Phill (Senior) and Phil Hartsfield
Phill and Pat Hartsfield are two of our closer friends in the cutlery industry. With Phill seniors passing earlier this year (2010) he now leaves a legacy for Phil his son to follow in. I had the honor to write an article about Phill for Blade magazine and it is posted below in the form I sent it to Blade. Phil (junior) and we now call him "Phil" with one "L" has decided to make the Hartsfield's knives full time. As he has worked with his father since high school there is not really any transition in the knives and no changes have been announced. At the Plaza Cutlery Custom Knife Show (fall 2010) Phil and his sister Kristin displayed for the first time and were very appreciative of the response by their many customers and friends and it should be a smooth transition although very emotional.
Hartsfield knives are tools and are meant to be used. If I was still in the Army, a Hartsfield would be at the top of my list of must have tools! Phill was also recognized as one of the top experts in Japanese and other Asian weapons and passed this knowledge on to Phil. Hartsfield swords are legendary and used by masters around the world! Phill has also helped well known authors on the subject, supplying the correct information so they can sound smart, but it was really Phill with no recognition that had the knowledge. Hartsfield knives are simple with clean lines and while not pretty, I world rather have one if my life depended on it and any other knife! Life long clients agree which has allowed the Hartsfield's to continue the tradition!
Starting in the mid 90's and more towards the late 90's both Phil and son made all the Hartsfield knives together. It is hard to say who did what, and I have learned a few things. The plan was, and has been is that none of us could tell. I have learned a few things but Phil junior identified all these knives so I have posted what we know.
This is the original article submitted to Blade Magazine
I have been fortunate to grow up in the knife industry and over the years I have met a lot of knifemakers, as well as others in the industry. Most of the people that I have met have been very pleasant and some have become good friends. Those of us who have had the privilege of meeting and getting to know Phill Hartsfield have now lost one of the true gentleman in the knife industry this past month. Losing Phill to cancer brought back a lot of memories of Royal Hanson, who we also lost to cancer, and my close friend Jim Hardenbrook, who died way too young in a hunting accident. Both were very close to me, as was Phill who I respected very much.
Most people did not know Phill very well. He was all business at shows and you needed to spend time with him at his shop, dinner, or as for my family and I, we knew him from when he would just stop by the store to say hello while out shopping for the kids or grandkids. I always looked forward to Phill and Pat stopping in or just waving if we were busy. We were fortunate to spend time with him; I just wish we had spent more time together. Phill did not belong to any organizations other than the knife making community. For whatever reasons he was not one to join, and he could read the faces of many knifemakers who did not get his knives or understand the very devoted following he had. When I started the first California Custom Knife Show back in 1980 Phill asked if he could have a table. I said of course why would I not want you there? You have a bigger, more devoted following than any maker I know. He replied to the effect that he did not have much contact with other makers. I replied we are there to sell knives and promote the industry, if you make a friend then great. I think Phill then realized there was no problem going to shows and simply concentrating on his “clients,” as he called them, and so he started attending shows that did not require membership.
With Phill’s passing I had the feeling not many people, other than his people, knew what he meant to them and the knife industry. Some people said his knives were too rough for them or not pretty enough. In Phill’s shop there is a sword with a sniper’s bullet imbedded in it that saved the life of a soldier. He did not claim to make a knife pretty, but he made a tool, a knife to be used, and if it was well taken care of, it could possibly save your life when the time came. For years Phill’s knives were used because they were so tough and all the other knives were just that: pretty. He was different. After a while there were makers who started copying him and then modernized his knives, which has led to the Japanese tactical knives we see today. Phill was also a leading researcher on Japanese weapons and supplied information to many of the leading writers of the last 30 years, including Ken Warner (check with Ken to verify).
Phill had served in the US Navy on the USS Kidd and in his early days, and had made knives for the military throughout his career. Living in Orange County he is close to Camp Pendleton and the San Diego Naval shipyards. Phill was asked by the first Navy Seal team to make folding knives for them. I called Ernie Emerson and he told me the story and he also told it at the recent Blade Show in Atlanta to 200 to 300 people who were waiting for Ernie’s knife drawing. I thought it was a great tribute by Ernie to tell everyone the importance of Phill Hartsfield to his people, and the important part Phill played in his life. The story is as follows: The team came to Ernie and said they had been using Phill’s fixed blades because they were so strong but wanted a folding knife made like a Phill Hartsfield fixed blade. Ernie told them that they should ask Phill to make a folder as he has his own style. When they approached Phill he replied, “I do not make folders.” After several tries they returned to Ernie and Ernie then called Phill to make sure it was not a problem if he used the chisel grind, as at that time Phill was the maker who had introduced it to the modern knife community. Phill said to go ahead, and in that one move Phill helped spark the modern tactical knife boom. Ernie as we know went on to start a whole new trend in knives and has never looked back. It took six designs before the CQC-6 was born (“6” for six redesigns). Ernie said, “I have always looked up to Phill and he set the standard for strong tough knives.” I did not know the story so it was good to learn about this, because this really makes Phill Hartsfield an important person in the continuing evolution of modern knife history, not just for modern tactical, but also for sparking the interest in Japanese weapons in general. Back in the late 70’s there was nobody else making Kwaikens, Kozukas, as well as the other knives Phill had researched.
For those of us who personally knew Phill, he was very soft spoken, had a good sense of humor, was hard working, and a devoted family man who loved his wife and family more than anything else in this world. He gave give what was left of his time and friendship to the rest of us: his friends. This is why he had a huge following. Rest in peace, my friend!