It was the summer of 1985 in rural Southern Indiana.
Times were different then, not better. Just different.
I was 11 and free. Days were spent on long bike rides miles away from home, or deep walks into the woods, creating adventures and disappearing from my family’s reach for hours at a time.
No cell phones. No tether. It was just me, my friends and our trusty Rambo knives alone with our whims and our wits.
That’s right. In 1985, a young man of a certain age simply could not be cool without a Rambo-style survival knife.
I wasn’t cool. But I had the knife.
What is a survival knife?
If you’re not of a certain age or are unfamiliar with Sylvester Stallone’s IMDB page, you might not know what a survival knife is.
Essentially, it’s a knife with a hollowed out handle in which the very basics of survival gear is stored: Fishing line, a few hooks, waterproof matches and a wire saw.
Mine had a compass on the hilt so I could navigate my way home.
The Rambo version of the knife is also a weapon of war, with a row of teeth on the back to do maximum damage as you pull it out from a victim, foe, prey or unlucky acquaintance.
That summer, I was also given an Indiana Jones-style bullwhip and my own authentic bow and arrow set. The 80s were a wild time.
The Rambo knife got a lot more use than my other weapons.
First, because a bullwhip is an impractical toy. As it turns out, it’s very hard to crack it around tree limbs and swing around them.
And even at the age of 11, I knew it was a bad plan to take my bow and arrows out with my friends and fire them around.
But the Rambo knife?
The Rambo knife and I were born companions running around the Indiana woods.
No, I never used its fishing line to catch a fish or its matches to start a fire.
But I had it with me in case I ever needed to.
I did use the wire saw to cut down small twigs and branches with the idea of building a shelter, but that was a lot of work, and frankly, I did not acquire a Rambo knife for lean-to construction.
As far as I can recall, my Rambo knife only tasted blood once. Not surprisingly, it was my own.
I was sawing a recently purchased cassette tape out of the anti-theft plastic packaging when the survival knife slipped.
The tip plunged into the webbing between my thumb and forefinger. It wasn’t an especially deep cut, and it didn’t even bleed all that much. But I still have the scar.
I remember thinking at the time that maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to let an 11-year-old have unfettered access to cutlery of that magnitude.
I say all of that to tell you this: We’re almost 40 years away from that summer. I’m a full-grown adult with three kids and a mortgage.
And it’s still not a good idea to give me unfettered access to advanced cutlery.
Is Smoky Mountain Knife Works legit?
In short, yes, Smoky Mountain Knife Works is very legit, and offers the largest in-stock, on-hand selection of knives and specialty knives for sale.
They say that if it cuts, they carry it.
I recently took my family to Smoky Mountain Knife Works in Sevierville, Tenn., the gargantuan retailer for all things bladed.
Billed as the world’s largest knife store – not to be confused with the place that sells the world’s largest knife – the Knife Works is a multi-level shrine devoted to selling well-made practical blades for a wide variety of uses.
I was unprepared for just how strong an imprint the summer of 85 had left on me.
But as I wandered from room to room, looking over knives ranging from the pocket variety my papaw used to carry to fishing and utility knives, the overriding comment bouncing through my brain was a single refrain: Cool.
And so, with 11-year-old John firmly in control of things, I passed a display of tactical, sharp-tipped machetes, each in their individual sheath.
I picked one up. The hilt felt good in my hand. Should it even be called a hilt? I don’t know. It felt too big to be called a handle.
I pulled the black blade from the sheath and marveled as the level of cool I could achieve if I owned such a mighty weapon.
Then I looked at the price
It’s a steal. A cheaply made steal, but still when you can be cool for $14.99, you owe it to yourself to do it.
Thinking of the pictures I could post to Instagram, bragging to my digital friends about my new purchase, I slid the blade back into the sheath, which being a sheath for a blade retailing for $14.99, wasn’t particularly well constructed.
The tip of the machete found a seam, slid through the sheath and into the flesh of my left thumb, not far from where the scar I gave myself nearly 40 years ago rests.
“Idiot,” I said aloud to myself and put my new machete back onto the display, leaving it for the next unsuspecting man-child to select for his own.
My enthusiasm was only briefly dampened, however. I was surrounded by too much coolness to stay down long.
What else does Smoky Mountain Knife Works sell?
In addition to knives, Knife Works also sells a wide variety of outdoor gear, kayaks, clothing, toys artifacts and a lot more.
They also have showier pieces like ninja stars, replicas of famous movies swords and other items designed to appeal to overgrown kids with big imaginations and delusions of grandeur.
Knife Works offers an extensive selection of gun accessories and ammunition as well.
It’s like a giant knife museum, but with items you can take home … if your spouse and common sense allow.
I marveled at the Swiss Army Knives and wandered through the cases of expensive pocket knives, the kind you pass through families for generations. I eyed the antique knives and was sorely tempted by the kitchen knives.
My best kept secret is that my culinary knives collection is really just an excuse to sate the desires of 11-year-old John.
Do I need four types of Chef’s knives, a carving knife, a filet knife, a variety of paring knives and more? Reader, I do not.
That doesn’t stop me from coveting the finest blades in all the land with which I prepare culinary delights like spaghetti and, occasionally a goulash, for my hungry family.
And then I found the swords
Did I almost buy a wooden katana set so my 8-year-old son and I could practice becoming samurai?
Almost is too strong a word, but I allowed the flight of fancy to flap its wings awhile.
Did I spend some time considering the set of throwing knives?
Did I briefly consider what my life would be like if I owned an antique dagger and a replica of the Trojan Deluxe Helmet with Red Horsehair Mohawk?
And then did I lovingly gaze for an uncomfortably long time at a Cold Steel Italian Dueling Saber?
I can neither confirm nor deny.
Does Smoky Mountain Knife Works buy knives?
According to the website, Smoky Mountain Knife Works does buy knife collections, antique knives and unique collectibles from time to time.
However, they do not buy a single knife unless it is “extremely valuable”.
If you are interested in selling your knives, contact them at [email protected].
Does Smoky Mountain Knife Works repair knives?
Knife Works does not repair knives, nor do they sell replacement parts.
However, they do offer a 100% satisfaction guarantee for their products. If you need to contact them, you may email them at [email protected].
How many knives does Smoky Mountain Knife Works have?
Smoky Mountain Knife Works hosts a 108,000 square-foot knife showroom that has a massive collection of cutlery.
If you can think of most brands of knives, they probably carry them. Some of the more common manufacturers are Victorinox, Kershaw, Schrade, Buck, Zero Tolerance, SOG SpyderCo and Gerber.
Smoky Mountain Knife Works – the world’s largest knife store, is open 10 am to 6 pm Sunday through Thursday and from 10 am to 8 pm Friday and Saturday.
Their popular showroom is almost always busy.
How can I get a Smoky Mountain Knife Works catalog?
Have you been to Smoky Mountain Knife Works? Let us know in the comments.