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Mike Haskew

American Knives: Legendary Designs From The Land Of The Free

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Are these the best American knives? Maybe, maybe not. One thing is for sure, these are some of the blades folk most associated most closely with the good ol’ USA.

If the knife isn’t man’s oldest tool, it’s probably a close second. It has been around in some form since time began. Styles, looks, form and function have steadily evolved, and even though the basics of a particular type may have originated somewhere else, there are those that are associated most closely with the good ol’ USA.

These are knife styles that the buying public, the collector, the factory, and the custom maker would probably associate with the United States more closely than any other country.

“You have to start with the time period when knives actually became ‘American,’” explained BLADE Magazine Cutlery Hall of Fame® member Bruce Voyles. “From the first settlers, the Spanish in Florida or the Vikings, every knife they brought to this country was made and came from somewhere else.”

American Designs Come Into Their Own

Voyles points to the truly American knife and says that the history of the country allows for a nod to the J. Russell Green River Works in the 1830s—the mountain man period when skinning knives were pretty much an enhanced version of the butcher knife—the epic sandbar fight that brought the bowie knife to the forefront, George Schrade and the introduction of the switchblade, and other examples of knives that are associated with America.

“Everything changed, and the cutlery world was turned on its ear when Jim Bowie got into a duel and that turned into a melee in 1827,” Voyles commented. “This happened across the river from Natchez, Mississippi, and you didn’t have good roads in those days. The rivers were the highways and when this happens, soon the story is heard in other river cities—New Orleans, Memphis, St. Louis and Cincinnati. Everybody hears this amazing story. Everybody wants a knife like Jim Bowie used, Bowie’s knife and then the bowie knife.”

Voyles related the story of George Schrade and the New York City patent office. “A guy comes in with something that looks like an automatic,” Bruce smiled. “George Schrade tinkers with it and invents the switchblade knife. He is the one that made it a production knife that people could afford. There were others around, but he got the patent on that style knife. Schrade kept tinkering with it, and he brought his brothers in and started Schrade Cutlery Company to produce George Schrade’s switchblades. So, now the modern American switchblade is truly an American knife, though the government banned it in 1958.”

In addition to his participating in the famous Sandbar Fight after which his knife became a sensation on both sides of the Atlantic, Jim Bowie also fought and died in the Battle of the Alamo.
In addition to his participating in the famous Sandbar Fight after which his knife became a sensation on both sides of the Atlantic, Jim Bowie also fought and died in the Battle of the Alamo.

There is, of course, with every innovation in cutlery or other endeavors, a ripple effect. And Schrade Cutlery is a great example as its knife production expanded and the brand became one of the most recognized in the world.

While folding hunters have been out there seemingly forever, Voyles categorically asserts that the Buck 110, which took the knife world by storm almost 60 years ago, is an American knife that deserves to be categorized all by itself.

“Nothing else looked like that knife when Al Buck made it,” Voyles reasoned. “The other lockback folding hunters looked like pocketknives, but I defy you to show me a look like the Buck 110 that existed any earlier. It’s an American style of its own because everybody copied it. The Buck 110 had different construction and sturdiness, and it was so distinctly different that everybody else copied it. The design was so different, and that is attested to by the number of people who copied it.”

According to Bruce Voyles, when Al Buck made the Buck 110 in the mid-1960s, nothing else looked quite like it.
According to Bruce Voyles, when Al Buck made the Buck 110 in the mid-1960s, nothing else looked quite like it.

Cutlery Hall-Of-Famer Dan Delavan of plazacutlery.com adds, “Americans have introduced a lot of different blades in the past, including the bowie, KA-BAR combat knife, the hollow-handle survival knife, as well as the basic Boy Scout knife. Each knife served a very basic function, from war to camp and basic scouting activities.

“I think the Spyderco hole is all American,” Delavan opined. “Sal and Gail Glesser came into my shop [the old Plaza Cutlery retail knife store in Costa Mesa, California] back at the very beginning with their folder with the pocket clip and the hole in the blade. They were doing county fairs at that time with their sharpener and introducing their knives. We bought on the spot and have been a lifelong dealer ever since. That has led to a lot of different openings for folders and remains a mainstay in the industry.”

While many may think serrations when they think Spyderco—and they would be correct—the most significant Spyderco innovations are the hole in the blade and the pocket clip. The Worker was the first Spyderco knife with those features, and it was reproduced in 2017 as seen here in one of the company’s sprint production runs.
While many may think serrations when they think Spyderco—and they would be correct—the most significant Spyderco innovations are the hole in the blade and the pocket clip. The Worker was the first Spyderco knife with those features, and it was reproduced in 2017 as seen here in one of the company’s sprint production runs.

Quintessential American Knives

Bowie

Historical or modern, vintage or recent, knives with that American flair are identifiable and recognized at home and abroad. Cutlery Hall-Of-Famer Goldie Russell of A.G. Russell Knives sees the bowie as iconic.

“The bowie knife is the quintessential American knife,” she noted. “It is believed that the first was made for Jim Bowie in the blacksmith shop of James Black* in south Arkansas. [Bowie knives] became so popular that they were manufactured by Sheffield cutlery factories for the American market.”

Fixed Blade Hunting Knives

Russell goes on to raise the work of Cutlery Hall-Of-Famer Bob Loveless and his fixed-blade hunting knives to the top as well. “Bob Loveless forever changed the style of the hunting knife with his drop-point, semi-skinner and utility blade shapes, with the drop-point hunter being the most popular,” she continued. “The influence these knives have had on the world knife market includes not just the blade shapes, but also the shaping of the handles to better fit the hand. These models have clearly influenced the shapes, look and feel of knives made by generations of knifemakers, and will continue to do so for decades to come.”

Bill Moran’s Mark

Bill Moran’s statuesque ST-24 not only paved the way for knives of carbon damascus in the 1970s and beyond, but subsequent models in mosaic and stainless damascus as well. (Dave Ellis image)
Bill Moran’s statuesque ST-24 not only paved the way for knives of carbon damascus in the 1970s and beyond, but subsequent models in mosaic and stainless damascus as well. (Dave Ellis image)

Also influencing generations of knifemakers were the many camp knives, bowies, fighters and other fixed blades forged from the damascus steel reintroduced by Cutlery Hall-Of-Famer Bill Moran in the early 1970s. Moran’s damascus knives set the stage not only for a plethora of standard carbon damascus knives but also later for stainless damascus and mosaic damascus knives.

Multi-Tool

Tim Leatherman holds the multi-tool (also inset) that started it all: the original Leatherman tool, the PST (Pocket Survival Tool).
Tim Leatherman holds the multi-tool that started it all: the original Leatherman tool, the PST (Pocket Survival Tool).

Then, there are the variations on a theme. The multi-tool, for some a knife and for others something totally separate, has nonetheless influenced the cutlery market and is among those chiefly American styles.

“Tim Leatherman’s inspiration in the design of the first Leatherman tool created an entire category in the world of knives,” Goldie Russell explained, “but also in the tool industry. Most construction workers, farmers, carpenters, forestry workers and many other segments of our society carry a multi-tool every day. Those who are not carrying one will usually have one in their toolbox.”

American Knife Innovation

Linerlock

Inventiveness, in itself, is not uniquely American. However, at times the original has the potential for improvement, and just as Schrade improved the switchblade, Cutlery Hall-Of-Famer Michael Walker revolutionized what would become the linerlock.

Cattaraugus made a pocketknife with a brass spring/lever that helped prop the blade in the open position. “Walker changed the design so that when the lever locked it kept the long, clean lines of the knife,” Voyles observed. “The bottom side of the blade is blocked, and the big bump there has got something to hold onto. Walker’s lock does not block the bottom of the blade. It blocks the butt end of the tang. Michael didn’t patent it†, and every major manufacturer in the world has knocked it off. Nobody thought it would have such an impact. However, any knife with a locking liner is an American knife because it was an American innovation that did it.”

Russell echoes the sentiment that Walker’s linerlock was revolutionary and an American innovation. “Michael Walker’s genius of replacing the slip-joint spring with the ball detent spawned the entire generation of modern EDC knives,” she added. “His innovation allowed a portion of the liner to be utilized as a locking device. The idea caught on quickly with handmade knifemakers and has now become an integral part of the manufacturing process for almost every manufacturer of knives. This method of creating a locking folder has made knifemaking much simpler, with much less skill necessary to make an excellent functioning knife.”

Tactical Folder

One result of Kit Carson’s popularization of the flipper folder is his long-running series of M16 flipper folders for CRKT. Among the latest iterations is the M16-02DB. In addition to being a flipper folder, the original M16 also was among the earlier top factory tactical folders.
One result of Kit Carson’s popularization of the flipper folder is his long-running series of M16 flipper folders for CRKT. Among the latest iterations is the M16-02DB. In addition to being a flipper folder, the original M16 also was among the earlier top factory tactical folders.

The tactical folder took the world of knives by storm in the mid-to-late 1990s, offering a one-hand folder—usually black—with a non-glare stainless steel blade, a synthetic handle, a linerlock and a pocket clip. While some called it more a marketing approach than a knife, the fact that the folder dominated the market for at least a decade if not longer cannot be denied.

Flipper Folder

Searching her memory and experience, Goldie Russell also identifies the flipper folder popularized by Cutlery Hall-Of-Famer Kit Carson and the SpeedSafe assisted opener by Cutlery Hall-Of-Famer Ken Onion as innovative, influential styles that the world associates with the United States. “When combined with the Walker linerlock, the Carson flipper adds the ability to open the knife as fast, or faster, than a switchblade knife,” she remarked. “It’s a clear improvement over the stud or hole in the blade for the purpose of one-hand opening. The use of the flipper as an opening device has become prevalent throughout knifemaking across the world.

“Then, Ken Onion’s addition of a spring to launch the blade open** is another American innovation that has changed the landscape of the knife industry,” she concluded. “Nearly every American brand utilizes some variation of Ken’s way of using a spring to open a blade quickly. The genius was the bias toward closure that kept a folder from being deemed an automatic.”

Rambo’s Influence

Jimmy Lile’s Rambo knives started the hollow-handle-survival-knife craze that dominated the 1980s and beyond. (from the Randy Rousseau collection)
Jimmy Lile’s Rambo knives started the hollow-handle-survival-knife craze that dominated the 1980s and beyond. (from the Randy Rousseau collection)

As the Rambo film franchise grew in popularity during the 1980s, the work of Cutlery Hall-Of-Famers Jimmy Lile and later Gil Hibben made the knives in those motion pictures stars in themselves, rivaling Sylvester Stallone for worldwide acclaim. Voyles insists that the Rambo knife is an American phenomenon that still impacts the knife market today.

“The Rambo knife is uniquely American for two reasons,” Bruce said. “Jimmy Lile designed it and made the knives for the first two movies, and it ignited a boom in survival knives that exists today. Then, the other historical tie-in is that in the 1980s every boy who could walk had a survival knife with a big, round compass on the end and a hollow handle. Even today, those boys are adults and they love the nostalgia of that handmade Rambo knife. Indirectly, Jimmy Lile created all this, and the Rambo knife is uniquely American in that regard.”

Final Cut

Considering the knives closely associated with the United States, their impact is obvious. Those styles associated with the good ol’ USA still resonate across the market and in the inventive minds of those who brought them into being.

*Editor’s note: While many do indeed believe that James Black made a knife for Jim Bowie in Black’s shop, such a knife has never been definitively proved to be as such because Black did not mark his knives.
†Though unable to obtain a patent on the linerlock, Walker was able to obtain a trademark on the name linerlock, a trademark that has since elapsed.
**Cutlery Hall-Of-Famer Blackie Collins also made one of the first versions of an assisted opener.

More Knife History:

On The Edge Of War: Knife Pros And The Ukraine Conflict

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A knifemaker and other knife pros take different approaches to the Ukraine-Russia conflict.

The ravages of war often have global impact—even when the fighting is half a world away and the devastation is seen through pictures and words rather than bullets and bombs. War, anywhere, tends to touch the lives and livelihoods of many.

The knife industry, both factory and custom, is no different. The war in Ukraine has brought devastation to the country, and its end was nowhere in sight as BLADE® was going to press. Ukrainian resistance is robust, probably in sharp contrast to the results anticipated when Russian President Vladimir Putin decided to invade his sovereign neighbor. While the resilient Ukrainians defend against such aggression, where and how does the knife industry feel the long reach of war?

Oleksii Nesterenko is a custom knifemaker. He is also Ukrainian.

“On February 24,” he commented, “Russia, with the support of Belarus, launched an open military attack on Ukraine. My city, Kyiv, was one of the main goals. After systematic rocket attacks on the city, my wife and children were forced to evacuate to Germany.”

At press time, Ukrainian knifemaker Oleksii Nesterenko had signed a contract as a territorial defense volunteer for Ukraine and had stopped making knives.
At press time, Ukrainian knifemaker Oleksii Nesterenko had signed a contract as a territorial defense volunteer for Ukraine and had stopped making knives.

The war came home to Oleksii, and his life may very likely never be the same. He has responded to the call to defend his country. “I signed a contract for a territorial defense volunteer and stopped making knives,” he said. “As far as I know, the work of some knifemakers who work in the cities where there are no active hostilities has changed too. Many have abandoned the making of collectible knives and make simple, utilitarian knives and other devices for the military.”

Purveyor Dave Stark of Steel Addiction Custom Knives sells Oleksii’s work, and despite the fact there is a temporary suspension of custom pieces from the Ukrainian maker, Dave praises the quality of his knives.

“Oleksii’s fit and finish and his attention to detail are what set him apart from his peers,” Stark noted. “His choice of materials and the manner in which they are finished really make his work stand out. His hand-rubbed satin finish on his blades is some of the best I’ve seen. The knives feel great in the hand and mechanically are spot on. I would say his style is ‘dress tactical.’ He uses Damasteel’s pattern-welded steel, damascus, mother-of-pearl, mokuti, zircuti and zirconium.”

Perhaps current events will make Nesterenko’s knives even more highly sought after in the future. Meanwhile, he is consumed with the dirty business at hand.

“Now in the Kyiv region where I live, Russian troops are defeated and active hostilities have ceased,” Oleksii reported. “But I am still on duty at checkpoints and volunteer. We help the civilian population in the villages near the front. I think that in a few weeks I will have time to partially return to knifemaking.”
While he is hopeful and actively involved in the defense of his country, Nesterenko has kept an eye on the conditions of the knife industry in Ukraine and anticipates some adaptations.

“Currently, there are no problems with the supply of materials for the production and shipment of knives abroad,” he advised, “so I look forward to returning to work. I am sure that a knifemaker can make a quality knife only if he uses it for its intended purpose. That’s why I used to make only EDC knives. Thanks to the war, I understand what requirements a tactical folding knife must meet. I have already drawn several designs and am waiting for the opportunity to get started.”

Changes in demand are not noticeable at this time, according to Oleksii, and orders are in the queue for delivery around the world into 2023. Still, he warned, “I think that the consequences of the war in Ukraine will affect the economies of many countries. And over time, that will affect collectors.”

Little Change

In much of the domestic knife industry, little in the way of change has occurred due to the war thus far. Custom knife purveyor Les Robertson said that by mid-April FedEx service to Ukraine had been suspended. Therefore, the volume of knives conventionally being sent to Ukraine has probably been curtailed, at least somewhat. Neighboring European Union countries are still moving mail into Ukraine.

Les Robertson
Les Robertson

“No one is sending knives directly to anyone in Ukraine,” Les noted. He went on to comment that factory sales to “armchair warriors” may in fact tick upward as the war persists.

Purveyor Neil Ostroff of True North Knives agrees that the current custom knife market is maintaining its status quo. “In my opinion, as a dealer,” he commented, “we have no change from the customers concerning knives from either Ukraine—now on hold—or Russia. Several Ukrainian knifemakers have set up in Poland, and they do not want to be named.”

Still, Ostroff is somewhat insulated businesswise from the turmoil in Eastern Europe. “Going forward, I see no issues coming through, as there have been none so far,” he observed. “And most if not all of my clientele prefer to buy only USA-made items, which is what I prefer to supply as well.”

From the factory perspective, Joe Bradley, director of sales and marketing for KA-BAR, has noticed virtually no changes in activity. “The war in Ukraine hasn’t had any impact on us at all,” he remarked. “As far as production, and even consumption, the impact has been zero.”

Bradley added that supply and demand are in line. “We have not seen an increase. Currently, we are seeing the market being more impacted by inflation than anything else. I think most of the people, at least Westerners, in the Ukraine already had their supplies and as a result didn’t have a need to buy anything new. Production and logistics have been a problem since the start of COVID,” he observed, “and are just now starting to get back on track and return to a semblance of normalcy.”

KA-BAR has experienced no changes in product offerings or knife styles as a result of the war in Ukraine. However, Bradley offers one interesting point of view. “If anything, this war has shown the merits of what some might consider antiquated weaponry like the AK-47,” he pointed out. The AK-47 is perhaps the world’s most famous assault rifle, arising in the Soviet Union during the Cold War, experiencing authentic production models and knockoffs made in the millions, and arming military organizations around the world for well over half a century.

“Free The Oppressed”

Spartan Blades is located in Fayetteville, North Carolina, near the gates of Fort Bragg, home of the U.S. Army’s XVIII Airborne Corps and Special Operations Command. Spartan owners Curtis Iovito and Mark Carey, both Special Forces veterans, have seen a groundswell of support for Ukraine. Knife sales bear the unmistakable mark of the conflict.

According to Curtis Iovito of Spartan Blades, more military professionals and contractors buy the company’s Gold Line knives. An example is the Spartan-Harsey Dagger in a 6-inch blade of CPM S35VN stainless steel with a hollow grind. MSRP starts at $390. Bill Harsey is the designer.
According to Curtis Iovito of Spartan Blades, more military professionals and contractors buy the company’s Gold Line knives. An example is the Spartan-Harsey Dagger in a 6-inch blade of CPM S35VN stainless steel with a hollow grind. MSRP starts at $390. Bill Harsey is the designer.

“Most of the sales are to people here in the U.S. with notes that they are purchasing for folks in the Ukraine,” explained Curtis in acknowledging the market uptick. “Several orders have had short tags like ‘Free the Oppressed in the Ukraine’ or ‘Support the War against Russian Aggression.’ Because we are at Fort Bragg, we have several Special Mission units from friendly foreign countries drop by the shop to pick up knives for their use. While that isn’t uncommon, it’s happening more than usual. We’ve noticed during our discussions with them that things have a more serious tone.”

Others buying more knives from Spartan Blades include people from all walks of life and military involvement. Curtis said, “Our Gold Line knives are going to more of the military professionals and contractors, and our Silver- and Bronze-grade knives are selling to folks across the spectrum. Many of the knives bought are by civilians that later donate the knives to NGOs [non-governmental organizations] that ship in bulk to Ukraine.”

As far as production, it’s business as usual at Spartan Blades, a longtime producer of knives that go to war. There are a few new items on the horizon, and the owners expect business to be brisk in the days ahead.

Oleksii employs M390 stainless steel for the 3.75-inch blade and a handle of black and purple Fat carbon fiber for his Morph flipper folder. The bolster is Timascus™ and the pivot rings and back spacer are zirconium. Closed length: 8 5/8 inches. Retail price: $2,800. (Steel Addiction Custom Knives image)
Oleksii employs M390 stainless steel for the 3.75-inch blade and a handle of black and purple Fat carbon fiber for his Morph flipper folder. The bolster is Timascus™ and the pivot rings and back spacer are zirconium. Closed length: 8 5/8 inches. Retail price: $2,800. (Steel Addiction Custom Knives image)

“Honestly, the war in Ukraine hasn’t affected how we do things here at Spartan Blades,” Iovito asserted. “We’ve made knives through the last two decades for troops in both Afghanistan and Iraq, so things are kind of par for the course.
“We have several new knives coming out around the end of this year,” he continued. “We had planned on releasing these later but have sped up because the price point and style match some of the requirements we have seen lately. They are being designed by William W. Harsey, Jr.—a fighter, a Nessmuk and a kukri blade. They will be in 1095 Cro-Van blade steel and made in conjunction with KA-BAR Knives. Pricing has not been determined yet, but we are shooting for a sub-$200 retail price. The first one produced will be a fighter later this year.”

Surveying the knife landscape today begs a few questions as Iovito and Carey plan for the future, uncertain as it may be.

“We have seen a slight increase in steel prices, but we haven’t raised our prices in over a decade,” Curtis stated. “We assume we will continue to see price increases soon in commercial, off-the–shelf parts but are keeping our fingers crossed. We believe we will see an increase in knife demand as it appears the conflict in Ukraine [will not end as soon as many thought it would].”

The war has had other effects, including dampening attendance at European trade shows.

“We were very surprised that most of the U.S. knife companies did not attend the IWA show* in Nuremberg, Germany, this year,” Curtis noted. “We even had people thanking us for attending, as you could tell they are counting on U.S. support even if it is just showing up to support them in spirit. There was definitely a new and urgent concern about military spending. The German government approached two companies that I know of and bought their whole inventory—cutting checks the same day!”

Curtis Iovito indicated Spartan’s affordable Silver- and Bronze-grade knives are selling well to people across the spectrum. One of the latest examples of a Silver-grade knife is the Alala in a 3.75-inch blade of Cro-Van carbon steel with a saber grind. MSRP: $159.
Curtis Iovito indicated Spartan’s affordable Silver- and Bronze-grade knives are selling well to people across the spectrum. One of the latest examples of a Silver-grade knife is the Alala in a 3.75-inch blade of Cro-Van carbon steel with a saber grind. MSRP: $159.

In wartime, uncertainty often reigns. However, awareness, preparation, and the desire to return to the shop are evidence that the ongoing conflict in Ukraine will influence the future of the entire knife industry for the foreseeable future.

*Held each spring, the IWA OutdoorClassics (iwa.info) is the European equivalent of the Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor, Trade (SHOT) Show stateside, and is a place where many new factory knives are debuted.

More On Custom Knifemaking:

Instagram: Social Media’s Knife Leader

Knifemakers Continue To Evolve Their Use Of Social Media Platforms To Promote Their Work And Expand Their Customer Base.

It’s been around a while now—long enough for an update on its relevance and impact on the knife industry. Meanwhile, social media in some ways remains a new frontier for both knifemakers and the market.

It isn’t unusual for those interested in buying an existing knife or commissioning one from a pro to use social media such as Instagram, Facebook, and other windows into the lives and work of custom makers. The media provide outreach and information on an unprecedented scale, and custom makers who take advantage of the opportunity to put themselves in front of the buying public take different approaches.

Some use video, others still photos. Some use music, others narration of what the viewer is seeing. Some allow the hum and whir of machines or the ring of the hammer to set the tone and convey the message. The answers to the questions of where and how to apply social media in their work lives vary among makers, but the involvement of social media in their marketing and sales efforts has become a regular part of their routine.

“Instagram broadens the customer base, and if you aren’t using it you are missing out on that client base,” related knifemaker/5th Special Forces veteran/BLADE® field editor Kim Breed (@kimbreed1911 on Instagram). “I was dead set against it, but my son Keith got me going and said that it was something I needed to do. You can target your audience with a hashtag, and then when someone searches for something in particular it will come up.”

Kim likes to use music as a backdrop for his videos and especially enjoys the rock band AC/DC (the band’s song “Thunderstruck” is among Kim’s favorites). Of course, there are other musical selections, and he ties the tune into what is happening on his Instagram and Reels posts. 

“When I’m doing hand hammering or power hammering, I love AC/DC,” he smiled, “and sometimes I’ll use dramatic songs when I’m etching, or whatever. Instagram is easy. I can do it on my phone and post it in five minutes, and I’m sure you can do the same thing with Facebook.”

Since the social media surge, Kim has found that how-to video posts are more popular than pictures of knives alone. He also advocates frequent posting of relevant work in progress. 

“I try to post something at least once a day,” he remarked, “and it may be something like etching damascus steel. I get good hits and feedback on that and anytime I post videos working with a milling machine or grinder so people can actually see me building a knife.”

Making Social Media Work For You

Schroeder gyuto
Isaiah Schroeder, whose forged gyuto was featured on page 82 of the October BLADE®, uses both Instagram and Facebook and publishes an email newsletter around once a month with his latest knives and prices. That way, everyone signed up for the newsletter gets it at the same time and has an equal chance to get one of his new knives. (SharpByCoop image)

Isaiah Schroeder uses both Instagram and Facebook with the handle @schroederknifeworks and has found a much wider audience than might otherwise have become familiar with his work. He is regularly in front of his followers with updates and information.

“I started doing my email newsletter [www.schroederknifeworks.com/newsletter] several years ago,” he commented, “mostly so that I don’t have to be completely dependent on Instagram’s algorithm to show my customers when my new work is available. With this newsletter, everybody who is signed up for it gets it at the same time and has an equal chance to get one of the knives. I do the whole thing myself using a service called Mailchimp, which just makes it easier to keep the list and format the content. My goal is to have one batch of knives per month and one newsletter per month.”

Schroeder uses Instagram primarily but cross-posts to Facebook when preparing social media input. He sees Instagram as a way to reach more people, and a gallery of his work conveys the quality of his knives and materials he uses. Recently, he has seen short videos take hold and is using these to reveal his shop work. The result has been dramatic.

“Instagram has been great for my business,” he smiled. “I’ve sold knives around the world because of it. I focus on cooking knives, and there is a large foodie presence on Instagram so that meshes well with my content.”

Isaiah also appreciates the free flow of information afforded by social media, everything from the knifemaking process to presentation to pricing. The volume of information at the fingertips of the viewer is incredible, and knowledge is buying power.

“I’m not too shy about posting my prices for the public to see,” he reasoned. “I’ve always wondered why some makers won’t post prices. It’s something people always ask about, so they clearly want to know. I’d rather make it known. Then people can have time to decide whether they think it’s worth it for them or not. I guess it might be different if I were selling through a retailer or making custom orders.”

Knifemakers Grow Their Brand

For his custom knives, Mike Vagnino indicated posting work in progress seems to get the best response and exposure regardless of whether they are still shots or videos. (Vagnino image)

Just getting a custom knife enterprise off the ground from a marketing perspective can be a huge challenge, and when custom knifemaker Mike Vagnino and business partner Patrick Ma kicked off Terrain 365, they immediately began looking for ways to raise their new company’s profile.

“Our primary source for promoting the business is social media, which has worked very well for us,” Mike explained. “Our goal, of course, is to sell knives by making people aware of our brand and drawing them to our website. Patrick handles our social media for Terrain 365, and the key seems to be posting often and consistently.”

While Mike emphasizes he is no social media expert, he acknowledges social media’s inclusion in a sales-and-marketing strategy will pay dividends. 

“I use Instagram and Facebook primarily to promote my custom knives and any new projects I’m working on, not necessarily to generate immediate sales, but to keep my name out there. For my custom knives, posting work in process seems to get the best response and exposure regardless of whether they are still shots or videos. I choose not to speak during the video because I think what I’m showing is explanation enough—not because I think it’s more intriguing—although that may be the effect. Actually, I think telling a story might help if it’s interesting enough, but keeping the video short to match the people’s attention span nowadays is what I keep in mind.”

In promoting Terrain 365, Mike and Patrick have found that outdoor photos of the knives in action work best. Since their company is geared toward everyday carry knives and those that are ideal for use in the outdoor environment, their knives are constructed in rust-proof, non-magnetic materials. Take a look at Mike on Instagram @michaelvagnino.

Making First Impressions

David Lisch says Instagram may be the place many knife consumers see a maker’s work for the first time, so everything the maker posts should be first rate.

ABS master smith David Lisch issues both an endorsement and a warning when it comes to his use of social media. 

“I have found that social media is both a blessing and a curse,” he observed. “It has been a struggle for me to find a balance. If you let it, social media can eat up so much of your time, time you could spend creating, making, and being in life. It is important to find the balance.”

Indeed, every opportunity carries a requirement for thorough evaluation and an awareness of the unintended consequences. 

“I have focused my social media on Instagram primarily,” David added. “It is where I share my knowledge and sell my knives and meet my students. I have taken time to figure out what works for me and how to present myself. It might not seem like it at times, but I take Instagram very seriously.”

For those makers beginning to consider social media as an enhancement to their overall livelihood, Lisch provides a voice of experience and makes a few sound recommendations. 

“My advice for knifemakers new to Instagram is to treat your feed like a portfolio page. This is the place people will see your work, maybe for the first time. It is your first chance to make an impression on a potential collector. Go in and clean up your feed on occasion and remove any stupid stuff.

“Keep it engaging,” Lisch continued. “Show work in progress as well as finished work. Use your storyline to keep folks up to date with what you are working on, or what is happening on a lighter side. Because your storyline is only up for 24 hours, it is self-cleaning. It is a great opportunity to have fun and connect with the folks interested in your life. Be yourself; do not try too hard to create content that is not you. Use hashtags and try different ones. Post to Reels, and if they are good they may go viral. As your audience grows, remember you are also a role model. If you are working, wear your safety gear. Be real.”

David can be found on https://www.instagram.com/davidlisch/. Click “Highlights” on his Instagram home page for his free video classes.

The social media phenomenon is sure to stay with makers into the future, and participating in the most effective ways will produce the desired benefits for them and their customers. True enough, getting involved may be a bit intimidating, but taking the plunge is becoming more of a necessity every day.

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Shop Dump: Tom Krein, Jerry Moen, And Ben Breda

Acclaimed Makers Tom Krein, Jerry Moen, And Ben Breda Take Us Into Their Workshops And Show Us How They Turn Steel Into Knives.

For Tom Krein, making the shop comfortable is a big step in being productive and efficient. 

“While it might not be quite what you expect, I consider things like a restroom, central heat and air, and a full kitchen as things that keep me at the shop and productive,” he commented. “I’m often here 12-to-15 hours a day, and having these available makes me comfortable and able to work longer. While it’s probably not something that would immediately come to mind, I consider this setup one of my most useful tools.”

Since Tom’s shop is not at his home, these add-ons make a difference in time and travel. No doubt, the ability to work and then take a quick break improves the quality of his finished knives as well.

When hard at work, Tom utilizes several key pieces of equipment. A variable speed mini mill from Little Machine Shop is a workhorse. 

haas cnc machine
Tom does his CNC work on his HAAS Super Mini Mill.

“I have two of these that are very similar,” he said. “I’ve used these to build many folders. They take a lot more time than a floor model Bridgeport, but they can get the work done. Now that I have the HAAS CNC, I mostly use these for precision drilling, deburring and counterboring.”

While working for long-time custom maker Bob Dozier in 1998, Tom bought a grinder from his employer. 

“I actually got paid to put it together,” he smiled. “I grind on it day in and day out. It wasn’t cheap when I purchased it, but it has never let me down. I’ve literally ground thousands of blades on it.”

Dozier was also influential on another of Tom’s most important shop tools. 

“Bob helped me build a variable speed buffer in 1998, too,” Tom said. “This is another machine that I use on every single knife multiple times. I don’t know how I would make knives without it. It is currently set up with a ¼-inch cardboard wheel on the left-hand side for sharpening and a deburring wheel on the right-hand side.”

Krein knife
Tom Krein gravitates more toward making folders these days, such as his Alpha model. (Whetstone Studio knife image)

Tom has been making custom knives for nearly 30 years, and he is gravitating more toward folders now due to a touch of arthritis in his hands, but continues to make some fixed blades. His signature materials are D2 tool steel—a preference he gleaned from Dozier—and NitroV stainless steel as well. He uses a lot of G-10 and Micarta® for handles along with stabilized koa, stag and mammoth.

Jerry Moen

The day-to-day grind in the custom knifemaker’s shop is typically only as productive as the maker’s tools will allow. Skill, investment of time, and precision in the finished product are heavily influenced by the function and quality of the tools, and what the available equipment will allow.

For veteran knifemaker Jerry Moen, his best offerings from the shop are homegrown to a great extent. After selling a large number of shop tools and pieces of equipment to custom knifemaker and friend Todd Begg a few years ago, he regularly employs his own creations from Moen Tooling.

Moen fixture
The Moen Blade Grinding Fixture includes carbide file guide blade clamps, a rugged anodized coating, friction-free nylon gliding surface, dual handles and adjustable blade standoffs. Jerry demonstrates it here in conjunction with the Turbo Grind Evo3 at BLADE Show Texas 2022.

“I use the basic stuff in my shop when I’m making a knife,” Jerry began, “so there really isn’t anything special about those things. But the platen from Moen Tooling has been a game changer for many makers who have ordered it so far. I can’t thank Princeton Wong enough for his contribution to Moen Tooling, either. Princeton is a brilliant young engineer, and I first realized his talent at the Fort Worth Show when he won best new maker.”

The platen indexes the knife blade and virtually eliminates the problems with belt bumps and heat that go along with other such products. The result is better symmetry and a smoother grind. The grinding process is also cooler, allowing the maker to use finer belts and minimize the bump.

“I’m a user of all the grinding fixtures Jerry has produced,” commented custom maker Tom Overeynder. “Using the new platen and grinding fixtures will greatly jump start new makers as well as old timers in accomplishing more accurate grinds. The user can hog off stock and can do the most delicate jobs. Overall, I love it and highly recommend it to anyone interested in doing top drawer workmanship.”

Moen pairs his platen with two other indispensable pieces of shop equipment. The first is his functional Outlaw grinder, and he believes it is adequate for the jobs at hand. However, he is close to a deal with AmeriBrade to promote its products.

He has also developed the Moen Blade Grinding Fixture, which includes carbide file guide blade clamps, a rugged anodized coating, friction-free nylon gliding surface, dual handles and adjustable blade standoffs. The dovetailed clamps help with transitions and the fixture is well-suited for flat, hollow or small-wheel grinding.

“This fixture takes all the guesswork out of it,” Moen noted. “It’s all indexed perfectly, and you can set angles where you need them. It holds the blade and sets the bevel you put on it, and you can flip it from one side to the other and take it to a 1200-grit finish in 30 minutes.”

Jerry sold Princeton 25 percent of Moen Tooling some time ago, and the two have made an impressive team. 

Jerry Moen knife
Jerry Moen makes fine folders such as this one in a lightning-strike carbon fiber handle and is founder of Moen Tooling. (Eric Eggly/PointSeven knife image)

“He can do CAD and has helped with the design on some of our new stuff,” Moen added. “I might be the one with imagination but I depend on the best people I can find for what I’m short at.”

Custom maker Bob Ohlemann has put the Moen platen and fixture system to work as well. 

“These days, I spend about as much time teaching knifemaking as I do making my own knives,” Bob remarked. “Most of my ‘dress tactical linerlock’ students are established makers looking to expand their skill set and offer new products to their customers. One of the most important techniques students look to learn in my classes is how to create high-precision bevel grinds with beautiful sweeping plunges and reduce their time hand finishing blades. This is where the Moen Tools platen and fixture system excel.”

Ben Breda

American Bladesmith Society Journeyman Smith Ben Breda tackles the forging of custom knives with an array of proven shop tools and equipment. 

He has been forging knives for 10 years and has been full time for six of those, specializing in chef’s knives, hunters , bowies and fighters. He uses premium handle materials such as wood burls, stag and ivory. When fully engaged making knives, Ben has John Perry handle broaches nearby. 

“These are a must for properly fitting hidden-tang handles,” he explained. “They are very well built and make fitting handles effortless.”

handle broaches
Ben said his John Perry handle broaches are a must for properly fitting hidden-tang handles.

Ben’s variable-speed-head Bridgeport milling machine is in continual use, and for good reason. 

“This machine allows the maker to fit guards quickly and accurately, which is a must in any knife shop,” he commented. “This machine was a Craigslist find and similar machines often come up for sale. They are pretty easy to find.”

Pounding away at a piece of steel is part of the process for Ben, and he depends on a 50-pound Little Giant Power Hammer to get the job done. 

Ben Bread Bowie
Ben Breda counts such majestic bowies as this one among his specialties.

“With this old mechanical hammer, the maker can break down large steel stock and damascus billets and forge blades with ease,” Ben noted. “I bought this hammer from a retired knifemaker and had it shipped to my shop.”

Ben identifies the Wuertz TW90 belt grinder as another of the most important tools in his shop. 

“Blades can be ground to very precise dimensions with this,” he related, “as well as hardware shaping and, of course, sculpting knife handles. The machine can be used at slow speeds for wood and high speeds for grinding steel away fast. It comes with several attachments as well as a horizontal option, making it a very versatile machine. These grinders can be bought directly from the Wuertz machine company.”

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Samurai Chef’s Knives

Few Knives Have Been As Heavily Influenced By Japanese Methods As The Chef’s Knife. These Four Quality Blades Show Off The Modern Meeting The Historic.

The Japanese influence on custom knives is everpresent in the marketplace, and, aside from the tanto, nowhere is its flair and focus felt more than with chef’s knives. 

These tools of the culinary trade are functional as much as they are eye-catching, especially in examples of some of the top makers in the genre today.

Honyaki Byuto Hybrid By Dmitriy Popov

Popov Gyuto hybrid
Dmitriy Popov aligned the tip with the spine on his wide-bevel Honyaki Gyuto Hybrid for enhanced control during jobs requiring precise use of the tip. (SharpByCoop knife image)

Dmitriy Popov has conjured up a masterpiece he calls the wide-bevel Honyaki Gyuto Hybrid, a new take on a recognized Japanese style. 

“It isn’t a traditional gyuto, as it has an upswept tip and the height of a nakiri,” he commented. “Having the tip aligned with the spine of the knife gives the user a feeling of control for precise tasks requiring use of the tip. Having the extra height in the heel allows me to create a knife that is super thin behind the edge while also having a significant amount of mass above it.”

Popov’s creation includes a near 9.5-inch blade of differentially heat treated W2 tool steel and a handle combination of desert ironwood and osage orange complemented by a carbon fiber liner. His prices for similar knives range from $900 to $2,500 based on size and materials.

“The hamon and ashi* I am able to get out of the W2 is mesmerizing,” Dimitriy added, “and I spend a large part of my life going deep down the hamon rabbit hole. Honyakis are part art and part science, and the failure rate is a lot higher than I would like it to be. I really like the minimalist wa handle style [see page 14], and rounding off the bottom facet does not alter the traditional design much, while making the handle more comfortable in the hand.”

Having made knives since 2011, Dmitriy looks back at the beginning in everyday carry, tactical and camp models. After three years, he gravitated toward chef’s knives, and since 2016 they have been his sole focus.

“Everyone cooks, and at some point most cooks or chefs will come to appreciate the benefits of a good quality knife,” he observed of a chef’s knife field that has become quite crowded. “There are way more prospective customers than there are makers, so to succeed as a maker all you need is a very small slither of the pie and a drive to evolve your craft each day.”

Santoku-Style Knife By Eric Hemker

Hemker santoku
The long, nearly flat cutting edge of the damascus santoku by Eric Hemker enables it to slice, dice, and mince vegetables much easier than a blade with a sweeping belly. (SharpByCoop knife image)

While Eric Hemker admits he is still learning some subtleties of making chef’s knives, he has found that the santoku style is excellent for use in final food preparation. 

His custom-ordered version sports an 8-inch blade of random-pattern damascus forged from 1084 carbon and 15N20 nickel-alloy steels. The overall length is 14 inches, and the handle is exotic blue-dyed curly mango. His price for a similar knife is $960.

“The lack of a pointed tip on the blade means it is not well suited for delicate carving work such as breaking down bony proteins,” Eric explained. “However, its long and nearly flat cutting edge allows it to slice, dice and mince vegetables and proteins much easier than a knife with a sweeping belly on the cutting edge.”

Translating literally from the Japanese, santoku means “three virtues, or three uses,” and so the slicing, dicing, and mincing description is spot on. 

“This blade is 144-layer random-pattern damascus, and it features a full flat grind with a convex edge. The flat grind is my usual go-to grind for most general-purpose cutting needs that are common in the kitchen or in hunting-type knives. I also add a slight convex grind that leads into the cutting edge to aid in food release.”

Eric chose a modified wa handle configuration and attributes the decision to keeping step with traditional Japanese appeal. 

“The top of the handle has the traditional wa-style octagonal facets,” he said. “But I wanted to spruce this handle up a little to challenge myself, so the bottom is curved to give it a shield-shaped cross-section. The handle has a 304 stainless steel bolster and an heirloom-fit black G-10 spacer. One of the only things the customer specified was a colorful handle, so this piece of wood was a perfect fit.”

For Eric, the entire package comes together nicely, blending the good looks and function that are inherent in Japanese-inspired chef’s knives. 

“All these materials will hold up well in kitchens,” he remarked. “G-10 is a synthetic material that also holds up very well in any harsh environment, and since the wood is stabilized it should also hold up well in water and getting dirty in general. Since the handle is wood, it would still need to be oiled occasionally, and it should go without saying that a custom piece like this with a carbon steel blade and a wood handle should never go in the dishwasher.”

Eric began making knives six years ago and still considers himself at the beginning of a promising journey. 

“Kitchen knives have been some of my favorite knives to make from the beginning because everyone uses one,” he noted, “so they are some of the easiest pieces to sell and get feedback on.”

Meanwhile, he welcomes the expanding number of makers and buyers in the chef’s knife arena. 

“I don’t believe the custom chef’s knife market is overly saturated by any means,” he commented. “I think the demand really drives the market for these custom pieces, and I believe there will almost always be customers at every price point. In the last decade or so, there really has been a resurgence of demand for well-crafted handmade goods in almost every category of consumer goods, and I don’t believe that trend is going to be dying out anytime soon. This may be especially true for culinary knives when food is such a big part of many people’s lives.”

Straight-Edge Kiritsuke By Dre Laborde

kiritsuke by Laborde
The straight-edge damascus kiritsuke by Dre Laborde is specifically made to slice fish and some softer meats. The handle is curly maple from Realeyezwoodz. The sheath is stabilized maple and a joint project between Dre and Realeyezwoods. (SharpByCoop knife image)

The straight-edge kiritsuke from Dre Laborde is specifically made to slice fish and some softer meats, he says, and doesn’t necessarily lend itself to chopping vegetables. 

“I’m no expert on Japanese knives as a whole,” he noted, “but from what I can find the kiritsuke seems to be a cross between the longer yanagiba and the stockier gyuto. The steel is X-pattern-ladder damascus that I purchased from MVH Damast based in the Netherlands. These steels have given me nothing but positive results and I can’t recommend them enough.”

The blade is 9.5 inches and the overall length is 14.5 inches. The handle is curly maple from

Realeyezwoodz, and the price of a similar knife would probably exceed the featured piece. 

“It sold for $760,” explained Dre, “but it was a semi-experimental project for me, so a future project of this scale would cost more. The design, like all my knives, was drawn on paper to scale first and then made with the freedom to change the design as I see fit.”

The choice of handle material and design contributed to the overall appeal of the knife and its performance in the kitchen. 

“The wood is stabilized, which means it was put under vacuum in a resin and hardened,” said Laborde. “This makes it resistant to water and to staining. The handle design is a slight variation on the common shape I do, made slightly longer to fit the length of the knife.”

Dre has been making knives for about three years and in that time hasn’t seen the chef’s knife market becoming overcrowded, though he has heard such comments. “Those willing to pay for a custom chef’s knife often have many and recognize the price tag that comes with them,” he added.

Haetori Honesuki By Tony Cetani

Haetori Honesuki by Tony Cetani
The Haetori Honesuki by Tony Cetani is an all-around kitchen utility knife design based on the santoku and honesuki, the latter a Japanese boning knife. Whereas a traditional honesuki’s main task is for deboning poultry, Tony made the Haetori Honesuki to handle multiple kitchen jobs.

When Tony Cetani built his Haetori Honesuki with a 5.5-inch blade of Chevron copper-mai steel and an 80CrV2 core from Baker Forge and Tool, he added a handle of spalted box elder to complete the package and priced it at $1,000.

“Haetori means ‘jumping spider’ in Japanese,” he related, “and following my love for spiders this knife is named for the Haetori Gumo, a very common spider in Japan. It’s an all-around kitchen utility knife, and I based the design on the santoku and honesuki. Whereas a traditional honesuki’s main task is for deboning poultry, I made this to handle multiple tasks around the kitchen.”

Tony has been making knives since 2017 and tried chef’s knives for the first time three years later. 

“Once I got a few kitchen knives under my belt, I fell in love,” he smiled. “I wanted to put kitchen cutlery on the market that was different and not your traditional kitchen-style knives.”

He succeeded with this effort and chose a slightly innovative handle style. 

“This is a newer style that I designed specifically for this knife,” he said. “Adding a clip at the butt of the tang gives the palm a comfortable spot to rest when working the knife. I chose natural spalted box elder because it went well with the copper in the steel, and you can’t ever go wrong with box elder!”

As for today’s chef’s knife market, Tony sees strong demand and the capacity to supply it. 

“There are a lot of makers out there putting out phenomenal chef’s knives. I think every maker has their style, and the style is what grabs the attention of a potential customer.”

*Ashi are various notches or details in hamons. To produce ashi, the maker applies thin strips of clay from the spine of the blade to the edge during the clay tempering process, which contributes to interesting variations in the resulting hamons.

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The Many Moods Of Mosaic Damascus

Mosaic Damascus Can Be Made Numerous Ways, And These Master Smiths Are All Putting Their Own Spin On The Craft.

The many moods of mosaic damascus provide the bladesmith and custom knifemaker with an ever-changing form of artistic expression. The possibilities of a new pattern, a different look, and yet another lasting impression are endless.

For several makers, mosaic has become a signature steel in their presentations, and these imaginative artists are pushing the envelope in an already dazzling array of motifs for blades and knife fittings.

Kelly Vermeer-Vella

Kelly Vermeer-Vella said she initially called the mosaic damascus of her fighter Riptide because it looks like “calm waters, but also because the forging process is pretty brutal. So, now I call that process ‘ripping it!’” Blade and overall lengths: 7.5 and 12.5 inches. At press time the knife was available through Arizona Custom Knives for $3,800. (SharpByCoop knife image)

In her Riptide pattern, American Bladesmith Society Journeyman Smith and past Forged in Fire champion Kelly Vermeer-Vella provides a great example of the new frontiers being explored with mosaic damascus. 

“It’s initially called that because it looks like calm waters,” she commented, “but also because the forging process is pretty brutal. So, now I call that process ‘ripping it!’ Sometimes I win and sometimes I make hunters!”

Kelly showcases the Riptide pattern on her 12.5-inch fighter with a 7.5-inch blade and mammoth ivory handle sporting a long, modified “S” guard. 

“I really enjoy swooping forged guards that complement the curves of the blade and handle. And I love mammoth ivory, so I make a lot of frame handles,” she added. “I think the best-looking frame is in a low-layer twist, 25 layers or so.”

The Vermeer-Vella mosaic involves a commitment to hard work to produce the desired results. 

“The pattern is not san-mai,” she revealed, “rather, different layer counts of stacked W’s with heavy 1075 steel on the edge. The wing effect comes from forging. I push and pull the pattern with a hand hammer and forge to shape so that the pattern flows with the edge.” 

The blade material is the 1075 carbon steel, which appears as the dark areas, and 15N20 nickel alloy, which shows as the grey, shiny areas. “I etch in 3-to-1 ferric chloride and also do a coffee etch,” she added. Her power hammer is an Anyang 88 and she uses a Riverside 24-ton press.

Jack Rellstab

Jack Rellstab said he wanted the blade of his Western Chef’s Knife to “look alive.” As he noted,
“My idea was with the taper in layers to give it an organic look that appears as if the elements are actually growing.” Thus, the pattern’s name of Frogs and Flowers seems most apropos. His price for a similar knife: $2,600. (SharpByCoop image)

Like Vermeer-Vella, Jack Rellstab is an ABS journeyman smith who enjoys the creative process of forging mosaic damascus. His Western Chef’s Knife brings a robust profile to life in a mosaic pattern called Flowers and Frogs.

“The pattern is one of my styles of W’s explosion,” he noted. “I started the original billet with the layers of both 1080 and 15N20 getting progressively thinner from one side of the billet to the other. After using square dies to resquare the billet for W’s, I drew it out with a taper so the W’s would get tighter towards the end. Then I did a restack and a four-way to finish it. So, the steel is 1080 for the dark portion and 15N20 for the bright.”

The handle is amboyna burl, bronze and G-10. He says the grip is designed around most Western-style kitchen knives on today’s market, though the belly/underside might be a bit shallower.

“With this mosaic pattern, I wanted the knife to look alive,” he offered. “My idea was with the taper in layers to give it an organic look that appears as if the elements are actually growing. I used a 165-pound hammer belonging to New West Knifeworks, and I also used their Anyang hydraulic press for resquaring.”

Jack began his bladesmithing journey with mosaic damascus by watching a YouTube video, and then let his imagination kick in to develop the exciting pattern that is sure to generate conversation in any kitchen.

Will Stelter

The Serpentine Multi-bar Santoku by Will Stelter sports a mosaic damascus pattern of the same name. He used 1080 and 15N20 steels for the pattern-welded twisted bars and Cruforge V for the edge. The Cruforge V etches darkly, and its wear resistance and high working hardness make it ideal for culinary knives. Blade and overall lengths:
5 7/8 and 10.75 inches. His price for a similar knife: $3,500. (SharpByCoop knife image)

The Serpentine Multi-bar Santoku by ABS Journeyman Smith Will Stelter sports a mosaic damascus pattern of the same name. The handle is ivory paper Micarta®. He used 1080 carbon and 15N20 nickel-alloy steels for the pattern-welded twisted bars and Cruforge V for the edge. The Cruforge V etches darkly, and its wear resistance and high working hardness make it ideal for culinary knives.

“I started by forging up 28 layers of W’s,” he recalled, “and then worked that billet down to a half-square twisting stock. I twisted three bars right hand and two bars left hand, lining up my twists as best I could before forge-welding them together. After they were stuck, I forge welded on a solid Cruforge V edge bar that was around 40 percent as wide as the multi-bar billet, but the same thickness. With my final stock stuck together, I then laid out and cut away several three-quarter-inch-deep grooves or divots from the profile of the rectangular 2-inch wide bar, which still left Cruforge V on the edge, and two full twisted bars at the thinnest parts of the patterned area on the spine.

“I then flattened down the billet, which took the previously straight layers and gave them the bold ‘serpentining’ that came out in the blade. I then forged my blade to shape and forge welded on some of the base W’s stock that I twisted from as bolster material. This is a very similar technique to how the classic ‘River of Fire’ pattern is done, but with a different base pattern other than the usual feather pattern.”

Will used his 1924 400-pound ram Beaudry hammer to do the majority of the forge welding and a twisting machine to twist the five bars. He learned his pattern-welding technique and the ability to visualize the way the steel moves from bladesmith Salem Straub, crediting Straub with teaching him how to design patterns “with intentionality behind them.” The pattern itself is sole authored by Stelter, who has done some serpentine multi-bar patterns prior to the subject piece. However, this was his first attempt with a monosteel-edged bar.

“The serpentining is purely aesthetic,” Will said. “It’s meant to give a bold line for the eye to dance down rather than the straight, more classic intersection of the edge bar that is normal for a composite construction. This also means that from far away you see an interesting pattern, and then when inspected up close the explosions of the twisted W’s really pop out, which gives the overall piece an interesting level of depth.”    

Will considers this particular mosaic “an intermediate-level pattern, easy to try, though somewhat difficult as well. The most challenging part is building a high-quality multi-bar pattern with adequate layer density and well-matched twists. The rest of the pattern is fairly simple.”

Brent Stubblefield

Brent Stubblefield’s integral chef’s knife has an 8-inch blade of his shimmering Crossroads mosaic damascus, and a stabilized Hawaiian koa wood handle with mammoth tooth spacer. Overall length: 13 inches. His price for a similar knife: $1,500. (SharpByCoop image)

At the Join or Die Knives Forge in Richmond, Virginia, Brent Stubblefield hammered a beautiful blade in his Crossroads mosaic pattern—and did so with multiple techniques. 

According to Brent, “There is the initial damascus forging, crushed W’s, twisting, four-bar-squaring welds, ferry flip tilting, edge bars, and a ‘fish mouth’ tip to make the edge bars meet. There are multiple elements that are forged on the edge or corners to manipulate the pattern, and finally the knife shape and integral bolster are forged to shape.”

The mosaic is comprised of 1084 and 15N20 steels, with the 15N20 appearing as a silver white on the blade while the 1084 blackens with a ferric chloride etch. 

“The shapes in this pattern reflect a desire to incorporate all the different techniques of mosaic damascus making I have learned over the years,” he explained. “I’m always trying to find a way to create never-before-seen patterns in order to add something totally new to the American bladesmithing tradition.”

Stubblefield used an Anyang 88 power hammer and homemade 30-ton press to create the Crossroads mosaic. A Bridgeport mill was helpful in the squaring-up process and flattening pieces for rewelding. A Miller welder assisted in tacking materials up before they went into the forge, while an Evenheat kiln and Broadbeck Ironworks grinder were key tools in the process as well.

“Although I did not have any single mentor,” Brent mused, “many knifemakers have gone out of their way to share tips and tricks with me. While they didn’t teach me directly, [bladesmiths] Mareko Maumasi and Salem Straub have been very generous with sharing their processes through social media. I certainly have referenced them among others.”

Stubblefield continues to challenge himself as his career advances, and he sees no slowdown in the creative process. “This knife is very difficult to do simply because the higher number of forge welds create more opportunities for failure,” he reasoned. “Any complex damascus blade is actually just many simple techniques combined together. The hardest part for me is understanding how manipulating the pattern early in the process will affect the outcome, and visualizing the end pattern.”

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Young Knifemakers: The Future Is Now

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As The New Generation Of Knifemakers Begin To Hone Their Craft, The Masters Of Today Help Guide Their Path Forward. 

A new wave of interest has brought the younger generation closer to the forge and to the welcoming classrooms of bladesmiths that are quite willing to share their time, talent and tips to help the youngsters develop their own skills. That interest comes not only from a growing awareness of the beauty of the finished forged blade, but also an appreciation of the time and dedication necessary.

American Bladesmith Society (ABS) Master Smith Ray Kirk has been teaching kids bladesmithing for some time, and he sees the investment in the future as time well spent.

“Most of the young students usually have a parent that will either make a blade with them or watch the total process,” he commented. “Besides understanding the phrase ‘Strike while the iron is hot,’ they learn to control the steel by where they hammer. The experience of sharing the class with a parent or sibling is the best kind of memory to make. Knowing they will make something that will probably outlast them is something they probably never did before.”

Ray began teaching his grandchildren when they spent time at his home, and he has taught both boys and girls. Depending on the age, both genders are proficient and can use the hammer. His youngest student began learning at 11, and his grandchildren have been around the forge since they were 6.

“At that age, it was just showing them how to change the shape of steel by heating and hammering,” Ray said. “If they can drive a 16-penny nail into a 2-by-4 they could do the class, and I never really considered the sex of the student to have a bearing on taking the class.”

Some of the more satisfying moments for Ray have been watching his students as young adults competing on History TV’s Forged in Fire. Several have won in competition and all have enjoyed the experience, making friends and expanding their knife knowledge. The smile that shines when a photo is taken of young bladesmiths and their knives is something special.

Ray’s class consists of work to complete two knives of hidden-tang integral design from a 12-inch round bar of three-quarter-inch 52100 steel. 

“What they can’t do I will do for them,” he explained. “Learning how is the important part. I don’t expect the students to be an expert at any part of the procedure, and as long as they are watching and learning, I can finish it for them. If I only have one student, it can be a one-day affair. Two students usually require two days, and out-of-town students can use our guest house to stay in. The cost of the class is $350 per student.”

Pride In Teaching Younger Smiths

With the blade secured in the vise in Rick Dunkerley’s shop, 7-year-old Jacob Dove sands the handle.

ABS Master Smith Rick Dunkerley began teaching privately in his shop in 1992, and his first student was Josh Smith, who went on to become the youngest ABS journeyman smith at 15, the youngest ABS master smith at 19, and twice a competitor on Forged in Fire.

“I started teaching Josh when he was 11,” Rick remembered. “That was 30 years ago. He was on the Little League team I coached and showed interest in the knives I made. He was very motivated and not deterred by the work involved.”

Dunkerley says that he doesn’t have a specific program for kids but has invited those who show interest to his shop or hammer-ins.

“If they continue to show interest, I help them out,” he remarked. “I think making things by hand gives kids and adults great self-confidence and pride. So much of the modern world is fast paced and disposable. The process of making a knife forces a slowing down and focus that is lacking in a lot of kids’ lives. It also gives them something to care for and preserve as opposed to the normal disposable crap of everyday life. I don’t encourage or discourage anyone, kids or adults, to pursue knifemaking as a career. I give them my experience on the subject and let them decide on their own if they can make the sacrifices involved.”

Rick usually starts a student out with stock-removal knives. He says he believes learning to grind a blade is more difficult than forging one. Then, should the student decide to learn bladesmithing, the learning process continues.

“My proudest moments as a teacher have always been seeing the pride and satisfaction in the students’ eyes when the knife is finished,” he added. “I believe the pride and satisfaction of making things with our hands makes better human beings. That’s enough motivation for me to help when I can.”

Absorbing lessons from Dunkerley and listening to his advice has paid huge dividends for Josh Smith, and his memories of those days filled with learning the bladesmithing art remain fresh in his mind.

“Rick’s mentorship launched me into a career that I would never have had without his help,” Josh recalled. “Thirty years ago this year, I started making knives under him. Those times under the tutelage of Rick provided me with an opportunity to tap into my craftsman and artistic side.”

Josh has taught his own kids the fundamentals of bladesmithing. “Time spent in the shop can absolutely help open up the world of possibilities in regard to craftsmanship,” he assessed. “Whether it’s making knives, blacksmithing, gunsmithing, wood carving or woodworking, the shop can provide amazing experiences for kids.”

ABS Program

Young students man their anvils in the Bill Moran School of Bladesmithing at Texarkana College.

Don McIntosh runs the youth bladesmithing program at the Bill Moran School of Bladesmithing at Texarkana College, and he sees a future with the endeavor. 

“We rekindled it this year and it was very successful, so we’re looking to make it something we’ll be proud of on an annual basis,” he commented. “It caters to 14- to 17-year-olds and it’s a 16-hour program over three days.”

The Junior Bladesmithing course was held in June and included six participants who took part in a program that was packed with hands-on activities. The fee is a modest $175, and there may be a tie-in with the college to introduce bladesmithing to a wider audience of youngsters. McIntosh also volunteers with a local Boy Scout troop to demonstrate bladesmithing and generate interest among younger kids.

“Our program at the Bill Moran School this year included a half day on Thursday, a full day on Friday and a half day on Saturday,” Don explained. “At the end of the program, if they have forged a knife, they grind it and heat treat it and then put a cord wrap handle on it.”

The program is open to boys and girls, and Don says any young ladies who are interested in learning about bladesmithing are welcome. 

“Absolutely! We want to keep the spark going, and I’ve been adamant that this is an avenue of approach that’s better than sitting in front of a video game. Most kids are enthusiastic about hunting and bowie knives at that age, and you can come to the program and do something hands-on. The idea of forging your own knife is a pretty cool concept, and interest has been amplified by Forged in Fire. The kids watch it and so do their parents.”

McIntosh says the ABS is currently looking at the format and date for the next Junior Bladesmithing event, and the commitment to the future of the program is firm.

Bladesmith Kit #1

As Ray Kirk observed, “The experience of sharing the class with a parent or sibling is the best kind of memory to make.” Jason Proctor and his son Jaxon hold the knives (top) they made in Ray’s shop. (Lou Ann Kirk images)

The Blacksmiths Depot’s Bladesmith Kit #1 may have applications with young bladesmiths, depending on their level of interest and experience. 

It comes complete with an 800-gram Swedish hammer; .75- and 1.25-inch blade tongs; White Mountain flux; Cherry Red hardening compound; PBC anti-scaling compound; regular tomahawk mandrel; regular tomahawk handle; men’s Jersey gloves; jumbo block brush; sodium flare safety glasses; ear plugs; and two publications: The Complete Bladesmith by Jim Hrisoulas and Handles and Guards by BLADE Magazine Cutlery Hall-Of-Fame® member Joe Keeslar. Priced at $395, the kit does not include blade steel.

“Most who want to do blades should experiment with mild steel or scrap before spending money on the more expensive metallurgy,” related David Kayne of Blacksmiths Depot. “Youth should not be doing any form of blacksmithing, bladesmithing or stock removal without good safety habits and adult supervision. Anything that has to do with weapons needs training and oversight, including the making of blades.

“Otherwise, we do not see any reason why this kit wouldn’t work out for youth,” he concluded. “Even the hammer in the kit is light enough weight for a youth. We do recommend that both youth and adults read through the books first before attempting to make a knife. A little background knowledge of forging could mean the difference between frustration and success.”

Stimulate And Create

The efforts to introduce bladesmithing to young people and the opportunities it affords them can bring on fantastic results, stimulate natural curiosity and offer an outlet for creative energy. More and more, such programs and events will influence the bladesmiths of tomorrow and contribute to raising them right.

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