My dad wouldn't let me have a pocketknife, even when I turned 10. He said, "You don't want to cut yourself." So I was determined to make one and keep it hidden. I knew there were two secrets to making a pocket knife: the stone and the rivet. The first was easy; the second difficult.
The old grindstone leaned against a tree in the front yard of our Nebraska home. It was a flat sandstone about two feet long, with a square hole in the middle. This stone had the magic ability to turn dull gray metal into a sharp steely edge. I'd seen Dad perform the trick many times, as he stepped out to visit with the neighbor: Open the knife up, hooch down with your knee against the stone, spit on the blade of the knife, and touch the blade to the stone. Afterward, I'd see an edge so sharp it could shave the hair off the back of Dad's wrist.
The rivets were still a mystery. These little pins of metal held the parts of the knife together and provided a pivot for opening the blade. I wondered how they worked.
Then one day, Dad and I were making a new stovepipe in the workshop. After cutting a square of sheet metal and forming a cylinder, he reached up and grabbed an old wooden cigar box.
"Now, we'll just rivet this seam right up," he said. That caught my attention. The cigar box was divided into compartments with sizes and types of rivets, and the all-important rivet set - a steel tool with holes and dimples of various sizes that matched the rivets. We lined up the sheet-metal seams, drilled holes, popped a rivet in each hole, set the rivets, and then rounded the tails. Aha! Unknown to Dad, he had revealed the Secret of the Rivets.
That summer, I was busy working on my knives whenever Dad wasn't around. First I made a bench knife with a blade from a scrap of the stovepipe sheet metal and a split-pine handle fastened with copper rivets from the cigar box. But I couldn't get the stone to sharpen the edge. I had my knee on the stone and spit on the blade, but I couldn't seem to get the touch right.
Then it struck me: The neighbor was part of the magic formula. I called him over by the tree for a little visit. He could see I was not getting an edge, so he said, "Just rub it back and forth." Aha! Gray metal turned into a bright, steely edge. I got it sharp enough to whittle out the hickory handle for my next knife, a true clasping pocketknife made with an old pocket-knife blade I'd found in the kitchen junk drawer and a leaf spring from a broken clock, which kept the blade locked open.
Once it was all riveted together, I sanded the hickory handle and rubbed it on my nose to brighten the grain. Excited, I ran out to the stone to knee, spit, touch, and rub. I was getting a nice edge. Then I glanced over and saw Dad's shoe by the tree. The shoe moved - yikes! My goose was cooked. I kept my eyes on the stone as my trembling hand offered the knife up to Dad. My eyes teared, thinking I'd never see the knife again, tan hickory grain and all.
"Look here," said Dad with a smile. "This is a fine knife. You can't keep a secret from me, and I can't keep this knife from you." Then he showed me one last trick: "Always keep the edge moving away from you. You don't want to cut yourself."
After a whittling demonstration, he closed the knife and handed it back. With a deep sigh of relief, I slipped the knife into my pocket and gave it a pat. As we turned, I noticed the neighbor on his porch. All three of us were grinning.