By Deb Peterson
Growing up in southeast Arkansas in the 50s and 60s, Rebecca Glasscock enjoyed sunny days fishing with her dad. In the fall, they hunted birds and ducks together.
“I always loved the outdoors,” Rebecca says, “and when you went out with my dad, you always participated in cleaning.”
Young Rebecca knew how to use a knife, but it would be decades before she realized she could make knives herself. Graduate school took her to Minnesota (which she thought was the end of the earth), where she met her partner, Jude Dauw. Rebecca practiced rehab psychology (a job where she had a “reasonable crack at doing something good for somebody,” she says), in Minnesota for 35 years. It’s a place with a strong Scandinavian influence. It’s also the home of the Sons of Norway, an organization passionate about preserving Norwegian heritage and culture.
One day in the late 90s, Jude and a friend invited Rebecca to join them in taking a knife-making class offered by the Sons of Norway. Rebecca declined.
“They came home with these fabulous knives they had made in class,” she recalls. “I’m the one who fell in love. I took the course the next year.”
She has been making knives, and acquiring all the fascinating tools that go with the trade, ever since, an impressive accomplishment for a woman who says she was once proud to know what a Phillips screwdriver was.
“I’ve had to learn a lot,” she says, “and I’ve loved every minute. I like everything about making knives and sheaths, and there is so, so much to learn about each aspect. There is the design stage. The curves of a knife and the proportions of the parts are surprisingly subtle and hard to get right. And then there is working with the various materials—steel (not a very inviting material), wood, horn, antler, leather. I now know that one can never have enough tools. Never.”
Her favorite stage of the process is the day she does the final grinding and shaping of a knife.
“There is still a lot of detail work to do,” she says, “but this is the day when a block of wood becomes a handle, a square piece of brass or stainless steel becomes a guard, and both become part of a thing that looks and feels and works like a knife.”
In 2002, Rebecca and Jude returned to Arkansas to retire on 30 rural mountaintop acres.
“We came to Arkansas on a winter fishing trip with some friends, floated down the White, and decided pretty impulsively to retire and move here,” Rebecca says. “It has turned out to be exactly what we hoped for. It’s beautiful every day, and it’s where we live, not a place we visit on weekends. We live very quietly, appreciating the beauty and wildlife, and pursuing our interests. We never take for granted how beautiful it is.”
Nestled in their quiet woods is Rebecca’s knife-making workshop, complete with everything she needs to forge Damascus steel into gorgeous blades of various shapes—metal-cutting band saw, grinder, drill press, and computer-controlled heat-treating kiln (it reaches 1,920 degrees!). She finishes each blade by hand, spending hours and hours perfecting it, sometimes with No. 2000 microgrit sandpaper.
When she gets stumped, which sometimes happens when making a complicated design, she consults the Internet or Master Craftsman Tom Bullard of Ozark Knife Makers.
“Knife makers are incredibly generous with their time and knowledge,” Rebecca says, “especially Tom.”
For years, she set up booths at gun shows to sell her knives, but the resulting waiting list began to weigh on her and turned her art and her passion into a burden. She couldn’t let that happen. She now makes knives only for friends and family, but she hasn’t stopped learning.
“I’m working on folding knives now,” she says, holding a tiny pink knife, shaped like a boot, she is making for a friend.
Her most popular knives? They’re for the kitchen, but she has made a good number of fillet knives, each one a reminder of her cherished days with Dad.
M! FM 2013