Custom Knifemaker’s Work Known the World Over

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By  David Stephens
HOMETOWN NEWS

One of the mystical things about artistic genius is that one often  finds it in unexpected places. So it is with Ross Tyser, working from a small shop behind his home in the neighborhood of Whitney,  producing his brand of custom knives that are known and in demand in the United States and in many other countries of the world, including South America, England, and even Iceland.
Many well - known people admire and possess Tyser custom knives; he even made knives once for a movie version of The Alamo.
From an early age Tyser loved to work with his hands and began cutting stones and making jewelry at the age of 8. He saved his money, bought and cut his first diamond at the age of 15.
That love of working with his hands continues today as he not only makes custom knives, but also still cuts stone, does woodworking, builds furniture, and practices just about any other skill where he can use his hands.
Tyser served four years in the U.S. Marines and remembers during visits to overseas ports he would seek out the local museums and look at the jewelry and knives of whatever country he was in. After the Marines, Tyser worked various jobs until settling down at RR Donnelly in Spartanburg and worked there for 24 years. All the while he pursued his interest of knifemaking.
Then in 1993, Ross Tyser had the opportunity to meet Jerry Fisk who is the only knifemaker to be named an American National Treasure. Fisk asked Tyser to cut some stones to go on the handle of a knife he was making and the fire was lit in Ross Tyser.
After two attempts to attend the American Bladesmithing Society school’s two - week course failed because of work conflicts, Jerry Fisk offered to teach Tyser the art of knifemaking one on one in his own shop.
Ross Tyser recalls, “That was a time of a lot of trial - and - error learning because that was basically the way Jerry Fisk had learned it. It was trying but effective.”
From 1994 until 2004 Tyser worked at honing his skill. In 2004 after leaving RR Donnelly,  he began his knifemaking career full time. When one talks to Ross Tyser about his art, whether it is the actual process of making a piece or whether he is telling  some bit of history about knives, his love of what he does is  obvious.
Tyser said, “An unmistakable fact about a knife is that it was actually man’s first tool and a tool is what it remains today. It can be used as a weapon, but so can a ballpoint pen. Whether it was a rock or a tree branch sharpened to use for cutting or hunting by early man, it is the first tool.”
Asked what he likes most about the art of knifemaking, Tyser comes back again to his love of working with his hands. He said, “It is very satisfying to work on a piece from raw material through the process of making a tool that will last for generations to come and look good doing it. I enjoy making changes to existing designs. There is nothing new in knife design, it is just a process of changing and refining what exists. I also do demonstrations and some teaching and I really enjoy that.”
Some of Tyser’s knives have historical value as some, for example, have handles made from the original wood flooring of the old Pacolet Mill. Tyser also recalls the early days when knifemaking was not as known as it is now and the tools and hardware to properly make knives were not in existence. Tyser said, “In the early days, makers had not only had to design and make the knife, but also the tools to do it with.”
Tyser still has and uses some of the early hardware that he made himself, to practice his skill. Ross Tyser knives are only available on the internet, at trade shows, or by contacting him. Tyser is happy with that situation, too, and said, “Like any small business right now, I am just riding the economy and hoping it improves.”
He does not do any retail and said, “I have had opportunities to design knives for large scale production, but I don’t do that. Quality is the number one thing I value the most about my work and the only way to assure that, even if it just says designed by Ross Tyser, is to produce it with my own hands. I also will not make any knife unless it is made in such a manner that it will actually perform the task it is intended for. I have clients who only display the knife, because it looks good, but be assured; it will do the job it is intended for as well.”
Ross Tyser has received many accolades and awards for his knifemaking, but two of these stand out  the most. Tyser said, “The first award I won was from the National Wild Turkey Federation in 1995, just a year after I began. I was one of only 25 people invited to a competition and I finished third place best in show over many others who had been in the field much longer than me. That was a proud moment.”
The other recognition came recently when Tyser and his work was added to the artists on display at the Carolina Foothills Artisan Center in Chesnee.  Of that recognition Tyser said, “I was really overwhelmed with that selection by the Artisan Center. It is very gratifying not just for me, but a tribute to all knifemakers to have my work recognized as art and put on display for anyone to see.” RT Custom Knives can be viewed at www.rtcustomknives.com or you can email the artist for information at ross@rtcustomknives.com.

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