John Hyde is one of those rare guys who can do anything he sets his mind to, especially when it comes to piddling in his backyard shop.
We've had stories in the paper in the past about his wood turning and how he makes beautiful duck and turkey calls. He's also been in the paper for winning state trap championships.
Once upon a time, John did a lot of fishing rod repair too.
He also did a lot of pocket knife repair. Now, many years later, John has returned to that beloved hobby, but with a new twist. He takes older Case pocket knives (he has a bunch from the mid-1980s and has a source for more), takes them apart and completely customizes them.
The results are works of pocket knife art. It's not knife-building per se, but is instead knife customization. It's not cheap to get one of these special knives.
"A lot of guys don't want to pay $200 for a knife," John said. But enough collectors are interested to make it worth John's while.
He pops off the plastic knife handles and replaces them with custom bone. New back springs, some that look like entwined vines, replace the old ones.
Then it goes back together.
It's a much simpler process to say it like that than it really is. John has to cut out the new bone handles. And the knife is completely apart during the process. He estimates that it takes about 8 hours of labor to do one knife, but he's found it's a real enjoyment, especially since he is spending more time at home in his shop since the coronavirus pandemic hit.
"I just decided to buy the equipment and start working on knives again and I have enjoyed it so much," John said. "I used to do this before I built duck calls."
He's been working with a batch of knives from about 1984. The Case knives from that era were particularly good, John said. They were still made in America then and so the tolerances were very standardized.
The Internet makes it easier to buy and sell knives nowadays. Back in the day years ago when he repaired knives, everything was done by letter and "snail mail."
"Someone would send me a knife and say, 'This was my grandfather's knife and it needs this and this and this,'" John said. He'd send a letter back telling the person what it would cost and asking if they wanted him to proceed. It was all a terribly inefficient prospect.
"I did that for a long time and I just counted on people to pay me when I sent the knife back to them," John said. "I don't think I ever got beat out of any money in 20-something years."
There's just something about knife people.
John's customization involves completely changing the nature of some knives. He sometimes will take what was a 2-bladed knife and make a one-bladed knife out of it when he customizes it. That makes for a nice, slim knife to carry in a pocket.
He had to make a few of his own tools, the right size punches and things like that, to get the knife work going. The pins holding a knife together can be stubborn and you need a good punch to get them out.
You also need a small, specialized "knife anvil" for the work. John had a friend build one for him.
John is 73. His home not too far off Highway 79-N didn't have a shop when he purchased it. He is so glad he built one as that shop has brought him countless hours of enjoyment in a myriad of shop projects he enjoys pursuing.