Home Authors Posts by Mike Haskew

Mike Haskew

Bob Loveless: The Icon’s Indelible Mark On The Knife Industry

Loveless’ impact is still felt today.

A week after BLADE Magazine Cutlery Hall-Of-Fame® member Bob Loveless died at age 81 on Sept. 2, 2010, Los Angeles Times reporter Valerie J. Nelson wrote a lengthy story on the man who sold his first knife to the Abercrombie & Fitch sporting outfitter for $14 more than 55 years earlier.

Nelson wrote that Loveless “made some of the world’s most coveted sporting cutlery by refining knife design to high art.” These succinct words convey a glimpse of the influence this giant in the cutlery industry wielded during his lifetime. In this 50th anniversary year for BLADE®, his legacy stands tall among those who have dedicated their lives in building the knife industry to what it is today.

Bob Loveless
Bob Loveless in his shop in October 2006. (image courtesy of Aaron Merritt, grandson of Jim Merritt)

Truth is, there’s scarcely an aspect, nook or cranny of the knife business that Robert Waldorf Loveless did not touch during his lifetime. He was forthright, sometimes gruff and always prone to speak his mind. During an interview for BLADE, he once asked this writer what the tapping noise was that he heard in the background. When I responded that it was the keys clicking as I was taking notes while we talked, he bluntly asked, “Can’t you remember anything? Why can’t you just listen?”

Loveless’ Defining Designs

No matter. Loveless was articulate, extremely intelligent and deep down passionate about art in knives. Cutlery Hall-Of-Famer Bruce Voyles knew Loveless and respected him for what he was.

“The thing about Loveless is he made a knife with eye appeal,” Bruce observed. “It was different, and a lot of people don’t understand why, but it was [his use of the] natural French curve. It was the design appeal.”

True enough, Loveless was a master of design. He had actually studied briefly at the Institute of Design in Chicago in the 1950s, and was a student of the Bauhaus Movement, a cultural and artistic design wave that peaked in the mid-1930s, something of a North Star, a muse if you will. Its dictum: Form Follows Function.

Loveless sub-hilt
Another of Loveless’s favorite designs is the sub-hilt, radiant in one of Bob’s Baby Bear fighters with mother-of-pearl scales, Naked Lady logo and Riverside, California, stamp. (Exquisiteknives.com image)

Longtime Loveless authority John Denton told reporter Nelson, “He is pretty much the Picasso of the knife world and the father of 20th century knifemaking. His design is what made him famous.”

Dave Ellis, proprietor of Exquisiteknives.com, agrees.

“Going back to the 1950s, Loveless has been instrumental in perfecting some of the more common traits found in contemporary knives,” he related. “The dropped hunter is probably Bob’s most emulated design, although the Archer chute, sub-hilt fighter and more show that Bob did not rest on his laurels. When a smaller, carry-sized fighter was called for, Loveless came up with the New York Special.”

Denton recalled the Loveless willingness to revive and reintroduce design and construction concepts that caught hold in modern times and energized new frontiers of imagination and artistry.

“He was not the first to use the tapered tang,” John explained, “but he found out about it from an old knife made in the 1850s that was given to him by Billy DuPont of the DuPont family. Loveless brought it back into the modern world with the tapered tang taking the weight out of the knife. Bob said, ‘It has to look so good you want to pick it up and feel so good you don’t want to put it down.’”

Bob Loveless, John Denton and Jim Merritt
From left, Bob Loveless, John Denton and Jim Merritt in the Loveless shop in Riverside, California.

According to Denton, Loveless also brought the brass wrap handle, hidden pin, two-tone pins and half tang into play.

Design achievement crowns Bob’s career, but there was so much more to him—so much that attempting to compile a summary of his contributions would require more space than this publication might allot in another half-century.

Voyles commented, “I always liked him because he could sum up a complex subject in a sentence. He and I visited one time and I would throw out topic after topic, and he would snap back a quick response. When you left him you knew you left somebody that was phenomenally intelligent on a variety of topics, but that doesn’t mean he had social graces.”

One of Bruce’s favorite Loveless memories was Bob’s rationale during the controversy that raged within the Knifemakers’ Guild as to what truly defined a handmade knife. Loveless liked Jack Daniel’s, so Voyles and Cutlery Hall-Of-Famer Dan Delavan bought a 1.75-liter bottle of Gentleman Jack whiskey (Single Barrel wasn’t available at the time) and presented it to Loveless at his home in Riverside, California.

Loveles prototype
In an arrangement between Loveless and Schrade’s Uncle Henry Baer facilitated by A.G. Russell, Loveless sent this actual prototype to Schrade to copy and make the Schrade Loveless collaboration in the early 1970s. It has no guard, an “improved handle,” and a more pronounced belly than most of the Loveless dropped hunters of later years. The handle is burgundy Micarta®. As John Denton observed, the knife “has a magical feel from the ol’ man.” (Denton image)

“I said to him, ‘I hope you will accept this gift in the spirit in which it is intended,’” Bruce smiled. “He laughed and put the bottle on his shelf. Then we sat down and asked him what he believed to be the definition of a handmade knife. We videotaped his answer. He said, ‘I wish I had a machine that I could dump handle material, steel and pins into, and then a knife would come out the other end, boxed and ready to send to somebody. So, make your knives any way you want to. The marketplace will sort you out soon enough.’”

Simple, straightforward and wise.

Bob’s Impact On The Industry

Loveless played a pivotal role in the genesis of knifemakers’ organizations. He was a founding member of the Knifemakers’ Guild and a pioneer with the California Knifemaker’s Association. He was a staunch supporter of knife shows, bringing people to the events just with his mere presence. According to Ellis, Bob regularly attended the Guild Show, BLADE Show, Solvang Show, California Custom Knife Show and Phil Lobred’s Art Knife Invitational

Loveless also brought along younger knifemakers, working with them and offering advice. A few include Jim Merritt, D.F. Kressler, Yoshihito Aida, Cutlery Hall-Of-Famer D’ Holder and Steve Johnson. Bob’s style and artistic interpretation live on in part with the work of these incredible craftsmen.

Loveless-Johnson daggers
Steve Johnson worked in the Loveless shop in the early ’70s and remembers Bob fondly. “He was a true friend to those who were genuine and sincere with him,” Steve noted. Of this rare set of Loveless-Johnson daggers John Denton wrote simply, “Three really great knives.” (Denton image)

“Many a maker is in debt to Bob Loveless for the support, counsel, corrections and guidance that he gave,” Johnson said. “He was a true friend to those who were genuine and sincere with him, and the relationship that they had with him. Bob, as we know, was outspoken and quick to correct what he felt was not right or smart, which led to some loving him and others not, a bit like Ed Henry—love or hate—but both were so very good to me personally!”

Materials Maven

Loveless was an innovator in the aspect of materials as well, including 154CM stainless steel and the introduction of ATS-34 from Japan, while also popularizing Micarta® as a handle material.

Ellis commented, “Loveless pioneered the use of many of the common steels used today, especially 154CM. The shop was able to purchase such quantities that Bob could pretty much order what he wanted. The favorite handle material of the Loveless shop was green Micarta.”

Johnson remembered, “There was a stack of 154CM steel lying in the driveway at 4319 W 187th Street [the address of the Loveless shop] the day I first walked in. Bob mentioned that he was excited to get some blades done and heat treated right off. Green canvas Micarta was set in stone as the best handle material in Bob’s view. It’s still right up there on top and is used by many a maker. It’s because of Bob’s legacy that this happens.”

Global Influence

A lasting dimension of the Loveless legacy was his bridge to Japan, as well as his overtures in the European markets.

“Bob was deified to the extent that every Japanese knifemaker included his designs among their offerings,” Ellis explained. “Bob was an icon in Japan, and to this day many of the top makers in Asia have Loveless designs in their repertoires.”

Five Loveless fixed blades
Five Loveless fixed blades sport the no bolt/no pin look in ivory handles. (Exquisiteknives.com image)

Voyles commented, “Bob went over there and showed the Japanese how to make good knives. I went to Japan in 1981 or ’82, and in every factory I went to there was a picture of Bob Loveless and the factory owner. The thing was that Bob’s wife, Yoshiko, was Japanese, so he didn’t have a problem with the language barrier, and he went to Japan to show them how to make knives that appeal to Americans.”

Loveless used his connections to make things happen, and Voyles credits him with the evolution of the folding knife among Japanese manufacturers, as well as a surge in the Japanese collector market.

“Bob didn’t make folders and the Japanese wanted folders,” Bruce recalled. “He had worked on a design with Jess Horn, and Bob put Jess and Japanese collectors in touch with each other. Horn also had a series of folders that he patterned after the old Remington Bullets. When Japanese collectors discovered that, their market for vintage Remingtons went straight through the roof. Loveless sowed the seeds in the 1990s for the collectibility of vintage knives in Japan.”

Collecting Loveless

Today, a Loveless knife is a collectible phenomenon in its own right. Name the year, name the mark on the blade, name the style and the materials, it will sell for astonishing dollars. Denton has noted some models made in the 1970s that sold for $400 then and have reached the rarefied air of $100,000 or more in recent years. The power of Loveless pricing simply takes your breath away.

Bruce is quick to add that Loveless was professionally unselfish. “If you wanted to make a style of his knife in your factory, that was OK,” Bruce noted. “Just ask him.”

Early Model Loveless
Circa 1955, Loveless sold his first knife to Abercrombie & Fitch for $14 (adjusted for inflation, almost $160 in today’s money). Loveless made this early model for A&F in his shop in Claymont, Delaware.

The pervasive Loveless influence stretched far and wide, from the custom knife shop to the factory.

“His designs for and collaborations with Schrade, Gerber, Lone Wolf and others, and the factory knife market in general, were significant,” Ellis recalled. “Early on the astute factories were taken by Loveless designs and made limited editions in dropped hunters and others. These days factory collaborations are quite common, and you can thank Bob Loveless if you want to give credit where it is due.”

When Sports Illustrated called Loveless for an interview in 1980 and the magazine published his words in the same edition that featured tennis superstar Bjorn Borg on the cover, the impact on the entire knife universe was transcendent. When asked why so many people considered his knives “better” than those of others, he mused, “A knife is an extension of your experience. And I’ve had more experiences than most people. There’s more character running in my veins.”

For those who knew Bob, just the knowing was an unforgettable experience. His contributions to his present and to the futures of others in the knife industry remains incalculable. And so, the longevity of a man does not reside in his years on Earth, but in the perpetual remembrance of his ideas, his workmanship and his innovative perspective on the world.

Therefore, it can be said that when Loveless left us he did not go gentle into that good night. He did not fade away. He didn’t drop the mic. He handed it to those with the foresight and the intestinal fortitude for the days to come. Now, what do we say and do? Loveless might grouse. He might gripe. But he just might also manage a grin.

Read More On BLADE Magazine And Show:

Brisket Knife: These Carving Blades Are Bad To The Bone

0

Prepare massive meat feast with one of these barbecue beasties at hand.

The barbecue/brisket knife is an indispensable tool for those who prepare brisket and other large-scale meat dishes. Makers go the extra mile to provide the toughness and tensile strength needed, along with a tip that stays sturdy to separate meat and prepare it for serving. Individual recipes include the good looks and visual appeal that make owning and using the best in such knives a pleasure.

Ben Anderson: Brisket Slicers For The Barbie

Ben Anderson forged the 12.6-inch blade of his Mosaic Brisket Slicer
Ben Anderson forged the 12.6-inch blade of his Mosaic Brisket Slicer from 1084 carbon and 15N20 nickel-alloy steels. Done in the Japanese wa (octagonal) style, the handle is ringed gidgee with a damascus spacer. Overall length: 19.7 inches. (Rod Hoare image)

Ben Anderson of Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia, features his artisan’s perspective in two beauties that allow form and function to seamlessly blend. He calls both brisket slicers, and in each case he has styled the big carbon steel blade for use with large pieces of meat. One features a blade of 52100 high carbon steel, handle of ironwood and ebony with textured and filed brass spacer, overall length of 27.5 inches, blade of 19.7 inches, and leather sheath. The second is a stunning piece with a 12.6-inch blade of mosaic damascus in 1084 carbon and 15N20 nickel-alloy steels, and a handle of ringed gidgee with a damascus spacer. Overall length: 19.7 inches.

“The blade shape just seems to be a favorite of the brisket guys [in Australia],” Ben commented. “I think people like it because it’s just an aggressive-looking shape that’s a bit reminiscent of a katana. Most of my time as a maker I’ve offered full customization for my clients, so this really pushed me to try all different shapes, sizes and color combinations.”

A custom knifemaker for about six years now, Anderson uses precision specifications in crafting his brisket knives to perform. “On my standard kitchen knives I’ve always aimed for a ricasso height of around 18 millimeters [.7 inch], which made my handles around 20 millimeters [.79 inch] tall at the front and tapered out to around 5 millimeters [.196 inch] bigger at the back. On the bigger brisket knives I aimed for a ricasso height of around 23 millimeters [.9 inch], which made the handles around 25 millimeters [.98 inch] tall at the front and again tapered to around 5 to 7 millimeters [.196 to .275 inch] bigger at the back. I like to scale the handles up with the blades,” he noted, “so it all looks in proportion. It also helps with the balance a bit.”

Ben Anderson’s brisket slicer is one in a 19.7-inch blade of 52100 carbon steel
Yet another example of Ben Anderson’s brisket slicer is one in a 19.7-inch blade of 52100 carbon steel, and an ironwood and ebony handle with a textured, filed brass spacer. Overall length: 27.5 inches. (Rod Hoare image)

Anderson’s brisket knives have found their way into competitions with a customer who uses them to prep and slice. Ben’s maintenance and upkeep includes Renaissance Wax for long-term storage after a good cleaning. For everyday servicing a bees wax or mineral oil wipe down for the handle works best.

Of course, since Ben is Australian, his take on the barbecue event itself is enlightening. “A barbecue here is often as simple as a 24-pack of sausages and a loaf or two of bread and some basically burnt-to-a-crisp onion,” he laughed. “As for myself, I’m usually pretty happy with a simple steak and sausages.”

Peter Pruyn: San-Mai Slicer

Peter Pruyn’s brisket slicer
Peter Pruyn’s brisket slicer is designed for slicing large pieces of beef. It has a long, thin, Granton-style blade with a tad of distal taper and vertical scallops its entire length. The Granton blade is ideal for cutting large pieces of meat, and the handle supports slicing with a pulling motion. His price for a similar knife: $1,000. (SharpByCoop image)

Peter Pruyn of Grant’s Pass, Oregon, recently produced a brisket slicer that is pleasing to work with and also admire next to the cutting board. His 13-inch blade in a stainless/high-carbon san-mai construction of respective 416 and 52100 steels is complemented by a handle of his favorite handle material from Voodoo Resins, and a copper spacer. Overall length: 18 inches. A zippered, padded pouch is included.

The pouch, Pete says, is more practical in a kitchen setting and protects the knife. If the knife is included in a set, his preference for protection is a leather knife roll.

“This particular knife is designed for slicing large pieces of beef,” Pruyn related. “I made it for a customer who uses it for commercial-size briskets. When I needed to design a knife for that purpose, I called a friend, Rob Baptie, who barbecues and cooks briskets and other meats professionally. He described a very long, thin blade with a little distal taper and vertical scallops the entire length of the blade. Often referred to as a Granton-style blade, it has a handle that supports slicing with a pulling motion.”

Peter forged the blade to about 1/8-inch thick. “The 52100 has always been an excellent steel for butcher and chef’s knives due to its abrasion resistance, and it takes an excellent edge and retains it very well. The stainless protects the core steel and makes it easier to maintain,” he observed. “I also etched the blade, which makes the 52100 more rust resistant, like a forced patina.”

The Voodoo Resins handle material is easy to work with and extremely durable. “It doesn’t change with time, temperature or humidity,” Peter said. “Its creator, Matt Peterson, made a custom color for this knife, which was part of a 14-piece set. For the bolsters I chose copper more for its aesthetic appeal with the other materials than anything else. When you make a custom knife for something like this you have to think about how it looks and not just a comfortable handle and a practical, durable design. It’s part of the whole package.”

Matt Williams: Barbecue Balance

Brisket knife cutting meat
The BBQ Chef’s Knife by Matt Williams is a meat-slicing machine. He outfits it in a 9-inch blade of 400-layer damascus forged from 1084 carbon and 15N20 nickel-alloy steels, and a handle of spalted pecan and cedar elm with a white oak dowel. Overall length: 15 inches. His price for a similar knife: $750. (SharpByCoop knife image)

A heavy chef’s knife with a santoku influence was the goal for Matt Williams of Bastrop, Texas, with his beauty of 400-layer random-pattern damascus in 1084 carbon and 15N20 nickel-alloy steels. The blade is 9 inches long and the handle is spalted pecan, cedar elm and a white oak dowel in a combination that evokes the maker’s woodworking skills. His knives are influenced by feedback from customers who have told him what they really want in a solid performing knife. His price for his BBQ Chef’s Knife starts at $750.

“The blade’s distal taper is .169 to .05 inch,” Matt noted, “and this distal allows for some more delicate work to be done at the end of the blade. Sometimes you need to slice up some peppers or dice up something tasty. The handle is long to balance the heavy blade out. It’s thin because I like wa [octagonal] handles, and this is my interpretation done on a wood lathe. I turn the whole handle and the dowel. I harvest, mill and stabilize most of my wood. They are all local hardwoods. I know these woods well and their capacities.”

When designing his BBQ Chef’s Knife, Matt relies more heavily on balance than weight. His perspective counts on a solid feel in a pinch grip. “Prepping 200 fruit and veggie trays in eight hours will test your wrist,” he smiled. “I learned not to fight a forward-leaning blade. I worked in food prep when I was younger and I have always been drawn to this shape for its overall utility.

“I want the knife to slice well through meat and to be able to break a joint,” he concluded. “Afterwards, it will also look pretty next to a pile of barbecue!”

Editor’s note: Due to fluid market conditions, all prices listed are subject to change. Please check with the applicable maker for the latest in pricing.

Read More

Petty Knife: The Mama Bear Of Food-Prep Tools

0

Larger than a paring knife, smaller than a chef’s knife, the petty knife is right-sized for heavy-duty precision work.

Sometimes food preparation calls for something especially suited for close, even intricate, work. The petty knife was made for such employment.

While it may be a bit smaller in stature than other knives chefs regularly use, the petty knife makes short work of otherwise laborious functions.

Its name is derived from the French petit or small, but it’s big on getting the job done.

“Ask a dozen makers what the petty knife is and you’ll get a dozen different answers,” offered custom maker Ian Ronald of Elderslie, New South Wales, Australia. “But for me, I would define a petty knife as a culinary knife that is shorter than a chef’s knife but with a broader blade than a paring knife. I find a petty knife to be incredibly handy for household food preparation tasks, with a blade that is big enough to cut most food items but not so large as a full-sized chef’s knife, making it a little more versatile for ‘in hand’ food prep tasks such as cutting avocados and similar things. I have a few in my kitchen and they are the most commonly used knives in the knife block by far.”

The full-flat-ground blade of 18-year-old Aidan De Fazio’s petty knife.
The full-flat-ground blade of 18-year-old Aidan De Fazio’s petty knife is also slightly convex to preserve edge longevity and provide better food release. (Rod Hoare knife image)

Representative of Ronald’s petty knife work is a piece the price of which varies depending on materials chosen. With a 4.92-inch blade of Takefu Special stainless clad in san-mai fashion over V-Toku2 carbon steel, a desert ironwood handle and 9.25-inch overall length, the petty remains with the maker—and he uses it frequently.

“I designed this knife with quite clean lines and simple shapes, as it was intended to be a workhorse from the beginning,” Ian commented. “I used some premium materials but I didn’t add any embellishments or unnecessary details. I follow that aesthetic with most of the knives I make, preferring to let the form follow the function for the most part. This particular knife has a relatively deep blade with a reasonably high tip profile, which allows it to be used for [rocking/chopping] and push cuts despite its unassuming size.”

The steel combination on Ronald’s knife includes a carbon core with stainless cladding from the Takefu steel company of Japan. According to Ian, it is quite corrosion resistant and maintains a bright appearance, as the carbon steel core etches dark and develops character and patina with use. The blade grind is nearly flat with a slight convex slant near the edge, which is intended to create a fine cutting edge while maintaining toughness.

Precision Worker Petties

Sixty-year-old Australian Zohar Oshinsky has been making knives since he was 12 but became more serious about his work just a few years ago, becoming a full-time maker in the past five years. His petty knife features a 5.12-inch blade of M390 stainless damascus steel from Sanwa Special Steel of Japan, handle scales of stabilized red mallee burl timber—a hardwood from the York peninsula of South Australia—and an overall length of 10.04 inches.

Ian Ronald said a petty knife has a blade big enough to cut most food items.
Ian Ronald said a petty knife has a blade big enough to cut most food items but not so large as a full-sized chef’s knife, making it a little more versatile for avocados and similar things. Overall length of his Kitchen Petty: 9.25 inches. (Rod Hoare knife image)

“This petty knife is a smaller Japanese utility knife,” Zohar said, “generally used for precision knife work and fine slicing. My knives are often made to order, so the material is to the customer’s liking. The san-mai is an excellent steel for kitchen knives in this construction with a very high rust resistance and excellent edge retention. The damascus cladding is made from 67 layers of 410 and high nickel stainless.”

Oshinsky says his blade grind is shallow, convex, very thin and incredibly sharp. The blade’s soft cladding protects the core from shock and provides a small amount of flexibility.

Semi-Dark Theme Petty Knives

Aidan De Fazio is all of 18. He began his knifemaking journey at 11 and his progress has been steady. His petty knife includes a 4.5-inch, full-flat-ground blade of san-mai in 1084 clad carbon steel with nickel. The handle is stabilized spalted maple and ebony. The blade is slightly convex ground to preserve edge longevity and provide better food release. Overall length: 9 inches.

Charlie Ellis and BLADE Magazine Cutlery Hall-Of-Fame® member Steve Schwarzer collaborated on the Penrose Petite Chef.
Charlie Ellis and BLADE Magazine Cutlery Hall-Of-Fame® member Steve Schwarzer collaborated on the Penrose Petite Chef. The 6-inch blade is Penrose tiling billet of 15N20 nickel-alloy steel in a pattern based on never-repeating Penrose tiling. Overall length: 11.75 inches. (SharpByCoop image)

“The petty knife is a small general-purpose knife,” Aidan explained. “It’s used for peeling, shaping, and slicing fruits and vegetables, chopping herbs, and making garnishes. I design everything by eye and chose this design because everything flowed nicely, and it just looked right. I was going for a semi-dark-themed knife, so to complement the dark san-mai I chose a piece of ebony with some heavily spalted maple for the handle.

“As this is a carbon steel knife, it will change color with use,” Aidan continued. “It’s a patina and it’s a good thing. It develops on carbon steel when exposed to air for extended periods of time or to acids for short periods of time. It is a type of oxidation that helps ward off the rust that eats away at steel and destroys your knife.”
De Fazio recommends regular care for his petty knife, washing lightly with soap and water, avoiding abrasives that could scratch the patina, and then wiping dry for storage.

Light, Thin, Comfy Kitchen Tools

When Ross Arnold makes a petty knife—or any other style knife for kitchen use—he is leveraging experience to produce the most utilitarian design he can. “To me, a petty knife is an all-around food preparation knife for use when a larger knife is not necessary or possible,” he said. “In my earlier years, I worked in kitchens every night. I had a good idea of what worked and what was comfortable for me. This design was focused on being light, thin and comfortable. This resulted in a knife that weighs only 3.8 ounces, and the rounded choil and spine make it a pleasure to use all day every day.”

Andrew Lazarevic offers his petty knives in a selection of handle materials.
Andrew Lazarevic offers his petty knives in a selection of handle materials affixed with brass and carbon fiber pins. The blades are flat ground of AEB-L stainless steel. Overall lengths: approximately 9 inches each. (Rod Hoare image)

A resident of Glenalta, Australia, Arnold learned a great deal from custom maker Peter Bald early in his career. Ross finished his petty knife with a 5.91-inch blade of RWL-34 stainless steel and a handle of spalted sassafras wood. Overall length: 11.02 inches. His price for a similar knife: $390.

“I went with a traditional Japanese hexagonal handle purely for aesthetics,” he related. “As I use this knife primarily with a pinch grip, the handle shape does not have a massive impact on usability. That being said, it is still very comfortable to hold normally. I ground the blade with a plunge-less distal taper design. I came up with the grind design myself, but I’m sure it’s probably been done before. In my opinion, it is a solid performing grind as it gives the knife a light and flexible blade that isn’t super thick toward the tip.”

The petty knife is up to the challenge when a more intricate or tight kitchen job is at hand. The latest custom examples are affordable, provide good looks and perform with style. Dig in.

Editor’s note: All prices are in U.S. dollars and are according to the press time rate of exchange. Due to fluid market conditions, all are subject to change. Please check with the applicable maker for the latest in pricing.

Read More

Damascus Steel: Mass Producing The Unique Knife Material

Damascus steel is produced on a mass scale by some of the best in the business

Forging damascus steel for knives and ancillary products on a broad scale makes the beautiful and highly popular knife material readily accessible to the marketplace, and drives the creativity of custom and factory knifemakers. The availability of the resulting damascus knives is reaching new levels while bringing on innovation at the same time.

At Nichols Damascus, owner Chad Nichols touts his willingness to put together “laminates of any kind we can think of.” Nichols Damascus is busy with titanium and copper alloys, carbon and stainless steels.

“We have a pattern called Boomerang, and any configuration we make it in sells very well,” Chad commented, adding that he believes the popularity of the material has increased dramatically due to the internet and social media.

One of the latest patterns in Damasteel’s Dragon series
One of the latest patterns in Damasteel’s Dragon series, Svavner was used to create the blade steel for the Valyrian swords of the Targaryen family on HBO’s House of the Dragon. Brian Brown uses the steel here on one of his sporty folders. (Damasteel image)

He asserts that his forging operation charts its own course. “We’re just having a good time playing with hot stuff,” he smiled, “and we make a lot of core material. This is where we clad a homogeneous steel like Magna Cut with a damascus on the outside.”

WANTS & DESIRES MET
A family-owned business situated just north of Sweden’s capital of Stockholm, Damasteel has focused for years on making top-quality steel for custom knifemakers, among other lines of business. “Over the last couple of years we have released our Dragon family of damascus patterns, culminating with the release of Svavner, which we launched alongside the release of HBO’s House of the Dragon,” noted owner and iron master Per Jarbelius. “They used our steel to create the Valyrian swords for the Targaryen family. It was an amazing project to get to work on.”

Damasteel has also just released Drakkar, a patterned steel in sheet form. It’s a first for the company and Jarbelius says it has been well received, emphasizing its nesting options with the ability to go from bar to sheet. A product line called Damacore has been available in DC18N and DC21R steel for a few years now and signaled a major expansion in the company’s repertoire. “It’s becoming even more popular as the number of san-mai offerings grows on the market,” Per noted. “We’re hoping to eventually be able to offer every pattern we do in both the DC18N and DC21R.”

Baker Forge & Tool damascus patterns are the copper and bronze laminates.
Among the most popular Baker Forge & Tool damascus patterns are the copper and bronze laminates. A current hot one is Elite CopperMai, a damascus blend of copper, 1084 carbon steel and pure nickel over a solid core of 80CrV2 carbon steel that creates either a chevron or a ripple pattern (the latter here on a knife by JB Blades). (Baker Forge & Tool image)

Philosophically, Jarbelius relates that Damasteel has always paid attention to the wants and desires of its market. “We make patterned and un-patterned stainless steel, and our priorities have always been performance and beauty,” he explained. “Our artistry is core to our identity, and we want to make patterns that connect with users on an emotional level. Research and development is a big part of what we do. But hearing from makers is equally important; we value the opportunity to get feedback from people using our steel.”

Damasteel further connects with its user community each year in hosting the Damasteel Chef Invitational, showcasing the talents of top-class culinary knifemakers. The evening event provides a glimpse inside the shops and workspaces of incredibly talented artisans. “It’s absolutely world class,” Per concluded. “It’s a great learning experience, too, for people who have never used our products. They can ask questions and connect with our team as well.”

Forging An Industry

Vegas Forge concentrates on the production of high-quality damascus steel in a variety of exotic patterns and alloy combinations. “In 2016, we opened our shop in Las Vegas and quickly discovered that many of our potential customers were extremely hesitant to use damascus steel again due to some bad experiences they had had in the past with other damascus steel companies or makers,” explained owner Jesse Harber.

Damacore is available in DC18N and DC21R steels
Damacore has been available in DC18N and DC21R steels for a few years now and signaled a major expansion in Damasteel’s repertoire. Persevere by Princeton Wong sports a 3.5-inch blade of Damacore DC18N handled in black Timascus™. Closed length: 4.625 inches. Princeton’s price for a similar knife: $2,700. (SharpByCoop image)

According to Harber, customer service is a watchword at Vegas Forge. Returning customer calls, handling inquiries, responding to emails, and delivering orders in a timely manner complete the full circle from outstanding damascus to overall satisfaction.

“Once we had solved that, we turned our focus on creating new, interesting patterns, new billet shapes and different alloy combinations,” Jesse advised. “In the beginning, we had 10 damascus patterns that we offered customers, all flat billets which are what knifemakers primarily use. Today, we offer 26 flat-billet damascus patterns. We offer most of those patterns in stainless or carbon damascus as well as titanium damascus and mokume gane. In addition, we have eight round-bar damascus patterns that we sell to customers who make things out of round bar like custom rings, pens, razors and such. We also make blocks of damascus in six different patterns for manufacturers of guns, golf putters and other products.”

The most recent patterns to emerge from Vegas Forge include Virus, Lytic, Forged Koa and one that is so recent that it remains unnamed thus far. Virus depicts what most people would think a virus looks like under a microscope—sporadic circles and lines that are “beautifully chaotic.” Lytic has the look of lytic DNA cycles under the microscope.

Baker Forge’s CopperMai
Baker Forge’s CopperMai was one of the first copper damascus steels to capture the imagination of custom knife enthusiasts. Bubba Crouch uses it on his trapper with an integral damascus frame and double-line antique Micarta® handle. Closed length: 4 inches. Bubba’s price for a similar knife: $3,000. (SharpByCoop image)

“Both of these patterns were created during the pandemic, so that’s where the inspiration—if you want to call it that—came from!” Harber laughed. “Forged Koa looks like a rare piece of twisted koa wood. It has multiple depths and contrasts to make it look like koa. It’s made by stacking 600-plus pieces of steel into a can and then lightly twisting it. As you grind into it, the pattern opens up and exposes all 600 layers, which is pretty spectacular.”

A few years ago, Vegas Forge began producing a titanium damascus that Harber dubbed Damtanium. The combination includes damascus with layers of Grade 2 and Grade 5 titanium. Almost simultaneously, the company introduced Zirmascus, an alloy of zirconium and titanium layers.

“We’re always trying out new steels in our san-mai damascus,” Jesse added. “San-mai is like damascus, but at the center of the damascus billet is a solid core. We have used Elmax, Magna Cut, and Nitro-V, to name a few.”

Vegas Forge san-mai damascus
Jesse Harber said Vegas Forge uses its san-mai damascus to try out a number of stainless-steel cores, including Elmax, Magna Cut and Nitro-V, the latter shown here in bar form. (Vegas Forge image)

All this experimentation and innovation is the product of an expanding horizon and an imagination that isn’t inhibited or afraid to step into some uncharted territory. Harber thinks the future is bright at Vegas Forge, and the new product array has brought ever-increasing interest to the doorstep.

“In the beginning, the knife world kept us alive,” he declared. “We were getting no love from other industries. Today, the knife world still accounts for half our business. There isn’t another industry that we love more. We’ve attended hundreds of knife shows over the years, and there is no doubt that knife people are our people. We sell to a lot of custom knifemakers as well as larger manufacturers. I love the custom world, and I don’t even know how many custom knives we own at this point.”

Incorporating Copper And Bronze

Coy Baker founded Baker Forge & Tool in 2019 with a focus on damascus and san-mai. That bedrock quickly elevated to include non-ferrous laminate steels. Baker Forge is now an industry leader in copper and bronze laminated steels with dedicated distribution centers in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia.

Chad Nichols Damascus
Chad Nichols Damascus offers a wide range of damascus patterns including the Intrepid on Luke Swenson’s six-blade stag sowbelly. Luke’s price for a similar knife: $4,000. (SharpByCoop image)

“Our current buying market is about 80 percent to the knifemaking industry, about a 50/50 split between retail custom makers and commercial knife companies,” Coy related. “We cut our teeth in the custom knifemaker market in the beginning and have slowly expanded into the commercial side. We aim to always be able to provide damascus steels to everyone from the hobby smith to the biggest knife companies.”

Among the most popular Baker Forge damascus patterns are the copper and bronze laminates. However, one-off custom runs generate real excitement. One trending steel group is Elite CopperMai, a damascus blend of copper, 1084 carbon steel, and pure nickel over a solid core of 80CrV2 carbon steel, creating either a ripple or chevron pattern.

“This layout is very appealing to customers due to the stark contrast between the layers and its ease of finishing,” Coy remarked. “We have been expanding into using new core steels in our laminates. Recently, we have used some Hitachi #2, which quickly became a crowd favorite for its edge-retention properties. Later this year we will be expanding into Apex Ultra steel and possibly some other stainless options.”

Forged Koa looks like a rare piece of twisted koa wood
“Forged Koa looks like a rare piece of twisted koa wood,” Vegas Forge’s Jesse Harber explained. “It’s made by stacking 600-plus pieces of steel into a can and then lightly twisting it. As you grind into it, the pattern opens up and exposes all 600 layers, which is pretty spectacular. (Vegas Forge image)

This quick look inside the damascus steel industry offers a glimpse of past, present, and future. The tried and true, the cutting edge, and what will be are coming together to keep pattern steels fresh and exciting among makers, users and then the wider buying market.

Read More On Knife Steel:

Knife Handle Material: Natural, Synthetic And Hybrid Moments

Natural and synthetic materials are equal parts fashionable and functional.

2024 Knives annual
This article appeared in the 2024 KNIVES annual.

They complement one another in an easy, seamless union—blade and handle. One without the other means the knife is incomplete, or it isn’t a knife at all.

Along with the search for proper blade steel, appropriate handle material is the second critical element in the presentation, form, and function of the knife itself. Natural and synthetic handles play their roles. They bring utility and aesthetics to the package, and the maker’s choice sets the tone. Availability, cost, and maker’s preference fit into the equation when choosing the right handle material. And then, of course, the intended knife use weighs heavily.

In the end, it’s the eye of the artist that drives the visual element, and the job to be done by the user that directs his or her choice. The handle makes the knife complete.

At Masecraft Supply Company, co-owner Chris Hartman sees the supplier’s role as the facilitator. Never interfering with the artist’s concept, he views Masecraft as a provider of the palette. “We don’t advise what to use,” he reasons. “We are not big fans of, ‘You know what you should do …’ or telling a customer what to use, but more in supplying a wide variety of options to choose from. We are always willing to answer questions about our materials a customer may have, but it’s just not a good idea to advise what is right for them. That’s the maker’s choice.”

With that said, where is the market headed today? What does the landscape look like in terms of availability, trends, and timing?

“The majority seem to be sticking with composite laminates like G-10, canvas and linen Micarta, and Richlite,” Hartman says. “Natural materials like bone and horn seem to be in a continuing decline. Exotic woods still do well, but availability and pricing have become issues over the last two years.”

John Cammenga, vice president of operations at White River Knife & Tool, Inc., deals primarily in synthetic knife handle materials. He indicates that knifemakers who build hard-use models often lean toward durable synthetic handles and that the laminate trend holds up there as well, particularly with material available in a variety of colors.

Northfield UN-X-LD knife
This Northfield UN-X-LD knife from Great Eastern Cutlery (GEC), which registered the trademark and uses it on premium GEC pocketknives, features ALVS (acrylic laminated veneer shell) handle scales from Masecraft Supply Company. The dazzling shell veneer consists of real shell and high-impact acrylic laminated together within the sheet.

“The majority of our handle materials are synthetic,” Cammenga says, “and this is primarily due to stability and longevity. But many look great as well. Multi-color layers of fabric bonded with phenolic or polyester resin can have the look of wood, yet last much longer. Additionally, many of these are tackier when wet, giving the user additional hand purchase in tough weather or when processing game. Carbon fiber and G-10 are available in an ever-expanding array of colors and patterns and almost bulletproof when it comes to wear and tear.”

Choosing Knife Handle Material

The choice of materials, Cammenga explains, comes directly down to the proposed use of the knife. For hunting, fishing, camping or bushcraft, White River almost always recommends synthetic handle material. However, John still gives a nod to personal preference. Some users simply must have a natural handle, and the aesthetic factor comes into play there.

“It’s hard to beat the beauty of a highly figured burl!” he comments. “Some, such as desert ironwood burl, are not only beautiful but also extremely tough.”

Tom Krein is an experienced custom knifemaker who worked for the great Bob Dozier and ran the custom shop for A.G. Russell Knives before embarking on his own venture during 30 years in the business. Making small utility and hunting knives primarily, he agrees that handle material choice relates to a few simple concepts.

Tom Krein’s “Mako” model features a Dion Damascus san mai steel blade with a copper-color stag handle.
Tom Krein’s “Mako” model features a Dion Damascus san mai steel blade with a copper-color stag handle.

“It comes down to the customer’s needs, willingness to care for the knife, aesthetics, and budget,” Krein relates. “Natural materials should hold up nicely with proper care assuming everything goes according to plan. Sometimes stuff happens—a knife falls into a sink of water, or it starts to rain while hunting, or your knife gets lost in the yard for a week. Synthetics hold up better when stuff goes south. For customers, I recommend getting what you like and learning how to take care of it. For knifemakers, I suggest picking the mind of another maker who uses the material you want so you can learn how to use it. Overall, we are a helpful bunch of people.”

Traditional handle materials and their innovative, eye-popping counterparts coexist at Santa Fe Stoneworks, a provider of materials to the art knife market since 1978. Santa Fe not only affixes those materials to its own knives, but also provides the service for Spyderco and Kershaw while doing private label work as well.

President Bill Wirtel leads the family business, and the company’s roster of natural handle materials includes the best of the best. “We work with factory knives and apply gemstones, exotic woods, shells like gold- and black-lip pearl, and fossils such as woolly mammoth tooth, tusk, bone, and petrified dinosaur bone,” he remarks.

As for Santa Fe’s synthetics, Fordite, a car paint overspray, Surfite surfboard overspray, and a cholla cactus-like material that is made in the shop have found favor with makers and buyers alike.

Material Mash Up

“We are looking for design and color, so we mix natural with manmade stone and epoxies,” Wirtel explains. “Our fossils are all stabilized so they work great for a handle material. We see hybrid materials gaining popularity as they provide the best of both natural and composite materials. Fordite and Surfite have been selling well. Our synthetic cholla cactus line that we make here, stabilizing it with different colored epoxies, is becoming a big seller as well. We also have mammoth tusk fusion. This is stabilized fragments of mammoth ivory that are fused together under immense pressure. The result is a beautiful and hard composite that is densely packed with mammoth ivory.”

Fordite car paint handle material adds a fun flair to this series of Santa Fe Stoneworks 3-inch lock-back folders
Fordite car paint handle material adds a fun flair to this series of Santa Fe Stoneworks 3-inch lock-back folders with damascus blades.

Fordite is an interesting option that comes from a surprising source. Also known as Detroit agate or motor agate, the material consists of pre-1985 automobile paint that hardened sufficiently to be cut and polished. It formed from enamel paint slag, which built up over the years in layers on the tracks and skids where cars were hand spray-painted. The buildup hardened in ovens intended to cure the paint on car bodies. After so much of that buildup, the brightly colored and layered paint had to be removed. Its allure caught on with some autoworkers who brought pieces home with them. From there, the beautiful Fordite material, which can be cut and polished into a spectacular look, found its way onto knife handles.

The Masecraft perspective is somewhat dictated by availability. “Sambar stag is not coming back,” Hartman stresses. “It has been banned by India for export since sometime around 2005, I believe, so that’s almost 20 years now, and I see no chance of this ever-changing. What’s still available out there now is it. Game over!”

“Black-lip, gold, and white mother-of-pearl all are still available,” he adds, “just not in larger size pieces as they were 20-50 years ago. They are overharvested and not as healthy as before. Demand for shell is down overall. It is not very tactical, and we seem to be in a tactical and bushcraft market for the last two decades. Shell tended to be more of a gentleman’s pocketknife material, so it’s not exactly the big trend right now.”

Santa Fe Stoneworks El Rey model is handled in a spectacular turquoise/abalone/bronze hybrid gemstone
This Santa Fe Stoneworks El Rey model is handled in a spectacular turquoise/abalone/bronze hybrid gemstone and includes a mother-of-pearl button inlay.

“Many of the companies that used a lot of shell on knives are gone or simply don’t have the people who know how to work with it anymore,” Hartman adds. “Shell is still one of the most beautiful materials ever, so much so that it seems to be the hardest to reproduce in any type of synthetic alternative that even comes close to its natural beauty. We can come close, but there is still nothing like the real thing.”

Krein sees a swing toward synthetics and higher-end natural materials as well. “Right now, there is a huge push to find and use vintage Micartas,” he relates. “I’ve also seen G-10 usage go up a ton over the years. G-10 holds up to use extremely well, is relatively inexpensive, and machines and grinds easily. I’ve also noticed quite a few new businesses that specialize in exotic stabilized woods. Stag has always been a desired and quality knifemaking material, and with exceptional stag being much harder to find, it is even more desirable, particularly when done [harvested and finished] properly.”

Watching the high-end polymer Ultem begin to trend as a new synthetic handle material has been interesting for Krein, and his affinity for giraffe bone has not waned. It’s something he calls the “latest real pickup in natural materials.”

White River Knife & Tool fillet knife with cork handle
White River Knife & Tool purchases synthetic material made in the USA, so supply chain issues have not been a problem. The one material the company imports, cork, has increased in price, but its supply has been uninterrupted. White River’s Traditional Fillet knife incorporates a handle of imported cork for easy cleanup and a tight grip in slippery conditions.

“I often see new makers using very exotic materials,” Krein concludes. “These materials are costly and often not used anywhere close to their potential. I recommend that new makers learn to use simpler materials like Micarta to their full potential. This leaves funds available for other materials and equipment while allowing a new maker to develop their skills. Just because a knife has expensive materials doesn’t make it better or more interesting to me. It’s developing the skills to make simple materials look elegant that I appreciate.”

Those Hybrid Moments

Hybrid handle material is on the rise, and Cammenga is pleased with the growing popularity of marbled synthetics. “Right now, there is strong demand,” he notes. “This is true in both cloth/resin laminates and carbon-fiber/resin laminates. For those who want natural wood, bone or antler, acrylic ‘stabilized’ scales have been popular for quite some time. They provide the user with a natural material, which has been made tougher by introducing acrylic resin into the fibers. Currently the marbled look is in with almost all materials, but we have made several knife models using G-10 and rubber combinations, as well as others from polyester cloth and resins.”

Masecraft is keeping a close eye on the development of new materials, but the course is charted by ingenuity rather than discovery. “As far as new natural materials, that’s going to be extremely rare,” Hartman observes. “The earth is not really producing anything new, so unless we have not discovered it yet, the odds are low. More likely, some natural materials will disappear and become endangered, banned, or extinct. Human history tells us the availability of natural material will decrease while prices increase. You will see more hybrids of natural and synthetic combinations, and all kinds of new synthetics will continue to be introduced.”

vintage Micarta
Knifemaker Tom Krein says there’s a huge push to find and use vintage Micarta, such as on the handle of his pocket bowie model.

Supply often dictates how well demand is satisfied, and the inherent scarcity of some handle materials has been exacerbated by supply chain concerns in areas. Even as the COVID-19 pandemic has eased, the resilience of the supply chain remains an open question. Some suppliers and makers have faced shortages of stock items, while others have adapted, moved on to other, more readily available options, or simply been patient.

“I have been sourcing materials for over 44 years, and most of our suppliers know us and what we want,” Wirtel relates. “Obviously, we’ve had supply chain issues, but we have been able to work around them. We make our product to order, so we range in delivery time from a few weeks to a few months.”

Krein is positive regarding availability, saying, “There have been slight wait times for some synthetics, particularly Micarta, during the pandemic, but it seems like everything is back on track here. There has and will continue to be more demand for quality stag than availability. I’ve seen a bit less of quality exotic stabilized woods like exhibition-grade ironwood and Koa.”

While the supply chain phenomenon has been universal, Hartman is pragmatic. Going with the flow makes the Masecraft operation run as smoothly as possible. “There are supply chain issues with everything globally,” he observes. “I can’t think of anything on the planet that hasn’t been affected in some way, shape or form and that doesn’t have a price increase or isn’t in short supply, and it’s all things, countries, and markets.”

Dozier Knives produced this fixed blade with a Richlite handle from Masecraft Supply Company
Dozier Knives produced this fixed blade with a Richlite handle from Masecraft Supply Company composed of approximately 65% Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)®-certified recycled paper and 35% phenolic resin.

“If you don’t have the chip, you can’t produce the car,” Hartman says. “If you don’t have OD Green dye, you can’t make OD Green G-10. If one key part is missing due to supply chain issues, the product simply cannot be made, and that is affecting all things.”

Staying domestic has been a problem solver for White River Knife & Tool, according to Cammenga. “Because White River purchases synthetic material made within the U.S., our supply chain has not been a problem. The one material we do import, cork, has increased in price, but our supply has been uninterrupted.”

Considering the handle-blade combination that makes the knife come together for the spectrum of customers and users, today’s material options appear more diverse than ever. Although some shortages in natural materials may never be plentiful again, fusions of natural and synthetic options open the door to creativity. And the imagination is always fertile ground for innovation.

More On Knife Handles:

Custom Knife Royalty: Russell, Moran And Loveless

0

There are many names elevating custom knifemaking to the heights it enjoys today, but none loom larger than A.G. Russell, Bill Moran and Bob Loveless.

Nobody would question the straight-up fact that A.G. Russell, Bill Moran, and Bob Loveless contributed mightily to making the knife industry in the United States, and indeed worldwide, what it is today.

Their contributions to the growth and prosperity of knife manufacturers and their partners in the custom knifemaking world are well known to many, but during BLADE®’s 50th year a moment to recognize their achievements and their contributions is appropriate.

Of course, there are others whose involvement and support have had a positive impact through the decades, but Russell, Moran and Loveless—all long-time members of the BLADE Magazine Cutlery Hall Of Fame®—are the core triumvirate that ushered the modern knife industry into its golden age.

Bill Moran

Bill Moran
Bill Moran

“Moran gets credit at the top of the list because of the founding of the ABS [American Bladesmith Society],” related Cutlery Hall-Of-Famer Bruce Voyles, past publisher of BLADE and, along with Cutlery Hall-Of-Famer Jim Parker, co-founder of the BLADE Show. “That was followed by the development of the hammer-ins and the [Bill Moran School of Bladesmithing].” As he noted, the ABS was a team effort that included Cutlery Hall-Of-Famer B.R. Hughes, who was an educator.

“Bill was a renaissance man if there ever was one,” Voyles continued, “but he had the best publicist in the knife business in the form of B.R. Hughes. So, as a team they absolutely rank at the top. B.R. had the good sense to know that Bill Moran was the person to represent the ABS, and Bill was a leader in his own right, but without B.R. there may not have been a bladesmithing school.”

Bill Moran Knife
The ST-23 is one of if not the most coveted of Bill Moran knives. (Francesco Pachi image)

Hughes, now 91 and the elder statesman of knife writers, remembers his work with Moran and gives credit to Moran’s foresight at the forge as well. “Bill Moran saved bladesmithing with his reintroduction of damascus in Kansas City in 1973,” Hughes observed. “And when we formed the ABS in 1976, the only goal was to preserve the art of the forged blade. There were three people making damascus [in America] then: Moran, Bill Bagwell and Don Hastings. They met in Bagwell’s backyard and shop after the Guild met in Dallas. That’s how the ABS got started. There were four active members, including me named as a director. So, it started with four, and now there are 3,000 members. I’m still on the board, and now the main thing for me is not to go to sleep during the meetings!”

Bob Loveless:

Bob Loveless
Bob Loveless

Loveless stands out as a custom knifemaker and designer, as well as a pioneer in the organization of custom knifemakers into a cohesive group, setting standards, discussing issues, and assisting the growth and prosperity of many in later years. Loveless stands apart in his work, organizational input and one-of-a-kind personality.

Hughes recalls his introduction to Loveless courtesy of knife industry titan A.G. Russell. The men sat down at a diner, ate a meal together and Loveless spread some knives on the table. From there, Hughes authored an article about the California custom maker that appeared in GUNsport Magazine.

“Bob and I stayed in contact,” Hughes remembered, “and around that time Bo Randall was probably the most copied [of] knifemakers. Then, when Loveless [redesigned and repopularized] the tapered tang, he became the most copied knifemaker in America. He made that a standard and was very popular.” B.R. added that Loveless was also a good salesman and promoter, and his knives were selling for what were high prices even then.

Voyles said he appreciates the pure genius of Loveless to this day. “He was a phenomenally intelligent person,” he opined. “With Bob, they used to say that you loved him or you hated him. The thing about Bob was that what brought him into prominence was that he was the first person with an art background to make knives. He had gone to design school and made a handsome knife that was aesthetically pleasing, and noted that the knife’s top line should always fit a French curve.

Bob Loveless hunting knife
Bob Loveless helped celebrate 50 years of knifemaking in 2004 with this hunter set complete with engraving by C.J. Cai and a couple of autographed Loveless sheaths. (SharpByCoop image)

“Loveless made a good knife and a distinctive knife. Everybody started copying that, and the whole design of knives changed. Bob was also able to sum up a complex subject in one sentence. He was infinitely quotable, which meant outdoor writers loved him.”

According to Cutlery Hall-Of-Famer Dan Delavan, Loveless was a unique character in the knife world. “Loveless was a genius in the whole industry,” Dan related, “and underrated. Because of his antics, some people didn’t think that much of him at times, but Bob was super smart. He knew things would happen before they happened. His drop point was modernized and refined, and he helped a lot of people get started. A lot of them emulated his style.”

A.G. Russell

A.G. Russell
A.G. Russell

Universally, the contribution that A.G. Russell made to the knife industry is acknowledged as tremendous. He brought people together, tried to build consensus, established the liaison between custom makers and factories that produced magnificent collaborations, developed a robust catalog mail order business that remains the envy of any businessperson, and is recalled as a true gentleman—whew!

Hughes remembers Russell not only for his introduction to Loveless, but also for another moment that proved to be a highlight. “A.G. told me there was a bladesmith in Maryland named Bill Moran and said I needed to get in touch with him,” B.R. smiled. “I kept in touch with Bill. He was always laid back and reserved and shunned a lot of publicity. I wrote a book about him in 1995 called Master of the Forge. We spent several days with Bill and Margaret that fall, Bill and I in the back seat of the car talking and Margaret and Carolyn in the front seat talking. Carolyn has been with me through all these years. I married her in 1957, and she has been the editor of American Bladesmith Magazine now for 20 years.”

Voyles remembers Russell as “the one that lit the fuse and promoted the Knifemakers’ Guild for many years and almost singlehandedly created an aftermarket for handmade knives.” Imagine the foresight, power of persuasion and business acumen that could exert such influence in the knife industry as a whole. It’s safe to say that A.G. was the catalyst for so much of the positive interaction that has taken place in the knife world over the past 50-plus years. He bought tables at gun shows for knifemakers to display their wares back when there were no knife shows to attend. He supported knifemakers with his heart, head and pocketbook.

“Knives were his passion,” Cutlery Hall-Of-Famer Goldie Russell said in remembering her husband’s dedication. “He was determined to know everything there was to know about knives.”

A.G. Russell Knives HQ
A.G. Russell Knives not only is a landmark in the knife industry, it is in its hometown of Rogers, Arkansas, as well.

Goldie recalls her husband’s hard work that made things happen. “By June 1970, A.G. had reserved a block of tables at the Wanenmacher Gun Show in Tulsa and invited the makers he knew to exhibit and sell their knives,” she commented. “I believe it was at this show that he introduced the idea of the Knifemakers’ Guild. A.G. told me that two knifemakers that were on board from the beginning were [Cutlery Hall Of Famer] Dan Dennehy and Bob Loveless. At that show they decided to form the Guild, and there were 11 founding members.”

A.G. secured more tables at the Houston gun show in 1971, and more knifemakers joined the Guild. The following year, the first annual Guild Show and meeting were held in Kansas City, and the membership grew steadily.

In addition to his leadership in the formation of the Guild, A.G. was a visionary business owner. He created the first mail-order company that focused strictly on knives. Until that time, consumers could leaf through the pages of the Sears & Roebuck or Montgomery Ward catalogs and hope they found something. But Russell changed the game in 1964 when he started A.G. Russell Knives with the sale of Arkansas whetstones.

Goldie remembers another seismic achievement that her late husband was directly involved in—the establishment of the first high-profile knife collaboration. “He arranged for Bob Loveless to meet with Schrade Cutlery to produce a modern fixed-blade knife,” she commented, “and the result was the Schrade Loveless Hunter. I recently read something that said [Cutlery Hall-Of-Famer] Uncle Henry Baer facilitated that collaboration. I’m not sure how involved Henry Baer was, but if you look at what was happening, it was obvious that it was A.G. Russell who had direct involvement with Schrade and Bob Loveless.”

A.G. is also known for his innovative work with Schrade to incorporate the Knife Collectors Club, the first organization of its kind. “This was A.G.’s concept,” Goldie observed. “His idea was to create serial-numbered commemorative folders, which would be offered to club members. A.G. would select the knife, develop the project and sell the knives. Schrade would make the knives.”

Goldie personally witnessed her husband’s investment of time and treasure to promote knives from every angle. He supplied Cutlery Hall-Of-Famer Blackie Collins with his mailing list in the early 1970s so that the earliest issues of American Blade, which would eventually become BLADE, had somewhere to go. He supported new manufacturing brands during the 1980s. And he was willing to provide a frank and honest assessment of a knifemaker’s work when asked to do so.

A.G.’s wisdom came shining through when he discussed with Arkansas knifemaker/Cutlery Hall-Of-Famer Jimmy Lile why the two had not become closer friends. Goldie noted that Lile said, “A.G., when I could not do better, you told someone that my knives were not very good.” She added, “A.G. said that as soon as Jimmy expressed that, he realized what he had said. After that Jimmy and A.G. were friends.”

A.G. offered his advice when asked. Goldie remembers a meeting with Stuart Leatherman and his brother, Cutlery Hall-Of-Famer Tim Leatherman, regarding the direction of the composition of the Leatherman multi-tool. “I was in that meeting,” she related. “A.G.’s advice was to upgrade the blade steel and make handles of titanium. His other advice was to find a way to make the handles easier on the hand when using the pliers. The Leatherman Charge and Charge Ti quickly followed that meeting.”

A.G. Russell, Goldie Russell and Ron Lake
BLADE Magazine Cutlery Hall-Of-Fame® members (from left) Ron Lake, Goldie Russell and A.G. Russell share thoughts at the A.G. Russell Knives booth during a past BLADE Show. (A.G. Russell Knives image)

Among other contributions that Goldie and also Phil Gibbs, knife designer at A.G. Russell Knives, remember regarding A.G. are his design innovations, particularly as the first to create folders with handle materials other than metal that did not include metal liners, and in the human element, his willingness to take time with everyone. For example, one day a couple stopped by the A.G. Russell Knives retail store in Rogers, Arkansas. Goldie was asked to step over to meet them. They were unaware of A.G.’s passing until they had seen his portrait in the entryway, and they wanted to express their sympathy.

“They said they had often come into the store and spent time with A.G. talking about knives and knife history,” Goldie noted. “With tears in his eyes, the gentleman said, ‘Mrs. Russell, we are nobody, but he treated us like we were somebody.’”

Delavan, co-owner of the old Plaza Cutlery retail knife store in Costa Mesa, California, and now of plazacutlery.com, put A.G.’s impact into perspective from a professional standpoint. “We both had businesses and a lot in common,” he reflected. “A.G. was a wealth of knowledge. He seemed to know everyone and everything, and I looked up to him.”

No doubt, there are many other individuals whose contributions to the growth, expansion, and thriving entity that the knife industry is today are worthy of praise and recognition. These three—Russell, Moran and Loveless—are, however, more than just a good start. They are giants among other giants, and their accomplishments will continue to resonate across the decades.

Read More On BLADE Magazine And Show:

Military Knives: Soldiers’ EDC From The Past 50 Years

Stepping away from standard issues, combat veterans recount the off-beat military knives they used day-to-day during their service.

Since BLADE® Magazine went to press for the first time 50 years ago, there have been wars and rumors of wars. Even in peacetime, the U.S. military has stood ready in defense of freedom around the world.

When service men and women have deployed into harm’s way through the years, their knives of choice have been by their side, sheathed or strapped, buckled or pocketed, or carried in a duffle bag. From Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan, service personnel have taken their chosen tools abroad and put them to use for a variety of chores.

Kim Breed

  • Fer de Lance from Pacific Cutlery
  • Ka-Bar-type fighting/utility fixed blade
  • Swiss Army knife with tweezers
  • Cold Steel SRK
  • Randall Models 1 and 14

BLADE field editor/knifemaker Kim Breed spent nearly two decades in the Army, serving with the 10th and then 5th Special Forces Groups. His experience in the Gulf War included a mixed bag of available knives for anything that was needed.

Military Knives: Pacific Cutlery Fer de lance
BLADE® field editor/knifemaker Kim Breed said his experience with military knives in the Gulf War included a mixed bag, including the Fer de Lance designed by David Steele for the now-defunct Pacific Cutlery. Pacific Cutlery was owned and operated by BLADE Magazine Cutlery Hall-Of-Fame® member Les de Asis, who went on to found Benchmade Knife Co. (image of Fer de Lance courtesy of Arizona Custom Knives)

“I carried the Fer de Lance designed by David Steel and produced by Pacific Cutlery,” he said. “It’s a double-edged fighter and I carried it almost my whole career. It’s light in the hand and has a big enough blade to do the job. Two edges meant I had one sharp for heavy duty and the other for finer stuff. Plus, the locals would freak out when I brought out a double-edged knife. It was good psychological warfare.”

Along with the Fer de Lance strapped to his back, Breed also had a Swiss Army knife at his side and an Arkansas toothpick.

Military Knife: Swiss Army Knife
An unexpected military knife: Kim Breed indicated Swiss Army knives were especially handy in Somalia for removing stickers and thorns with the tweezers.

“It wasn’t the real big Arkansas toothpick,” he remembered. “It was a smaller dagger with an aluminum handle. A lot of guys would buy the Ka-Bar because it was a good knife—but it was also cheap. When we got bored, we would throw knives, betting for a cigarette, chocolate bar or pound cake. The Ka-Bar might break but the aluminum-handle dagger wouldn’t.”

Speaking of the Ka-Bar*, it is among the top five knives of Breed’s Gulf War assessment, along with the Cold Steel SRK, Swiss Army knife, Randall Models 1 and 14 and the Buck 110. Each earned a bit of praise from the veteran.

Military Knife: Buck 110
The Buck 110 folder was widely available at the local PX and had good blade steel and easy carry for assorted cutting jobs.

The Ka-Bar has stood the test of time, and its generational tie to earlier combat deployments of family members from World War II forward may have been an influence, but for the most part, there was value, performance and availability to spare with the iconic fixed blade.

“It was in all the PXs,” Kim added. “You could get one for $12 and it worked pretty good, but if you broke one now and then you could have two or three around.”

Cold Steel SRK
Kim Breed said the Cold Steel SRK was a favorite among the troops, citing its molded Kraton handle in particular for praise.

Breed says the SRK was a favorite with its molded Kraton handle, while the Swiss Army was especially handy in Somalia for removing stickers and thorns with the tweezers. The Randalls were another legacy play. They were expensive knives but the troops’ fathers and grandfathers had carried them, so they were passed along to the sons and grandsons. The Buck 110 folder was also available at the local PX and had good blade steel and was easy to carry.

Jack Stottlemire

  • Ka-Bar-type fighting/utility fixed blade
  • Benchmade Stryker
  • Air Force/jet pilot survival knife
  • Custom Bob Horrigan
  • Randall Models 1 and 14

Knifemaker Jack Stottlemire served with the United States Marine Corps and the Army for a total of 27 years, with 14 combat deployments. He saw action in Operation Just Cause in Panama, Desert Shield and Desert Storm, the air war in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq. The Marine service was first and he saw all his combat duty with the Army, retiring as a sergeant major with Special Operations. Like Breed, he stresses that knives were used for camp chores, prying, slicing and such.

Military Knives: Randalls
Randalls were expensive but fathers and grandfathers had carried them, so they were passed along to the sons and grandsons. Developed in the mid-1950s, the Randall Model 14 Attack gained fame as a military knife during the Vietnam War. (Dan Clinton image)

“Using a knife in combat to stab somebody is pretty much bull,” he declared. “I don’t know anybody that used a knife for that in all my years. But if you’re in a helicopter crash and you need to cut strings or get somebody else out of the wreckage, that’s more realistic.”

Again, the Ka-Bar makes an appearance in the top five knives from his experiences, particularly in the desert environment. Stottlemire’s top five knives of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars include a custom Bob Horrigan** piece with a green Micarta® handle and a 5.5-inch blade of 440C stainless steel. “Bob and I were in the same squadron together and he was a real hero,” Jack offered.

Military Knives: KaBar
Les George said he’s “pretty sure” his Ka-Bar saw action in the Vietnam War, the Korean War and possibly even World War II. The last time the knife was in combat operations was when George saw active duty in the Iraq War in 2005. (Les George’s knife and image)

“The Ka-Bar is everywhere and I carried mine from the time I was in the Marines, and still have it 40 years later,” he continued. “I remember getting them for $25 or $35 and using them to pry and hammer and to open MREs [Meals Ready to Eat] and ammo boxes. That’s what we used them for 99 percent of the time.”

The famed Randall had stayed around as well, again identified as a legacy knife handed down from one generation to another. As for folders, Jack’s units were issued the Benchmade Stryker. “It was common to have a lot of Benchmade autos and one-hand flippers, and there were Gerbers in the same category,” he commented. “I always carried my auto on my vest front for easy access in case I needed to cut a bandage or something like that.

Jet Pilot Survival Knife
Air Force survival knife

“Then we also had the Air Force survival knife. It was a jump master knife that looked like a little Ka-Bar with a stacked leather handle and a short bowie blade. A lot of guys carried more than one knife. They usually had a folder stuffed in their vest or pocket and a fixed blade on their chest next to their magazine pouches. That was for easy access. It’s hard to get to your stuff unless it’s on the vest, especially when you’re in a vehicle or helicopter.”

Les George

  • Custom EOD knife (self-made)
  • M11 EOD knives by Lan-Cay
  • Gerber multi-tools/Leatherman Wave
  • Benchmade Stryker and AFO
  • CRKT M16

Knifemaker Les George served with the U.S. Marines in explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) and carried a knife specifically for EOD use. “I actually made my own EOD knife in Iraq,” he remarked. “It was the first in a series that would become the M12 EOD knife that is currently listed as an option for USMC EOD units to purchase and use.”

Benchmade Stryker
As for folder military knives, Jack Stottlemire’s units were issued the Benchmade Stryker, an Allen Elishewitz design that debuted in the late 1990s.

Among the other knives that Les saw regularly in Iraq were the M11 EOD knives by Lan-Cay, Gerber multi-tools, Benchmade Stryker and AFO, and the Columbia River Knife & Tool M-16.

“The CRKTs were available at the PX and the other knives were issued to the Marines by unit,” George recalled. “Obviously, the Ontario bayonet was common for that reason. I had my large fixed blade that I used to probe for and dig up IEDs [improvised explosive devices] and UXOs [unexploded ordnance]. It was a brute force tool, the very epitome of a sharpened pry bar. I had a small Benchmade fixed blade that I had bolted to my pistol holster. I used it to cut tape or prepare demolition charges, and all the cutting utility I needed was done with that knife. I also carried a Leatherman Wave multi-tool. I liked the Wave over the issued Gerber because it closed up smaller, and I could access the blade without opening the tool.”

Military Knives Wave Plus Fanned
Thanks to their versatility and affordability, multi-tools have been popular with the troops since Leatherman Tool Group introduced its original multi-tool in 1982. Les George carried the Leatherman Wave because it closed up smaller and he could access the blade without opening the tool. The Wave+ is a Wave descendant.

Les chose his knives based on the situations he might find himself in during deployments. “The big and small fixed blades had their niche, while the multi-tool was available as a catchall. With the kind of war that I saw, there was not much thought of knives used outside of tools, and for me cost was not a factor. I would have spent about whatever the price to get the knives I wanted.”

Top 5 Knives From The Vietnam War

  • Ka-Bar-type fighting/utility fixed blade
  • SOG fixed blade
  • M7 bayonet
  • Air Force/jet pilot survival knife
  • MIL-K

After studying the Vietnam War era and the knives that were most often found during that period in Southeast Asia, Frank Trzaska has come up with his top five from that timeframe. His list includes—you guessed it—the Ka-Bar, which sits at the top. “The U.S. Fighting/Utility knife, the Mark 2, the Ka-Bar, call it whatever you will, but to me it is America’s fighting knife—adopted in 1942 and still serving our troops to this day,” he smiled.

M7
M7 Bayonet was a common ‘Nam era military knife.

Others topping Frank’s list include the original SOG, which he calls “a very hard-to-find knife made in limited numbers for the super-secret Studies and Observation Group [SOG], Green Berets that went out into the field to locate the enemy—Recon.”

Frank has also found the M7 bayonet, designed to fit the M16 rifle, to have been in regular use. “It was another piece in succession that was originally adapted from the M3 trench knife of World War II fame,” he noted. “The M3, M4, M5, M6 and M7 all used the same blade profile.”

Military Knife: MIL-K
MIL-K was a handy addition to a soldier’s kit.

The Jet Pilot Survival knife, aka Air Force survival knife, and a small all-metal pocketknife called the MIL-K were frequently seen with troops in Vietnam, Frank noted. “The Jet Pilot Survival knife was an iconic knife of the Vietnam era, and it was shown in photographs everywhere,” he related. “Although the name was ‘Jet Pilot,’ it was seen on ground pounders just as often. The MIL-K was the perfect all-purpose pocketknife that, as an extra, is dated so you can collect all the years and at a somewhat low price.”

Trzaska has spoken with troops all over the world, and the multi-tool has surged to the forefront among military personnel deployed these days, but he also quickly adds that the Ka-Bar is still a favorite. Given the salaries of enlisted men, he speculates that cost was always a factor in the purchase of a Vietnam-era knife.

Final Cut

Times change but for soldiers through the last half century/publication life of BLADE, knife uses have stayed the same in many ways. “Almost everyone in Vietnam carried two knives, a pocketknife and a fixed blade, and if you count the bayonet, it would be three,” Frank observed. “They were used mostly for opening meals, mail and boxes. A pocketknife was handy but a fixed blade on your harness was meant for fighting. Along with your bayonet, they were weapons of last resort.”

From the more expensive models to everyday carry in the field, military personnel in Vietnam had their pick. “The Randalls were the knives everybody wanted,” Trzaska said, “but few had them. They became a status symbol of a professional. Young guys also liked big knives until they had to carry all that extra weight and never use them. Then the small knife was the king. Most knives of the era were common steel and would rust easily. Stainless steel was a big plus and found its way into knife production over time.”

Through the years, BLADE has published many accounts of knives in the hands of military personnel deployed around the globe. Since the early 1970s, these stories have brought valuable information to readers regarding performance, personality and collectability. That trend will continue into the future.


*As Frank Trzaska notes, no matter whether you call it the USMC fighting/utility knife, Mark 2, Ka-Bar or what have you, the fixed blade with the leather-washer handle and clip-point blade made by several different companies that first appeared in 1942 and did yeoman’s duty throughout World War II remains a U.S. military icon.

**Robert “Bob” Horrigan, a member of U.S. Army Special Operations Command, was killed in action in Iraq on June 17, 2005. His twin brother is award-winning ABS master smith John Horrigan.

Read More:

Advertisement

Must Read Articles

Read this before you make a knife

Knifemaking 101 – Read This Before You Make a Knife

  by Wayne Goddard My experience has taught me that there's nothing like digging in and getting started. I've often said the hardest part of the...
how to forge damascus steel

How to Forge Damascus

Advertisement
Advertisement