By: Angie Kokes
Some girls like jewelry, clothes, and shoes. I love sharp, shiny objects, otherwise known as knives. This can be blamed on my dad, who has an equal obsession with these useful and most fabulous tools. I can leave the house without my phone, and life will continue to gallop along its crazy little path, but if I somehow manage to get out the door without a knife, it will soon be discovered and all proverbial hell will break lose and I will promptly lose my mind, while feeling completely vulnerable and naked until I have my trusty piece of hardware back in my pocket, and the end of the world will have been avoided for that day.
I simply cannot walk past a knife display in a store without ogling its contents. And then a few years back I discovered the world of custom knives at a trade show, and I was sure I’d found a little slice of heaven on earth.
Custom knives are things of rare beauty and functionality, but all are not created equal. Every knife smith has their own unique way of working, and their artistry is obvious. When you find a custom knife maker who can take your vision and needs and create the perfect knife for you, well then you’ve found a master of the trade. And I am fortunate enough to have found one of those rare diamonds in the rough: Gary Bolduc of Bolduc Knives.
What, might you ask, is the need for a custom knife, and specifically a Bolduc knife? Well as I am a self-described knife connoisseur, the first thing I’ll say is that by you asking that question, I know right off that you’ve never owned a “good” knife. Now before you go getting your panties in a bunch, I’m not being mean: That’s just the honest truth. Until you’ve owned a good custom knife, a knife is just another knife. But we’re talking about an heirloom you’ll want to pass on to your loved ones someday, but dang sure not until you’re done with it. So let’s cut right through this!
The first thing that lured me to custom knives like a moth to a flame was their beauty. Yes, their beauty over their functionality because I am a girl, and I do like pretty things. And custom knives can take your breath away with the wide assortment of handle materials available. Some of my favorites include stabilized wood, which has me drooling just thinking about it. But there are also Kirinite, resin cast, mother-of-pearl, wood, bone, and Micarta, to name just a few. Every type of material has its own unique look, and they are specific to the type of knife or to the blade. For example, as pretty as mother-of-pearl is, it chips and breaks easily, so it’s probably not the best choice for a blade that will get heavy use.
Now that I’ve owned a few custom knives, the fit has become the most important thing to me. After having Gary make a couple, I expect them to fit like a glove. Stock knives have their place and are somewhat useful, but when you have a knife made to fit you, it is almost like an extension of your arm. Some knife handles can wear on your hands, becoming painful to wield and can even cause blisters. My hands would cramp and get just plain tired skinning game with some of my first store-bought knives. And there is nothing worse or more dangerous than a knife slipping or pulling through your hand when you’re trying to work. No two people have hands that are alike, and store-bought knives rarely fit you properly.
My first knife from Bolduc Knives was a fillet knife. I do have big hands, and I prefer a wider handle than most women. After questioning my sanity, Gary built the knife just as I asked, and for the first time in my life I could clean fish without my hand growing tired. Take the time to talk with Gary and take the measurements you need to get the fit you want. I promise you won’t regret it. While you’ll notice the fit right away, it may take longer to realize that you are not having to sharpen your knife every five seconds while filleting, boning, skinning, or whatever use it is you have for a knife. Gary makes sure of that by using S35VN steel. The carbon content is one of the things that give your Bolduc knife its superior edge quality and strength. Gary not only puts the proper edge on your knife, he will at no charge sharpen your knife, again and again. All you have to do is ship it back to him.
My first Bolduc knife, called “The Empress” was technically a fillet knife, but I used it for everything, mostly because it was always sharp. I really don’t enjoy sharpening knives, and to be honest I pretty much suck at it. Instead of sharpening, I usually end up with an edge that resembles a butter knife after I’ve slid it across steel a few times. And so a knife that stays sharp for much longer periods of time is wildly important to me. How long does it stay sharp? Well, that Empress cleaned hundreds of fish, and boned out two caribou and multiple deer before my husband had to sharpen it. I elected not to send it back, because I simply couldn’t bear to be without it for even a few days because the thought of having to use an old market knife made me weak in the knees.
Lastly, the style of your blade comes into play. Now you can buy a fillet knife, a skinner, or even a Bowie. The possibilities are nearly endless. But unless you choose the custom route, you are stuck with the stamped-out steel the company makes. But a custom blade will be forged and shaped to your exact specifications, ground and tooled, and pins set with a bolster of your choosing that will balance the knife so perfectly in your hand that it will feel like an extension of your arm. Everything—the tang, the spine, the tip, the handle—is ergonomically made to fit you.
And your custom blade will flex as little or as much as you desire, another thing that offers complete bliss when using your custom Bolduc knife. Ever tried filleting with a stiff blade? Well I have, and it typically results in me cutting the fish right in half instead of filleting that wonderful piece of meat smoothly off the fish. Use the opposite—with too much flex—and you simply can’t break through the scales without folding the knife in half. A custom knife allows you to have a flex that fits how you cut.
As you can see I’m passionate about my knives. I use them every day. Some women have china hutches. I have a knife hutch. I have dozens of market knives and a few custom knives in my growing collection, and I promise you that the Bolduc knives in my collection surpass any of the others in beauty and functionality.
Gary is a master of his trade and he will make you the knife of your dreams. You will treasure it and want to pass on as an heirloom someday. He’s not too shabby with leatherworking, either, and will make you a gorgeous sheath in which to carry your treasure. When you get your first custom knife and make that first cut or slice, you won’t regret it and can thank me later.
A self-described adventure seeker, Angie Kokes has been pushing limits her entire life. She most recently made history as the first documented woman to spear a black bear. Next spring she plans on becoming the first person to spear a brown bear. She’s been married for nearly 21 years to Adam, a man who understands and supports her crazy. The two reside in Central Nebraska along the North Loup River, where Angie can walk out her backdoor to a plethora of wildlife at her fingertips. Farming, ranching, and owning and operating a tack and trailer sales business from their home allow Angie to hunt, fish, and trap nearly all year long. She also enjoys hosting young and new hunters and mentoring regularly. She’s on the pro staffs for Cabelas, Bolduc Knives, Shoot Like a Girl, Rockstarlette Outdoors, and Raks Big Game Supplements. She is also an International Huntress team member.