By Cam Smith
“Come up the Pig Trail from Interstate 20 and turn right when you get to the dead end. I’ll be a little ways down on the left when you come into Saint Paul. It’s a red shop, you can’t miss it unless you blink. If I’m still alive on Friday and I feel like it, I’ll get to work about 9:30.”
The old red building is a church that’s been converted into a machine shop nestled under the sidehill of a rocky crag along the two-lane heading east into the Ozark National Forest just as he’d described. I’d bought enough of his knives that permission was granted for me to enter the lair of one of the most talented and successful knifemakers in modern history. We were about to meet a living legend and truthfully, I was nervous.
My son and I walked in, and a lady snaked us through the multitude of metal machinery over to a man that seemed too busy to acknowledge our presence. Honestly, I thought damn, I drove all the way here to meet this old man that acts like we aren’t even in the same universe. The place smelled of chemicals and metal, and a little tinge of smoke or burning steel. High pitched squealing noises and the thump and hiss of an air compressor drowned out most other sounds. Visible only from behind, he was wide-shouldered, slightly grey-headed, and was wearing his signature black t-shirt covering a pretty amazing set of biceps and frame for someone approaching eighty. I’ll never forget that his t-shirt was tucked into his underwear, and the elastic was above his jeans. Suddenly, his booming drawl interrupted the fading whine of the slowing grind wheel as his bearded face turned to us.
“First of all, a knife has to look good enough to catch your eye when you walk by it laying on the show table so that you want to pick it up. It doesn’t have to be ornate or fancy, but it can’t be ugly. And when you pick it up, the knife has to fit your hand. A knife that doesn’t fit your hand will hurt like hell if you use it, and work is the purpose of my knives. A knife is a tool, and I make tools for life. If you want to sit on the couch and play kung fu flipping your knife open during the movies, then my knives aren’t for you.” With that, he flipped the switch on the grinder and went back to precision blade grinding, and that’s when I knew I was gonna be a lifetime fan of Bob Dozier.
Bob has been crafting knives since before I was born. By the time I was in diapers he was well beyond master level. It’s hard to say if he’s known for a particular model because the demand and wait are so significant that just getting one of his knives makes the model you get insignificant. True to his own description, one of Bob’s knives fits your hand like God put it there as a part of you. Like we were made with four fingers, a thumb, a palm, and a Dozier knife. His fixed blades have names like the Pig Trail Hunter, the Loveless Style Drop Point Hunter, Nessmuk, Loveless Style Fighter, and then there’s the Bridger Beavertail Frontiersman’s knife. As Bob tells it, Jim Bridger appeared to him one night in a dream and gave him the exact details for what the knife needed to look like and be capable of. Let me be clear…. it’s badass.
If you like stag butt caps, stacked leather, and brass then you will love Bob’s fixed blades. All of his fixed blade knives come in a handmade leather sheath that if Bob wasn’t known for his knives, he’d be known for his leatherwork. He has a separate leather shop at his house that’s equally as impressive as his knife shop. All the sheaths are stamped with two mule heads because as Bob says, “The only thing more stubborn than one mule is two mules”.
Then there are the folders. Dozier folders come in small, regular, and large Folding Hunters. Each size is just a little longer overall than the other, with the regular being the most popular at seven inches long with a three-inch blade. Anyone that knows what “lock-up” is on a folding knife can appreciate that the click a Dozier folder makes when opened is as recognizable as the shucking sound of a pump shotgun to the ears of an intruder in the night.
Bob’s folders are frame-lock knives, which perfectly describes what they are; the metal frame is exactly cut in a manner so that the lock side opens into place as the blade is deployed and eventually falls into place underneath the blade, holding the blade in the locked position. The knife remains locked safely until the frame is pushed back into line allowing the blade to be folded back into the carry position. There are the occasional slip joints he crafts and he also does quite a few titanium folders. A rare upgrade is sometimes created using oval or diamond-shaped inlays that add a unique flair to the scales of his folders.
All of Bob’s knives are made by him in the shop in St. Paul. He has automotive type toolboxes with each drawer full of handle materials. Scale and handle options range from exotic woods like blackwood, cocobolo, and ironwood to natural materials such as staghorn, mastodon molar, fossilized ivory, and coral. Then there’s micarta, which is essentially layers of linen or other cloth material and resin that have been melted together and he swears it will outlive the Apocalypse and the cockroaches.
Bob will make blades our of Damascus steel or D2 core Damascus as found on his Sisu models and a few folders; however, Bob is best known as Dr. D2, which is a reference to the tool steel that he’s world-renowned for mastering through his heat treating and hardening process. The shop ceiling is full of wire strung with rough-cut steel hanging like fishhooks on a trotline ready to be honed into your dream blade by the Doctor himself. Do your own research but take my word for it, you won’t wear a Dozier knife out under the most hard-use circumstances.
As the day comes to a close, I’ve lost all my nervousness and channeled that energy into just plain geek out mode. Not only did we watch Bob make knives, leather sheaths, and belts, we’ve toured his machine shop, his leather shop, his house, and the local hamburger joint. We feel like locals, and we’ve been invited back. Before we go, Bob takes a KaBar collaboration folder from one of his toolboxes and signs his name on the blade with an etching tool for my son. He asks if there’s anything else I want to see or take pictures of before we go. I muster up enough courage to ask a question that I figure is the equivalent of someone asking a parent if they have a favorite child.
“Bob, do you mind if I ask which model knife you carry?” to which he boldly and seriously replied “I have several, but I love a Chris Reeve large Sebenza…. it’s one of the best knives made.”