My Custom Hibben Knives
I first discovered Hibben knives in the early 90's. I think it was the Double Shadow that really hooked me into knife collecting and I had tremendous admiration for the man who took the art of knifemaking to a new level. I hoped that I would someday get to meet Gil Hibben and tell him how much I admired his work. I hoped that someday I would have the opportunity, and be able to afford, one of his custom handmade originals. At the time, I didn't know that he was living and working just a few minutes from my house. I didn't know that the lovely lady who worked at the knife shop I frequented was Gil's wife, Linda.
I had no idea that someday I would indeed meet Gil and we would become very close friends. And that he would personally and graciously teach me the craft of knifemaking. And I could not have imagined that at this point in time I would own several magnificent examples of his custom work, including several that were made specifically for me.
I have always liked knives and I was always especially drawn to unusual knives. I was not a collector but I occasionally bought a knife that caught my eye at a yard sale or flea market. Around 1991 I was at a flea market and a Hibben designed "Double Shadow" knife made by United cutlery.
I had never seen anything I like this before and I didn't have a clue who Gil Hibben was but I thought it was the coolest knife ever. I bought the knife and set set out to learn more about Hibben knives. And I did learn. And the hook was firmly set.
I started collecting all of the Hibben/United Cutlery pieces I could find or afford.
I thought Gil Hibben was still living out west somewhere since I had read in some old literature that he was in Utah. I had no idea that he had moved to my own home town from 1979-1991 before moving about 20 miles up the road to his current home in LaGrange, Kentucky. I also had no idea that the nice lady who sold me some of his United Cutlery knives at a local knife shop was Gil's wife, Linda.
In 2003 I stumbled across a reference to Gil Hibben Knifemaking classes. I called the phone number and was floored to find out that Gil lived 20 minutes from me and he offered knifemaking classes. I immediately arranged to spend a week of my vacation taking one of his classes. In May 2003 I attended the class and met Gil and Linda. Gil and I were like long-lost brothers from the day we met.
I spent a week with Gil learning to make knives. Like Gil, my favorite style of knife is a big Bowie knife so that's what I wanted to make. I chose one of Gil's designs and Gil led me through every step of the process. To better show me, he decided to make one of the same design so he could show each step by example.
By the end of the week, I was amazed at what I had made under Gil's guidance.
To my great surprise, my wife arranged to buy the matching knife that Gil made and present it to me as a gift. I finally had my first handmade Hibben original knife and it was extra special since it was made alongside my very first knife. Gil had this one scrimshawed by Rick "Hutch" Hutchings.
Over the next several years Gil's family accepted me as family and I am a frequent visitor to Gil's shop where I learn something new every time I go. Since I am an experienced photographer and computer geek, I started doing Gil's knife photography, running his website, and doing anything else I can do for him and his family. In exchange, Gil continued to welcome me to his shop and teach me about making knives.
For Christmas 2003, my wife again surprised me with my second handmade Hibben original custom knife. This one is based on Gil's "Silver Shadow" dagger that was the model for the first of Gil's annual knives made by United Cutlery starting in 1990. This custom featured a beautiful handle of amber and buffalo horn.
Next, my wife arranged for my next Hibben original. This one was modeled after Gil's "Double Shadow" which was the model for the second of the United Cutlery annual series in 1992. In staying with the theme of the previous one, it also had the amber and buffalo horn handle.
Also in 2004, my wife surprised me with another handmade Hibben original for my birthday. Again, this was a very special one-of-a-kind custom. Gil made this one especially for me and even named it the "Carter Bowie". The blade design is based on Gil's "Highlander Bowie" but it is capped of with a beautiful handle of amber and buffalo horn. He even had a special engraved plaque made to go along with the knife.
So now I have a very special trio of handmade custom originals representing the first three knives of Gil's famous annual knife series.
In 2006 Gil was thinking of making something special to mark his upcoming 50th year as a custom knifemaker. He decided to make a special limited edition based on his "Southern Bowie" which was one of his first Bowie knife offering when he started out in 1957. He wanted to somehow make this limited edition unique and I offered to design a special design that could be etched on the blade. I had previously produced an instructional video for Gil, "The Rough Grind". I tool a still image from that video and used it to create an etching stencil for his 50th anniversary knife.
I had to have one these and it became the fifth member of my handmade Hibben collection.
Through Gil, I have met literally hundreds of knifemakers, collectors, publishers and all kinds of people in the knife world. Among them are J Bruce Volyes, Editor of "Knives Illustrated" magazine and Steve Shackleford, editor of Blade Magazine. When Gil's 50th anniversary knife came out, I wrote a feature story and shot the photos of Gil and the knife that were published in the December 2006 issue of Knives Illustrated.
Since that initial foray as a writer, I have become a regular contributor to Blade Magazine and other publications. Thanks again Gil!
Gil has been a well known knifemaker for many years. One of his knives was featured on the cover of "Guns and Ammo" magazine in 1968. He had already earned quite a reputation and following among hunters, soldiers, collectors and celebrities. But his worldwide fame skyrocketed when he made the knife for movie "Rambo III" in 1988.
Gil made several prototype knives, some were design variations and some were copies of the knife actually used in the movie that were sent to various people for approval. Gil then made several copies of the knife that were sent to the studio to be used in filming the movie. After the movie's success, Gil made an agreement to make 350 full size handmade original serial numbered copies of the now famous knife to sell to collectors. Knife #1 went to Sylvester Stallone who was already a collector of Gil's knives. Gil reserved numbers 2-10 for family and close friends. Over the next couple of years all of the remaining numbers were sold out.
In a ground-breaking move, United Cutlery arranged to make mass-produced low cost reproductions of the knife to include in their catalog. They agreed to make the reproductions slightly smaller than the knife used in the movie to prevent any confusion between the factory reproductions and Gil's handmade copies. It was the first time a reproduction of a movie knife had ever been made and offered to the public and it became the biggest selling knife in United's history selling over 250,000 copies and is still selling today, 23 years after the movie's release. A whole new genre of knife collecting was born and the industry got a much needed shot in the arm.
Gil honored me and our friendship with the biggest surprise yet when he presented me with #2 of his handmade Rambo III knives.
Later, in 2007, my wife acquired Rambo III's little brother, a handmade miniature copy.
In 2008, Gil agreed to a collaboration with Paragon Knives and Ashville steel for a limited edition of 50 custom automatic folders designed by Randall King. Ashville Steel produced the knives and Gil hand ground each of the 50 blades. They were made with a variety of exotic handle inlays. I bought #14 of 50 to add to my collection.
In 2006, Sylvester Stallone called Gil about making a new Rambo knife for his new movie "Rambo" set to be released in 2008. Gil and Sly went through several variations before they settled on the crude but brutal knife seen in the movie.
And again, I wrote a feature story about the making of the knife for Blade Magazine.
Like he did with the Rambo III knife, in addition to the prototypes and the knives used in the film, Gil made a limited edition of 100 full size handmade exact replicas of the movie knife. As before, knife #1 went to Stallone. And once again, Gil surprised and honored me with knife #2.
I also had the honor of designing the certificate of authenticity that Gil signed and sent out with every knife.
The 100 exact replicas quickly sold out and collectors were demanding more. Since Gil could not make more of that series, he decided to make a limited edition of one of the prototypes that had a cammo handle wrap instead of the black tape wrap that was used in the movie. He called this second edition "JR2". Guess who got #2.
Now I have a really special set of handmade Hibben Rambo knives, all #2s.
In 2009, Sylvester Stallone again called upon Gil to make some knives for his upcoming movie "The Expendables". Stallone had seen Gil's "Alamo Bowie" on Gil's website and wanted a custom version of it for the movie. It became the knife used by Dolph Lundgren and Jason Stratham in the movie which was released in 2010 and became a huge hit. I had the pleasure of accompanying Gil and Linda to see the movie on opening night.
Again, Gil made a limited edition of 100 handmade exact replicas of the movie knife. As has become his custom, Gil sent #1 to Stallone. This time, I did not get #2 of 100. Instead, I got Prototype #2!
The other knife used in "The Expendables" was a totally new design. It is a menacing toothpick that was used by Sylvester Stallone.
In keeping with my lucky 2s, I have 2 of these in my collection and both are Prototypes.
So now I have a handmade Expendables Set.
And that makes a great set of handmade Hibben Movie knives from the master himself.
And once again, I got to write the feature story about the knives that was published in Blade Magazine.
It has been an incredible journey from a novice who knew nothing about knives, to an admirer and collector of Hibben knives, to a student and a knifemaker, to finding a brother, friend and family. And it is all due to one very special man, Gil Hibben. Gil's accomplishments and talents go far beyond knifemaking and I could write a book about this fascinating man. In fact, I am writing a book about him.
I could go on and on about all that Gil has shown me, shared with me, taught me, and given to me. Heck, I am even grateful for the black eye he gave me on my birthday because I was there in Alaska with him to receive it. (That's another story).
I will be forever grateful and indebted to my brother.