EXZO is the culmination of a lifelong love of the outdoors. Before my earliest memories, my father was taking me camping. I've always heard stories of him taking me to Boy Scout campouts even as young as 3-4 years old. Of course, I later ended up being a Boy Scout and eventually Eagle Scout. Those years taught me so much that I took for granted. I was fortunate to be part of an amazing Scout troop, with adventurous adult leaders, and good funding. We explored caves, we backpacked, we canoed, we learned survival. Our troop ventured from the Southern Appalachians to Wyoming to Hawaii. I saw more in six years of Scouting than most will see in their lives. The stories I could tell from those days are worth hearing, but that's perhaps better for a blog.
After scouts, I went to college and the outdoors seemed to be less important. I still went on 2-3 backpacking trips a year with my dad and brothers, but eventually I stopped. For a few years, I neglected the gear and skills that had carried me so far before. Eventually, my passion for the outdoors was rekindled while working in an outdoor gear shop. The memories came back, and the desire to get out there was stronger than ever. Before I knew it, I was back in the thick of it. I promised myself to spend at least 4 continuous days a month backpacking. I did pretty well for the first year, fulfilling my goal for 9 of the next 12 months.
After lots of backpacking all over the southeast and Wyoming that year, one of my friends finally talked me into trying rock climbing. It changed everything for me. Once I learned to climb, I realized I could combine my lifetime of backcountry skills with rock climbing and try some mountaineering. It has since consumed me. Anything involved with mountaineering piques my interest: multi-pitch traditional rock climbing, ice climbing, glacier/snow climbing. I have been determined to learn it all, and I've made it a point to try all of it during the last several years. In July 2014, I got certified as an AMGA Single Pitch Instructor, and together with my friend, Ryan, I am trying to help build his guiding service, Idlewild Adventure Company. I love teaching and guiding, especially when it involves getting out on the rock or in the woods.
Somewhere along the way, I tried a hammock and decided it was the way to sleep outdoors. I bought a mainstream hammock but knew it was insanely heavy. While working one day, I was inspired by a customer who showed me his homemade, ultralight hammock. Knowing that I've always been handy, I decided to learn to sew and make my own. Armed with a cheap sewing machine, some ripstop nylon, and enough knowledge to be dangerous, I made my first hammock. I saved myself over 10oz compared to the heavy commercial version, and continued to use that same original hammock for over two years. I soon learned that I would need insulation beyond my ground sleeping gear, and decided to make an underquilt. Then, it was a top quilt, then a tarp, then a jacket, etc. By the time I realized it, I was having a blast designing and making my own gear.
So all of that set the scene. After nearly two years of making my own gear, and everyone I know begging me to make gear for them, or telling me to start a business, I am doing just that. To start, everything will be made by me, but hopefully, as EXZO grows, it can grow well beyond just my hands. The important things to me going forward are to help others achieve the happiness that my gear has provided me in the outdoors, to keep getting myself outside to stay sane and test prototype gear, and keep everything made in the USA. Working in retail for years, I've seen how important it is to customers when things are made in the USA, and I don't want to compromise on that point.
On a personal note, I am married to an amazing woman named Anna. I was blessed to find a wife that can keep up with me in all of my crazy adventures. We have two dogs, Atlas and Phoenix.
And then there were knives . . .
It seems to be a theme in my life that I find a new passion, become obsessed with learning about it, then put it into practice. Knives have become another love for me. I love learning, but am happiest when I'm creating. Knives, as with outdoors gear, are a perfect outlet for that creative drive. The last year of my free time has been consumed with learning the craft of knife making, and turning out knives that I would be happy to own and use. I don't know that knife making will ever be a career path for me, but if I can fund my knife addiction by selling a few to the world, then that sounds great.
I began knife making by simply making new handles for a friend's knife. I then decided to try an entire knife. After working hard with rudimentary tools (such as a Harbor Freight belt sander), I built my own massive knife grinder. It is a proper 2x72" belt grinder, just like the pros use. After a year of honing my skills, I am now turning out some knives on which I'm proud to place my logo.
Because I am passionate about the new "super steels", and am obsessive about edge retention, I use exclusively exotic, high alloy tool steels or "super" stainless steels. Currently, I've been working with CPM 20CV and CPM 10V, but will experiment with others in the future. These steels have large amounts of vanadium (among other alloying elements) that precipitate extremely wear resistant carbides. This means that they have extreme resistance to wear and excellent edge retention. I usually have the steel heat treated near the hard end of the steel's scale to help the wear resistance shine.
Currently, I do every single aspect of the knife making operation myself except for heat treating. Because an expensive kiln is required, I outsource the heat treating to Peters' Heat Treat in Pennsylvania. They have decades of experience heat treating everything from knives to aerospace parts. I will begin heat treating my own blades in the near future as I complete my kiln. I use the "stock removal" method instead of forging blades. There are two reasons for this. First, as I mentioned above, I like using the more exotic "super steels", which are either impossible to use when forging, or at least extraordinarily difficult. Second, forging requires massive, expensive machinery. I have neither the money or space to forge blades. Also, with modern CPM steels, forging does not make a superior knife. In fact, in my opinion, the process opens the door to more potential problems.
I strive to make my knives unique, attractive, and above all, functional. I want them to be pieces that can be used hard or be a trophy piece for a collector. Ultimately, I strive to make unique knives that are exceptionally good at holding an edge for a long time. I don't design or make knives for people that want to bash them into concrete or chop down trees (believe it or not, MANY people do this sort of thing). To me, a knife is a cutting tool. I want to make knives that cut well and keep doing so for a long time. I want to make knives that a grandfather will pass on to his grandson 60 years from now because it served him faithfully for a lifetime.