Bladesmiths from the southeast and beyond will be saddened to learn of Wednesday’s passing of Knoxville, Tennessee’s Ron Claiborne, known to many of his friends as “Bowie” because of his fondness for bowie knives. Ron was an early member of the American Bladesmith Society, joining back in the 1980s, and primarily made fixed blade knives. He was particularly skilled at silver wire inlay work, which he often demonstrated, and may be best known for the superb hydraulic presses he produced that are in use all over the country.
At his “Thunder Mountain Forge” Ron hosted a series of legendary events under the name “Bowie’s Hammer-in,” which drew some of the biggest names in bladesmithing to demonstrate and join in the camaraderie. It was a special event in part because the diversity of backgrounds and interests of the attendees, with everyone coming away having learned something new each year. People came from as far as Michigan and Oklahoma, and once one experienced the event, most continued to return time and again.
Ron’s kindness and sincerity naturally brought him a rich array of friends. He was a selfless in his efforts to bring people together, and seemed to get more joy out of encouraging others in their bladesmithing efforts than anything else he did. Numerous well known bladesmiths can credit Ron and his hammer-ins with putting them on the path to success.
Finally, no description of Ron would be complete without including his wife Phyllis, who preceeded him in death in 2015. Without her organizational skills and effort, those hammer-ins would never have gotten off the ground in the first place.
Rest in peace, good friend. Your efforts on behalf of your blade brothers made this world a better place.
Ronald L. Claiborne
September 5, 1945 – October 28, 2020