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 Kempo 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 knifemaker.
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 knifemaker to use 440C.
Click HERE to see some early catalogs of Hibben Knives.
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 knifemaker 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 knifemaker 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 knifemakers as new knifemakers seem to pop up everywhere he goes. He has taught and influenced some of the other legendary knifemakers 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 knifemaking processes as any of his working knives.
Gil's long and illustrious career as a custom knifemaker 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 and his brother, Darryl, a renowned knifemaker in his own right, lives, and makes knives, nearby.
For photos and to learn more about Gil Hibben see his Gallery Page by clicking HERE.