On a summer day in 2010, I walked into a sporting goods store in Nashville and bought the sharpest, meanest looking knife I could find. It wasn’t completely for show: a few days later, I boarded a plane to Afghanistan for a yearlong deployment with the 101st Airborne Division. For the next 12 months, the knife—a 10-inch man-killer with a hard rubber handle—hung ominously from my belt, always there just in case. Fortunately, it never came to that. I was not Rambo. Had I been, chances are that knife would have been used for a lot more than slicing open MREs and chasing off feral dogs. And there’s a good chance it would’ve been made by a guy in Appalachia named Daniel Winkler.

Over the years, Winkler, 58, who earned his master smith rating in ‘92, has developed a reputation for being freakishly skilled at his craft. In the early nineties, he was commissioned to make weapons for Michael Mann’s epic blockbuster The Last of the Mohicans, and soon after he started getting approached by elite military units looking for high-performance tomahawks and knives to fill their arsenals. He is now the blade smith of choice for American commandos. According to a recent New York Times exposé on SEAL Team 6, Winkler’s work has come to be so revered among the SEALs that his hatchets are ceremoniously awarded to those who manage to survive a year in Team 6’s storied Red Squadron.

Maxim spoke with Winkler about the intricacies of his craft, what distinguishes his special line of tactical blades from anything else you can buy on the market, and the delicate art of making a weapon worthy of the battlefield gods.

How did your business relationship with U.S. Military Special Forces begin?

Because of my reputation within the knife industry, certain groups within the military came to me and asked for help in designing equipment that was more specialized than what was available in the open market. They were not happy with either the axe designs and/or knife designs that they had access to. So, being a custom maker with knowledge of high-performance steel, they came and asked me to help with some design work.

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(featured image courtesy of maxim.com)