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Dawn of the Deadly Blades

Missoula's Zombie Tools makes a killing off weapons designed to slay the undead

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In an industrial workshop on the west side of town, a trio of metal workers crafts blades allegedly sharp enough to slay a zombie. Racks of swords hang on the walls with names like "The Para Bellum," "Urban Bone Machete," "Rough and Ready," "The Phalanx" and "The Reaper." Sparks fly from the grinding belts and a newly cut sword bakes in a brick forge at over 1,500 degrees. Opening the door of a conventional oven reveals a cookie sheet full of a dozen fresh 8-inch throwing spikes.

The garage door of the shop opens out onto rows of other shops, mostly populated by auto mechanics and welders. But this space stands apart from the others. Doll heads and mannequin parts hang against the outside wall and slashed plastic jugs litter the ground. A wooden door leans against the metal siding, looking like Swiss cheese from all the gashes it's endured. At the top of the garage opening hangs a funky metal sign welded together from chains and saw blades with "ZT" marked on it. And parked in front of the shop is a black truck with a front bumper guard adorned by a sculpture of a bloody severed arm. On the truck's back bumper a sticker says: "Zombie Tools. Accessories for the Apocalypse."

The Zombie Tools craftsmen make swords based on other cultures, but with modifications. The most prominent signature feature: The acid etching each blade receives, giving it a worn, spattered look. - PHOTO COURTESY CHRIS LOMBARDI
  • Photo courtesy Chris Lombardi
  • The Zombie Tools craftsmen make swords based on other cultures, but with modifications. The most prominent signature feature: The acid etching each blade receives, giving it a worn, spattered look.

Zombie Tools is a local business owned and operated by Maxon McCarter, Joey Arbour and Chris Lombardi, and they specialize in handcrafted blades made to combat a zombie apocalypse—not a small feat, if you think about it. The company's website states, "Can't save the World? Then prepare for its end," and offers a slew of ever-revolving products made from 5160 spring steel. A blade like "The Harvester," for instance, comes with this description: "Like a giant razor blade being scraped across the face of the earth, come time for the Apocalypse, your fields will be clear. Though we don't recommend zombie flesh as fertilizer."

"Half the people think it's all just a joke," says Lombardi. "They don't think we're serious. People will send us these probing e-mails, 'Are you guys for real?' And we write back to them, 'Hell yeah.'"

When Zombie Tools started in 2007, it was an evening activity set aside for necessary day jobs. It had its busier months and its lulls, and for a good part of 2009 and early 2010, blade-making activity went at a slow-zombie pace, with Lombardi spending a year in Nepal and McCarter living off and on in Seattle. Early this summer, however, the trio regrouped and rededicated to making zombie tools—a detailed process of forging, grinding, tempering and etching that produces two swords a day. They restructured prices, designed six new weapons and launched an online marketing campaign. Each Saturday night, they host anyone interested in coming and trying out the swords. The work has paid off. Revenues doubled from July to August. In September, they made even more when they sold 25 blades at between $200 and $300 apiece. They expect to sell at least 35 blades in October, which is, invariably, their most profitable month of the year with Halloween spirit in the air.

Max McCarter grinds the edge of a Zombie Tools’ sword. “We’re all horror fans, and we also are students of media and culture, so we already had our finger on the pulse,” says McCarter. “So, swords and zombies. It made sense.” - PHOTO BY CHAD HARDER
  • Photo by Chad Harder
  • Max McCarter grinds the edge of a Zombie Tools’ sword. “We’re all horror fans, and we also are students of media and culture, so we already had our finger on the pulse,” says McCarter. “So, swords and zombies. It made sense.”

People are in the zombie mood, say McCarter.

The crew has seen sales go up in Sweden and Norway, as well as in places like Texas and the Deep South. They were featured on Montana PBS and, recently, incorporated into a county evacuation plan in Florida that prepared for a zombie invasion. With a higher profile and increased sales, the three partners have been able to quit their day jobs and start crafting blades full time.

"Part of our success is, there's a lot of interest in zombies and there are a lot of sites out there about them," says Lombardi. "But pretty much what those sites produce is words and images. People like to talk about it, but as far as I know we're one of the few companies that makes something based on killing zombies. And they're really sharp."

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