“A knife is what you make it, ” said Michael Zavasky, brandishing a gigantic English fighting sword. “It’s universal. Women and children used to carry knives….everyone had one.” We stood on the top floor of Smoky Mountain Knife Works, a giant edifice dedicated to anything with a blade and a store that’s hard to leave once you start examining the Hessian soldier buttons, dinosaur eggs, and the display of homemade prison shanks.
Zavasky is clearly at home with all of these blades. With a voice that reminds me of Nic Offerman (Amy Poehler’s boss on TV’s Parks and Rec), he is a somewhat imposing man–a shaved head and a US Marine pedigree. I asked him about the knife he was issued when he served in Iraq and other countries in the Marines. “I’ll go get it, I never leave home without it,” he said.
Then he showed us his trusty Camillus Mark II, which he says he’s used for a hundred things over the years. “I dont’ need a gun,” he said assuredly, “I have this.” He’s the director of the National Knife Museum, and is a walking encyclopedia of facts about knives. I asked him which ones were the most valuable, and he pointed to a section of the museum devoted to the Biggest Name in Knives–the late Bill Moran. “His knives were made in the Damascus style,” Zavasky explained. “Iron sandwiched with steel, bent over and hammered again and again. That one has 2000 layers!” The cost of these sharp jewels he said was about $1000 an inch.
Up over our heads were rows and rows of sabres, giant curved swords of every style and description. Then Zavasky pulled out a four-foot long sword shaped like a C. “This one is great for getting around a shield,” he explained, “You can reach right around and pop him in the ear.” In meticulously neat rows, it was blade after blade, preposterous 100-blade multiblade knifes, and even a display of primitive steel erasers…kids used these when they made a mistake with their steel writing pens.
It wasn’t only the knife display that impressed here though, it was the contents of this amazing store. First a collection of just about any commercially made kitchen knife. and then…the back area. The owner had visited countries far and wide, bringing back artifacts like drinking containers from the jungles of New Guinea, bullets used in the Civil War, and the aforementioned Hessian soldiers buttons. All in bins, priced to sell. It was hard to stop browsing shelf after shelf of things you never get to see anyplace.