By Oliver Lazenby
For years, Brad Smith’s knife company has been a common name to hunters, fishers and knife enthusiasts around the country. His knives are carried in more than 1,000 stores including national outdoor gear store Cabela’s and senators and overseas generals have sought Smith out for custom knives.
Smith even built knives for the Navy SEALs in the raid that led to Osama Bin Laden’s death.
But Smith’s company is little known in its hometown, Blaine, where 17 employees churn out semi-handmade knives in a downtown building.
Now opening a retail storefront on July 4, Smith is hoping to change that.
Silver Stag will be open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday, and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, located just in front of his manufacturing space at 328
Most knives cost between $69 and $179.
Smith plans to eventually host factory tours in the future to show customers each stage of a Silver Stag knife’s creation, he said.
Stag Knives wasn’t always in Blaine. Smith, the founder and majority owner, started making knives in Kirkland 23 years ago, when he was 28. He sold knives at local gun and craft shows, and stores began asking to carry Smith’s knives.
He trademarked the name Silver Stag, increased production, bought more equipment and moved from his garage to a larger space.
“I got into this at a time when people were tired of mass produced, imported product,” he said. “People want semi hand made, custom, high-quality American product at a fair price, and that’s what we’re doing.”
Fourteen years ago, Smith bought his building at Martin Street in Blaine and moved his growing company north. He wanted to stay in western Washington and Blaine’s affordability lured him. Silver Stag has been here ever since.
“I love Blaine,” he said. “It’s the best undiscovered spot on the West Coast.”
In Silver Stag’s two-story manufacturing facility – a space that buzzes with grinding and polishing equipment and smells like ground antler, sawdust and hot steel – a CNC plasma cutter slices knife shapes out of sheets of high carbon steel.
Those raw steel cutouts are then ground, polished and sharpened by hand. After the steel blades are heat treated, Silver Stag employees attach handles, which are also handmade.
The majority of those handles are made of stag antlers. Smith buys shed antlers by the hundreds of pounds. Though deer shed their antlers in winter, antler is difficult to source and Smith won’t say where he gets it.
Once the knives are assembled, lasers engrave logos; branding and custom knives are an important part of the business. Custom knives range from a father and son ordering knives with handles made from the antlers of a deer they hunted together, to gift stores and ranches from Alaska to South Texas selling Silver Stag knives with their own brand on the handle.
Smith has built runs of custom knives for the NRA, Ruger firearms, the National Wild Turkey Federation, Ducks Unlimited, King Ranch and other
Moving to Blaine has allowed Silver Stag to continue growing. Smith describes the company’s growth as steady, and said it’s added one to two employees a year for most of the past few years.
Driven by customer demand, the company started building kitchen knives five years ago, starting with just one or two carving knives.
“A lot of our customers were using their sporting good knives in the kitchen and begging us to come out with kitchen knives,” he said.
So Smith consulted with chefs at Keenan’s at the Pier in Fairhaven and came up with kitchen knife designs. He hopes to grow that part of the business in the coming year and hire two more people to work exclusively on kitchen knives, he said.
Smith wouldn’t disclose sales figures, but Silver Stag builds about 250 knives a day, he said. After years of growth, Smith sees a ceiling to where his company can go, at least in terms of
“We’ll never be a huge corporation because there’s so much hand labor that goes into building them and I’m never going to sacrifice quality for quantity,” he said.