Article on Beathe Knives
As taken from the April 1998 edition of Muzzle Blasts Magazine. | Written by Butch Winter
You’ll see him at rendezvous and at Friendship in the spring and fall. He’s a stocky, strongly built man hiding under a wide straw hat and behind small dark glasses. He will be wearing Southwestern-styled clothing, high boots, and trousers with leather lining on the legs and seat. And he’ll be smiling, whether at himself, or the rest of the world, who knows? Mention people on the rendezvous circuit and he knows them. Mention Mikey to other folks and they know him.
Mike Beathe is a blade smith who began making knives in 1973 from old power saw blades, grinding them to shape. By 1987 he was hand forging his blades using file steel, spring steel and, he says, many other types of materials made before 1950,” whatever that means. After using those materials, he has settled on L6 and 0l high carbon tool steels for his knives.
“I have always worked with steel, and making knives was just a natural step in my maturing process,” he continues. “My early knives were marked with an “MB”, sort of like a cattle brand with the “M” to the left and the “B” lower, with the back of the “B” forming part of the leg of the “M”, Later knives, since 1987, are marked simply “BEATHE.” There are approximately 75-80 knives that aren’t marked.
Mike got his first stamp in 1987. Although he is self-taught as a knife maker, Mike Beathe worked as a machinist with mills, lathes, and drills during the l970’s and gained a thorough knowledge of steel. The knives he makes are hand forged, and he prefers the styles of the early American frontier. Bowies are a favorite, as well as “butcher types that a frontiersman of the early l800’s might use as an everyday tool. To date he has made about 350 knives and usually puts out 75-90 blades a year.
I had occasion to spend quite a bit of time with two of Mike Beathe’s knives: a simple hunter and a more elaborate Bowie-style blade. The hunter would make anyone an all around useful knife. It has a six-inch, flat-ground blade with a straight spine and moderately dropped point. The blade tapers gradually from about one inch wide at the heel, with a gentle sweep up to the point.
The handle scales on this Beathe knife are tiger-striped maple, Mike Beathe’s favorite handle material, with an oil finish. The full tang is tapered, a neat and traditional touch, and the scales are fastened to the tang with three brass rivets. The butt has a decorative notch that gives a rather plain knife a touch of class.
Mike Beathe’s Bowie is another knife altogether, featuring what could be called “Southwestern” styling which can be traced to blades made in the Old World, it has a twelve-inch, flat-ground blade, straight back, with little, if any, drop to the point - a blade for serious social use. In keeping with the blade’s stylistic antecedents, Mike has incorporated a form of the “Spanish Notch” typically found on Mediterranean dirks or Spanish daggers, in this case a decorative hole at the heel of the blade.
The guard is steel, also in keeping with the overall design/concept of this style of knife. A nice touch is the tight curl forged into the lower quillon of the guard, Mike has included a ferrule behind the guard, another indication of the period this knife is to represent. The stag handle encloses the narrow tang and is held to it by a steel butt cap. I chose these two knives as representatives of the various styles of knives that Mike Beathe makes. Since he forges all his knives, no two are exactly alike. He will make Bowies larger and smaller than the one illustrated. Blades can be wider or narrower, tangs full tapered or hidden, handle material of practically any natural substance.
Working, or, as he calls them, “butcher knives” vary as well. Some are really rather small, made to be carried in neck sheaths or boot tops, and some are more than rather big, made to be thrust through a sash or belt and used for dismembering large hairy beasts, or as in the Bowie above, serious social encounters.
His aim: “I want to make realistic reproductions of early American knives, knives made to use, not to be hidden in some glass case someplace. I don’t think I have made my best work to date. I am learning about knife making every day.”
He will work to individual designs. If, he says, “They aren’t too weird. And I am given enough time. I travel a lot, going to several rendezvous each year, and when return home usually I have either a backlog of orders waiting or a backlog of ideas that I have picked up on the trail I want to try.” If you don’t travel to rendezvous or attend the NMLRA spring and fall Nationals in Friendship, Indiana, Mike Beathe can be contacted at: Beathe Knives, 3214 E. 106th St No. Sperry, Ok, 74073.
- On The Trail, September and October 2002
- Muzzle Blasts, April and May, 2000
- Knives Illustrated, April 2004 and October 2012