When Shawn, and Blaine Stephenson started making knives, Blaine insisted that they begin to brand to each one. Blaine’s creation – an “S” enclosed in a mule – struck the Stephenson crew as the perfect logo to embody their business. Why a mule? Well, here’s the story:
Growing up in southern Illinois, Richard “Dick” Stephenson’s father owned two work mules. Dick learned how to ride on those mules. As he got older, he owned several good quarter horses for rodeos, but Dick always talked about buying a mule for coon hunting and trail riding.
One day, Dick purchased his dream: a 6 month old red mule colt named Jack Junior (JR). JR developed an affection for Dick as he grew older, always eager to be near him. Eventually, Blaine acquired a full brother to JR named Boomer, and Shawn trained a molly mule name Maude, using both Boomer and Maude in team roping competitions.
So why does this family have an affinity for mules? Mules have a reasoning ability horses don’t have. They are tough, athletic, and highly intelligent. Most of all, they are loyal, their reputable stubbornness creating a lasting bond of companionship with their masters. What better way to build our brand than by using the silhouette of the animal our family loves, representing strength, dignity, and fidelity?!
Trial and Error
Our knife making career has been all trial and error. Everything has to be tested and used to find out whats best. Shawn and Blaine started knife making the exact same day. We took some metal we had laying around, and we each designed a knife. We spent a lot of time shaping, making our knives and we quenched them. We quickly learned not any steel can be used to make a knife. The steel we used was just some old flat bar from the hardware store. Knife steel needs to have carbon to be hardenable.
We started making knives around 2011. My grandpa was throwing away his old two burner forge and asked if we would like to have it before he trashed it. The old forge had two burners that came up from the bottom and a blower on the side. We used that forge a lot in the beginning heat treating our knives. We started using old rasps for shoeing horses. After a successful gator hunt catching a 10 foot 6 alligator we needed to skin and clean the gator. This is when we realized we had something. The old rasp my dad made into a knife skinned and de boned the alligator and the blade would still shave the hair off his arm. I used a railroad knife that I bought at a gun show that quickly dulled down. Railroad spikes are very tough but will not hold an edge. The rasp knife was the best knife we have ever used at the time. We thought we had something very special. We made a lot of rasp knives and still do. We used angle grinders and the old forge to make all of our knives. We quickly got bored of making the same thing and wanted to try Damascus.
I actually hand forged 4 files together. I made twists and stacks, trying to make a cool pattern. It took hours only to realize the pattern wouldn’t show up with the same steel mixed together. Damascus became an addiction between me and my dad. The old forge didn’t have a big enough opening to put layers of steel into it. Plus the flux from all of our wire rope Damascus ate the bottom of the forge out.
We purchased a three burner forge. And that seems to be where all of our profits go. All our profits go to new tools and trying to become better at out craft. We were hand hammering out damascus and this took a long time. We found an old power hammer that was built in 1918 and this sped up our damascus making by days. We have slowly increased our tools from selling knives. We started with an angle grinder and 4×36 sander. We now have two 2×72 grinders. A power hammer, 3 bunner forge, a kiln, cryogenic processor, surface grinder, drill press, tooling to stabilize woods, lapidary equipment, and other tools. We are slowly growing and our main goal is to make the best knife possible. Our first knives were built for function. We now focus on function and beauty. Making a knife is almost like an addiction, we just want to make a better knife each time we make a knife and always strive to become better at our trade. We continually grow and plan on growing in knowledge and skills in knife making.
We got Richard Stephenson involved in our business when our sheath maker was to busy to keep up with our demands. So Richard stepped up and said ill just make your sheaths. We were happy he did because the quality of a hand stitched sheath and the amount he can do in a day was over out expectations. Our customers agree. Now Shawn’s wife Jana has entered the business building sheaths.