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Sharp As A Knife

By Rachel Stallard - In Magazine March/April 2012 Issue

For more than 60 years, dan harrison has crafted knives. He has created custom pieces for kings, queens and fellow countrymen. From magnates to movie stars to mariners, owning a Harrison knife is a treasure. But at the end of the day, the 76-year-old Ben Wheeler shop owner says his emphasis is on creating a quality product.

“It’s more about 100 years from now, that still being a good knife. That’s my ego,” Harrison says. “I’ve built for the Queen of England. I’ve built for the Royal Family of Malaysia. I’ve built for LBJ, all kinds of people. I’m appreciative that I got to do it; but building a knife for you, that you’ll pass down to yours and they’ll pass down to theirs and 300 years from now my name’s living on, that’s my ego. That’s my all I’m putting into that knife.”

Harrison has had the heart of a craftsman since he was a 12-year-old begging his neighbor, a gunsmith, to let him help in the business.After an initial shot at repairing a German gun in 1948, Harrison says he became more fascinated with the grinder he had used to fix the gun piece. “Boys love knives and this gave me my opportunity to build one,” he says. His first creation was for his mother — a butcher knife ground from a hacksaw blade. “The ladies down the road wanted one too, so I was in business. And I’ve been making them ever since.”

Crafting knives on the side was a way of life before Harrison entered the Marine Corps, and later an extra means of support for his young family when he became a police officer in Garland. In the early 1960s, Harrison began exhibiting at gun shows and started receiving acclaim as a quality craftsman by having several of his pieces showcased in museums. He also used his workaholic personality to create bronze chess sets and aluminum dominoes for sale at Neiman-Marcus. This is where President Lyndon B. Johnson first saw his work, Harrison says.

While he says fame has “filtered in from several sources,” over time, receiving Blade Magazine’s “American Made Knife of the Year” in 1986 certainly helped cement his fate. After creating The Solution, he was named head designer for Browning, Kershaw, Ka-Bar and Columbia River Knife Company. Being these companies’ main American product eventually meant building a plant on his Edom farm.

However, with constant toil came trouble. While Harrison was filling Internet orders and keeping up the patents on his knives over the last 20 years, he also suffered two heart attacks. His family and friends convinced him to cut back. Although Harrison did not know it, business associate Brooks Gremmels, the owner and founder of Ben Wheeler Development Company, had taken Harrison’s original tin shop off his property in Edom and relocated it to downtown Ben Wheeler as part of his revitalization efforts.

“Really I got tired of never seeing any (customers),” Harrison says. “Brooks brought me out here and showed me my new shop, and I’ve been smiling ever since.” The new shop, however, is not his old place. He says he’s not allowed in there because grinding metal would make it too dusty. Instead, Harrison and Son Knifesmith sits just to the east of the original building (which was also Harrison’s Justice of the Peace headquarters at one time. But you have to ask him that story yourself.)

“I’ve been the most lucky person,” he says. “Someone’s really looking out for me. And I know who that is.”

In addition to having a quiet shop, plus a nice workspace at his home, he’s also had his wife of 56 years, Carol, working alongside him, hand-crafting each individual knife’s sheath.Using heavy hides, she hand-stitches each piece, sometimes using cayman or diamondback skins as accents. Harrison’s son, Adam, an ETMC paramedic for the last 20 years, has also helped the family business along, crafting his first knife at the age of 11.

Today, his 16-year-old son works in the shop as well. Harrison’s daughter, Dana Simmons, along with her family, lives on the family farm in Edom, often reminding Harrison how blessed he is to have his grandchildren close by.

From visiting with customers about what they need from their knife to guiding aspiring craftsman with private classes, Harrison counts it a blessing to be putting in a full day’s work doing what he loves.

“I get up every morning as excited as you might be about going to see a good movie,” Harrison says. “I get over here and see what that wood is going to turn out like, or what kind of blade I’m going to do today. And it’s a lot of fun.”