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Knives with an edge: Pavack crafts custom knives to last

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Casper – Don Pavack needed a good knife when he was working for the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department in California, so he asked a friend to make him one, and he came back with a piece of steel.
    “My friend said, ‘If you don’t like it, make your own,’” says Pavack.
    Pavack has achieved that goal, and has been building custom knives for a variety of uses ever since.
    Pavack crafts his knives from scratch, starting with a template based on the type of knife he plans to make.
    “I decide what I’m going to make, get a piece of steel and put the profile on it,” he says. “I lay out the dimensions, cut it out with a band saw and figure out the handle holes.”
    He then hollow grinds the blade and works it as far as he can on machines, using 220- and 600-grain sandpaper before bringing it into his workshop indoors.
    “Then, I use sandpaper and take all the scratches out,” explains Pavack. “I start at 320-grit, go to 400-grit, and I stop at about 600-grit before I put some engraving on them.”
    Pavack notes that engraving a knife depends on the type, as well as its purpose. For wedding gifts, he frequently gives carving knives and inserts both the name and date on the blade engraving; he also does a variety of floral patterns.
    “After I engrave, the next step is getting it heat treated,” says Pavack. “I used to do it all here, but now they cryogenically quench the knives.”
    In the heat-treating process, Pavack explains that the steel is heated to 1,900 degrees and immediately dipped in liquid nitrogen at 375 degrees below zero.
    “It’s better than the way I did it,” adds Pavack, mentioning that he wants to ensure his product is high quality.
    Pavack finishes the engraving and sands the blade further.
    “I’ll work the whole thing down to 1,500-grit after I get the engraving done,” comments Pavack. “It gives me a polished surface.”
    Pavack also crafts the handles by hand, utilizing a variety of different materials ranging from sheep horn to camel bone, a variety of woods and ivories.
    “I use different woods, dyed camel bone, mother of pearl, gold lip mother of pearl, ivory, turquoise, amber, deer horn, oosik and other things,” says Pavack, noting that some materials are much easier to work with than others.
    He is also able to insert various gold pieces into the handles, resulting in ornate knives.
    Building knives is a time-intensive process, requiring between 60 and 120 hours or more per knife.
    “A straight-bladed hunting or carving knife takes a long time to sand and it takes longer to lay the pattern out for the engraving because there is more blade,” explains Pavack. “In regard to the folding knives, there are more pieces and parts. There are no store-bought parts except for the screws.”
    With very detailed engraving, he notes that an individual knife can take much longer to finish.
    “Everything starts as a flat bar of steel or a piece of wood,” says Pavack.
    Aside from building just knives, Pavack has created horse bits, horseshoe art, coat racks and hat racks.
    Bits are built on demand because the market isn’t as high. Occasionally he receives a request to duplicate a bit, and Pavack is able to meet those requests. Bits are sent to a bluer in Glenrock to have them treated, similar to a gun barrel, before inlaying them with silver.
    Beyond building a custom knife, Pavack looks for ways to improve the uses of his knives to help the ranchers around him.
    “At branding time, ranchers have a castration knife that they stop and sharpen all the time,” explains Pavack. “When I first moved here, I had a guy ask me to make him a good castration knife, and he was very happy. The steel I use is designed to better hold an edge.”
    He also developed a magnetic bracelet and knife without a handle for ranchers to use, saying that it’s much easier than throwing the knife into a bucket of disinfectant or sticking it in your mouth.
    A good knife can save time in the long run and makes things easier, according to Pavack.
    He adds, “Hunters put $1,000 to $1,500 into a rifle, $600 into a scope, some money in a sling and lots of money into ammo and reloading, and the rifle get used for maybe 10 seconds. Then they use their knife for hours, but they won’t spend any money one. It doesn’t make sense.”
    Pavack continues, “I’ve hunted all my life and I needed a good knife that would survive through two or three deer and a couple of elk without having to stop and sharpen it.”
    The knives he builds are able to hold an edge and stay sharp longer.
    Since he moved to Wyoming in 1992, Pavack has primarily built and engraved knives in the winter, working in his hay fields and helping neighbors during the summer. He also sells alfalfa and grass hay, as well as certified hay.
    “The thing about a custom knife is that everyone knows what knife is good for them for hunting or good for ranching,” explains Pavack. “Everyone knows what works for them and what they want, and with a custom knife, they get it.”
    Saige Albert is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at

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