Knife making for Dennis Smith is both an art and a connection with history. Tired of the modern culture’s “disposable approach to things,” he began blacksmithing as a hobby in the early 1990s, crafting functional items with the made-to-last quality of hand-forged and hammered implements prized by earlier generations. Having grown up on a hill farm along the Spring River in northeast Arkansas where hunting and fishing were primary pastimes, he first crafted implements from camping equipment to fireplace sets. He later discovered an ancestral connection: his greatgreat-grandfather had been a blacksmith during the Civil War.
His position as a blacksmith and knife maker followed a career of public service. While in college, he pastored churches in Arkansas, Missouri and Illinois. He continued pastoring after earning a degree in philosophy and also began working in law enforcement here in the Ozarks. Eventually he moved to south Florida and served 20 years as a deputy sheriff, primarily as a narcotics officer and supervisor of a tactical narcotics and street crime unit.
It was while he was in Florida that Dennis took up blacksmithing, intrigued by the 3,000-year-old art, stating simply, “I like old stuff.” Upon retiring in 2007, he searched for locations that offered the rural lifestyle he preferred along with close proximity to a place where he could work as a blacksmith. His wife had been to Silver Dollar City and suggested the Branson area, and they made the move. Six months later, he began working at the Silver Dollar City Blacksmith Shop. Some of the most popular items he hammered out for hundreds of guests were sturdy knives crafted from railroad spikes – so popular that soon the railroad spike knives were all he made. After five years at the Blacksmith Shop, Silver Dollar City’s Master Craftsman and legendary bladesmith Ray Johnson recruited him to move to the Knife Shop where he began expanding his knife-making skills.
Dennis now makes a variety of knives from the intricately patterned Damascus style knives to the relatively simple but still popular railroad spike knives. “The more technological the world gets, with people sitting in front of a computer all day, the more they are interested in something people create with their hands,” he says. “I can take an ugly black piece of steel and turn it into a functional, almost indestructible tool that will last for generations -- and can be considered a work of art as well.” Then he adds with a grin, “I’m having a great time here.”