TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — A local knife maker drove just over 300 miles to West Monroe, La., on Sept. 30 to present a 15-pound "pocket" knife to Jase Robertson, one of the stars of A&E's popular "Duck Dynasty" television series.
"I just wanted to make it for him," said Wayne Bridges, 67. "I watch 'Duck Dynasty' and he's my favorite character. He's got plenty of money so he can buy whatever he wants, but this is something that I handmade."
Unfortunately, Duck Commander — where Jase and other cast members work to make duck calls for the family business — was closed for construction, and some of the family was out of town for the week.
Instead, Bridges met with Alan Robertson, Jase's older brother, at the family church and left the knife with him. Bridges said everyone had a fit over the knife when he showed it to them.
Bridges has been making knives at his house on U.S. Highway 43 in Northport for 40 years. The hobby started when a friend asked him to fix a broken handle on one of his knives.
"When I fixed the handle, the handle looked so much better than the knife that I just started making knives," he said.
The first knife he made took him about a day, but now he can create them much faster. Looking at that knife, he said he has come a long way in 40 years.
"You can tell I didn't do a real good job on it, but I was proud of it back then," he said. "It helps me to show where you start at and where you end up at. There is always room for improvement, and I have made every mistake that you can make, but you learn from your mistakes."
At first, Bridges just made knives for himself and his three sons, but soon people starting asking him to make them for people outside the family.
He said the first knife he made for someone else was for a local dentist who saw him working on a knife and asked him to make one for her husband.
Then, he sold the knives for between $25 and $35. Today he sells them for $150 and up.
"Materials have gotten so high, and you've got to count your time," he said. "I make more money off my furniture than I do my knives, but I love making knives. When you love doing something, you can't always put a price tag on it."
Bridges retired from BFGoodrich after a 29-year career five years ago because he developed an allergy to the chemicals in the air. When he retired, he started building lawn furniture.
"I was retired with nothing to do. I didn't want to watch television," he said. "When you stay busy, you keep your mind busy and you keep your health up."
Since retiring, he has turned his furniture building into a business, called Wolf Ugly Woodworks, but he still makes knives. He said he now makes about 100 chairs a year and averages about two knives a week.
The giant pocketknife that Bridges made for Robertson is only the 15th of its kind. The first giant pocketknife was created for a friend as a joke.
The friend had a state trooper friend who came to his work and and cleaned under his fingernails with his knife. He asked Bridges to make him a giant one.
"He put it in his back pocket, and when the state trooper pulled his out, my friend pulled this one out," he said. "The state trooper said, 'I won't pull mine out no more.' "
Bridges said the giant pocketknife would cost a customer about $500. The knife for Jase is made out of spring steel and brass. He made the knife without anyone in the Robertson family having asked him. He said he decided to leave the knife with Alan Robertson so Jase could get the knife when he returned to town.
He said he plans to make the trip a second time at the end of October or in early November to meet the "Duckmen."
He has also made knives for Nick Saban and Gene Stallings. For Nick Saban, he made an Alabama Bowie knife with "Coach Nick Saban" engraved on the steel. For Terry Saban, he made a letter opener.
"I've always liked Nick Saban, even when he was somewhere else," he said. "I wanted to make him a Bowie and give it to him."
Bridges has never met Saban but he received a picture and personal letter from him and his wife. He said he hopes Jase Robertson likes his knife as much as the Sabans liked theirs.