He declares knife making is nothing more than a hobby, but Terry Jellison is proof that what he believes is just a pastime, could very well be a career instead.
A knife is on display at the Prairie Trails Museum. The knife rests on a hand-tooled leather sheath and has a stainless steel blade, which is sharp as a razor. An interesting fact about the knife is the handle grips; they are made from elk antler, an antler which was harvested in Wayne County. The knife is at the museum because Jellison donated it to be raffled at the annual Fall Festival, which the museum hosts each October.
The idea of creating a knife for a donation began in the past couple of years. Jellison moved to Corydon a few years ago where his wife, the former Tammy Clowser is originally from. He grew up in rural Putnam County, Mo., where he learned and honed his knife making skills. He wanted his donation to be made from local Wayne County sources, so when a friend of his, Tony Funk, offered a piece of elk antler to use for the knife handles, it seemed to be the perfect material to use.
The knife is a straight blade hunting style, which is also the first type of knife Jellison learned to make, at the age of 15. His father, Merlin Jellison, was an electrician and mechanic so Terry had plenty of tools and materials to use in his first attempts to make knives. He has only improved since those early days of learning and his recent donation can certainly attest to the skills he has gained.
Jellison spent several years making mostly hunting knives, as well as a few filet knives and even a paring knife once when his mother, Rexine Jellison, complained that she didnít have a good kitchen knife to use. The knives have ranged from the smallest size, which was about one and one half inches total length, to the largest Bowie style, which measured about nine inches in size.
Once his straight blade knife making was mastered, Jellison decided to try his hand at making folding pocket knives, also known as slip joints. He spent several years perfecting the inner spring mechanisms and says he still has quite a long way to go before he is completely satisfied with his results.
His early knives had no identification marks, but as he realized he was not going to tire as a knife maker, Jellison started stamping his knives with a series of marks that he can easily decode. One mark that is always present on his knives is a small cross to signify his faith in God, because that is where Jellison credits his skill is from.
In early years Jellison used whatever material he could find for his blades. Several were made from saw blades or used steel files. In recent years he has used different thicknesses of steel or stainless steel, which he orders in flat sheets and uses to cut out his knife blades. Many of his knives he now makes are from steel known as Damascus. It involves a technique which presses lengths of steel together, which when polished shows interesting patterns in the metal. Handle grips are made from a variety of materials; everything from common and rare woods, to resin products, mother of pearl, mastodon bone and several different antlers from moose, deer and, like the one donated to the museum raffle, from elk.
What started as a desire to build a simple knife has moved forward farther than Jellison ever thought it would. He is currently working on a series of folding knives, and plans to take them to a large knife show to have them critiqued by an expert. He hopes he can gain even more knowledge and ability by having his slip joints assessed by someone more skilled than he feels he is at this time.
If you are interested in seeing Jellisonís Wayne County knife, it is on display at the Prairie Trails Museum, where it will be until the raffle. If you would like to support the raffle, tickets are available at the museum display site, or from any Wayne County Historical Society board member. Price for a ticket is $1 for one or six tickets for $5.
Jellison says his hope is to raise enough money for the museum to pay their utility bill for at least one month, even though he admits he has no idea how much the bill actually is!
It really is a beautiful knife.