5 from the Grinder: Byron McWilliams (Billy Van Custom Knives)

Hey everyone and welcome back for another edition of KNIFE Magazine 5 from the Grinder. 5ftG is our fast-format interview series where we highlight the work and philosophy of an assortment of custom makers from legends to advanced hobbyists.

Today we have Byron McWilliams who is a full-time pastor, and as he describes it, a “hobbiest on steroids”. We are happy he stopped by.

If you are new to our series and would like to be featured yourself, you can find out more about 5 from the Grinder here.


Please introduce yourself and let us know what led you to making/designing knives

Howdy, I’m Byron McWilliams, owner of Billy Van Custom Knives. I am a full-time pastor with a fantastic side hustle I call my “hobby on steroids.” As a craftsman, I am particularly drawn to the artisan side of custom knife making. Being a lifelong outdoorsman and hunter, I have always loved a good knife. I’ve owned some amazing knives, but did not make one of my own until January 2020. After watching YouTube videos and reading everything I could get my hands on, I began by building my own forge and 2×72 grinder. I have since put aside my forge, purchased an oven and settled into stock removal, using AEB-L as my primary knife steel. My goal is to make an heirloom knife from start to finish by hand, including all leather work, that is better than anything you can get from a big box store. I definitely have not arrived, but I strive to achieve this goal whenever I am in my shop.

What knifemaker(s) or designer(s) have had the biggest influence on you? Do you have any mentors?

My mentor has been Dustin O’Hara with “The Art of Craftsmanship.” When I stumbled upon his series on building a Woodlander Clone, I devoured the videos, sparking first thoughts of building a knife myself. I have also received great encouragement from Gene Benavente at Toka Knives. Both makers are incredible craftsman and willing teachers. I have also greatly benefited from the work of James Keaton at Red Beard Ops.
What is your favorite knife pattern or style from history?
I build fixed blade, full tang knives only, and have two primary designs: a hunter/skinner and a bushcraft. I have other designs in mind that I’m excited about, but very little time to bring them into production. My full-time job as a pastor demands a great deal of time. Because of this I am limited to making about 40 knives annually.



What is the next big thing in knifemaking? / What direction do you see the industry going?

I’m not sure about a “next big thing” but new super steels continue to fascinate makers and bring excitement to the knife making industry. These steels earn their name by their performance, and I look forward to seeing how they continue to enhance the art of knife making. I also see the industry embracing more custom engraving with fiber lasers in the future. Long have hand engraving been utilized to enhance an heirloom knife. I see potential in custom engraving blades to make them extra special, and have recently invested in a 50W JPT fiber laser. While a simple fixed blade knife will always be a favorite, adding artisan enhancements with a laser could be a trend of the future.


Is there a knife from your lineup that you feel best exhibits who you are as a knifemaker/designer in terms of design elements, aesthetic or techniques used?

My hunter/skinner best represents who I am as a knife maker. I make knives for hunters, plain and simple. When a prized trophy needs skinning, I want the hunter to pick up my knife with a confident smile on his face because he knows the tool is up for the task. My hope is that the skinning of a trophy with my knife becomes part of the adventure story told around the campfire. Because of this, I want a high quality blade that has been heat treated to perfection, cryogenically treated for increased toughness, and tempered so that it will endure for the long haul. Therefore, my hunter/skinner is a very high quality blade with stabilized natural material for scales, a beautiful and functional knife that will last generations.




What is your EDC and why?

I’m going to make you laugh. I wear slacks everyday, but still believe a man ought to carry a knife daily. As such, my EDC is a Case “My First Knife” tiny little thing. It’s not custom, but it’s a great letter opener.

If you would like to see more of Byron’s work, you can check out his website at www.billyvancustoms.com (coming online in July – not up at the time of this posting)

His instagram is @BillyVanCustomKnives and Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/byronmcwilliams

He can be reached via email at byronsdata(at)me.com.

Do you want to be featured in a future 5 from the Grinder, check out the link below.