Making of the Cudahy-Tyler Bowie Knife

Cudahy-Tyler Bowie Knife Restored
Cudahy-Tyler Bowie Knife all Restored

USA – -( “Hoarder,” I am not one, but sometimes I can come awfully close. I built a 50′ x 60′ pole barn on my farm five years ago, and at the time, it seemed so large. Now it is stuffed with “stuff.”

Garage sales and estate sales are my personal downfall. Somehow I cannot resist stopping and looking for one more treasure.

A few months back, I was at an estate sale in the town of Cudahy, Wisconsin. You may have heard of Patrick Cudahy bacon, the official bacon of the Green Bay Packers, well it comes from Cudahy WI. At this particular estate sale, I only found some rather poor quality hand tools and nothing I wanted to put any time and effort into making serviceable.

As I was examining a steel box full of nuts and bolts (which I acquired and spent hours sorting), when I spotted a monstrosity of a home-made Bowie knife. It was incredibly, crudely made and had pieces of metal welded to the tang to function as a very “fat” handle. Someone, it would appear, was trying to chop up chain length fences with the knife and had created large gouges in the blade.

As Found Cudahy-Tyler Bowie Knife
As found, Cudahy-Tyler Bowie Knife

The knife was eighteen inches long, and it was bloody heavy. It was not practical as a “real” knife, but they only wanted $2. My hoarder DNA kicked in and advised me I had to have this objective of manly desire. After all, if it did not work out for my needs, the Colonel could use it in her garden, propping up tomato plants.

My Cudahy Bowie was purchased along with 80 pounds of old nuts and bolts. An attempt was made to file out some of the really deep gouges in the blade. Wondering if the blade could be polished for a better look, I started thinking about having it color case finished like a fine Henry lever-action rifle.

Enter Bobby Tyler of Tyler Gun Works

Now the person who does all the color case finishing for Henry Repeating Arms is Bobby Tyler of Tyler Gun Works out of Friona, Texas. I have never met Bobby Tyler, but, I have been talking to him on the phone for years.

If you pull out your 2018-2019 Brownells number 71 catalog, you will find that the person on the front cover holding a color case finished New Original Henry rifle is Bobby Tyler. If you take a close look at the action on that rifle, you will notice the excellent color case finish work that Mr. Tyler accomplishes for Henry Rifles. This was the look I wanted for my Cudahy Bowie. I really wanted Mr. Tyler’s help on this project because, after all, Bobby Tyler is “the” gunsmith to the stars and now world-famous on the cover of the Brownells catalog.

Contacting Mr. Tyler, I asked him to take a look at a couple of pictures of the Cudahy Bowie in the “raw” and advise me if he thought the knife might be a candidate for a Tyler color case finish process. His very quick e-mail response was “send it to me.” I mailed it to Friona, Texas the next day.

I advised Mr. Tyler if he could take some pictures of the knife as it was being polished and color case finished that would work well for me and this column you are reading.
The early production pictures he sent came after the knife has been color case finished, and I noticed that the handle had been completely re-designed. It was no longer fat, and the tang was much narrower. Quickly I understood that Mr. Tyler was up to his master gunsmith and metal finishing tricks, and like Christmas morning for a small child, I could not wait to see the finished knife.

When the first pictures of the finished knife came through e-mail, I was shocked (and most pleased) by the change in the old crude Cudahy Bowie knife. It was gorgeous and was now the Cudahy-Tyler Bowie knife. (Look up the name behind Bowie knives, and there are countless counties, cities, schools, and streets in Texas named after Jim Bowie.)

Bobby Tyler turned the Cudahy blade over to master knifemaker Micah London and instructed Mr. London with his 40 years of knife making experience to do his magic and produce a one-of-kind Bowie masterpiece. This is exactly what Mr. London did.

The first thing they had to do was mill off the original handle that had been welded on. They had to straighten the blade, remove the imperfections on the edge, and then polish the hell out of it to try and eradicate most of the major blemishes in the steel. The blade was bent in three places and required pressing Cudahy-Tyler Bowie numerous times to flatten it out.

Cudahy-Tyler Bowie Knife the tang being reduced in the mill
Cudahy-Tyler Bowie Knife, the tang being reduced in the mill.

Mr. London had to cut down the tang of the knife to make it a more manageable size to grab hold of. A brass guard was milled from bar stock, and elkhorn was used to form the grips. Unbeknownst to me, the blade had been produced from stainless steel, and that makes it a little harder to drill the tang for attaching the elk grips.

Cudahy-Tyler Bowie Knife Cut down and polished
Cudahy-Tyler Bowie Knife cut down and polished.
Cudahy-Tyler Bowie Knife Cut after case hardening
Cudahy-Tyler Bowie Knife, after case hardening.

Also, with the blade being stainless steel, it required more of an effort on Bobby Tyler’s part when it came to the color case finishing. Mr. Tyler told me many who work with metal believe you cannot successfully color case finish stainless steel. Mr. Tyler routinely disproves that hypothesis.

Mr. London has been making knives for Tyler Gun Works for years. With the outstanding work he did on the Cudahy-Tyler Bowie knife, I see a continuance of his work and an increase in the demand for knives coming out of Friona, Texas, the home of Tyler Gun Works.

There is no doubt that the Cudahy-Tyler Bowie is a uniquely produced, one-of-kind knife. It started in someone’s garage who had a welder handy and perhaps a bit of a warped sense of humor. The original blade was produced and then later found by me in a pile of junk for sale at the end of a person’s long life.

Cudahy-Tyler Bowie Knife gets a new elk horn handle.
Cudahy-Tyler Bowie Knife gets a new elk horn handle.

It was acquired by me with perhaps a bit of my own warped sense of humor as to what I could do with the blade. When the Cudahy Bowie knife got into the hands of Bobby Tyler and Micah London, it stopped being a joke and turned into a rare, uniquely produced masterpiece.

More importantly, the finished product, the Cudahy-Tyler Bowie Knife, made an old retired cop real happy. Whoever produced the original blade that wound up in that estate sale, I do not know, but I thank that person.

Mr. Tyler and Mr. London facilitated the making of a new family heirloom that has found a home with me.

There are rumors that a limited production of the Cudahy-Tyler Bowie Knife may be in the works. Mr. Tyler advised me if he does produce Cudahy-Tyler Bowie knives, he would create his own blades, and most likely, they would not be stainless steel. (Let us know in the comments below if you would like to see Mr. Tyler making a few for sale?) They would, however, all be unique, and each one different like his current knife options.

The unique difference would be built into each knife by master knife maker Micah London. Mr. London, in his younger days, was an honest to God, West Texas cowboy.

Texas Knifemaker Micah London with the finished Cudahy-Tyler Bowie Knife
Texas Knifemaker Micah London with the finished Cudahy-Tyler Bowie Knife. Here you can appreciate the true size of this monster Bowie.

A knife making Texas cowboy named London, producing future heirlooms that are real tools. Tools to be enjoyed in times of peace and called into action in times of crisis. This concept works for me.

No tomatoes will ever be propped up with the Cudahy-Tyler Bowie knife, even though it is made of stainless steel and could survive quite well outside in the Wisconsin weather.
Perhaps even Mick Dundee might agree that the Cudahy-Tyler Bowie–now that is a real knife.

Major Van Harl USAF Ret.

Major Van Harl USAF RetAbout Major Van Harl USAF Ret.:

Major Van E. Harl USAF Ret., a career Police Officer in the U.S. Air Force, was born in Burlington, Iowa, USA, in 1955. He was the Deputy Chief of police at two Air Force Bases and the Commander of Law Enforcement Operations at another. He is a graduate of the U.S. Army Infantry School.  A retired Colorado Ranger and currently is an Auxiliary Police Officer with the Cudahy PD in Milwaukee County, WI.  His efforts now are directed at church campus safely and security training.  He believes “evil hates organization.”  [email protected]

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Autsin Miller III

Beautiful knife. I am totally unfamiliar with the case hardening process, but I have made several hundred knives and I know stainless steel can be tricky to harden properly, does the case hardening bring the steel within hardness specs for a knife blade? Glad you saved that, it’s a cool story.


Someday I want to make myself a Marine Corps Raider Bowie out of the finest steel I can acquire.