The Legend of Master Craftsman Roderick “Caribou” Chappel

Master Craftsman, Roderick “Caribou” Chappel, was a custom bladesmith based primarily out of Washington state. All of his blades were high-caliber works of art. He was an artist that brought his pen and paper drawings to life with ease and dexterity. A trail blazer, his passion for bladesmithing greatly impacted the custom knifemaking industry. His artistry is immortalized through his unique one-of-a-kind knives, daggers, and bowies. He has even been known to make a few hatchets and swords (very rare).

Rod Chappel was of Spanish and Native American descent. A man of artistic and calculating intellect, Rod switched gears from engineering to knifemaking exclusively. He learned some of his skills from working with famous knifemakers Harvey Draper and Gil Hibben as well as Bill Moran. He would make blades with standard cocobolo handles and brass finger guards and pommels. It would cost customers extra to upgrade to a superior handle materials, sub-hilts, and stainless steel finger guards and pommels. Interestingly, due to his Alaskan Native American lineage, Rod was able to legally utilize supreme materials such as walrus tusk ivory or whales teeth for some of his knives.

Rod started his first knife shop in Airway Heights, WA. At one point, he had his knife shop stationed at a shooting range in Mountlake Terrace, WA where he received custom orders for knives and would also serve to regrind and sharpen blades for $5 dollars each in less than 7 minutes flat per knife. The knife shop he established in Spokane called Davis Knives derived its namesake from his maternal grandfather (who we believe was a boat maker). He made hunting and fighting knives of all shapes and sizes that incorporated his elegant grind lines. He had knives ranging from small to very large, all with heft and quality feel. These include the Pioneer, Scout, Pheasant, Quail, Bobcat, Little Wolf, Redwood Forest, Mohawk Warrior, Salmon River Utility-Skinner, Lady Diana, Arctic Fox, Coeur D’Alene Fish Knife, Chief Joseph Utility Knife, Barren Ground Caribou, Micro Mini-Mag, Mini-Mag Bowie, Eagles Talon Boot Knife, Trophy Caper, Mini-Skinner, Sheffield Dagger, Marquis Lagdames De Espina, Hunter’s Bowie, Woodsman Bowie, and Hunting Leopard Bowie. From his smaller skinners to his big bowies, Rod’s artistry contributed timeless pieces to our knife culture. Typically, his blades were clad in beautifully tooled knife cases made by none other than the master saddle maker, Jesse Smith, of Jesse W. Smith Saddlery.

Rod Chappel and John Dingman visiting over lunch in 2015. Photo Credit: John Dingman

Notorious for his ergonomic hand sculpted grips and the superior mastery in his sweeping grinds, he implemented a hollow grind with a rolled convex edge that would be resilient and sharp through many events of usage. He was known for putting his body weight into the grinding wheel with expert sweeping motions during his knife profiling. He believed that there are 200 essential steps that must be executed in the construction of a good knife from beginning to finish and that a masterfully made blade can be made in only 22 hours. He used the stock removal procedure which is generally outlined in this previous blog post of mine. He was esteemed as a top member of the American Knife Makers Guild in the ’70s.

The world lost one of its greatest knifemakers as Rod passed away in 2017, but his elegant and pragmatic artwork remains ever alive and inspiring for collectors and sportsmen alike. He was passionate about inserting his unique knifemaking flare by making products that looked as fantastic as they performed. Many, intrigued by his work, took to Blade Forum’s discussions on Rod’s artistry. It’s great to hear everyone’s nostalgia via experiences with him and how his knives affected their lives. As collectors, we appreciate the hard work and artistry that went in to making these fantastic tools

If you appreciate knives and artistry, please leave a comment and subscribe! This post is dedicated to the memory and legend of Master Knifemaker Roderick “Caribou” Chappel, may he rest in peace.

1999 Roderick “Caribou” Chappel King Hunting Leopard Photo Credit: Kammi Dingman

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Kammi Dingman

In addition to pursuing my cellular and molecular biology research and medical professional careers, I am a knife artistry dealer. My husband and I started Big John Blades in 2018 with a mission in mind: Everyone needs a sophisticated cutting edge. I think that everyone deserves the best quality knives; I’m here to deliver the education and product. I’m a believer that quality and price are highly correlated. As a custom knife collector with a scientific mind, I continually research the market and invest in high quality knife-making materials. I'm here to listen to the customers expectations and help them create their custom knife. Whether you are an outdoor enthusiast, survivalist, hunter, adventurer, camper, hiker, or connoisseur, an exceptional knife is an asset to any collection. Retail stores can't offer the unique artistry and quality a custom blade will. Custom knives hold their value and in certain instances, increase in value over the years. They are distinguished pieces of art passed down through the generations.

7 thoughts on “The Legend of Master Craftsman Roderick “Caribou” Chappel”

  1. I met Rod in 1989 or 90 i was a meat cutter in Seattle but lived in mount lake terrace.I took my knives to him to sharpen for me, yes he was a master at what he did i loved just standing there watching him sharpen my knives, He will be greatly missed, i guess i am fortunate i purchased a print of his after a few times i took my knives to him. Its the one of his 4 knives with ivory handles and fruit in the picture, The one that is in the background of him holding that 4 foot sword in his shop in Spokane WA. He was a great man and will be missed

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What great memories. I bet the meat was a whole lot easier to process after those sharpening sessions! Our family treasures his knives. My husbands uncles were good friends with Rod and visited him in Spokane, WA. That picture is gorgeous; Definitely something I’d hang on my wall!


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