Knifemaker Chuck Stapel
of Los Angeles has been
making knives for three decades, so far. He is the
second of four generations of knifemakers, counting
his father, his son and his grandson. Charles Stapel,
Sr., made his first knives as far back as World War
11. Chuck's son, Craig, made his first knife about
1981 and Craig's son follows his grandfather around
the shop every chance he gets. He has begun his own
knifemaking career, too.
Chuck Stapel continues making knives, swords, eating
utensils, corkscrews and art sculptures on a
full-time basis. For the past 20 or more years, he
has found a market for his works in the nearby
motion picture and television industry.
Look at the handle detail of the Bowie used in "The Alamo." Three models of the knife were made; only one had a sharpened blade edge. The handle is cast plaster to resemble natural stag and so all three movie knives would look alike.
"I made my first movie knife in 1983 for a
picture called, `No Mercy,"' Stapel said.
"I was contacted by a local prop master I knew.
He was involved with the movie and asked me to come
up with a pattern. We came to an agreement, I made
the knife and it was used in the picture."
That first movie knife started things rolling for
Stapel. The knifemaker spent much of his earlier
working years as a carpenter and locksmith in
Southern California. He became acquainted with many
of the prop masters and prop houses for the
entertainment industry. He dropped off his business
card whenever he passed one of the houses. Over the
past 20 years, Stapel has made knives for 40 or 50
productions; he says he really has not kept count.
His most recent contributions are for the recent
movies, "The Alamo," "Once Upon A
Time in Mexico" and "Kill Bill."
Not every knife he has made has had what might be
termed a leading part, but the Bowie knife appearing
in "The Alamo" may be seen frequently and
prominently in the film story.
Longtime custom Knifemaker Chuck Stapel holds his latest movie knife, a Bowie pattern for "The Alamo." (Right) This is Chuck Stapel's version of a Bowie knife used in "The Alamo." The blade was made to look slightly rusty and well used. It is 12 inches long and measures 18 1/2 inches long
Stapel had to construct several Bowies, all to look
alike. The 12-inch blade is made of 01 tool steel
and the handle measures about 4 I/2 inches long. The
handle is cast from an original stag design of
molded plastic, thus each model looks the same as
the others. The guard is brass. A leather sheath was
also required for filming. Stapel was asked to
"age" the blade to look well used and
appear not in brand new condition. So, up close, the
blade looks stained and dented as if it had been
heavily used before the motion picture story takes
place. For the filming, Stapel was asked to produce
one sharpened blade and two unsharpened knives.
Another popular movie of recent years, still shown
on the cable networks, is "City Slickers."
Chuck Stapel made the big Bowie-pattern knife
handled by actor Jack Palance. That one had an 8
blade, but was visible for only a few seconds in the
Other movies or television stories
with knives by Chuck Stapel include the TV series,
"Magnificent Seven" and
"Deadwood," plus movies such as
"Tombstone" and "9mm." For
"9mm" the 5 3/4-inch blade pattern was
made only of aluminum, measuring 10 inches long
overall. For "Magnificent Seven," Stapel
provided three new steel patterns. For
"Tombstone's" Doc Holliday character, the
knife chosen was a dagger pattern.
(Top) Knifemaker Chuck Stapel reports that several movies have used this aluminum dagger pattern. (Middle) This dagger pattern blade was for the movie "Tombstone." (Bottom) This blade pattern was contracted by Chuck Stapel and used in the movie "City Slickers" by Jack Palance's character.
One design Stapel has been making for years is his
idea of a boot knife, which has a 3-inch blade of
AFB-L stainless steel and an ivory Micarta handle.
The handsome knife is 6 3/4 inches long overall. Any
particular scene may end up on the cutting room
floor, but Stapel thinks his boot knife may appear
in a "Deadwood" television episode.
This boot knife is a Stapel standard design, popular with many customers. It also appears in the TV series "Deadwood." It features a 3-inch
AEB-L stainless steel blade and an ivory Micarta handle. Custom versions may have scrimshaw on the handle.
"As a result of my long association with the industry, I have developed an excellent
reputation with the prop houses," Stapel said.
"Now many of them come to me first when they
are looking for some sort of movie knife. I'm
prepared to produce just about anything the prop
masters may need, except retractable-blade and
rubber knives. I don't make those."
Stapel does not reveal the amount he is paid for
making movie knives, but admits his time and efforts
are rewarded. However, he has never received what is
as screen credit for any of his work. "I have
and still enjoy the filming process," he says.
"Sometimes, I am invited onto the sets where
the action using my knives takes place. I remember
one scene that required six hours to film. But when
the television episode was shown, the knife scene
lasted only about 15 seconds. Sometimes, you have to
look fast to see the results of my work.
"I am pleased that the
industry people believe in me and this aspect of my
knifemaking. Over the years, it has been a lot of
fun and I always enjoy talking about ,movie
Stapel admits that, with so many of his knives in so
many stories over the past 20 years, he has lost
track of which ones went where and who used them for
the stories. From time to time he sees one of his
old knives being used for a second or third story.
As he says, the job is to produce what the prop
master wants. Once the product is delivered, the
creator has little influence as to what happens to
Throughout his three decades of custom knifemaking,
Chuck Stapel has been one to experiment with new
materials. He makes blades of 0-1, D2 and 440C, but
has become one of the first to recognize the
properties of AEB-L stainless steel. He likes
working with the steel and finds that it holds an
Lately, he has found a market for individual knife,
fork and spoon sets, as well as for another kind of
eating set consisting of a 3-inch stainless steel
tanto blade with a bone handle. Custom chopsticks
are included with a choice of a custom sheath or a
box for the set.
Another new direction for the maker is the use of
Damascus steel. Stapel has been using forged
Damascus from fellow Californian Jim Ferguson. The
knife features a striking 3 1/2-inch blade with a
3 3/4-inch fossil walrus ivory handle, Micarta
spacer and a leather thong loop. A leather sheath is
This is not a movie knife. Stapel is using twisted nickel Damascus blades from Jim Ferguson with a 3 1/4-inch blade. The knife is 7 1/4 inches long overall with a fossil walrus ivory handle, a Micarta spacer and a leather thong loop at the butt.
Stapel is one of the fastest
custom knifemakers around when it comes to one of
his standard designs. A small skinner with a Micarta
handle can be turned out in a couple of hours. He
starts with a piece of heat-treated steel, then
shapes, grinds, drills, clamps, cements and sharpens
the small knife while you watch. The slowest step is
waiting for the two-part epoxy to harden. If the
knife is a simple "economy" model, he will
use a shrink-wrap handle cover over the full tang
knife and shave off half the time. The current
design features a 3 3/4-inch blade of high carbon
steel with black shrink wrap on the handle for an
8-inch knife overall. A custom leather sheath is
Chuck Stapel retired from his regular job with several Los Angeles school
districts a couple of years ago and concentrates on
knifemaking and competitive shotgun shooting. Plus,
the knifemaking has also led to several movie bit
parts for Stapel, mostly in Westerns and other
costume period stories. He states that his
appearances have been almost too brief for even him
to spot when the movie or TV show airs. `
The Los Angeles resident now
spends a considerable amount of time attending and
supporting various celebrity fundraising shooting
events around the country. He regularly travels to
celebrity shoots from Florida to Hawaii, about 14
such events a year. He competes as a shooter in many
of the events, often taking the top shooting honors
in his category. He also donates his knives as
awards or as prizes to be auctioned to raise funds.
At one event, one of Stapel's knives brought $12,000
for a charity.
Stapel remembers, "I have met
and shot with many celebrities such as Robert Stack,
Tom Selleck, Chuck Norris, the Mandrell Sisters and
many other artists, especially country singers,
musicians, artists and actors. We have raised money
for such groups as Children's Diabetes, `Wish Upon A
Star,' the Paralyzed Veterans of America and other
"I feel fortunate to have helped the less
fortunate and to be able to participate in
these shooting events as well. It is a win-win
situation. I can help others while doing what
I enjoy doing-making knives and
Stapel's latest Eating Set is his "Buffalo
Bonsai " featuring a 3 3/4 inch High carbon
blade with a satin finish. The
knife also has a half-hard Brass Guard and spacer.
Handle is made of Asian cherry wood with inclusions, left in natural beauty
with fossilized walrus tusk end butt.
The Chopsticks are comprised of
hand-made Lacquered Wood.
Click Here for Ordering Information
Chuck Stapel is not, of
course, the only maker to produce knives or
swords for the entertainment industry. There
are many others. As long as Westerns,
adventure stories, pirate movies, science
fiction and gangster films are made, somebody
must satisfy the actors, writers, producers
and prop masters. Look closely-astute viewers
may see a familiar knife.