Handmade Montana knives make impression on America

    2:57 PM, Nov 9, 2012   |    comments
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    Bonner, MT (CBS/KPAX) -- In a world of "Made in China" and "mass production" there's a "father and son's" business in Bonner, Montana is using years of family talent and tradition to make a knife known by people across the country and around the world. "Not changing a thing" has made Ruana Knives so successful.

    Mike Hangas says, "A lot of people refer to what we make as functional art."

    Still forged in the same Bonner shop for over 70 years, these blades are more than just a tool. They are pieces of Montana history and years of family tradition.

    Victor Hangas's father in law, Rudy Ruana started "Ruana Knives" back in the 30's after his truck broke down in Milltown. He was offered a job as a welder, and well, things just grew from there. Victor says, "Started making knives on the side and right after the war things were pretty tough. But around 1952 he started to be well known and it got so busy he did it full time."

    It didn't take long before the quality of his work and strength of his blades carved a name for himself as one of the best knife makers in the country. Collector Frank Towsley says, "It's amazing how you can just keep passing them on down, generation to generation uses them and they work just as good today as they did when Rudy built them in the late 30's."

    Frank Towsley has arguably the biggest collection of Ruana Knives around, over 850. Working for Rudy as a kid, his love for the knives runs deep. He says, "You know when you got to know the man that made them and loved the knives and stuff, it just kept growing until what it is today. It takes nine 8 foot tables to set my collection up."

    What makes these knives so unique is the way they are made forged by hand.

    Victor says, "It toughens the steel. It actually, basically densifies it up, the molecular structure. It makes it hold and edge better. We do them one at a time. Other people will mass produce them and do thousands at one time."

    But, the real difference can be felt when you actually pick one of the knives up.

    Mike Hangas says, "With our cast handles, that's the real unique process. You won't see that today. That to me distinguishes us more than any other knife makers around is the cast aluminum handles. It's something my grandpa started in the late 30's and we're still doing it today."

    And there's not one knife, like any other. Hangas says, "You know, as much as you try and make them the same they are all a little different. And then the elk horn, every piece of that is different."

    And while the knives are designed to be used, their reputation has made them a high dollar item for collectors.

    Some of the original "Rudy made knives" going for as high as $12,000 and being used all over the world.

    Mike says, "It's kind of amazing where a product from little Bonner, Montana gets sent."

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