A Cut Above

Renowned knifemaker Hibben
finds no dullness in making these blades

Ben Fronczek
Staff Writer

(November 2001) La Grange, Ky – Knifemaker Gil Hibben of La Grange, Ky., works in a studio built by Rambo. Well, not literally – but financially speaking, that is exactly what happened.

Gil Hibben

Gil Hibben

The 66-year-old Wyoming native had the good fortune to cross paths with Rambo himself, Sylvester Stallone. It was at a knife show in the late 1980s. According to Hibben, it wasn’t long after that initial meeting that Stallone asked Hibben to design the dagger he would use in the movie “Rambo III.”
From then on, his knives have been seen on “Star Trek: Generations, Under Siege” and the “X-Files” and now are under the ownership of figures as prestigious and wealthy as the Sultan of Brunai and Elvis Presley. His knives are also a part of the Presidential Archives in the White House.
Hibben first became involved in the art of knife making at age 12. He was no stranger to craftsmanship. As a child, he made toys.
“I have always enjoyed making things,” he said. “It’s the fun of creativity.”
It wasn’t until almost 10 years later when he enlisted in the U.S. Navy that he sold his first knife. As the 1960s dawned and the Vietnam conflict accelerated, Hibben found himself selling to more soldiers. He was featured in “Guns & Ammo” magazine for his Bowie knives.
Even though he was finding success in knifemaking, he was dabbling in other forms of craftsmanship as well. But that didn’t last long.
“I actually started making classical guitars and knives at the same time, but everybody used knives, so I haven’t made any classical guitars since.”
During the first part of Hibben’s career, the only reason he created knives was for their use. But at the beginning of the 1980s, he found another purpose. He pioneered the knife as a decoration, a collector’s item, a treasured antique. Such knives became known as “fantasy” knives.
Hibben was living in Louisville when he created his first fantasy knife in 1983. He had moved there in 1978 on a corporate contract to make a limited edition series of knives. His first fantasy knife took on the likeness of a dragonfly with wings as the guard, the stinger as the blade and an ivory handle. It sold for $3,500.
Hibben has two creations that he considers his most valuable. One is a knife in the likeness of a cobra called Naja; the other in the likeness of a lion called Leo Pantera. He keeps them both in his possession, but there is one other Naja in the world – the one owned by the Sultan of Brunai.
Hibben came to La Grange a decade ago and built his current home and studio.
“I moved here trying to hide. It didn’t work.”
Hibben found himself accumulating a massive international following.
“When I started, there were only six knifemakers I knew of,” he said. “Now there’s over 4,000.”

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