Alliance Martial Arts Profile Series:
Could you tell our readers a little about how you got started into making knives?
Actually I think the knife making was more a function of how my wife Gina and I could move "out West" and still make a living. We had come to eastern Idaho with friends, and my dad came over from Bosie to hang out with us and it was on that trip that the idea occurred to me to "make knives with dad" so it was my father who, once I decided to do so, got me started. That trip was in June, I flew out and made my first knife in August and we moved to Boise in October of '96. We became a partnership "Patton Knives" and life hasn't been the same since.
Who were some of the influences on you as a knife maker?
Of course my father Dick Patton first and foremost. There's really quite a list. Rick Dunkerly whom I've known since my first year, has been a major influence on me. He got me started forging damascus and forging blades in general which has become a major aspect of my work. Wendel Fox has always had my attention. I'm a big fan of Daniel Winkler. Shane Taylor and Ed Caffrey and several other Montana boys continue to influence me. Jerry Hossom in Georgia is another. Nearly every other maker whom I've befriended has given me something, so I could go on and on on this.
How long have you been doing the fighting arts, and what ones? How do you think this training has helped or influenced your designs and approach to making weapons?
Well my earliest exposure was to Tae Kwon Do in like the seventh grade. I only took for eight or so months but I was into it and enjoyed it and we sparred a lot and I think that that training at that age has stayed with me. I was always interested in the arts but did not train again until '91 I think when I got involved in Kung Fu and Modern Arnis. Really cool stuff that definitely changed my way of seeing certain things. For example, getting exposed to the idea of working the inside lines was new to me but I saw right away the value of that concept. Now its been training under Jim Keating at Comtec, what little I've done, that has had the greatest influence on my knife making. I can think of two blades that would not have come out like they did had I not had that exposure. As a maker, learning some technique and playing with these knives definitely opens your mind up to what's going on between your hand and your knife, and then your target. Then dabbling in fencing has had an effect that is too early to really gauge the extent of but is definitely working on me so far. I hear there is a Kendo school in Boise so I'm thinking about doing some study there. You know, I make no claim to be a Martial artist but this is one way that I live my work.
One piece of Rob's that particularly stood out was a longsword made with his own Damascus steel. It was wonderfully light and sharp and seemed to vibrate in my hand, as if it was alive. When you tapped the blade on the side you could see a ripple along its length with a still center at the "sweet spot" of the blade. The sword was fast to thrust, cut, or slice - any of the "3 Wonders" of the German style of swordplay.
The other sword, though not of Damascus steel, was also light and quick to move. It felt comfortable to use one or two handed, and so falls somewhere into the Arming sword / Bastard sword category. Like the longsword, this weapon wanted to cut, but it could thrust just as well since the balance was right on.
Handling either of these fine weapons will dispel any myths one might believe about the longsword being heavy or unwieldy in any way!
The other night we discussed the importance of solid historical research in understanding blade design and usage around the world; what are your thoughts on this topic? What are some of the better sources you have found in your research on old blades? Any startling discoveries or observation you could share?
I think that you can have, through practical experience, understanding and knowledge of a type or design of blade and be able to apply that knowledge with skill and expertise. But without some history or identification with the development of that blade or whatever, then one's true understanding and therefore knowledge of it are partial at best. There's a void. Knowing the history of something makes your real understanding of it more intimate and sublime. On the other hand, my studies on sword handles and guards and developed rapier hilts was one of pure aesthetics rather than arms development per se. I was trying to see if I could duplicate or at least mimic with the means at hand, what was happening on the real thing, so the history aspect is important on multiple levels.
I have relied heavily on Sir Richard Burton's classic "Book of the Sword" and "Swords and Hilt Weapons" by Michael Coe and Peter Connelly et.al. Both of these give good treatment from the Bronze Age through the late Middle Ages. Both works are fairly global in scope and contain a wealth of info.
It blows my mind to see the cruciform crosshilt (if that's not redundant) stay virtually unchanged for so many hundreds of years. It obviously speaks to the effectiveness and practicality of the design but I can't help but wonder if the the status of the Church, i.e. Christian symbolism, helped to carry on the straight-on cross hilt. Its hard to believe that the development of point thrust, in concept and technique, was so late in coming.
Looking at your work during the Comtec Bowie program, it was amazing to see everything from fixed blades to folders and automatics, to the bigger fighting bowies, rapier, and the Damascus steel longsword. Having worked on so many designs, is there a favorite design you have or type of blade you prefer making, or do you enjoy making the whole spectrum of blades?
One the one hand I enjoy doing the gamut if for no other reason than our versatility as blade smiths and makers has been part of our appeal to folks. Plus I just like being broad based in my ability. But there's no denying that I've always liked big knives (dad used to kid me that I couldn't design and build a small knife, but that's another story) and the fighters in particular. Now the bowies have become a fascination for me as have the swords and daggers of course are really cool. And I doubt you'll see too many more autos of mine but you never know...folders on the other hand I do like once I get in the mode--its a big shift for me if I've been doing a lot of fixed blades and then go to a say damascus folder with mastodon. So I guess I should force myself to stay in practice.
What are some pieces from over the years that were some of your favorites?
The Merlin Fighter that Bob Kasper wrote about is near and dear to my heart, its done well for us. The Wing pattern which is a good high-end material platform has evolved into a slightly larger form than before and they do well in damascus and in forged carbon steel with a temper line. Dad's MiniBowie could be the all-time favorite.
What are some of the awards you have won?
Best Fighting Knife a few times, best hand forged, Bird and Trout