Volume II, No. 4, Summer 1975

From Old Saws and Work Socks...


by Caryn Rader, Jimmy Harrelston and Donna Scott

A visit with George and Opal Lewis to learn how to turn old saw blades into kitchen knives and to transform men's work socks into monkey dolls brought a still greater reward--a friendship with two busy, independent people which led to sharing in their memories. Opal let George do most of the talking, quietly sewing and smiling as we talked and worked.

With two dollars in my pocket, George recalled, I left the state of South Dakota, my native state, on the eighth day of May in nineteen and thirty-three to move to the Ozarks. I drove a team and wagon with rubber tired wheels. The wagon had a shack made upon it for my family to live in during the trip which took two months and twelve days. When we got to Missouri, I built a two room house near my parents' home. I've worked all my life and made a living for my family.

During the depression of the thirties, which you young people don't know anything about--you read about it and you can't believe anything about it--during the depression I worked for fifty cents for ten hours a day. Me and my family always depended on ourselves to make a living and to make everything we needed when money was scarce. Whenever there wasn't nothing left but W.P.A. or federal relief, I wouldn't have it. I never received any government checks until I retired at the age of sixty-five. I found myself without any way of making a living for the family, so I picked up the deal of making handmade knives. It's not no get rich scheme, but I've made a dollar out of them all my life. An old hand saw hanging up in the shop has always been like an ole bank account to me 'cause any time I didn't have a quarter, why I went out and made a knife.

I raised my family making knives. A good many times what they ate or what they wore was gotten from making a knife. Back in them days I'd spend two or three weeks making knives and then I would leave the family. I just had my overhalls and my overcoat in the winter time. I would just strike out to some town I never been at before. I started right down main street and I took in all the business houses, post offices, banks, hotels, and any place that was public. I used to make an average in that day of every three doors I entered I made two sales. I've never made a knife I didn't sell. I've made a few that looked like they wasn't nobody gonna buy them, but then I've always sold them. I make them now to sell at arts and crafts festivals, I usually try to make maybe five or six hundred during the winter to have ready for the craft shows coming up in the spring.


Hobbies of George and Opal Lewis, making homemade knives and monkey dolls.



Handmade Knives

After making so many original knives for over forty years, it is easy to believe George's claim that he can make any knife anyone can draw a pattern for. Nor could anyone doubt his guarantee that his knives are never dull nor will they rust with regular use.

For those of you who would like to make a knife, George's instructions are easy to follow.


saw blade - The saw blade is the most important thing you will need. The blade of any good used hand saw will work. To test a blade, bend the ends of the saw together until they touch. (see photo # 1) Then let go of one end. If the blade straightens out completely, it will mare good knives, but if it breaks or keeps a bend in it, the knives will not hold an edge. If you use an old saw, you should do this test. On most old saws you can file off the rust, but some may lie out so long that they get pitted too deeply to use.

pattern - Draw a pattern of the type of knife you want. See diagram # 1 for some of George's patterns.

wood splints - Pieces of wood 8x2x3/4 inches are the best size to use. Maple, oak, and walnut are the main types that George uses, though he likes walnut best. He said the wood is better after it has seasoned for a year or longer. You cannot use green or wet wood because the handle will shrink.

copper wire - Copper-wire about 1/4" thick can be used as rivets on the handle.

punch - A punch with a cutting hole the same size as the copper wire will work best.

whetstone - Any good knife sharpener will do.

draw knife - A draw knife is not a must. If you do not have one, a good sharp knife will work.

file - A good metal file is what George uses. It will make up to 25 knives depending on the condition of the saw blade. For a handle, George hammers a golf ball on the end. hammer - A ball peen hammer is good.

chisel - A sharp chisel with 1/2" cutting edge is the best. hand saw - Any sharp saw will work. electric hand drill - This is almost a must.

vice - Bench vice strong enough to hold the handle is satisfactory.


1.Select the knife you want and trace the pattern on the saw blade.
2.Cut out the blade. Putting the edge of the chisel along the outline of the knife, hit the chisel with the hammer hard enough to cut through, but light enough that you do not crack or break the knife blade. (see photo # 2) Continue cutting all around the blade.
3.Now punch out the holes for the handle. (see photo # 3)
4.Take one of the wood splints and drill holes in the handle to match the holes in the blade. Mark where the handle comes.
5.Here is the process that is very hard for a beginner to do. With the splint secured in a vice, saw up the middle of the handle, keeping right in the middle, until you get to your stopping mark. (see photo # 4)
6.Slip the knife blade in the opening you sawed and line up the holes for bradding. (see photo # 5)
7.The copper wire will probably be too soft. With the hammer peck it on all sides. The more you peck it the harder the wire becomes. When the wire is ready, stick it through the holes and cut it off, leaving about an eighth of an inch sticking out on each side. Now start bradding the ends of the wire, hitting it with the rounded head of the hammer. Check the other side now and then to make sure you are not driving the brad through. (see photo # 6)
8.With the draw knife or sharp knife whittle down the wood splint making the shape handle you want. An older woman will probably want a larger handle than a younger one. Cut the handle off 3 1/2 inches from the rivet. (see photo # 7)
9.File down the handle and blade to smooth rough edges. (see photo # 8)
10.To put an edge on the knife use a file or electric grind stone. If you really want it sharp, go over it with a whet stone. (see photo # 9)
11.The knife is now finished. (see photo # 10)

If you wish you can varnish the knife handle, but George said the varnish will not last long. Hot and cold water will curdle the varnish. There are many kinds of knives you can make. To make a large knife or a hunting knife use a cross-cut saw blade. J.H.


(1) To test a saw blade bend the ends together then let go of one end to let it snap back.

(2) Be careful when cutting out the blade. One mistake could ruin it.

(3) Hitting the punch too hard Z will break the blade.

(4) A difficult job for a beginner.

(5) Make sure your holes are lined up before bradding.


(6) When bradding check the other side to make sure you are not just driving it through.

(7) A draw knife works best for whittling down the handle, but a sharp knife will do.

(8) A good metal file will make many knives.

(9) A whetstone will put on a good edge.

(10) The finished product.


At 89 Father Still Makes Knives

George is not the only knife maker in his family. He told about his father who also makes knives.

My father is eighty-nine years old. He and I have been making knives for forty years. He does the same process as I, but father has a little different style. He's getting to the point where he don't see as well as he used to, so he makes his handles more by feel than he does by seeing, but he still works at it. These knives in this box here are the ones he's made. I need to put a new handle on some of his because he couldn't see they was cracked. I just can't sell people something like that with a cracked handle. Some of these father's made probably four or five years ago. I just put them in the box until I get time to fix them. But you see what happens to them if you set them up? They rust. These knives have to be used. I tell folks when they're buying something like the fillet knives that are just used maybe once a week. I tell them to slice a piece of bacon to get grease on the knife and wrap the knife in bread paper. You will get enough grease on the blade so it won't rust.

Father's got to the point if he be standing here like us and he was talking, all at once he'd go to leaning backward and he'd fall. He'll lose his sense of balance and he's fell so many times out, he won't hardly go out anywhere by himself unless somebody's with him so he can grab them or they catch him. He can't get out to sell his knives any great distance from his home, so I've been selling them for him. He's got to hold on to something in that old shop of his down there where he's worked for years. So he fixed him up a support. Last time I was down there at Father's he had the lumber yard send him up two 2 by 4's and he took these 2 by 4's, dressed them all down with his draw knife so they wasn't rough and no splinters on them. Then he cut them off to where they just fit between the ceiling and the floor real tight. He goes in there and slides in between those 2 by 4's and leans against them to work for five or six hours a day. In the past year I've probably sold more of Dad's knives than I have of my own. I haven't kept any real count of it, no accurate figure, but I expect I've sold and sent Dad probably about eight hundred dollars in the past year.

Making knives is only a part of the Lewis' industry. Their huge truck garden produces all season while the products of their shop and sewing room fill their gift shop and several booths at arts and crafts festivals during the summer.

You haven't been in our gift shop yet, have you? George asked giving us the tour. This shop is where we keep all our hobbies and things we make. It's our playhouse, we make and sell all kinds of things besides knives, like hobby horses, internal carving, dolls with three heads--Little Red Riding Hood, Grandma, and the Wolf--and lots of other things. Oh, of course, we make lots of monkey dolls out of men's work socks. The knives and monkeys is probably about the fastest sellers we actually got. My wife made monkeys all day so she'd have some for you folks today. We went down to Branson day before yesterday and sold the last monkey we had.

We love the arts and crafts shows. I wish we could go more than we do. If my wife had her way, we'd be at one every week. But we can't make stuff fast enough. We make everything we sell, so it keeps us busy. We make our toys strong so they'll last for children to play with. We believe that if anything is worth making, it's worth making right.


Monkeying Around

Opal spends much of her time in a room of her house filled with their old-fashioned sock monkey dolls, some faceless, armless and un-stuffed. With skilled hands she brings these toys so much to life that each little child that sees one is filled with longing.

Though these sock monkeys have been around for years, Opal has added her own personal touches to make each monkey different and special.


One monkey is made from one pair of socks. Lay the first sock on the table with the heel on the left. Cut up the left fold of the leg to one and a half inches below the white of the heel. Cut up the same distance on the right fold. These cuts are for the doll's legs.



1 pair of men's size 10 Rockfort brand work socks
Stuffing - cotton, old rags or hose
Needle and strong sewing thread
Black embroidery thread
Buttons or moving eyes (12 mm size)


Felt - 5 1/2"x 10"
1 yard of yarn
Darning needle and thread


2/3 yard of dress material (enough for one girl's outfit and one boy's shirt)
1/4 or 1/8 yard of material (boy's overalls)
elastic - 1/2 yard of baby elastic.


The foot of the sock makes the doll's body and head. (see diagram #2)

Diagram # 2 Cut up sides of sock to form the body and legs. & Diagram # 3 Cut 2nd sock according to diagram to form the other parts.

Lay the second sock with the heel to the right. (see diagram # 3) For the tail, cut off a one inch strip from the left fold. Cut up to one inch above the heel. For the arms, cut across the rest of the leg of the sock one-half inch below the brown on the heel. Cut up the right fold to make two arms.

For the mouth, cut around the top of the heel, leaving at least one-half inch of brown on the heel. For the boy's cap, cut around the toe of the sock, leaving at least one-half inch of brown attached. Cut off and discard the corner of material that is left where you cut out the tail.

The remaining sock material should be cut to form two ears of double material. (see diagram # 4)

Diagram # 4 - Cut the ears and later sew around curved edges.


To sew the body, turn the sock inside out. Stitch across the bottoms of each leg, then sew up the edge, stopping two inches from the crotch on each leg. (see diagram # 5) This opening is needed for stuffing. The leg seam may be made' larger, according to how fat you want the leg to be.

Diagram # 5 - The first sock is turned inside out and sewn around cut edges and up the inside seams, according to leg thickness and leave an opening for stuffing.

For the arms and tail, turn the sock material inside out and sew across the white end and all the way up the edge.

With right sides together, sew around the curved edges of the ears, leaving open one raw edge. (see diagram # 4) Turn the ear right side out and top stitch to form the inside of the ear.


Stuffing the monkey may be with cotton, hosiery or old rags. Rags may keep the monkey firmer since cotton and hosiery may have a tendency to bunch. The use of a stick is helpful to stuff narrow places.

Turn the body, arms and tail right side out and stuff firmly. Then sew up by hand the opening of the body using double thread and going over twice to make it strong. Be sure to catch enough of the sock with your needle so that the thread will not pull out.

Hint: To make a bow-legged monkey or curved tail or arms, after stuffing, place over the end of a stick a single strip of rag about two inches wide and twice as long as the arm or tail. Force the strip inside the tail between the sock covering and stuffing. Force it up the Side you want to curve. The rag will pull the tail, arms or legs to give a life-like touch.


The monkey is now ready to be put together. This is all done by hand using strong double thread and hidden stitches.

Turn under the raw edges of the arms and tail and sew securely on to the body.


little stitch through the sock about one-fourth of an inch over before going downward for the second lash. Four lashes should be suitable. (see diagram # 6) Option: You may wish to embroider two small slashes on the top of the mouth piece to indicate a nose.

Diagram # 6 Embroider eyelashes on the face.

When the eyelashes are finished, place a drop of silicone adhesive glue where you want the eye. Press the eye on the glue and hold until the glue is firm. The eye will not come off without cutting into the sock. If you use buttons for the eyes, either sew or glue them on.


Now that you have made one monkey, let your imagination go wild! You may want to make a monkey family. By using socks in boys' sizes, you can make smaller monkeys, but they are a bit tedious to make.

If your children like to dress dolls, you may want to make the clothes for them. You could make dresses, aprons, pants, shirts, hats and anything you can think of. If you would like a pattern of the clothes on the Lewis' monkey dolls illustrated in this article send $1.49 to: Happy Hours Gift Shop, Lake Stockton, R. 3, Stockton, Missouri 65785.

If you use Opal's patterns, keep in mind that the fatness of your monkey may not be exactly the same as what is needed for the clothes pattern. You may need to make some adjustments.

Diagram # 7 - A simple pattern for monkey's shoes. Sew toe of tongue to toe of sole. Place upper evenly around sole and stitch.

All diagrams by Alexa Hoke

Diagram # 8 - Finished shoe ready for shoe lace.


Place the bottom of the ear on, or just above the brown on the side of the head. Turn under the raw edges and curve the back of the ear around the head slightly to form the round of the ear. Keeping it lined up with the toe seam of the sock, sew on the ear securely. No stuffing is needed because the turned under edges and top stitching make the ear stand out.

The brown raw edges of the mouth piece are now turned under and the mouth piece centered on the white line. The corners of the mouth should be one or one and a half inches from the toe seam where the ears are located. Turn under the bottom edge and fasten it, making it round on the bottom. Stuff the mouth with cotton or soft ravelled material and sew the top part of the mouth piece on to the face. Use double thread to prevent the mouth from being torn off easily. It is important to hide your stitches on this part.

The completed first step shows all parts of the monkey.

Opal sews the seam of monkey's tail.

George says, "I'm quite a surgeon now," as he sews up the crotch.

Curving the tail for a life-like touch.


To make the mouth line between the lips, use black embroidery thread. Embroider a single line completely across the middle of the red.


The boy's cap needs no sewing. Just curl up the raw edges and add a pom pom. To make the pom pom hold the yarn between the first finger and the thumb and wrap around three or four fingers several times. When you have the desired amount of yarn, cut the remaining yarn away and use it to tie the yarn in the middle two or three times. Then cut through the yarn opposite your tie and ruffle it out. Then sew the completed pom porn to the top of the cap. Tack the cap to the monkey's head above the ears in front and back.

To make the shoes, cut them out of a sheet of felt, using the pattern. (see diagram # 7) Sew the tongue to the toe of the sole either by hand or with a zigzag machine stitch. Match markings. Place the shoe upper around the sole evenly matching markings and sew all together. (see diagram # 8)

When the shoe is finished, stuff some cotton in the toe to give the monkey the appearance of a foot. Place the shoe on the foot and sew it on with yarn which also becomes the shoe laces. Catch a bit of the sock to secure the shoe from coming off, leaving enough yarn for the laces. Tie a knot and then a bow knot.


Opal dresses her monkeys in her own handmade clothes. In the background can be seen most all stages of monkeys.

Glueing the eyes to the lashes. All face features are easy to see.

And That's the Story

"We love making these dolls and going to arts and crafts shows," Opal said. "We've made over a thousand of them. We load the monkeys and everything else we have made in our van and go to about one show a month. We camp the three or four days the show lasts and then come home to make enough stuff for the next show. We don't have any trouble selling. George is a born salesman and can talk anyone into buying something we have."


It takes a salesman to sell you something you don't want to buy. Now anybody can sell you something you want to buy. I can sell anything I make up my mind to sell, George explained.

People bring their handwork to the craft shows and it's beautiful--ain't no fool about it. But they'll sit there with one or maybe two items. Unless you have a use for that one thing, you will just look and admire it and go on. We try to have many different things. Our tables are loaded with our work. So when people come they have to stop and admire it. We get acquainted with people all over the country and we trade ideas back and forth. Most of the good people will sit behind their table and they won't hardly even speak to the customers as they pass by. They'll hardly smile. That's the worst thing in the world for a salesman. You've got to be one of the people if you sell. And you have to price your stuff reasonable.

After working all morning, we all relaxed and visited. George continued.

I am one-fourth Sioux Indian and was raised on the Sioux Indian Reservation in Pine Ridge, Ogallala, South Dakota. Since I had no head rights, I never got to go to school till I was seventeen years old. I helped build the only school house I've ever went to in my life. I went one six month term and that's the sum of my class room education. By not getting to go to school, I had the urge to learn. People says to me, "When did you learn to read and write?" I don't know when I learned to read and write. It came as a necessity and I mastered it. I will say this one thing. I can't see it, I just cannot see it. They talk about full grown people who cannot read or write their own name. I cannot see anybody that has a normal life that would live to be twenty-one years old and not learn to read and write their own name or do a little figuring. I can figure faster in my head than on paper and more correctly. It's got to be pretty complicated for me not to do it in my head.

The point is I never studied a geography book, grammar book, or anything like that until my children went to school. I raised six children. They would bring home their books and I'd help them get their lessons. Then they'd go to bed and I'd sit there and study that book maybe till two or three in the morning. I'd get started in a history book and I'd just keep reading till I'd come to words I didn't know what they meant, then I'd get out the Webster's Dictionary. I wouldn't pass up a word until I knew what it meant. Sometimes I'd spend maybe two and a half hours mastering one chapter 'cause I had to look up so many words in the dictionary. I enjoyed it and I got a lot of history that way.

Same way with the Bible. I preach and teach people how to study the Bible. The Bible is a far different book than any book man has ever made. When you take the Bible the first thing we want to keep in mind and one of the greatest lessons there is in the Bible is that God gives the power. God has the power to create everything.

My wife and I have retired here on this little place. I limed it, plowed it and worked it down and planted a truck garden. Our garden now is an acre and a half. We sell many different kinds of vegetables and fruits in our fruit stand all season.

My neighbor said to me one day, he said, "George, you people got us fooled. We understood when you bought that acre and a half that you was going to build a retirement home." I said, "Well, yeah. I thought that's what we did. I'm retired. I've been on my social security now four years." And he said, "I don't see it. You're working all the time." I said, "Yeah, but listen, Joe. I do what I please when I please. To me that is retirement." There was a time in my life that I couldn't always do but what the other fellow wanted me to do.

I expect to keep going. One of my prayers is that when the Lord sees fit to take me, he takes me with my boots on. And that's the story.



Copyright © 1981 BITTERSWEET, INC.

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