Bill Bagwell

Note: Blaydz Purveyors is pleased to represent Bladesmith Bill Bagwell. We can fill small orders from reasonable stock on hand, shortening the usual order time to only a few months. We can also facilitate custom orders, moving your spot up a few spaces! If you would like to know more, please contact us.

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We first met Bill (electronically) by sheer dumb luck after a two year search which began after reading his book, Bowies, Big Knives, and the Best of Battle Blades, which changed our view of Bowies and made us a believer.  By his own choice, Bill is hard to find online. He has no website and does not like anyone to be free with contact info, however, someone made the fortunate error of putting his phone number up, very briefly, and Steve caught it.

He was friendly and folksy, with just a wee bit more of the backwoods than is characteristic of his thinking. After a while, and with no real hope of a positive reply, we asked him if we might represent him. He said that, as his last dealer died in 1979, that it might be ok. Nothing exclusive, mind you, but somewhat regularly. We immediately ordered a matched set of Hell’s Belles and, essentially, said we’d take whatever he wanted to send.

Bagwells have always been knives for use, not appearance, and he had little wish to be ‘artsy,’ but he did want to spread his wings a bit more.  He has always made knives that a warrior would have at his side, and will still interrupt his other work to build a blade for someone going into harm’s way.  I merely suggested that now he might start thinking about weapons that a king might bring to battle.  He told me that he had recently gotten a call from France from someone who had seen, at a museum, the actual sword of Charlemagne because it appeared that the Damascus of his sword appeared identical to Satan’s Lace and he was more than pleased to think that he had something that might be similar to that made by the best of the ancient armorers.

Speaking of Damascus, I have the answer to a question I saw argued on Bladeforums.  That is, what is the advantage, in cutting, of Damascus over carbon steel.  Bill answered it.  He told me that he put two of his knives under a microscope  and found that with carbon steel “the blades have teeth.  With (Satan’s Lace) the teeth have teeth.”

His historical interests, while broad, do focus on early 19th Century Americana, and he had been thinking about the quasi-legal practice of the duel.He had never made a dueling set, in part, I think,because it would be quite an investment in time and thus far,  his customer base is largely comprised of people who need only one knife,custom tailored to their physical attributes and intended use (If you want such a knife, Blaydz can provide it, for a premium, in several months, not years.) In any case, he became interested in making a matched set comprised of a spear point and a clip point Bowie, but he would not make the case as he was not a carpenter or cabinet maker and just didn’t have the tools, or the inclination. We (Blaydz) took care of that end.  What emerged is a unique, one-of-a-kind product and when he saw the case, deemed it right. More sets of various kinds, will probably follow, but we get ahead of ourselves.

Bill makes little effort to be ‘socially correct” but after completing one of our knives, a larger one with a crown stag handle, he said afterwards that it was “a man’s knife.”  He was quite aware that the sheer size of Bowies is off-putting even to the relatively rare female collector.  Some concessions are necessary. While he, and we, consider size basic to a Bowie’s function (length of blade is integral to its speed and therefore to it’s momentum or power, (he generally doesn’t consider a knife shorter than 8 1/2 to 9 inches a Bowie and will not make a Hell’s Belle less than 9 inches) he does admit to the utility of some shorter blades, particularly if the shorter length has a rationale, say, defensive camouflage.  For concealed carry purposes, blade length is a direct function of femur length.

Similarly, the size of a briefcase or purse limits the size a knife can be.  Bagwell’s esthetic sense is significant, and within certain parameters he can see as valid a “woman’s” bowie, shorter and relatively slender (I hope I’m not going too far here).  Blaydz can, given time, produce a sheath for the pocketbook as well as the briefcase.  As Bill informed me, I’d be quite surprised at the number of briefcases that hold Bowies on Wall Street.  Apparently there is more than one way that stock trading is dangerous.  A firearm is, in most cases, more potentially lethal, but at ten to fifteen feet, a drawn Bowie is more than a match for it.  Bowies, in the mid-nineteenth century, were the only weapons, including pistols, to have been illegal to use in certain forms of homicide, in four states.

A stiletto can pierce, but not more effectively; a cleaver or kukri can chop with similar result; and a razor can slice, but only in one direction and without the power of a combat Bowie. And none can intimidate to greater effect.  A woman under threat, who is serious and trained, who drops her pocketbook and leaves only a Bowie in her hand,can cause considerable ambivalence in the minds of potential assailants.

  1. May 27, 2011 at 8:58 am

    Howdy Folks,
    Yesterday I spoke to Bill Bagwell (before he rushed off to bring food to tornado victims) and he told me that he’d be willing to answer any questions anyone might have about, well, pretty much anything. If you write ‘em, I’ll forward them to Bill and post on the Blaydz Edge.
    Mike H.
    Blaydz

  2. Dean Brinkman
    October 31, 2011 at 12:10 pm

    Michael,
    I read Bill’s book Bowie’s, Big Knives and the Best of Battle Blades and he mentioned that he was looking at longer blades than he had used for the Hell’s Belle knife. I believe he said he was looking at whether a knife with a blade length of 13″ or more would be more effective than a 10 – 11 inch blade. Could ask him if he every did any more work to see if a longer blade was more and if so was there a practical limit that was reached when the blade became either cumbersome or no longer practical to carry due to the extra length.
    Thank you for your consideration.

    • July 8, 2012 at 2:41 pm

      Hi Michael,

      We spoke to Bill a few days ago and asked him that question. His reply, as to whether there is a length beyond which making a knife is useful, was that 11 to 12 inches is the maximum you can go before the leverage of the blade begins to be counter-productive, because of the fine movements required by such things as certain forms of the back cut.Hope this helps! And thanks for that great question.

      Steve

  3. October 31, 2011 at 2:02 pm

    Dean,
    That was a thoughtful question which I will forward tim directly, Hopefully we will get an answer within the next day or so,

    Mike

  4. October 31, 2011 at 6:55 pm

    Dean,
    I just spoke to Bill and he does have a reply to to your question but, for some reason, does not want to make it publicly on the internet (no I do not know why) but if you send me your email address or phone number, I will be glad to discuss it with you. I can be emailed at BlaydzUSA@aol.com, or phoned at 855-425-2939. Hope to hear from you.

    Mike Hurewitz
    Blaydz

  5. robert phillips
    December 16, 2011 at 11:49 am

    is this the bill bagwell that produced a movie called, A man called Pistole ??

    • January 3, 2012 at 9:30 am

      Robert,

      This is a different Bill Bagwell.”Our” Bagwell has been a specialist in metallurgy, knife-making, and combat-training.

      Thank you.

  6. January 2, 2012 at 11:35 pm

    Yesterday, a reader from South Africa wrote to see if I could get Bill Bagwell to answer the following question. Could he elaborate on his method of heat treating his knives?He thought about it a bit and stated that he differentially tempered the blades. The tang is
    “dead soft” while the spine is like a spring. The cutting edge is sharper for maximum edge retention,with a Rockwell hardness of 56-57, conceding that this is softer than some of the knives made recently and that the hardness of the point is in between that of the edge and that of the spine. This is the point beyond which he will not go, preferring to keep certain things secret. Additionally, he stated that this method only applies to carbon steel and will not work when using Damascus.

    I hope this helps answer your question.

  7. Johnny Thompson
    March 28, 2012 at 12:35 pm

    I have a question about Bill’s knives. I have 2 of his Bowies that were made in the 80’s and they are both marked “Double Extra Forged”. I would like to know if there was a special method for that process.

    Thanks

    Johnny Thompson

    • July 8, 2012 at 2:46 pm

      Hi Johnny,

      When we spoke to Bill’ recently about your question, his answer was that it is a forging technique which is now used on all of his knives. The reason it is no longer marked that way is that, due to a fire many years ago, the tool used to create that mark was destroyed and he no longer felt it necessary to continue with it as it was applicable to all of his knives.

      Thanks, again, for your keen observation!

      Mike and Steve

  8. Chris Newport
    June 17, 2012 at 3:44 pm

    Its good to find access to Bill however limited. I learned a lot from his book; the Bowie, until now, has continued to be largely neglected. I wish, however, there had been a chapter on the Smatchet. If he, or anyone else, ever thinks about making Excaliber, I can provide a design that is historically accurate in every way; I can also provide the enchantments in Runes for the weapon and scabbard. The weapon has been a study of mine. Hang tough, never be surprised, and never take a chance you don’t have to.
    Chris

    • July 7, 2012 at 6:39 pm

      Chris,
      I just spoke to Bill and to my surprise, I found that he has made swords, although not many, and he has carved runes in their blades. The idea of re-creating Excaliber does hold some interest for him and he would be quite willing to take a look at your ideas for the blade,although he warned me that this would not be a quick project, would be somewhat (ahem) costly, and that he would only make one in Damascus (which means that it would not be a shiny, mirror-finished blade. It would, however, be held to his rigid standards of quality which means that its strength or toughness would make it appropriate as a battle-ready, rather than strictly ceremonial piece. If this sounds good to you, I would think it would be good for you to get in touch with me, not only on the Blaydz Edge but by phone. He would like to see any drawings or measurement and aspects of ornamentation that you can provide and if you send them to me at the Blaydz address, I will get them to him immediately.

      This would certainly be a different type of project than any he has recently taken on, a sort of one-of-a-kind of one-of-kinds and he seemed both intrigued and a bit wary of the project, not that he has any doubt about his ability to produce, but in your seriousness about taking responsibility for your end of things. It would probably be a good idea for you to call me so we can talk in more detail about specifics at the Blaydz Purveyors number (855-425-2939).

      Hope to hear from you,,

      Mike H,
      Blaydz
      BLAYDZ

    • July 25, 2012 at 9:13 am

      Chris,
      Bill has taken an inerest in your version of Excaliber. Do you suppose you could give me your email address so he could look at the runes that you say adorn it. And tell me under what conditions you will provide them. By the way, he has never mentioned a smatchet, not because he isn’t familiar with them, but because they have no “leading” edge, more probably.
      Steve Hurewitz

      • August 1, 2012 at 10:54 am

        Chris,
        Are you still interested in having Bill Bagwell re-create Excalibur? Please let us know either way.
        Mike H.
        Blaydz

  9. July 4, 2012 at 4:54 pm

    Chris
    Outside of Bowies, I’ve never heard Bill discuss making any other knife outside of two. One is of the ‘hunting’ knife variety, an example of which is the “Cherokee Chief” knife which is seen on the site. The other is a small knife, say 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 inches, meant for eating, whittling, etc. When the laws in Texas changed to allow the carry of knives up to 5 inches, he made one for himself (and, with some irritation, for many of his friends). He found, to his dismay, that the larger size was less useful than those he had made previously. In light of that, he went back to the size he made originally. He has never, to my knowledge voiced an interest in making swords of any sort, although I certainly feel that it is not beyond his capacity and I will ask him about it.

    On a more personal note, I too have done some research on Excaliber, in college, while writing a paper on Arthur. The name of the blade, which suggests that it came “out of” (“ex”) the Caliburn River area in Britain, which was a prime area for obtaining iron ore in the Seventh and Eighth Century, has both historical and legendary validity. If you are looking for someone to make such swords, you might think of one of our other master smiths, Rick Barrett, who has wide experience making not only Japanese or other Eastern swords, but also has made several which incorporate aspects of both, notably blades made in the Eastern manner but have Western style guards and handles. Something to think about.

    Mike Hurewitz
    Blaydz

    • Roberto
      July 5, 2012 at 3:41 am

      I’m an Italian knives Collector. I’m sure that EX CA LIBUR comes from :
      EX CALCE LIBERATA that means : OUT OF THE STONE FREED according to the legend of King Arthur and the Sword in the Rock he only could free
      Roberto.

      • July 8, 2012 at 3:05 pm

        Roberto,

        Some authors claim that the sword in the stone and the famous Ex Calibur sword are NOT one and the same, although Hollywood filmmakers would have us believe otherwise.

        According to Brittania, The Name: The earliest Arthurian stories give the name of King Arthur’s sword as Caladfwlch, a Welsh word derived from Calad-Bolg meaning “Hard Lightning”. Later it developed to become the Caliburn of Geoffrey and Monmouth and finally the Frenchified Excalibur that we know today.

        Another source, Hanover.edu, credits the name as follows: Widely known by its name Excalibur, the sword of King Arthur has held other various names throughout Arthurian literature. Geoffrey of Monmouth, who is usually credited with first adding the sword to legend, named it Caliburnus (Lacy �Encycolpedia� 147). This name, sometimes shortened to Caliburn, stems from the Latin word chlybs, meaning steel (Lacy �Handbook� 337). In addition to the Latin form, there are two theories for the origin of Caliburnus. One is an Irish word, also the name of a legendary sword, Calad-cole (Brown �Grail� 117). The other is the Welsh word Caledvwlch, meaning a strong carving instrument ( Warren 254n43). In The Mabinogion, a collection of medieval Welsh prose poetry, Caledvwlch is a legendary sword with the same attributes as Excalibur (Gantz 140). Roger Sherman Loomis, in his Arthurian Tradition and Chretien de Troyes, argues for both origins. He claims the name Excalibur developed out of many different legends and authors� adaptations. Caledvwlch probably developed out of one of the forms of the Irish Calad-cole, and then became Caliburnus in Monmouth�s writings. It became Calibor in the Anglo-Norman poet Wace�s French prose Roman de Brut, based on Monmouth�s Historia Regum Britanniae. According to Loomis, there existed, �A peculiar tendency to attach the prefix es- to names,� (Loomis 424). Calibor then became Escalibor, which eventually transformed into Excalibur. There was more to this sword than its name however, as can be send through the various Celtic and Welsh legends it evolved from.

        Meanwhile, Wikipedia describes the name’s origin thusly: In Chretien de Troyes’s Perceval, Gawain carries Escalibor and it is stated, “for at his belt hung Excalibor, the finest sword that there was, which sliced through iron as through wood”[4] (“Qu’il avoit cainte Escalibor, la meillor espee qui fust, qu’ele trenche fer come fust.”[5]). This statement was likely picked up by the author of the Estoire Merlin, or Vulgate Merlin, where the author (who was fond of fanciful folk etymologies) asserts that Escalibor “is a Hebrew name which means in French ‘cuts iron, steel, and wood'”[6] (“c’est non Ebrieu qui dist en franchois trenche fer & achier et fust”; note that the word for “steel” here, achier, also means “blade” or “sword” and comes from medieval Latin aciarium, a derivative of acies “sharp”, so there is no direct connection with Latin chalybs in this etymology). It is from this fanciful etymological musing that Thomas Malory got the notion that Excalibur meant “cut steel”[7] (“‘the name of it,’ said the lady, ‘is Excalibur, that is as moche to say, as Cut stele.'”).

        Thank you for your insight into this continuing mystery!

        Mike and Steve

  10. Johnny Thompson
    July 4, 2012 at 5:31 pm

    Mike, I would like for you to forward a question to Bill. I have two of his bowies that I bought back in the early 80s. They are both marked as “Double Extra Forged” and I would like to know if this was a specially made type of steel, or just a method of manufacture. Thanks. Johnny Thompson-Midland, Texas

    • July 11, 2012 at 3:12 pm

      Johnny,
      As I don’t see my previous reply to your question, I will repeat it. the mark :Double Extra Forged” refers to a method of treating steel, not to the steel itself. The original stamp used in those knives was destroyed in a fire and since this is the method he uses in all his knives, he no longer felt the need to have a special stamp to identify them.

      Mike H.
      Blaydz

  11. Roberto
    July 10, 2012 at 2:40 am

    Tkank you very much for your learned and interesting considerations about Excalibur. One has always something to learn. Perhaps my consideration is the simplest but in the seventies Gerber Legendary Blades choosed Excalibur for their trademark engraved on their blades and in the accompanying brouchure gave the same explanation as mine. In any case Ex Calce Liberata is a very poetical image and when we buy a knife perhaps we want to dream a bit! Roberto

    • July 10, 2012 at 1:30 pm

      Roberto,

      Yes, “To sleep—perchance to dream. Ay, there’s the rub!” Ex Calce Liberata does meet that poetic image brilliantly!

      Mike & Steve

  12. July 10, 2012 at 4:35 pm

    To Chris, and Roberto, and others with an interest in such a blade as Excalibur,

    I never expected the type of deep and meaningful interest in Excalibur that has recently been elicited, nor did I expect Bill Bagwell to be willing to address such a project. He informs me that he was only the second maker in the United States to forge a sword out of Damascus and he was willing to be somewhat more forthcoming about his use of runes on their blades, which must be incised with a chisel, not engraved in the usual manner, but the whole idea seemed to spark his interest. If anyone wants to engage him for this purpose, it certainly would be a marriage of the mythical with the modern legendary.

    Mike H.
    Blaydz

  13. Bert
    May 10, 2013 at 4:15 am

    How would i go about ordering a Hells Belle for myself from Bill? Thanks. Backcutter brt1789@yahoo.com

  14. May 11, 2013 at 1:01 pm

    Bert (and anyone wanting a custom Bagwell),
    As I have mentioned earlier, Bill isn’t able to take orders and doesn’t expect to for at least a few months). All of the knives we have in stock are in Damascus, including the Hells Belles. I would suggest that anyone
    Who wants a custom or carbon steel knife to call us directly at 201-857-2162 . Or even if you don’t want to make an order and just want talk knives.
    Mike Hurewitz
    Blaydz

  15. Countrystrong
    August 11, 2013 at 8:17 pm

    how wide in inches are bills bowie knives.

  16. August 12, 2013 at 11:58 am

    According to Bill, he has no specific width for his knives. It depends on the fell of the knife in the hand He said he once made a blade with a two inch width but it was a “monster,” and that most of his knives are about 1 1/2 inches or so, depending on the specific knife
    Mike H.
    Blaydz

  17. Matt
    August 20, 2013 at 11:56 pm

    G’day Folks from the land down-under, Western Australia more specifically. I am interested in purchasing a big badass Bill Bagwell custom Bowie special. What will it take? Down payment? Too many years of patiently waiting perhaps? I own an Ontario Bagwell Hells Belle and love it. Now I require the real deal. Wooden coffin handle, blade catchers. Spanish notch, Satan’s lace Damascus with a blade length of 11 1/2 inches. A fair dinkum killing machine.
    I look forward to your reply
    Regards
    Matt

  18. August 21, 2013 at 8:38 am

    Matt,
    I’ll try to get ahold of Bill today to get an idea of the turnaround time. Since it’s custom, I’ll need a bit more information from you, but that can wait till I get back to you. You certainly seem to know what you want.
    Mike Hurewitz
    Blaydz

  19. September 28, 2013 at 12:27 pm

    Bill can start a knife around the end of the month and it will take approximately 1 month to finish it, in either carbon steel or Damascus,
    M.
    Blaydz

  20. KS Chan
    October 24, 2013 at 1:42 am

    Since the discontinued Ontario Hell Belle’s, are there plans for a new release of an updated Hell Belles in carbon steels?

  21. October 24, 2013 at 10:18 am

    There are none currently in stock, however Bill will be able to start a custom Hell’s Belle within the month.
    I don’t know of any new production models since Ontario but there may be someone trying to duplicate it.
    By the way, the Ontario model feels nothing like a Bagwell in the hand.
    Mike H.
    Blaydz

  22. Dennis White
    January 17, 2014 at 10:38 am

    Please ask Bill if he still has the big knife he made, it’s been years ago (35 at least.) He had a painting of it on the side of an old Ford van (64 model I think) back in the early 70’s. It had a carved handle that looked like a rope and the blade was around 18″ or maybe a little more. Pass along to him that I still get a kick out of remembering Syd trying to attack a bowling ball at the old bowling ally north of Vivian. I knew then that he would do well with the passion he had and the attention to detail in producing a quality knife. He was always very serious and dedicated in his pursuit of excellence in any task he undertook.
    Thanks for passing this along.

    Dennis White

  23. January 17, 2014 at 11:38 am

    This is for Dennis White, who knew Bill many years ago. First of all he remembers you well, along with your father Claude, and he also remembers the truck and Syd attacking the bowling ball. He also brought up an arm wrestling contest (but said the results were supposed to be secret. With regards to the knife you mentioned, a)he doesn’t still have it and b} it wasn’t 18″ long in the blade, although he does allow that it was a big knife. In any case, he was happy to hear from you and sends his regards.
    Mike H.
    Blaydz

  24. Mike Stewart
    February 12, 2014 at 10:29 am

    How much for a Bill Bagwell 11″ blade Hell’s Belle? 12″ blade? a simple one with bladecatcher in his best steel (but not Damascus), practical hard use with coffin handle without lot of frills?

    • February 12, 2014 at 8:55 pm

      Mike, The cost of a carbon steel Hell’s Belle made your specifications would depend a bit on things like handle materials and style, A basic blade would be between five and six thousand dollars. If that’s what you’re looking for, call and I’ll find out what Bill’s turn around time is at this point (201-857-2162). Mike Hurewitz Blaydz

      Sent from my iPhone

      >

  25. August 14, 2014 at 8:07 pm

    This is for Jim Stevens (this is a bit late but there are several blogs on this site and I sometimes take a while to get to them) but to answer your question about a a Hell’s Belle in carbon steel. His knives have recently gone up in price. I can’t even keep Hells Belles in stock so at this point, all Hell’s Belles are custom, staring at $6,500. There is no difficulty in getting one but the timing is more of a question. It sounds like you want a straight forward ‘user,’ not a display collectible. If so give me a call at 201-857-2162 and I’ll get ahold of Bill and see what we can work out.
    Mike H.
    Blaydz

  1. February 26, 2011 at 11:17 pm

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