Legends of Knife Making: Jimmy Lile

James Buel Lile 1933-1991, known as Jimmy Lile or The Arkansas Knifesmith, was an American knifemaker from Russellville in Pope County, Arkansas, who made the Rambo Knife for the films First Blood and Rambo: First Blood Part II

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In 1971, Lile became a full-time knifemaker and was known as “Gentleman Lile” or “The Arkansas Knifemaker”. He was particularly known for his Survival knife designs known as “The Mission” series, created by request for Sylvester Stallone to use in his first two Rambo movies. These designs would go on to influence other knife makers in the 1980s. In addition to creating the Rambo knives, Lile designed and made several Bowie knives that he presented to Governor Bill Clinton and U.S. Presidents Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, and Gerald R. Ford, Jr. Other owners of his work included John Wayne, Peter Fonda, Fess Parker, Bo Derek, and Johnny Cash.

When Lile was approached with the specifications for the “Rambo” knife, he was told to design it not as a mere “prop” but as a basic tool to perform a variety of tasks. Lile adapted a basic clip point Bowie knife which could be used to chop wood and slice food while retaining an edge. He employed a waterproof hollow handle design to store matches, needles, thread, and a compass; the hollow-handle allows the knife to be fitted to a pole to make a spear or gig. The handle was wrapped with nylon line that could be used for fishing or making snares. The tips on the guards were made into a standard and Phillips screwdriver and the spine was serrated. Lile chose to forge the blade of 440C high-carbon steel, which he claimed could cut through the fuselage of an aircraft.

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Lile was elected president of the Knifemakers Guild in 1978 and was an early member of the American Bladesmith Society. He was elected to the Board of Directors of the ABS in 1977 and acted as a liaison between the two groups. His “Lile Lock” folding knife is on display at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. In 1984 he was inducted into the Blade Magazine Cutlery Hall of Fame.

See Lile knives for sale on the website

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An Hour With Greg Medford

I pulled up to a 15,000 square foot manufacturing facility on the North West side of Phoenix just off the interstate after having called ahead. I had a customer who wanted the top of the line MKT Praetorian Ti knife.

Praetorian T Drop Point

I had to order one so why not take a trip across town and do it in person.

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Walking into the place I was greeted by Greg’s two children who were very friendly and then his wife Amy. She asked me to wait a moment and disappeared down to hall to return a few minutes later and issued me into Greg’s office where I got to meet the man himself. Not the first time, as I had met him three years ago at the Atlanta Blade Show. Like there, Greg greeted me with a powerful handshake as if I was a long unseen friend.

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After pleasantries, Greg took time out from his busy schedule to tour his plant and explain each step of the process on how his knives are made. Greg said it simply, “He uses modern technology to make hand made knives.” With 20 employees working for him, his knives are made by hand. Each and every one. He looks at his manufacturing of his knives as a modern day Henry Ford building the Model T.

They use only US made steel for all of his knives. They make all the screws, hardware and clips in house. The only machining done on his knives are the drilling of the holes. The most impressive part of the his knives is that each one is totally ground by hand, free style. Put together by hand. A Kydex sheath is made for the fixed blade knives, (Soon they will be going to all leather sheaths), and then they are given a final detailed inspection before being shipped out in their own pelican case.

He showed me how not only are his knives are extremely sharp for cutting, but they will also take punishment of being used as a pry-bar. Something I hardly recommend using a knife for.

Besides knives, we talked about other interest we have in common. Namely, Massachusetts, Martial Arts and Military Service. Both our families have ties to Mass. Greg’s from Western Mass and mine from Boston proper. Greg had studied and taught martial arts for years in Arizona before turning to manufacturing earning several black belts. Also he served his county in Kuwait with the 5th Marines during Desert Storm. The hall of his offices are lined with photos and memorabilia of all the American wars from the Revolution through Iraq and Afghanistan.

Over all, the president / owner took time out of his day for me a regular guy. Turning me back over to Amy, he went back to work and I got my customer’s knife ordered and headed home.  Thank you Greg!

Medford Knives at SDK

Chuck Stapel Hospitalized

Chuck Stapel “Knife Maker to the Stars” has been hospitalized with Pneumonia. He’ll soon be moved to a rehab center. That family ask you hold off on trying to contact him at this time but also asks that you lift him up in prayer.

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You can leave well wishes via his Facebook page

Published in: on November 25, 2014 at 7:30 am  Comments (1)  
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