SMILIN’ JOE SEABOLT
CONTEMPORARY KNIFE AND RIFLE MAKER
by Sharon Cunningham©2008
Photographs by H. David Wright and Jan Riser
Reprinted with permission from Muzzleloader magazine, November-December 2008. For more information on this and other black powder topics visit the web site atwww.muzzleloadermag.com
Joseph Edman Seabolt, native Cincinnatian, is a journeyman electrician by trade, and a blacksmith courtesy of Steve Marshall of Goodlettsville, Tennessee. His knife making is the product of the teachings of both Marshall and Hershel House, the latter, Seabolt states, “has become not only my mentor, but a close friend as well. House is ‘my inspiration.” Joe has attended four seminars at Canter’s Cave in Jackson, Ohio, taught by both Hershel and his brother, John House.
Joe has been married to Diane, an RN, for eighteen years and the couple lives in a log house, that he mostly built himself, in a woodland area near Goshen, Ohio. His current workplace is an old-fashioned barn, but in the summer of 2008, he began building a new blacksmith/workshop from logs taken from an old Virginia cabin for his Cedar Ridge Forge.
Seabolt grew up, like many of us, watching Fess Parker as Daniel Boone on TV, and often “went into the woods to try to emulate the great backwoodsman.” He began making knives at about age 10 by grinding down saw blades and crudely applying rough handles. In his late teens he “got a little better and was making blades using the stock removal method.” Joe began building custom made, hand forged knife blades in the early 1990s at Historic Mansker’s Station in Goodlettsville, Tennessee. Under the tutelage of Steve Marshall, the resident blacksmith at Mansker’s, Joe was taught to hand forge blades on a charcoal forge with a bellows and 18th century style tools. He subsequently set up his own forge and equipment and began making custom knives in this old-fashioned way.
Seabolt’s philosophy is that “knives are one of man’s oldest and most indispensable tools, and my goal is to make cutlery that not only has an 18th century look and feel, but is also a functional tool. Someone may have to depend upon a knife in an emergency, and I always keep this in mind. I want my knives to be historically accurate, but mostly they must feel good in the hand and be able to do the job for which they are intended.”
His artistry tends toward the Early Rifleman style with a long, graceful blade hammer forged from 1095 high carbon steel. Joe utilizes a special heat-treating that quenches the blade to make the spine softer than the edge, same way as the old time cutlers. This method produces a more flexible blade with maximum strength that makes it easy to sharpen and hold an edge longer than most. Seabolt states of his finished product, “No knife leaves my shop until it will shave hair!”
Joe’s knives are handled primarily with antler and bone, but he offers various American hardwoods and ebony as well. He states, “I carefully select antler for straightness and size and may look through 100 pieces to find five that meet my needs. When people pick up one of my knives, I want them to tell me it fits their hands so comfortably it’s as if it was made just for them” Joe uses a finish that gives the completed work a feel of age and toughness, but is still a beautiful example of the maker’s work. His sheaths are made with rawhide liners sewn with catgut and covered with either brain-tanned deer skin or bark-tanned leather sewn with linen thread.
Custom tomahawks and belt axes are also built by Seabolt, from the same hammer forged 1095 carbon steel, and are patterned after those of the 18th century Indian trade. These tools are handled in curly maple, hickory or American walnut. He uses only the best materials in both his knives and tomahawks, and they carry a lifetime guarantee from defects in workmanship.
Joe sometimes builds custom longrifles, which he states are of the Woodbury School, but he personally prefers building custom knives and tomahawks. He began his riflemaking in 2006 after attending a seminar taught by Hershel House at Canter’s Cave in Jackson, Ohio. There, he polished his knowledge of hammer-forging rifle furniture – ramrod thimbles, side plate and nose cap – the style made popular in muzzleloading circles by the House brothers of Woodbury, Kentucky.
Since the early 1990s, Joe has made “hundreds of 18th century style knives.” This year he donated one of his Early Rifleman knives with custom leather sheath to the Contemporary Longrifle Association [CLA] for the organization’s live auction. The knife is described by the maker as a “turned handle trade knife.” It is hand forged of his usual 1095 high carbon steel with a full length tang riveted over a pommel washer, and is handled in ebony.”
In the words of fellow CLA artist and Live Auction Committee member, Tim Albert, “This knife is as beautiful as it is serviceable. Joe’s many years as a trekker have taught him the exact qualities needed in a functionally edged weapon and tool, and his experience at the anvil gives this Cedar Ridge Forge creation the durability, look and feel of a true 18th century original.”
Joe Seabolt is as generous as he is talented; he states of his fellow craftsmen, “Attending CLA shows and meeting the best artisans [from] around [the country] has really improved my own work…Joining the CLA has been one of the best things I have done….” He also belongs to the 2nd Company of the North Carolina Militia and attends living history events at Martin’s Station near Ewing, Virginia, The Fair at New Boston in Springfield, Ohio, and the shooting matches at the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association’s Walter Cline Range in Friendship, Indiana, of which he is a member. He is a Life Member of the National Rifle Association and is one of that organization’s certified firearms instructors.
See all of Joe’s knife styles at the upcoming Contemporary Longrifle Association Annual Show and Meeting, August 20-21, 2010, in the Grand Ballroom of the Lexington Convention Center, in Lexington, Kentucky.
Seabolt can be reached at the following address and phone number: 6794 Gaynor Rd., Goshen OH 45122. (513) 722-4321.
About the author:
Sharon Cunningham worked for Dixie Gun Works for many years and was editor of Dixie Gun Works’ Black Powder Annual for several years. Now retired from Dixie, still retains a lively interest in black powder sports and is copy editor for the CLA’s new magazine AMERICAN TRADITION The Journal of the Contemporary Longrifle Association.
Larry Pletcher, editor