Jay Maines: Baker, bus driver, man of 1,200 knives

— Submitted

Q: Where are you from, how old are you, and where do you live now?

A: I’m 68 and from northern Maine. In                                                                                                                                               1974 at age 28 I came to Minnesota to attend retail baking school at Dunwoody Industrial Institute. My wife Marsha and I have lived quietly in Wyoming for 30 years.

Q: How and when did you get started as an artist?

A: I have always enjoyed using and collecting knives. I used and abused my first custom knife while serving in the U.S. Army in Vietnam from 66-68. In 1989 I started building them as gifts for family and friends. In 1992 someone asked to purchase one of my knives, and I suddenly had a business. I have built and sold more than 1,200 custom knives, and repaired or restored close to 500.

Q: Are you self-taught, or do you have formal training?

A: Totally self-taught, with many trials and many errors to prove it. When I started 25 years ago there were only two to three poorly written “how to” books available on building knives. [Now] there is a wealth of info available [including] knife-making schools and weekend “hammer-ins” run by other custom knifemakers.

Q: What are the most unusual materials or tools you use in your art?

A: Many varieties of beautiful exotic hardwoods along with antlers, horns and even 10,000-year-old mammoth ivory found by gold miners in Alaska and Siberia. For hard-use combat knives, I use an almost indestructible manmade material called Micarta. Many customers enjoy providing their own handle material, most often a section of stag antler from their first trophy. I also custom hand-build my own leather sheaths using tough, thick, water buffalo hide from South America. Many of my sheaths then get covered or embellished with python, rattlesnake or alligator skins.

Q: What usually inspires you in your art?

A: Customer needs. I try to give them what they require, and if it has merit I then add it to my lineup of knife models. I currently offer more than 50.

Q: How do you market your art?

A: For many years in the 1990s I set up a sales table at every local or regional gun or knife show. In 1998 … I put up my website http://sunrisecustomknives.com.

Q: At what price range is your art offered?

A: Base prices (including a 440-C stainless steel blade, brass fittings, exotic hardwood handle and leather sheath) typically range from $200 for a small hunting knife to $1,000 for a large Bowie or fighter.

Q: What is it about your art to which people seem to respond?

A: I build them to become family heirlooms. Fifty years from now, I want the grandkids to fight over grandpa’s or grandma’s favorite filet or kitchen knife.

Q: What is the most rewarding part about creating your art?

A: Knowing my knives are out in the field, or in a kitchen, being used and abused, yet appreciated every day.

Q: What is the most challenging part?

A:  I’m one of a very few knifemakers who also offers services for fixed blade knife repair, restorations and handle conversions. There is nothing boring about this work.

Q: Do you have a “claim to fame” as an artist?

A: My work has been featured in a few great knife magazines, books and related articles. My most surprising bout of notoriety came last year from a reality TV show about survival in the woods produced for The Weather Channel, “Fat Guys In The Woods.” It’s hosted by well-known survival expert Creek Stewart. In 2010 I built him a drop-point hunter knife with a leather shoulder harness to carry it … and [he] wears it in a few episodes. Out of nowhere, I was flooded with requests. (Editor’s note: Maines said to look for the equipment on Stewart when Season 2 starts June 7).

Q: Are you a full-time artist or do you have a day job?

A: I have always been a part-time knifemaker while spending close to 30 years in the retail bakery industry.

When I retired from that in 1999 I joined the Forest Lake School District as a school bus driver.  I drove local routes for 15 enjoyable years.

Q: What else do you do in your spare time?

A: I’m always backed up two to three months with orders. When I can get away, I enjoy building landscaping projects around our yard. My wife and I have a 38-year-old son Jeff; he and his wife Erin live in Forest Lake raising two very energetic children.

Q: What is your five-year plan as an artist?

A: To continue perfecting the fit and finish of my knives. To develop new knife designs and new uses for old ones.

The Creative License feature profiles artistic people of all kinds who live or work in the Press coverage area. To suggest a subject to profile, please email shellmiron@presspubs.com.

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