The craft behind Turley Knives

Knifemaker Israel Turley holds one of the spring steel plates used for making knife blades.

Knifemaker Israel Turley holds one of the spring steel plates used for making knife blades. Photo by David Wilson.

What happens when Woodsman meets Artist with some computer savy?

The answer is Turley Knives, a local business conducted mostly via Internet.

Israel Turley, a California native, has been interested in spending time in the woods, learning woodcraft and camping and living in primitive conditions for most of his life.

"I've always wanted to learn more about the woods," Turley said. "I've read a lot of books and I've gone to the woods to practice what I've learned."

Some worked and some didn't work and through experience, he was able to discover what someone might really need to live reasonably well and be comfortable under relatively primitive conditions.

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Israel Turley with the SERE instructor bolo, serial number seven. An American version of a Filipino Kuhkri, it is the official knife given to all graduates of the SERE Specialist school at Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington.

Some people go to the woods to rough it. Turley's motto is closer to smoothing it.

It's about having to take less with you because you know more," Turley said. "It's learning how to use what's available to make your experiences more comfortable, learning to create fire from what's out there, learning what is edible and what is poisonous."

During his experiments and experiences, Turley learned how important a good knife is to any woodsman of any skill — a knife which is both trustworthy and dependable.

Eventually he decided to try his hand at making a knife. He researched the methods and began crafting a knife for his personal use in his spare time. He was employed full time for the City of California Water Department.

Finally he took to the woods to test the results of his efforts, recording it on video.

After posting some of the videos of knife tests and woodcraft how-to on YouTube, requests began coming in that he make knives to sell.

That was the beginning of Turley Knives.

Although Turley has more than 30 models of fixed-blade style knives available for custom order, he said "For use in the woods, my personal favorite has a pommel plate."

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A batch of Turley knives in the process of having the handles or grips fitted. The knives are made in batches of 10, with each batch taking about a month.

A knife with a pommel plate — a flat metal end on the handle — can be struck with a wood baton or large stick to drive the blade into wood to split it, which is very handy when trying to rough it in the woods.

Turley explained that what he makes are knives for woodsmen to use, not just put on a shelf or in a drawer.

"If people buy a high-priced knife, the knife doesn't get used," he said. "So I try to keep my prices reasonable. I want people to use my knives."

The price for a Turley knife can range from $170 to $500, depending on model and customer's choice of materials. Customers can choose from several steel thicknesses, tang styles, handle scale materials, pins, grind heights and finish styles.

Each knife is unique and there is about a three-year waiting list.

All Turley knives are made from hot rolled carbon spring steel — the same steel used for automotive springs — and are custom ground to order. Handle scale options include stabilized wood (wood commercially vacuum treated and sealed with resin to retain its shape and size), non-stabilized woods (local osage orange or quartersawn oak to name a few) which will shrink and crack with time and various styles of Micarta® (a laminante material made of layers of canvas, linen, fiberglass, paper or other flat material, impregnated and sealed in plastic). Produced by Norplex-Micarta, the material was originally developed as non-conducting material for the electric industry.

Explaining the knife-making process, Turley said, ""I get in the steel, cut it to pattern on a band saw, grind the edge, do the heat treatment, add the handle scales, finish sand the blade and handle to order.

"The soul of the knife is in the heat treatment," he said. "Old time knife makers had their own secret heat treatment, which they closely guarded."

It may sound simple, but it takes almost a month to complete an average batch of 10 knives.

A batch in progress at the time of the interview consisted of 10 different patterns, ranging from a small machete-style blade to a "fire pod."

According to Turley's website (turleyknives.com), the fire pod is a "three-in-one fire tool." The fire pod combines a bearing block for a bow drill, a flint striker for flint and steel fires and a striker for a ferro rod. "The flat surface opposite the handle is used to strike on flint to throw a spark and it's square so it will throw a spark from a ferro rod," he explained. "The divot in the center of the handle is used for the bow drill method of fire starting."

The fire pod can be ordered in either a rough or polished finish like a knife handle.

One of the knife designs Turley is most proud of is the SERE instructor bolo, the official knife given to all graduates of the SERE Specialist school at Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington.

"A big part of my business is military personnel and certain law enforcement," Turley said.

He commented that it was a huge honor to be asked to make the official knife for some of the best woodsmen in the world.

"I'm proud of being associated with these highly trained professionals," he said.

Six of the numbered knives were given to graduates of the Survival Evasion Resistance Escape or SERE Instructor program. Turley said the knife is basically a bolo, an American version of a Filipino Kuhkri. It was made to provide a single weapon to replace an axe and belt knife.

After progressing to full-time knife maker almost two years ago, Turley is busier than ever and going strong.

"I like being able to work at something I like to to do. God has really blessed me with this business."

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