The Atlanta Knife Show had once again astounded me with the makers and diversity of designs exhibited. I could imagine the makers working themselves to the bone days before the show starts. In most cases, an exhibitor’s dedication could easily be seen in the quality of knives they had on display. Maybe that was why I was instantly attracted to Dennis Cook and Lynn Dawson’s table.
I started talking to Dennis Cook about his designs and his background in making knives. A full-time pilot turned knifemaker, Dennis informed me that he was only half of the knifemaking team. The “better” half of the team was not present, but taking care of their newborn daughter, for Lynn Dawson and Dennis Cook are a husband and wife knifemaking family. See guys, some dreams can come true.
Odd “Working” Couple?
“Honey! Can you do me a favor and sand blast that skinner I was working on?” I amuse myself at the thought of my fiancée trying to grind a knife (sorry, Ashley). Lynn, a knifemaker of 10 years, got her husband Dennis hooked on it. She had learned the techniques from well-known custom knifemaker Barry Dawson, her uncle from Colorado. Lynn also learned engraving techniques from Rachel Wells, an equally famous rifle engraver. Dennis Cook is an outdoor enthusiast who turned his sights on knifemaking about five years ago.
At Cook’s Atlanta table there were many artistic knives and swords, but one dagger caught my particular attention. All of the intricate details in each line of the Damascus were layered upon one another like a topographical map of a steel mountain. The use of black steel on black Micarta gives it that hint of modern tactical appeal. The knives looked handsome yet practical and still tough enough to wear on a well-equipped SWAT vest. Their artistic knives show a level of keen detail reflected in the more practical use field knives as well. It would be safe to say that Lynn Dawson covers more of the art knife aspect of the duo, though she creates period pieces and Japanese neck knives as well as fully functional swords. Dennis produces more of the tactical and outdoor knives. They will be quick to tell you that both are able to grind the other’s knife models. They design the knives together, from the belly of the outdoor skinner to the stiff tanto point of the wakizashi. This couple truly impressed me with what they could turn out.
The Fixed Explorer
When it comes down to it, taking the knife into the backwoods is a true test of any working blade. The knives I had to test out were: the Explorer model, a 5-inch clip-point fixed blade knife, made out of stainless with beautiful tan Micarta scales, and a neck knife made out of stainless wrapped with ray skin.
The 5-inch model has distinct tactical and woods appeal. At first, I was worried that the handle might be too big and rounded near the back to facilitate proper grip. I quickly found that it fit my medium-sized hand comfortably. The fit and finish on the Micarta truly caught my attention, so I inquired about it to Dennis. Dennis reported that they use a combination of 50-grit sandpaper and sandblasting to finish it. A different feature a knife user can truly appreciate is a beveling of the farthest point of the ricasso right before the handle starts, keeping harsh angles away from the crease of the index finger. The Explorer has a false edge and a small point an inch from the end, which also gives it a distinctive look with a hint of traditional Bowie ancestry. The fine point did not inhibit the knife usage at all, and proved solid with light prying.
The Explorer knife is ground from 440 stainless steel. Lynn and Dennis work with a myriad of other steels such as1095, 5160, D2, and CPM-154, just to name a few. For this knife stainless steel was just the right touch, as it was carried on a few canoe trips in various North Carolina rivers. Simply floating down the stream would not be much of a challenge, so the knife and I bobbed underneath my flipped canoe, banging against sharp rocks and strainers, as I practiced trying to right it again in an emergency. The Kydex sheath proved totally reliable and the knife was still with me at the end of the day.
After the whole adventure, there were no signs of rust, something I would have expected especially on a bead blast finish of any other steel. I even had to free myself and my fiancée out of a strainer that seemed to catch just about everyone on the river that day. After her kayak got caught in the dense bush, I chopped the bush down at the base with the knife. As sand in a Kydex sheath can play havoc on any knife blade, there were a few light scratches on the surface. All my blades have scratches (or worse) on them, so it’s a “welcome to the club” thing for the knife. Edge retention was normal for 440 steel, with a light touchup on a ceramic rod from my sharp maker after some very hard usage.
Next I used the Explorer knife to try out a newer trap that I have had my eye on, a spring pole trap of John McPherson’s design. The tools for making the trap were constructed utilizing only the knife, no saws or axes. The first necessity was the spring pole itself. This meant felling a 1.5-inch diameter tree. The back of the handle was easily choked up to chop and the tree came down. I also chopped deeply on one side of the tree and then the other near the end about a foot and a half away from the hearty bottom for a rugged baton. The knife was used to limb the tree too, as these smaller pieces were needed for the trigger.
I used the baton to chop the specific sizes of wood needed for the trigger and three large pegs. The spring pole itself was trimmed down using the newly fashioned baton and the knife. Despite the hard use, the knife still had a razor’s edge at this point. The stakes were hammered into the ground, and the knife fashioned the simple trigger. This is a very straightforward trap that will help one circumnavigate the frustration of crushed knuckles. The trap was set near a spot where an ornery young rabbit decided to wage war on my vegetable garden. Needless to say, the rabbit has not been seen since the trap’s construction. Smart rabbit!
Cook Neck Knife
I also tested a neck knife made by Lynn. It was handsomely cord wrapped, yet the cords held fast under heavy use. The sweat off my hands didn’t permeate the nylon layer. The knife came in very handy, as it was an ideal size for EDC, and didn’t bother me when I used it with larger shirts as well. The neck knife was especially handy for line snipping and cardboard cutting and the Kydex sheath held despite the jarring and bouncing, even while jogging.
Overall, I found the knives tested to be well made, beautiful yet functional. With their large array of different styles, these knifemakers would be a great candidate for military knife users all the way to renaissance re-enactors. For serious knife (and even sword) use, it would be hard to imagine a knife that they could not grind for you to suit the job. Pleasing to the eye, yet tough enough to take the abuse a knife is meant for, Lynn and Cook knives have fulfilled this author’s niche as a go-to.