When legendary knife-maker Robert (Bob) Waldorf Loveless died in the fall of 2010, it left a vacuum in the cutlery world. Initially, Loveless designed his knives as functional edged tools for the user who demands peerless quality at an affordable price. In recent years, however, the price of one of his knives has risen well above the income level of most folks, fetching up to $5,000 for a simple 3 1/2 inch, fixed blade.
During his knife-making career, Bob Loveless had several individuals who spent time with him in his shop. Some came for conversation; others for knowledge and a few were willing work. Jim Merritt was one who came and stayed for 30 years working side-by-side with Bob. As a full partner in the business, Jim succeeded Bob as the sole owner and maker of Loveless Knives.
Another who came to the Loveless shop in the early 1970s and stayed to work with Bob was Steve Johnson. Steve is now a full-time knife-maker in Manti, Utah, and is proud to say that his knives are made in the “Loveless tradition.” A more recent Loveless protégé is Brent Harp. A former police detective in Redlands, California, Brent became interested in knife-making nearly 30 years ago.
“I’d tried my hand at knife-making and found that it was something that caught my interest. Of course I didn’t know a thing about steel, let alone proper heat-treatment technique. When I learned that Bob Loveless lived near me, I called him on the telephone and he invited me to his shop. And that led to an apprenticeship that involved several days a week and weekends for more than two years.
“Initially, I really didn’t know who Bob Loveless was. As far as I knew he was just a guy who made knives. I figured that he could point me in the right direction. Of course, it didn’t take too long for me to realize that Bob was a true master and one of the most influential makers of the later half of the Twentieth Century,” Brent said.
Interestingly, both Bob Loveless and Brent Harp began their knife-making careers the same way. Loveless forged his first knife from an old Packard automobile leaf spring. Likewise, Brent made his first knife from similar material. And just like Loveless in the beginning, Brent didn’t know how to heat-treat a finished blade.
“Bob taught me how to heat-treat a blade using the heat from barbeque briquettes and then temper it in my wife’s kitchen oven,” Brent commented.
Of course, home heat-treatment has its limitations. Now Brent sends his blades to Paul Bos in Idaho, who for years has operated one of the most well respected heat-treatment facilities in the nation.
“Paul Bos is who Loveless sent his knives to for heat-treatment and Jim Merritt has continued that practice. That was good enough for me,” Brent stated.
While Brent’s shop is small, it contains everything he needs to make knives. In fact, Loveless gave him recommendations and even provided some of the tools. One particular piece of equipment was custom-made by Loveless for Brent’s shop. With it Brent can do everything needed to create a knife, with the exception of drilling and buffing.
True to form, Brent Harp makes knives in the Loveless tradition¾fixed-blade, ATS-34 stainless steel, drop-point pattern, full-length tang blades with stainless single guards and Micarta handle scales. When I visited his shop, the Loveless influence was clearly evident in several of Brent’s recent creations.
“While I make Loveless style knives, recently I’ve began to make subtle changes in the handle design. Since it’s really all about improving functionality, the slight offset that can be seen in my knife handle is more of an evolution rather than a significant departure from the original Loveless design,” Brent said.
Even though Brent Harp can produce an exact copy of any Loveless design, right down to the tapered blade tang and red fiber spacer between the Micarta handle scales and the tang, he is a true custom knife-maker.
“I’ll make whatever the customer would like to have in a knife, from the choice of steel, to the handle scales and even the sheath,” Brent remarked.
It should be noted the Brent also makes all of his own sheaths out of top-grade 10-ounce leather. And like the Loveless knife sheath, the Harp sheath is form fitting with an integral cam to hold the knife securely until the user removes it.
In 2009, I had the opportunity to interview Bob Loveless on several occasions in preparation for the writing and eventual publication of Knifemaking with Bob Loveless: Build Knives with a Living Legend. In my last conversation with Bob, he said, “If I could sum it all up, I’d say do better each time and pass it on.” Certainly, the knife-making skill of Brent Harp is clear evidence that Bob Loveless has accomplish his goal.
Harp knives start about $450 for a 3 1/2-inch drop-point hunting knife with sheath. For more information, contact Brent Harp at: (951) 285-9601– Durwood Hollis