The oldest building in Sevier County Tennessee, right there at the base of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, belongs to a knife maker.
Although we love old buildings and handcrafted products, making knives is something we have never considered.
And we had a fabulous time with Uncle Hank, the Knifemaker, and his wife Lou Ann.
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Uncle Hank’s Homemade Knives in Sevierville TN
We’re told that the building that is Uncle Hank’s knives was built in the 1790s and spent much of its existence on the banks of the Pigeon River out in a remote area.
But a few years back, someone moved it to its current prominent location on Winfield Dunn Parkway, a major thoroughfare linking Sevierville and Pigeon Forge.
The little brick building appears to share a parking lot with, and thereby be an affiliate of, KnifeWorks, the world’s largest knife store. But that’s not the case. Uncle Hank’s Knives is a business unto itself.
And this is the only place in the Pigeon Forge/Sevierville area where you can receive one-on-one, hands-on instruction on making a homemade knife. Indeed, it’s a rather rare offering in much of the country, I’m told.
Lou Ann makes lovely leather sheaths for the knives and handles the sales aspect of the business. Hank is the knifemaker, a second career after years of drilling water wells in Florida. Lou Ann worked for a trucking company. Finally in 2014, they moved to Tennessee hoping to make their dreams of self-employment in a creative field come true.
I was kind of excited to make a knife that I could later use in my own home. My current kitchen knives are rather old and in need of sharpening, so this would be a nice addition to my limited cutlery collection.
So, I asked Hank what my knife would be best for — peeling and slicing vegetables, slicing bread or baked goods or cutting meat for a hearty beef stew. The Martha Stewart in me was starting to tingle.
“It’s good for skinnin’ a squirrel or maybe a rabbit,” Hank told us.
Hmm, I don’t really skin that many squirrels in my suburban kitchen.
Learning to Make a Knife in Sevierville, Tennessee
The first step in creating a homemade knife at Uncle Hank’s Knife Shop is to select the type of handle you want. Hank uses horseshoes, industrial building bolts, railroad ties and other unexpected materials as the base of his knives.
He told me that one of his favorite creations was a set of knives from a CRAFTSMAN® Tool set that had belonged to a beloved grandpa. After he died, grandma had a knife made for each member of the family as a unique heirloom.
I chose a basic horseshoe, which Hank had already cut in half. We followed Hank out to a porch where sat an anvil and a firebox with a torch-like flame already heated to 2500° Farenheit.
Using tongs just like a blacksmith, I stuck my half horseshoe into the flame until it got red hot. Then, I pulled it out and pounded it with a big hammer. I think the hammer weighed about 5,000 pounds, but Hank said it was about 20 pounds.
We repeated this process several times until one end of the horseshoe became flatter, longer and more narrow.
As we worked, Hank talked about the chemical process that was happening in front of us as the iron in the horseshoe became carbon steel necessary for the knife. I tried to listen, but I was focused on hitting the right spot on the red hot steel in front of me.
When we got it to the right shape, Hank dipped the hot metal into a bucket of transmission oil. That’s significant to the process, but I forget why.
Creating the Homemade Knife Blade
The next step was inside in front of two big sanding belts. Hank said I could do it myself, but I decided to let the expert create the sharp blade. I preferred keeping all of my fingers in tact. Working between two big machines and trading out belts with different grits, Hank magically manipulated the angle necessary for a sharp knife.
As sparks flew, Hank told us that he’s not really a fan of wearing overalls. They are hotter to work in. He prefers just jeans and a cotton T-shirt. But too many times, he has literally caught himself on fire. Cotton is more flammable than the specially-coated fabric in overalls.
And in a few minutes, there was my homemade knife. I guess I didn’t make as much of it as I could have, but I’m still calling this a win for Diana.
So, knowing that I’ll not be able to put this handcrafted beauty to good use in our home, I believe I’ll make it a gift for one of my nephews at Christmas this next year. They are hunters and may actually put it to good use.
Sssshhh. Don’t tell them. It’ll be a surprise.
Tip: After working hard to make your knife, here are two nearby places to eat in Sevierville, TN.