Legendary Knives

Legendary Knifemaker

Gil Hibben By Mike Carter

Gil Hibben lives and works in LaGrange, Kentucky. He is an extraordinary man who has been able to build his life around an object and a profession he truly loves - knives. To call Gil a knife maker is almost an injustice because it does not recognize his many other talents. He is also a martial arts instructor in Kenpo Karate, an accomplished singer and musician, a professional Alaskan hunting guide and, most importantly, the most sincere and generally nice person you could ever hope to meet. Gil and his family are the kind of people who, as the saying goes, never meet a stranger. They are always fun to be around and it doesn't take much prompting for Gil to deliver a song or to break out the "Rhythm Bones" to entertain his guests.

Gil grew up in Wyoming, the son of a depression-era "dollar-a-day" cowboy. He began making knives part-time after his discharge from the Navy in 1956. He sold his first bowie knife for $45 and that sparked his long and famous career as a professional knife maker.

While living in Seattle, WA after his Navy discharge, Gil worked as a machinist for Boeing Aircraft and learned a lot about metals and their properties.  In 1964, while living in Salt Lake City, Utah, Gil started making knives full time. This was also the year Gil started making knives from the relatively new 440C steel.  Although it is the industry standard now, Gil believes he was the first custom knife maker to use 440C.

In 1965 Gil moved to Manti, Utah where he made his knives for the next five years. During that period, in 1968, Gil designed all of Browning's original line of knives. Gil later spent five years living in Alaska and he feels that just as his military and martial arts experience helped in designing fighting knives, his experience as a hunting guide helped him to design his hunting knives. Later, Gil spent about a year as the resident knife maker at Silver Dollar City in Missouri. This is where he met his wonderful wife, Linda.

Over the years Gil achieved fame as a premier custom knife maker and his work has been featured in, and on the covers of, national gun and knife magazines. He has established a whos-who following of collectors including  John Wayne, Elvis Presley, Steve McQueen, Sylvester Stallone and Steven Segal or world leaders such as Israel's Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, the Sultan of Brunei and Vice-President Dan Quayle.

Gil is sometimes referred to as the Johnny Appleseed of knife makers as new knife makers seem to pop up everywhere he goes. He has taught and influenced some of the other legendary knife makers such as S.R. Johnson, Harvey Draper and Buster Warenski among countless others.

Gil's fame dramatically increased in 1988 when Sylvestor Stallone, who had purchased several of Gil's custom knives for his own collection,  asked Gil to design the now famous knife used in the movie Rambo III. The factory reproduction of that knife has been one of the biggest selling production knives ever produced, selling over 250,000 copies. This was just one of over 30 movies and television shows that have featured Gil's designs including Star Trek Generations.

In 1990, Gil designed the first of his annual fantasy series knives, The Silver Shadow. United Cutlery has continued the very successful series ever since and will soon be releasing the 2008 edition and the 18th annual knife of the series. It was in the early 1990's that Gil began expressing more of his artistic side and started making elaborate "fantasy" knives. Although these knives are purchased by collectors who undoubtedly place them in places of honor and would never dream of using them as functional knives, Gil makes all of his knives using the same high quality materials and functional knife making processes as any of his working knives.

Gil's long and illustrious career as a custom knife maker has earned him fame and the respect of collectors around the world. Appreciation of his craftsmanship have taken him to Elvis Presley's home and to the White House where one of knives was entered into the presidential archives. Gil's handmade custom knives often sell for several thousand dollars and are prized possessions of collectors. It is quite admirable to see someone who has been able to spend the majority of his life doing what he truly loves to do.

Gil is still making knives in LaGrange, Kentucky.

Hall Of Fame Awards

1990 

 Blade Magazine Cutlery Hall Of Fame

2000 

 Masters Martial Arts Hall Of Fame

2003 

 International Knife Throwers Hall Of Fame

2004 

 Action Martial Arts Magazine Hall Of Fame

2015 

 World Pugilist Hall Of Fame

2015 

 Kenpo Karate Hall Of Fame

 

The Many facets of Gil Hibben

Gil Hibben is a fascinating man with widely varied interests and talents. This gallery is dedicated to the man behind the knives.

Gil has been training in Kenpo karate for nearly 50 years and has earned a 6th degree black belt in the martial art having studied under Ed Parker and 10th degree black belt Richard "Huk" Planas. He also earned belts in Judo and Aikido. Gil was inducted into the Martial Arts' Masters Hall of Fame in 2000 and the Action Martial Arts Magazine Hall of Fame in 2004.

  

In 1968 Gil designed the Kenpo Knife (sometimes called the Ed Parker Fighting Knife) for his black belt thesis on knife fighting using Kenpo tactics. His thesis became the basis of the Kenpo system's Long Form VIII (the double dagger form) which uses two knives in mock combat.) Over the years Gil has made several of the handmade versions of his Kenpo knives including knives that were presented to Ed Parker and Elvis Presley.

      

                               Ed Parker                                                              A couple of Gil's handmade Kenpo knives

Gil also licensed his design to United Cutlery to reproduce his Kenpo knife and later a redesigned Kenpo II knife.

        

The design of the Kenpo knife features an angled guard which allows you to put your thumb on top of the guard and employ the Kenpo "Chinese Fist" grip. This grip is much stronger and offers more stability than the common grip with your thumb down. 


 
Gil and Richard "Huk" Planas


 Gil spent five years living and working in Alaska and still has family living there.  During that time Gil not only made knives but was a professional guide.  He still makes annual trips back to Alaska to visit his friends and family and to enjoy the great fishing. 

Based on Gil's Alaskan experience, he designed some of his knives with the wilderness environment in mind. These knives are used and endorsed by the Alaska Professional Hunters Association Inc.

       
Hibben designed Alaska Pro Guide Hunter and Pro Guide Folder by United Cutlery


One of Gil's handmade Alaskan Hunters


Gil is quick to attribute much of his success to his lovely wife Linda and often refers to her as the "winds beneath his wings".  While Gil is in the shop grinding knives, Linda handles much of the business end of things.

Linda is always at Gil's side at the knife shows.

 

 


Sylvester Stallone is a long-time collector of Gil's custom knives. Sly chose Gil to make the now famous knife that his Rambo character used in the movie "Rambo III".

 

Gil made a video for Stallone showing him how to forge a knife for a scene in the Rambo movie "Rambo III". The scene was filmed but later cut during editing.

  


The knife that Gil made for the movie "Rambo III" was just the first of many knives that Gil has made for movies and TV shows. He is the official "Klingon Armorer" having designed the edged weapons seen in the more recent Star Trek movies.
Gil with the prototype of the original bat'leth, "The Sword of Kahless". Below, Gil is in Klingon custume posing with the "Sword of Kahless" ,  the "Bat'leth" and a modified "Raven" that were used in the Star Trek movies.

 


Although it was cut out in the final edit, Gil made a knife for the John Travolta movie "Basic". Here is Gil and his son Derek visiting with Travolta on the movie set.

 


In a recent episode of Discovery Channel's "Mythbusters" Adam Savage used a Hibben "Double Shadow" to slice open some fruit for an experiment they were doing. (below)

   


Gil was recently filmed for a segment in  "More Extreme Marksmen" to be aired on the History Channel beginning in early 2009.

 


Actress Bo Derek checks out one of Gil's knives

 

Kenpo expert Jeff Speakman used a Hibben knife in his movie Perfect Weapon.

  
 Deborah Harry (Blondie) and Linda Hibben                    Comedian/Actor Shelley Berman and Gil

Gil and his family were invited to the White House to present a knife to Vice President Dan Quayle to be placed in the Presidential Archives.
   


Gil has long been interested in throwing knives and has designed a series of throwing knives and axes. His book "Gil Hibben Knife Throwing Guide" has been a popular introduction to the art for many years and is now available in it's 3rd revision. In 2003 Gil was inducted into the Knife Throwers Hall of Fame and awarded the Outstanding Achievement In Knife Design award.


Gil's artistic talents go beyond his art knives.  Music has always been a big part of his life. He sang with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Kentucky Thoroughbred Chorus which won two world championships..  

 

Gil is also a member of the Rhythm Bones Society and it quick to introduce people to the unique style of folk music known as "playing the bones". He even hosted the annual "Bones Fest" in 2003 which drew bones players from around the world to Louisville, Kentucky.  Gil loves music and always has music playing in his shop while he works. You never know when he is going to break out the bones and play along.


As Vice President and President respectively of the Knifemakers Guild, Wayne Hensley and Gil Hibben attend the Grand Opening of the new National Knifemakers Museum in Sevierville, Tennessee. Gil was elected as President of the Knifemakers Guild in 2006 and also received the Guild's prestigious Red Watson Memorial Friendship Award. 


Gil enjoys a good cigar and is one of the founders of the Single Barrel Cigar Society

 


The "Hibben Knives Family Tree"! Little did Gil know that when he started making knives in 1957 that his brother and 2 sons would someday follow in his footsteps.

Left to Right:  Gil's oldest son, Wes Hibben, Gil's youngest brother Darryl Hibben, Gil, and Gil's youngest son, Derek Hibben.


Gilbert W. Hibben

 
              Portrait by Mike Carter                                         Photo by Derek Hibben

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