Beyond The Surf!
After copying the masters for years,
this Hawaiian surfboard maker turned
knife grinder is finally finding is own style.
BY BUTCH WINTER
I first met Tom Mayo some
10 or 11 years ago after he called me from the little town of Dresden Tennessee.
Dresden is only fifteen miles or so from where I live in Union City, Tennessee,
and Tom was there visiting his parents. He said he was a knifemaker and lived
in Hawaii now and he wanted to visit, show me some knives, and look at the
knives in my wife's collection.
We made an appointment, Tom showed up, and that was the beginning of a long-term friendship. I liked Tom immediately, but I wasn't too sure about his knives. They were well made; exhibiting first-class workmanship in fit and finish, and were made from the latest-in those days-154CM steel. But they were little, as in TINY! I'm talking about 2-inch blades in straight knives, about right for a folder-but on a using, straight knife...uh-uh!
Tom made surfboards for a living in Hawaii at the time; knifemaking was part time as it is with a lot of beginning knifemakers. He quit making surfboards about four years ago and tried the full-time knifemaker route. But with Hawaii so far away from the continental market, he found that this wasn't as good an idea as he hoped it would be. His new business is sharpening carbide tools for the cabinet-making trade in the islands, an adjunct to his before knifemaking hobby, which was making Koa furniture.
The late Glenn Hornby, knifemaker
of California, was Tom's mentor when he began making knives. Tom credits Hornby
with influencing him to make the Loveless style, southern California style of
knife, and insists that it was another California knifemaker's influence, Jim
Somberger, that he was making those little bitty blades.
"I got over the Somberger influence, and I'm trying to move away from the Hornby/Loveless/ Southern California styles too. Along the way I fell in love with the classic Randall look, especially in the clip and trailing point knives," Tom relates.
"Although I am trying very much to have my own look, a definite Tom Mayo style, I have borrowed very heavily from
"Tom’s conservative styles reflect what
today's warriors expect in a knife, plenty
of blade and a hand-filling handle."
these two schools of style. Mostly these days I'm making pretty standard run-of-the-mill military designs." Tom visited again just last year on the occasion of his parents' 50th wedding anniversary. This time he had some of those "military designs" to show me, and he also had his new folder
Randall and Emerson Styles
"I really like this
knife," Tom said. "I spent almost a year thinking about all the
things I want in a folder and this is what I came up with. The blade is along
the lines of the Randall Model 14 and
15, and I had to get away from the 'thumb-bob' thing. Not that it doesn't work
well, but I want a knife that is flat, so I put a hole in it.
"I've been looking at Emerson's knives in Tactical knives and really like the concept he has come up with. What I wanted was a knife that could be used for most-anything, hunting as well as self-defense. Hence the relative large size. And I wanted it to be light. That's why I've made it with an open back and liner lock. I really like the liner lock because you can make the blade just as big as the handle. No wasted space."
My comment was that it looked like he had done his homework on this one. "Yes, it's a far cry from the first folders Jay Harris showed me how to build ten years ago at Stanly Fujisaka's (both Hawaiian knifemakers) house."
My next comment was that I noticed the blade was made from 440V "I got a piece of 440V last year when I was at Glenn's house helping his wife clean up his - shop. (Glenn Hornby had died unexpectedly from an obscure heart problem in 1995.) I brought it back and just looked at it for the longest time. Then I made a knife out of it. There were no surprises until I got it back from Paul Bos (professional heat- treater in California). The stuff was hard as a rock. I polished and polished-nothing! The scratches wouldn't come out, sorta like vascowear
"This got me interested. I went through all the magazine articles-I keep all the magazines-and found a long article in one of them. The claims they were making for 440V seemed unbelievable. I finished the knife and sold it to one of my best customers who hunts regularly. Now, this is hard to believe, but he has been on four hunts and has completely cleaned 19 animals and we haven't touched the edge...not once!"
440V On The Dixie Floor
This sort of comment reinforced my experience with 440V. We've been
testing the steel on the packing floor at Dixie Gun Works and its edge-holding
ability is phenomenal. I might add that one of Tom's "little bitty"
knives made from 154CM has been working there every day since that first visit
over 10 years ago. The lady who uses it loves it. There is no accounting for
Since he has gotten away from the little bitty blades, Tom's conservative "Rush Limbaugh" styles reflect what today's warriors expect in a knife, plenty of blade and a hand-filling handle. Not only does he use the latest in steels, he is right up there in the use of modern thermoplastics and the various Micarta for handles in both folders and combat knives.
As far as his craftsmanship is concerned, one would have to look far to find someone better. Maybe it's because he made a living making surfboards, or because he made furniture as a hobby before knives, whatever, his fit and finish is immaculate. I'd put it up against anyone's, and I've seen my fair share of knives.
The Mayo Look!
Tom admits that after almost twenty years of making knives he's still
searching for the "Mayo" look. Maybe he's found it with his folder.
It's very hard to make a drop point hunter that doesn't look like every other
drop point hunter, or a double ground combat knife that doesn't resemble a
With folders, it's different. There are so many variables, so many concepts, that finding a theme that is both unique and practicable is possible. Tom's folder fits those parameters. He has found a way to blend a relatively new concept-the hole in the blade-with a blade shape that is as old as knives themselves.
Maybe it's the shape of the hole that makes the difference. Or that plus a straightforward handle design that is as useful as it is attractive…whatever.
I personally applaud Tom's approach to knifemaking, his admitting that he is willing to accept and respect the influence of other artisans. Tom Mayo's craftsmanship is such that until the day comes when he can claim to have found the "Mayo Look," he can still pit his knives against the very best, and in most cases come out ahead. TK