Born in a snowed-in Michigan cabin during the winter of 1873, Bill Scagel was "officially" Canadian but always considered himself Canadian-American. He was, before making knives, a sheet-metal worker, building metal boats prior to forging blades in earnest. Known for his wrought ironwork, his sailing prowess and his pride in exotic flower gardening, Scagel also was a gunsmith, a machinist and a builder of bridges.
Scagel's most productive years as a knifemaker began around 1910. After a fire wiped out his place in Muskegon, he settled on an acre of land in Fruitport, which became the wellspring of most of the incomparable Scagel-made knives we know today -- from small 25-cent parers to full-on 25-dollar Bowies.
Perhaps owing to his Scottish heritage, the reclusive Scagel designed and built his own machining and forging equipment, wasting little. For many years his shop was powered by a gasoline engine salvaged from a 1926 Cadillac -- his way of stiffing the local electric company.
The man's frugality was reflected in his knives, particularly the handles. In one sense a scavenger's delight, Scagel made handles from what he had -- leather, bone, fiber, antler, brass -- but they were undeniably utilitarian, designed to complement the blades to which they were mated. The now-classic lines of Scagel's blades and his quirkily beautiful handles were beside the point, because the man built complete edged tools, made to be worked hard.
Bill Scagel died in 1963, about a year after he'd stopped producing knives. His 52 years of craftsmanship survives in the hands of dedicated collectors, and although it's accurate to refer to Bill Scagel as an artist, a master of 20th-Century American cutlery or "The Father of the Custom Knife," indeed the best nod to his legacy is to recognize it and carry it on.
KnivesShipFree's Scagels, crafted by respected makers, aren't imitations or reproductions -- they're respectful tributes to the man and his work.