Local man enjoys being on the cutting edge
By Ted Pennekamp
Since about 1990, a rural Prairie du Chien man has enjoyed the artful, yet practical hobby of knife making.
“I don’t want it to become a job,” said Phil Toberman, who has created hundreds of knives and sheaths over the years. “But, it was a nice way to wind down after a good day’s work.”
Toberman, an avid outdoorsman, has been retired for a number of years and he continues to make a wide variety of antler-handled knives for his hunting and fishing friends.
Friend and rendezvous partner Dick Tesar showed Toberman how to make knives using various sources of steel for blades and deer or elk antlers for handles. He and Tesar participate in about two or three rendezvous events each year, including the Prairie Villa Rendezvous in Prairie du Chien.
Tesar and Toberman sell some of their knives at the rendezvous events, although Toberman said that he sells most of his knives outside of the Prairie du Chien area because he doesn’t want to tread upon his friend’s territory.
In fact, Toberman has sold many knives in Canada, Florida, the state of Washington, California, Texas, South Dakota, Colorado, Vermont, Hawaii, and upstate New York. Toberman noted that commissions for his knives are a bit sporadic. Sometimes he has many orders, and other times very few.
Toberman said that he gives away more than half of his knives as gifts or as donations for the fund-raisers of various wildlife organizations.
In 2000, Toberman was travelling to Alaska when he met John Quincy Adams III, a descendent of the fourth president of the United States. Toberman ended up making a knife for Adams III who gave it to his brother as a gift.
“I can make a pretty good knife,” said Toberman. “You start with quality ingredients to get a quality knife.” The knives that Toberman makes are practical knives for outdoorsmen and women. He makes small knives for young beginners, as well as hunting knives, filet knives, neck knives, Bowie knives, and a variety of other special knives. “I can make anything anybody wants,” he said. “I like it when people use the knives I make.”
Knife making is hard and dirty work, said Toberman, who noted that antlers stink when being cut, while steel grinding sends tiny particles into the air which can make one’s nostrils black. Hearing protection is a must, he said.
Steel for the blades comes from several sources, with old files and ban saw blades being the most common. The type of steel depends upon the type of blade needed, such as a blade for a filet knife or a hunting knife, for instance. Toberman also uses Damascus steel for many of his knives. “It’s the best there is for making knives,” he said.
Toberman said that he will cut out a shape for the blade and then will spend a lot of hours on the grinder. He will mark his finished knives with a small symbol on the blade depicting his initials.
Before he makes a knife, Toberman needs to know whether the person is left or right-handed. Most of his knives have polished whitetail deer or elk antlers as handles. One unique knife has the tusk of a wart hog as its handle. The wart hog was shot by Toberman while hunting with a crossbow in South Africa last year.
Doc LaMoureaux, a friend from Hawkins, Wis., taught Toberman a lot about the leather work involved in sheath making. “A lot goes into the sheaths,” said Toberman. “It’s very rewarding.” The sheath has to be cut out to the correct size. It also needs to be sewn, stained and polished. In addition, Toberman installs the snaps and applies a tooling stamp of various animals into the leather.
In addition to making knives, Toberman also enjoys making deerskin shirts and pants, which he wears turkey and deer hunting. “I could wear them everyday,” he said. “They’re so comfortable.”
Toberman can be reached at (608) 326-2317 or by email at email@example.com.