The recipient of this blade is a man’s man, stoic, and has taken his licks.  He has a bit of cowboy in him- John Wayne was mentioned during our talk.  I named it the Rio Bravo after the John Wayne film.  Wayne was 51 when he starred in the film but still kicks a lot of ass.

I write this from a man’s perspective.  As a man I have a hard time dealing with difficult emotions and I think most men would agree that it is a bitch coming to terms with them.  They don’t go away, they just sit and fester if not dealt with.  In dealing with them we often fall apart, have meltdowns, withdraw, avoid, and sometimes leave a path of destruction.  You want to succeed, to have a purpose, to leave your mark on the world, and make things right.  When that doesn’t happen you can find yourself questioning your self-worth.  I don’t have children but when there are little ones looking up to you and watching you I imagine it adds that much more pressure.

The lesson of the Rio Bravo is that no matter what you soldier on.  The only way out is through.  You show up, you do the work, you laugh, you cry, and you take the bitter with the sweet.   I crafted this blade for a man who has done all of that and serves as an inspiration of what soldiering on earns you.

The beautiful part of this commission has been seeing how inspiring the healing can be.  A son did this for a father where there was pain on both ends.  The client showed me, a stranger, this incredibly vulnerable and moving film.  It’s hard to imagine the courage it took to make that film and to put an intimate story out into the world.

I loved working with this client.  There were multiple conversations about designs and materials.  He is an artist and we can talk about concrete things in abstract and obtuse ways.  At the end of it he always told me to do what I thought and that he trusted me.   This is where I started:



Some jimping for grip, and a nod to the laces of a football. 

Rough Grind


….and tempered

I wanted something with the feel of a football…

I cut it into strips and glued it together….

…and it failed miserably.  Still, I really wanted to work the leather in.  That’s the spirit of football even though it isn’t pigskin.  I was also really into the idea of having a part of something that once walked the earth be a part of this blade.  I wanted this to be a very masculine blade, with a southwestern theme.  For me it doesn’t get much more manly than the combination of Texas Mesquite, leather, and steel.  I put in some thin tin spacers for a bit of sparkle.

I have a cousin in Texas who is a woodturner with a sawmill.  He handpicks cutoffs with the most gorgeous figures and sends them to me.  When I’m using his wood for a handle it’s like Christmas morning- think of opening your favorite Christmas present, only you get to do it for two and a half hours.  Thank you Bill Cockrell.  You are a very good man.



The Rio Bravo: etched 1095 spring steel, Texas Mesquite handle, leather and tin spacers, with steel hardware.  
    I carved in some laces:

Soldier on, cowboy.  You never know what tomorrow may bring.

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