The following article about Lile was published in the Jefferson City Post-Tribune on June 29, 1978. Lile was already renowned among knife enthusiasts, but he rocketed to true celebrity as the designer of the knives for First Blood (1982) and Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985).
Jimmy Lile with Sylvester Stallone, posing with "Rambo" knife
RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. (AP) - Knife-making, which evokes images of burly artisans sweating over backwoods forges, seems to fit Jimmy Lile, a white-haired, affable man with work-scarred hands.
Aided by two assistants in a shop just off his Russellville, Ark., kitchen, Lile, 44, earns a comfortable living and has achieved worldwide fame from what once was a hobby.
Owners of Jimmy Lile knives include King Carl Gustav of Sweden and former President Richard Nixon. Two Lile creations -- a Bowie knife and an Arkansas "toothpick," a long fighting knife, share a spot among the U.S. Bicentennial memorabilia.
The knife blades are ground in the Lile workshop from long slender bars of a metal known as D2, which is mostly iron and chromium, with some carbon and molybdenum. After being heat-treated in an electric furnace, the blades are sharpened to a fine edge on hard Arkansas and Ouachita oilstone, stone so hard that diamond saws are used to cut it.
Lile fashions the knife handles out of ivory taken from elephant tusks, Indian stag antler, wood and German silver. Then come the frills: exquisitely carved tigers, quail and folio-like etchings of old-time hunting scenes.
His most recent innovation is a pocketknife that locks open and shut with a muted click. He's trying to patent it. A pocketknife with two blades that lock open and shut will be introduced in two years, he says.
Much of Lile's work is made-to-order; some he sells at handicraft shows.
Lile's cutlery sells for up to $5,500, and it can be found displayed in the showcases of nobility, concealed in the boots of law enforcement officers and airline pilots and dangling from the belts of hunters. Nixon was given a Lile Bowie knife by the late Sen. John McClellan, D-Ark., to commemorate the completion of the Arkansas River Navigation System, a project that opened up Arkansas and Oklahoma to heavy shipping.
A friend of King Carl Gustav ordered a pearl-handled pocketknife for the Swedish sovereign.
But Lile isn't one to rest on his laurels. Out of the shop off the Lile kitchen come up to 500 knives a year. "I call it a family operation. I try to keep it small and efficient," Lile says. He says that's why he is successful.
It wasn't always that way, though. Until eight years ago, when he became a full-time knife-maker, Lile was a teacher, coach, general contractor and construction superintendent. He made knives during his spare time in those years. Some of those times were lean, like the time he went broke as a general contractor.
"Instead of filing for bankruptcy, I paid it all back with interest -- $164,000," he says. And he paid off his debts in the same way he financed his college education -- by making knives. His determination to repay his debts endeared him to the banks. When he needed a loan to start his knife- making venture, he had little trouble getting it. "They knew that if they kept me alive, I'd pay them back," Lile said.
Lile designed this knife for Rambo III. Below the knife is the wooden prototype. Stallone rejected the design, ending their relationship.
Stallone selected this bowie knife designed by Gil Hibben for Rambo III.