Couple's handcrafted knives featured in 'The Revenant'

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Three blades in various stages of construction, along with customers' specifications for each knife, rest on the workbench of Mike Mann's shop. The blades are made of high-strength, recycled steel leaf springs from automobiles that Mann reshapes and cuts himself.

BLANCHARD — Mike and Debbie Mann had good reason to become overly excited while watching the historical drama "The Revenant" at a theater.

And it wasn't even because they were on the edge of their seats or spooked.

The Manns' handcrafted knives were featured in the movie featuring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson and Will Poulter.

"It was really cool to be watching the movie then, all of a sudden, one of our knives are shown," said Mike, known in the mountain man rendezvous world as "Padre."

"I said to Debbie, 'There's Hudson Bay (knife style)' just loud enough to where people in front of us looked back at us like, 'What do you mean?'"

Debbie added: "I think the people were annoyed at us."

The Manns own Idaho Knife Works, a Western-style building next to their remote log cabin on the top of Hoodoo Mountain outside Blanchard. They sold five knives to Dean Eilertson, the movie's prop master, upon request.

The couple sent three styles — Hudson Bay, well-liked by hunters of the mid-19th century and originally sold by the Hudson Bay Co.; Old San Francisco Bowie, a gambler's knife of the Cowboy Era; and Nessmuk, a hunter's knife named after the pen name of Forest and Stream magazine writer George Washington Sears in the 1880s.

"They made me look like a hero," Eilertson said of the Manns. "When the knives arrived and I showed them to Tom Hardy, he loved them."

Hardy, who played the role of John Fitzgerald, carried the Hudson Bay throughout most of the movie, and it was taken by DiCaprio during a fight in a river scene near the end.

The Manns have seen the movie once, so, when it comes out on DVD, they'll be able to stop and pause it to see exactly how many of their knives are shown.

But amid the action at the theater they noticed them several times, including the San Francisco Bowie on veteran trapper Hugh Glass' (played by DiCaprio) belt.

The Nessmuk was shown on one of the trappers in a camp.

"It was difficult to catch both the story line and props," Debbie said. "We want to see it again. Now that we know the story line, the next time we may watch without the sound. That way it's easier to catch the props. Our knives were not the only ones that were featured."

The movie follows Glass' quest for revenge after Fitzgerald, one of his men, betrays him, kills his son, Hawk, and leaves the severely wounded Glass behind. The Hudson Bay was used to kill Hawk. The drama premiered in December and was widely released in January.

The Manns, who refer to themselves as "The Mountain Manns," said they are proud their knives were featured in such a quality film.

"It's one of the best movies I've seen," Mike said. "It was designed very well."

The movie-makers requested slight modifications to the knives, including no glint so they appeared to be well-used, textured handles so they didn't accidentally slip during filming and finger guards for protection.

Eilertson said he discovered Idaho Knife Works through an online chat room on mountain men as someone had listed custom knife manufacturers.

"It wasn't quite as easy as Googling mountain man knife manufacturers to find them," he said.

Eilertson contacted the Manns in 2014 when they were driving home from a wedding.

"There's very few people out there who make authentic, museum-quality mountain man knives," Eilertson said. "We were under a huge time crunch to receive the knives, but Mike came through in short order. They were perfect."

Eiltertson also found a mountain couple in the process.

The Manns use solar panels for power to complement generators. They have plumbing now on their property, but still maintain an outhouse for backup, ambiance and gatherings. They formerly collected rainwater and filtered it to be used for showers and to wash dishes.

Mike, 70, grew up hunting and fishing with his brothers on the family farm in Illinois. Debbie, 61, draws on her love of nature for inspiration. Her nickname is "Coyote Woman."

"She's earned it, too," Mike quipped.

Mike makes the knives, while Debbie handles the business side of the company.

"I'm the brains and he's the brawn," Debbie said with a smile.

It takes two to four days to make each knife, depending on the size and style. The knives sell for $135 for fishing knives to $730 for 1800s-era fighting bowies. Their customers are from around the world, and all of their sales are online and at shows. The couple ships roughly 200 knives a year.

The blades are made from steel leaf springs from used vehicles.

The handles are made from from a variety of materials, including mammoth ivory from Alaska; deer and elk bone and antlers from Ennis, Mont.; giraffe, bison and camel bone; and exotic and domestic hardwoods.

"We even have armadillo tails in our freezer," Debbie said. "The ivory is more than 10,000 years old."

Osage orange wood from Mike's family farm — referred to as "bow bark" from being used for bows — is another custom handle option.

The Manns said they didn't receive any special perks nor were they invited to any Hollywood "sneak peeks" of the movie or special events, but they likely would have kindly passed anyway.

"We'd be like fish out of water," Debbie said. "The traffic alone would drive me crazy."

Mike Mann, 71, sits in his knife-making workshop on Monday that is situated on his home property on Hoodoo Mountain.


Mike Mann and his wife Debbie make up the entirety of Idaho Knife Works, a 27-year-old company that hand-forges knives of various kinds. Five of their knives were used in "The Revenant," a 2015 film starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy.


Five knives, hand-built by Idaho Knife Works, were used in the movie, "The Revenant." From left to right: The Hudson Bay knife, San Francisco Bowie and Nessmuk knife. Tom Hardy used the Hudson Bay knife in "The Revenant," while Leonardo DiCaprio is seen with the San Francisco Bowie.

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