Paula’s Story

Story by Roger Combs, text from Chapter 11 of “GUN DIGEST BOOK OF KNIVES” 5TH EDITION

Paula Anzel is a novice who’s as good as her teacher. A few years ago, it seemed like a movement or, at least, a trend. Women who were interested in Knife making, custom Knife making in particular, seemed to be more in evidence than now. There may be explanations for this, but we are not here to explore that area.

Carolyn Tinker of Pasadena, California, was one of the most prominent and successful knife makers a decade or more ago, Tinker was profiled in an earlier edition of this book.

Delores Hayes was featured in the GUN DIGEST BOOK OF KNIVES, Fourth Edition. She still is active in producing art and collector-type knives, and she and her work continue to be seen at local Southern California knife shows. She seems to be specializing in miniature knives these days.

The business of Knife making and marketing are not restricted only to men by any means. Visit any commercial knife manufacturer in almost any part of the world, and you will see plenty of women on the production floor. In most facilities, women out number the men in assembling the components of knives.

No doubt, there are more women who are producing custom cutlery, making knives by hand on their own, but they have not received the publicity they may deserve. They must be hiding their lights under the proverbial bushel baskets.

There are unlimited opportunities for lady knife makers. Those who have the artistic abilities and ambition can move to the top, it they wish. In our search for such individuals, the authors recently discovered one young woman in Indiana who seems to be on the right track. Fortunately, she has the help of her mentor who has shown her the way.

Paula Anzel began making knives under the watchful eye of Ken Largin in 1994. She has progressed steadily since that time in skills, experience and ability. Several years age, Largin was an employee at Buck Knives’ factory in Southern California. He was – and is – an entrepreneur at heart and set out to make knives on his own after learning all he could at Buck. Eventually, he settled in Batesville, Indiana, which could be called Small Town, America. The community is not known for turning out custom knife makers – not until the arrival of Largin.

Ken Largin is a hard-working, full-time knife maker. He habitually works at his craft considerably more than eight hours a day. After settling in Batesville, he developed the habit of stopping by the local coffee shop at the end of his long day. Eventually, Largin began talking about his Knife making with waitress Paula Anzel. She became increasingly interested as she heard and learned more about custom knives. There are plenty of hunters in Indiana and surrounding states. They all use some sort of hunting knives from time to time, but non-hunting waitresses have little contact with most knowledgeable knife people.

Paula Anzel had no previous interest or experience with knives, other than knowing on which side of the plate they are to be placed when serving up lunch or a slice of pie with a cup of coffee.

One thing led to another and, in time, Anzel was spending her days off in Largin’s shop, observing how knives are made. She wanted to try it for herself, and it was not long until she was making blades.

Largin says, “She ground her first blades as if she had been doing it for years. She took to it immediately. That was unusual enough, but she showed no fear of the power equipment right from the start. That also came as a bit of a surprise. She is a terrific apprentice and is a fast learner.”

Anzel traveled to California to spend her summer vacation at The Gun Shop at Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, an amusement park and tourist attraction not far from Disneyland. A local retail knife shop offered her and Largin an opportunity to build custom knives in front of the shop where thousands of tourists from all over the world might observe the operation. It might be argued that few who saw a knife being built had much understanding of the complexities involved, but Anzel and Largin used every opportunity to explain what whey could. And the novelty of a woman seated in front of a belt grinder attracted many curious future knife buyers.

Paula Anzel describes her Knife making as being broken down into five steps. The first step is to scribe the blade pattern on a slab or bar of steel. Most of her knives are made of 440-C stainless. She uses standard designs. Next is the task of profiling the blade from the bar. She reports that she spent many hours at this task in Largin’s shop when she began, and it is still a large part of her Knife making process. Blade profiling is accomplished on a belt sander in Largin’s operation.

After the basic outline of the knife has been ground, the next step is to drill appropriate holes in the tang to accept screws, bolts, rivets or pins to hold the handle. That step, according to Anzel , is best done on a drill press, an essential power tool for most knife makers.

If the blade is to be hollow-ground, that is the next operation. Hollow grinding is, for most makers, one of the most difficult tasks if it is done well. Anzel admits receiving plenty of help from Largin when it comes to grinding the blade shapes at this point. “The most difficult part of making a knife for me,” says Anzel, “is keeping the grinds straight and level. That is the part I practice the most and the part that will produce a good-looking knife, if done correctly.”

After the blade is ground and the tang holes drilled, the steel is hardened and heat-treated. The final step is to attach the handle slabs using steel pins and epoxy. Final edge sharpening and any fancy file work are done after hardening. Most of Anzel’s knives are hardened to about 57C on the Rockwell scale. Typical handle slabs might be of jigged bone.

Paula Anzel works on knives full time and no longer waits tables. She works on knives six full days a week at the shop. At first it was taking her about two days to make a knife. Her production time was soon cut in half and she is working on improving more, as she gains experience.

Her least favorite part of Knife making is buffing. “I hate it”, she declares. “My favorite part of the operation is profiling, but the fancy file work is difficult. I am now able to accomplish all the steps in knifemaking and continue to make my little hunting model,. There seems to be a continuous demand for it, I’m happy to say.”

In only a short period of time, knifemaking has changed Paula Anzel’s life. Before her first trip to Knott’s Berry Farm in California, she never had traveled out of Indiana and she never had flown in an airplane. Since that first trip, Largin and Anzel have attended knife shows in California, Florida, Chicago, Pittsburgh, New York City and other locations, as well as displaying their wares at the 1996 Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade (SHOT) Show in Dallas, TX.

“We had plenty of interest in our knives at the SHOT Show,” said Anzel. “We had representatives from such well known knife catalog vendors as A. G. Russell and Atlanta Cutlery, as well as several mass-merchandisers. Some will be carrying Largin and Anzel knife designs in their next catalogs. “We may have trouble keeping up with all the orders, but that is a good problem to have. We are turning out 350 to 500 knives a year at Ken’s little shop, and I an sure we can increase that rate if we need to. We have plenty of work to do, but I am thrilled with the prospects.

“Not so long ago, I was a small-town waitress who had never been out of the state. Now I have traveled over much of the United States and seen some of the largest cities. Our next stops are to be Switzerland and France, in addition to more travel in the U.S. I can’t wait to see more of the world and more of the country. Knife making has been good to me.” As she says, “Ken enjoys making knives after sixteen years in the business, why shouldn’t I, too?”.