Knife Folklore in Appalachia

knife folklore

I’ve been around pocket knives my entire life. Pap always said he felt naked without his knife in his pocket. The Deer Hunter says he feels the same way.

Both the girls carry knives and even I carry a pocket knife in my pocketbook that The Deer Hunter bought for me when we were still dating.

There’s a bone handled Case pocket knife laying along the studs inside a wall in one of the back bedrooms at Granny and Pap’s house.

When Pap was sheet-rocking the back bedroom he closed up his knife in the wall. The entire wall was covered before he realized the knife was laying alongside one of the studs behind the sheet-rock. Paul and I used to dream about figuring out exactly where it was laying so that we could cut open the wall and get the knife to surprise Pap.

More times than I can count I’ve seen men stand around and admire someone’s new knife. You’ve probably seen the same thing.

Have you ever noticed that after the looking is done the knife is handed back to the owner with the blade still open?

Whoever opens the knife must also shut the knife or bad luck is sure to follow. In other words if someone hands you their knife you have to return it in the same state they handed it to you-either shut or closed.

Another piece of folklore I’ve heard is if you give someone a knife you should also give them a penny so that they can “buy” it from you, otherwise the gift of the knife will cut the friendship.

Two more pieces of knife folklore:

If you drop a knife a visitor will soon arrive.

Place a sharp knife under the bed of a woman in labor to help cut the pain.





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  • Reply
    Debbie Nixon
    September 3, 2019 at 5:07 pm

    Did you ever get Pap’s knife out of the wall. If you haven’t try a metal detector to pin it down. I hope for your sakes you have gotten that keepsake.

  • Reply
    Matthew Jones
    September 3, 2019 at 5:05 pm

    While this is not necessarily knife folklore, apparently Abraham Lincoln told this story:

    One day in Washington, D.C., Lincoln was walking towards the Capitol Building. A man approached him and gave him a knife. The man said that he had been given the knife years ago, and was told to give it to an uglier man than he when he met him.

    A little bit of fun on a hot day today!

  • Reply
    Stephen Suddarth
    August 31, 2018 at 11:39 pm

    I never go anywhere without a knife, and am a carpenter so its sharp.

  • Reply
    Beth Durham
    August 11, 2017 at 2:34 pm

    Well I read through the comments and didn’t see anyone else sharing this version of the open-knife superstition…
    I’ve always heard if you open your knife and hand it to someone, if they close it before handing it back then you’ll lose it.
    It’s not too hard to see that one come true ’cause pocket knives are awful easy to lose.
    If you ask my Daddy if he’s got a knife on him, he’ll ask you if he’s got his pants on. So you can just assume if he’s dressed he’s got a knife in his pocket.
    I’ve been carrying the same Buck knife for – oh my I just counted it up – 22 years!

  • Reply
    Ken Yount
    August 10, 2017 at 11:06 am

    If you want to know how dearly some folks hold their knives, give a listen to Guy Clark’s ‘The Randall Knife’.

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    August 9, 2017 at 10:35 pm

    I’m very late to read your post about knives.
    If I don’t have a knife in pocket I feel like part of me is missing. I’ve been “toten” a knife since I was about 10 years old. I’ve had some good ones and not so good ones. I always keep mine sharp too because dad said a dull knife is more dangerous than a sharp one because you have to work harder to cut something and more prone to injury doing that.
    I have a nice scar on my left hand from my daddy’s pocket knife when I was about six years old. He was working on something and had put it down and I got it and ended up with it sticking out of my hand. I still don’t know how I did it but it cost daddy a trip to the Dr. for stitches.
    I have close to 20 knives but only 2 or 3 that I like to carry. They can’t be too heavy or too long. A good knife is a handy thing to have. And if you are looking at someone else’s knife you always hand it back like you got it.
    I have my g daddy’s old Case knife. That thing has cut many a chew of tobacco from twist tobacco to plug. I like to whittle on a good piece of wood. It’s a very calming thing to do.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    August 9, 2017 at 9:34 pm

    Tipper–Like Ken, I sometimes carry two pocket knives. When I went to the local Social Security office some years back in anticipation of getting back some of what the government had been taking for many a year, a portly black gentleman in some sort of uniform met me at the door with a big smile. He said: “You look like a fellow who might carry a pocket knife.”
    Flattered, I responded: “Well as a matter of a fact, I’m carrying two. Would you like to look at them?”
    That was not what he wanted to hear. His smile vanished, replaced by a stern frown, and he almost growled: “You’ll need to march right back to your truck and get rid of them before you come through this door.”
    Flabbergasted, I did as instructed, muttering all the while about “what’s this world a-comin’ to?” and condemning government in general and overweight, officious gendarmes in particular.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    harry adams
    August 9, 2017 at 9:26 pm

    I’ve carried a knife since I was 10 or so. I carry a Leatherman now for the other tools as well. I’ve had to remove it several times for concerts and such but have managed to keep up with it for several years. I pack it in suitcases when I am going on vacation as I have given TSA several in the past and learned not to have it on me at the airport.
    If you want to see what a pocket knife can do, go to This is truly amazing.

  • Reply
    Steve Wilson
    August 9, 2017 at 7:57 pm

    Have you ever lost a knife? I’ve just about torn the house down looking for one that
    mysteriously decided to jump out of my pocket. Thank goodness for the invention of that little
    clip on the side. It’s allowed me to carry the same one for 15 years now and I always know
    exactly where it is!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    August 9, 2017 at 7:53 pm

    It slipped my mind until I read the comments. I’m the crazy old man that makes silver coin rings using a old worn down Boker made in Solingen Germany.

  • Reply
    Lee Riffle
    August 9, 2017 at 6:09 pm

    the sake for me I have been carrying my knife around for 55 years and its a little worn but this good

  • Reply
    Richard Moore
    August 9, 2017 at 2:49 pm

    I’ve always carried a pocket knife getting my first from my father before I entered school. Some folks were partial to certain brands. I remember Daddy mostly carrying a Tree Brand knife but he certainly owned others. Right now I have a Case knife in my pocket. In this age of terrorism, knives of all sizes are suspect, I gather. Going into a Washington Nationals baseball game a year ago we had to go through a metal detector and my little Swiss Army knife on a key chain was confiscated.
    Richard Moore

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    August 9, 2017 at 2:23 pm

    As I sit here I have nine knives of different designs within arms reach. I never leave home without a pocket knife but what I need one but I rarely need one if I have one on me. Does that mean that having a knife with me diminishes its necessity?

  • Reply
    Ed Karshner
    August 9, 2017 at 1:11 pm

    I’m always reminded of the almost mythological Barlow knife. When my son turned 12, that was what he wanted for his birthday. I love it when he gets it out for doing yard work. He just grins ear to ear!
    Everyone I know carries a knife for those small emergencies.
    I have to admit that I didn’t know any of this folklore save for the returning it as you got it. I guess I owe the boy a penny!

  • Reply
    August 9, 2017 at 12:16 pm

    I carry a knife and a leatherman at work or play, I have my work leatherman and my going to town leatherman, I feel lost without them, it’s got me out of a tight several times, from having to work on our daughters wheel chair in town or tighten something on a vehicle until I get home.

  • Reply
    August 9, 2017 at 10:08 am

    I went to the Murphy Courthouse to pay my taxes one time and they were having Court that day. I had to empty my pockets in a tray just as I entered the room and I pulled out a knife from one pocket and when I had another in the other pocket, the officer said “boy, you’re loaded for bear.” (he should have seen what I had in my car!)
    I still carry a knife in each pocket. …Ken

  • Reply
    August 9, 2017 at 9:47 am

    I’m another who feels naked without a pocketknife, but I have a terrible knack for losing them. Right this minute there are two knives somewhere on my property – in the barn, or the workshop, or the house, or…??? – and I only bought the second after the first had been missing for nearly a month and I was good and tired of opening hay bales with the edge of a splitting maul. I recently found one of my older knives (this losing of knives has been going on my entire life, I’m sorry to say) under the “stilt barn” that is built just high enough off the ground for my goats to get under it for relief from biting flies. No idea how the knife got under there, unless I threw it in one day in a flake of hay, probably a couple of years ago. Tipper, can you and yours please tell me how to hang onto a pocketknife? Seems like the only way I can keep a knife is to put it away not use it, and that doesn’t help me much!

  • Reply
    Larry Proffitt
    August 9, 2017 at 9:43 am

    Tipper , You hit the nail squarely on the head about knife lore in Appalachia. I remember the fascination of the Northern boys at UT in my undergraduate years about my keeping my pocket knife as sharp as a razor. I lost my favorite pocket knife for 6 months last year and I too was almost naked. Then one morning at 3 AM I was getting ready to put on another set of boots to go turkey hunting. Put my foot in the boot and said silently There is something in this boot. I keep extra boots under the edge of my turkey hunting table in the basement. There it was ! I had knocked it off the table one morning into another boot . My old yellow handle eye brand large stockman with the big blade still sharp as a razor and the little blade dull from opening boxes. Larry Proffitt

  • Reply
    wanda Devers
    August 9, 2017 at 9:43 am

    I think I need to add a little pocket knife to my useful stuff I keep in my purse. I have a small pair of scissors in there but they won’t work for every need.
    I get in trouble with my sister in law for putting the butcher knives and paring knives in the dishwater. My best friend said her mama always laid them on the edge of the old fashioned dishpan.
    Did you know you can sharpen kitchen knives by using the bottom of a cup or bowl that has a rough ring around it? Handy to know during canning season!

  • Reply
    Ann Applegarth
    August 9, 2017 at 9:21 am

    I still have the pocketknife my Daddy gave me when I was a little girl, and I also have a snazzy Swiss Army knife that my son gave me. Knives aren’t allowed on airplanes anymore, though. And I know children who don’t know what the word “whittle” means or how to do it.

  • Reply
    August 9, 2017 at 8:53 am

    Someone gave Dad’s mother a red handled pocket knife when she was young. As she got older she kept it on her sewing machine to cut the thread. After Dad died, I brought the knife home to use just the way Mamaw did, but decided to put it in my safe with the other valuables. The Deerhunter knows how to give a girl a gift she will use for years. That is so cool.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    August 9, 2017 at 8:41 am

    I carry a camouflaged switch blade knife! It is very old and is disguised as a old fountain pen like the 1940 era. To make it look more like a pen it has a chrome pocket clip on the side of the cap portion.
    To open the knife you mash the button on the side and the knife literally fly’s out the end of the pen where the chrome clip is attached and then locks itself for use…To close it, there is a spring mechanism, you push the button down and it goes back….looking again like a fountain pen!
    I’ve had it for years…On a gate inspection one time, I was asked if I had any weapons in my purse as the guard was looking thru my open purse. I said I have a switch blade knife…He looked at me and my age, laughed while still looking and bumbling thru my ball point pens along with the knife pen…”I don’t see one!” he said. with a grin!…I guess he thought I was too old (at that time 73), a woman and was joking. Then I pulled out the pen and popped it into the open position…He gasped and was took back by my knife…he studdered and said, “Oh well, I meant a blade longer than six inches”! I said, “OK, and put it back in my purse and said well, this thing will give a good bloody poke if someone is attacking me!” He laughed and waved me on through the line!
    iMy Dad loved his pocket knife. When he changed clothes and forgot it, or It slid out on the truck seat, living room chair accidently, he would go bonkers until he found it…Everyone in the house was in search of his knife…He was a carpenter and used his pocket knife about as much as he used his folding rule, plum bob and hammer…Ha
    Thanks Tipper, Great post…
    PS…someday you might want to remodel that bedroom, remove the sheetrock and find Pap’s treasured family heirloom knife!

  • Reply
    August 9, 2017 at 8:29 am

    I’ve carried a knife most of my life until I had a job in the courthouse for awhile and couldn’t get past the metal detectors with it. I pretty much got out of the habit except when I’m going to the garden.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    August 9, 2017 at 8:24 am

    What an interesting blog. The only lore I knew was about cutting the pain.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    August 9, 2017 at 8:11 am

    I just love knives, they are such a beautiful tool. I don’t collect them, I just have profound respect for them and all that they do for us. Also, a knife must be sharp! I really get aggravated with a knife that is not sharp enough to cut what ever is is that I’m trying to cut. A tomato, for example, you need a good sharp knife to slice a tomato. I’m not a person that throws things but a knife not sharp enough to cut, whatever it is I’m cutting, makes me want to throw it!
    The Deer Hunter has some lovely knives and the really cool thing about it is he made some of them with his own hands, a chunk of wood and a chunk of steel. How great is that?
    A knife is a personal thing. I had my daddy’s knife and gave it to the Deer Hunter. I have my husband’s father’s knife. It has been sharpened so many times the blade is worn thin!
    Yep, I just love knives!

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    August 9, 2017 at 8:08 am

    Tipper–I remember with great delight Don and I going out to eat with your family and Pap a good many years ago. The girls were still in high school. at some point I noticed one of them (can’t remember which to save my soul) had a tell-tale bulge in her jeans pocket. I casually asked if she was carrying a pocket knife and there was a moment or two of sock and dismay on her face. Then she looked at Matt, who was grinning with evident paternal pride, and he nodded his head and said something like “show him your knife.”
    She did so with obvious pride and then I realized that they almost certainly weren’t supposed to have a pocket knife in certain settings–such as school. The whole “do not carry” thing is a singularly sad commentary on our society. When I was a boy if a female teacher had asked if any boy in the room had a pocket knife, multiple hands would have gone up with an alacrity never seen when some academic question was asked. We often played mumbletypeg at recess, and among old men who loafered on the town square, whittling, knife trading, and knife admiring were, along with playing checkers and listening to Bible thumpers (street preachers), favorite occupations.
    I’m just thankful there are still families, like yours, for whom pocket knives are of prime importance.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    August 9, 2017 at 8:05 am

    We all had knives as kids. We played mumbly peg after school and it was something girls were just as good at as boys.
    Today kids are afraid to carry knives. They would be kicked out of school for sure.

  • Reply
    August 9, 2017 at 8:01 am

    If anyone asks me, “Have you got a knife?” my first impulse is to reply, “Am I naked and taking a shower?” Of course I usually say, “Sure.” About the only time I’m dressed and don’t have one in my pocket is when I’m wearing my kilt (no pockets in kilts ) or in the airport.

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