An overinflated market for forged blades at home caused the author to look elsewhere. Oftentimes this has been to Eastern European Knife Makers.
Since 2017, forged blades have taken the lead. Niche markets like chef’s knives, slip-joint folders, and tactical fixed blades retain enough interest to be powerful sub-markets. Price points and availability in primary and secondary markets lead to the demise of the front-runners. Popular market sectors inspire experienced and new makers to build that type of knife.
Two problems arise from this:
- Makers will rapidly join a market sector, but collectors are slower to follow.
- Pricing is primarily based on what other makers are getting for their work and not, for example, the quality of a maker’s knives, name recognition, status among the competition, etc.
Higher prices from less qualified knifemakers encourage the well-known makers to raise their prices, and the cycle continues until the knives become unaffordable. Currently, this is what is happening today in the forged blade market. I saw this trend emerging in 2020, and I started emphasizing makers who offer value for the money with their work.
Overpriced knives led me to increase my research for custom knives with good value in the United States and worldwide. Social media was a great help in this area. As I researched, I found myself saving photos of knives I was interested in. When I returned to re-look at the pictures I had saved, I found many of these makers were from Eastern Europe.
Much like in the United States, prices ranged from reasonable to what seemed extreme. I contacted well over a hundred makers asking questions about materials, construction techniques, pricing, and sheaths, and requested several additional photos. While there are other makers I plan to contact soon, the following are the seven makers I have already started working with.
Meet The Eastern European Makers
Maksim Tjulpin has been making knives for 11 years in his home country of Latvia. His interest comes from the diversity of knives that can be made as well as the array of materials. Maksim builds knives utilizing both the stock-removal and forging methods of blade making. He favors forged blades as each has its own unique character.
He primarily uses stabilized wood for his handles, often combined with mammoth ivory spacers. I have found his craftsmanship to be impeccable. The knives feature excellent fit and finish as well as ideal balance and handle ergonomics.
Petr And Peter Dohnal
Petr Dohnal and his son, Peter, have been making knives for 21 years in their native country of the Czech Republic. Working as a computer graphic designer, Petr realized he wanted to build something with his hands. So, he chose to make custom knives. As with many makers, his favorite part is forging the blades, usually damascus. In addition to making his own steel, he uses Elmax, Vanadis 8, and M390, as well as other alloys. He understands that the knife’s intended purpose will often determine the most suitable steel. His handle materials of choice are stabilized wood and antler. I find Petr’s knives a joy to hold in my hand, being sleek, well-made, and exhibiting superior balance and handle ergonomics.
Michal Komorovsky started making knives, in 2011, in his home country, Slovakia, or officially, the Slovak Republic—doing so primarily because he wanted to try something different, and he never looked back. He favors Sleipner steel, which is a new-generation alloy like D-2, as well as M390. When time allows, he forges damascus for his knives, including a wide variety of fixed blades. Michal builds an array of knives, from hunting and tactical models to bowies and even an occasional art dagger.
Many of his tactical knives feature black DLC-coated blades, but he also offers sandblasted and bead-blasted steel, as well as satin- and mirror-polished finishes. Michal uses various handle materials, with desert ironwood being his favorite. I’ve taken a liking to his fighters that exhibit excellent fit and finish, have an outstanding balance, and feel great in the hand.
The Tactical Realm
Piotr Gosciniak has been fashioning custom knives in his home country of Poland since 2017. Having a keen interest in the military, Piotr decided to focus his talent on making tactical knives. He occasionally uses high-carbon steel such as 80CrV, but most of his knives are built using quality stainless steels such as Elmax or Sleipner.
Piotr prefers synthetic handle materials like Micarta, G-10, and carbon fiber. He also offers Cerakote coating for his knives. As a former infantry officer, I appreciate the crisp, clean lines of Piotr’s knives. His designs are purpose-driven; these are tools meant to be used. The blade fullers, textured handle material, and thumb serrations add to each knife’s capability.
Also from Poland, Jacek Hnatow has been building knives for eight years. He started as a collector, then decided he didn’t want to buy knives anymore; he wanted to make them. As an avid outdoorsman, it should come as no surprise that Jacek’s specialties are survival and bushcraft blades. He prefers working with Bohler N690 and Elmax, as well as high-carbon alloys and san mai steel. Jacek’s handle material offerings include synthetics such as G-10 and Micarta, as well as stabilized wood at the customer’s request. His knives, many of which can be huge, are well-balanced with great handle ergonomics. His bushcraft blades are a perfect size to carry in the field, and all of Jacek’s knives are well thought out for the tasks at hand.
Romanian Csizmar Szilard has been a full-time knifemaker since 2007. When he was younger, he enjoyed video games and one of them allowed players to forge their weapons virtually. So, Csizmar decided to make that a reality. Forging is his favorite part of fashioning knives, hatchets, and axes. He prefers 5160 high-carbon steel for its simplicity and ease of forging. Handle materials are all-natural, with wood and antler being his favorites. Csizmar’s work is clean and balanced, precisely what you would expect from a maker who builds tools that are meant to be used.
A native of Poland, Szymek Szlagor has been making knives since 2017. Building a knife for himself led to making them for friends and eventually becoming a full-time knifemaker. He enjoys forging and machining carbon steel and damascus. He gravitates toward 5160 high-carbon steel and combines K720 and 15N20 to make damascus. His handle material preferences are natural materials such as stabilized wood and antlers. For his everyday carry (EDC) knives, he prefers to use Micarta. Szymek feels making knives is a beautiful job that involves taking a piece of steel, giving it shape, and improving on it until the blade becomes a tool that will be used and passed down from generation to generation. Having handled his work, he has accomplished his goal.
Working With Eastern European Makers
Language: There are several languages throughout Europe. While it is true that many Europeans speak English, it is equally noteworthy that they do not read and write the universal language well. This is important to know as, more than likely, collectors will be contacting the makers via email or social media. When writing, I often rely on an online translator for help. Understand that such online translating programs could be better. I always let the maker know upfront I am using a translator.
When emailing or writing to makers, try not to use slang or acronyms, as these usually translate into something that might not have the intended meaning. Remember to be patient with this process, as both collector and maker must understand exactly what each is expecting.
Payments: The preferred method for knife transactions is PayPal. As with most makers worldwide, many are not set up to take credit cards. Those who have traveled to Europe know there are additional fees for using U.S. bank credit cards. Although wire transfers can be made, it is best to check with your bank to find out what the fee for an international wire transfer will be.
Lastly, Western Union is an option that usually comes with an $8 fee. Some buyers might find the process of paying upfront and then having to wait up to a month difficult. However, I have been buying knives regularly from Eastern Europe for the last three years and have never had a package go missing.
Shipping: The maker will generally ship the knife through his or her country’s postal service. Most countries work with the U.S. Postal Service, and once a package is accepted, you can track it coming from Europe. The delivery time frame will average between two and four weeks. While FedEx can be an option, the cost associated will generally eliminate this service from the ideal options.
Measurements: Europe uses the metric system. As foreign as the metric system is to you, the same is true for the imperial system the United States uses to makers in Europe. Fortunately, there are conversion programs on the internet. In conversing with European makers, please pay attention and differentiate between when they use centimeters (cm) or millimeters (mm), as 1 centimeter equals 10 millimeters, and when it comes to a knife, that could be a huge difference.
Forged In Fire Influence
Most of the makers in this article offer forged blades as part of the repertoire. However, Piotr Gosciniak is the exception, as he specializes in stainless and some high-carbon steel tactical knives. The U.S. market will see a resurgence of this category of knives in 2023-’24. For now, forged blades are the most significant market sector in the United States, partly due to increased interest in forging knives due to the TV show “Forged in Fire.” The interest created by this show was partly responsible for 38 makers earning their American Bladesmith Society (ABS) journeyman smith ratings at the 2022 BLADE Show.
Talking with several ABS master smiths, I was told they saw an increase in the number of makers taking their journeyman smith performance test before the 2023 BLADE Show as well. As a result, I anticipate the final numbers to show a record number of candidates testing for their journeyman smith stamps in 2023. With an increase in knife shows across the United States, hammer-ins, and the accessibility of in-person training and videos on social media, the number of forged blade makers will continue to increase over the next several years.
As these new makers enter the custom knife market, their pricing will be based more on what their peers charge for knives as opposed to a position in the market that their work has earned. In the short term, collectors will be the ones subsidizing too many who are bound to have short careers as custom knifemakers. Long term, the aftermarket will sort out the winners and losers. Therefore, it is incumbent on buyers to understand value pricing and that they should not buy a custom knife that will lose value.
Over the last 37 years, I have bought and sold knives on every continent except Antarctica. Today, it is easy to find exceptional makers in Eastern Europe and worldwide. I understand that ordering from makers outside the United States can be a leap of faith.
My hints regarding purchasing knives from Eastern Europe should help you with your concerns. The styles, materials, and craftsmanship of makers worldwide have never been better. This is why I suggest you give the makers in this article and others around the world consideration to become part of your collection.
More Custom Knives:
- Custom Knife Royalty: Russell, Moran And Loveless
- Spectacular Custom EDC Knives Unveiled
- Stag Handle: Custom Knives That Are Bad To The Bone
- Dagger: Custom And Production Buyer’s Guide
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