If you’re hungry for top handforged blades, prepare to cleanse your palate
By Mike Haskew
The selection of and appetite for handforged knives is as healthy as ever, and those who combine aesthetics with the hammer on hot steel occupy a noteworthy place among the pantheon of knifemakers. Both well-established artisans and up-and-comers are gaining attention, incorporating daring damascus and eye-popping ivory, tantalizing carbon steel and wondrous woods.
A collector for 15 years, Peter Gill said he is excited about the Founder’s Bowie series from Jason Knight, who devised the idea of selling a limited run of handforged knives to raise money to build his shop. The Founder’s Bowies include upscale handles of materials such as mammoth ivory and 10-inch blades of 1080 and 15N20 random-pattern damascus, and overall lengths of about 15 inches. Gill said each knife has sold in the $1,200 range. The Paranee/Wheeler Fighter, another limited run and a collaboration between Joe Paranee and Nick Wheeler, is a favorite of Gill and sells for around $850.
“They each make simply beautiful knives that approach perfection and are very hard to obtain,” Gill noted. “A plaque with the names of the 10 original owners of the Founders Bowies will be in Jason’s shop, and the fighter combines Nick’s impeccable fit and finish with a specific design concept from Joe.”
Collecting knives for nearly 40 years, Paul Kessler has seen his share of handforged standouts, and said the work of husband-and-wife team Adam and Haley DesRosiers is “wildly popular.” The pair is becoming known for damascus blades and high-end wood handles in a variety of knife styles. In addition, the damascus blades and fighters in the 7-to-10-inch range from Mike Ruth and the fighters and gun knives of Bruce Bump are gaining in popularity, Kessler observed.
“Tom Ferry is hot right now,” Kessler added. “He can do everything and do it well. He makes both folders and fixed blades, and his sole-authorship knives are in great demand. Cliff Parker is making a damascus gent’s folder in tortoise, stag and pearl, along with locking-liner folders, and he sells out at shows.”
According to Kessler, Wheeler has become a favorite on Internet knife discussion forums, while John White is known for his large choppers with lengths of 10 to 11 inches in premium carved stag handles and upscale damascus.
“John made a stunning dagger for me,” Kessler remarked. “It has a blade of about 9.5 inches and a beautiful reddish mammoth ivory handle. He built it with a clamshell guard that can be taken off to convert the knife to a simple dagger. He built a bowie that won Best Fighter at the BLADE Show, and my John White knife won Best Damascus at the show. I think he makes the best pattern-welded damascus, bar none. The choppers sell for $1,000 and up, and the high-end knives are $2,500 and up.”
Kessler said the Pirate folder by Don Hanson is another favorite of handforged purchasers and features a variety of handle materials with a wharncliffe or santoku-style damascus blade. Ranging from $1,700 to $1,800 depending on materials, the slip-joint Pirate folder comes with mammoth or walrus ivory and even antique ivory Micarta® scales. Hanson’s double-edged fighters with the damascus combination of 1084, 15N20, W2 and 203E steels are in demand as well.
Larry Marton and his wife, Marlene, have collected knives for more than a quarter century. They particularly prize the work of Robbin Hudson and his multi-bar damascus blades with a flame pattern etched into the edge. “We had talked with Rob about making a knife for us,” Larry said, “and he eventually sent us one with a blade twice the size of the one we had talked about. It is truly a spectacular blade.”
Also among their favorite makers and handforged knives are those by the husband-and-wife team of Van Barnett and Dellana. Marlene collects folders of about 3.5 inches in open length, and both Van and Dellana have made folders for her, while an oversized Owen Wood dagger is a prized piece in the Martons’ collection, too. With an 11.5-inch blade and mammoth tooth handle, the dagger is priced from $7,000 to $8,000, and its overall length is 16.5 inches.
Another of the Martons’ selection as a hot maker of handforged knives is Kaj Embretson. “We have two Viking daggers that he made, both with multi-bar damascus,” Larry commented. “We found the first one at the Solvang Show. That dagger has a wood handle, and the second one we got has a mammoth ivory handle. They run in the $5,000 range.”
In Big Demand
Purveyor Les Robertson said Hanson, White, Ruth and Knight are four of the handforged makers high on many buyers’ lists. Robertson singles out White’s Take Down Bowie, Ruth’s Seashell Bowie, Knight’s JK Classic and Hanson’s Mammoth Fighter as a coveted foursome. The Take Down Bowie sports a damascus blade of 15N20 and 1084 steels, along with a premium stag or ivory handle. The stag version sells for $2,250 and the ivory for $3,000 and up, Robertson notes. The Mammoth Fighter includes a frame mammoth ivory handle and DH3 damascus blade. Robertson’s price: $3,800.
For Robertson, the complexity of the Take Down Bowie is its big draw. “These knives are supplied with a matching ‘take-down tool’ with removable a damascus cap that holds spare assembly pins,” he said. “On the Mammoth Fighter, the DH3 damascus and the frame handle are in big demand, and the ivory is the icing on the cake. As [one of my] top 10 ABS master smiths, Don is an exceptional craftsman.”
Ruth’s Seashell Bowie includes a blade of Texas Wind damascus and an ancient walrus ivory handle with price points from $2,000 to $2,600 depending on such options as blade length and the ivory’s color. Robertson adds that big damascus blades are gaining favor now, and Ruth builds some of the best at value prices.
Knight’s JK Classic Bowie includes 5160, W2 or damascus blades, a handle of desert ironwood or ivory, and a stainless or blued carbon steel guard. Robertson said the knife sells for $1,200 to $2,000, depending on options, and he places Knight among his top 10 ABS master smiths. “This knife is the quintessential Jason Knight Bowie,” he related. “It has clean, crisp lines and that trademark ‘fits-like-a-glove’ handle. The knife is immediately recognizable as a Jason Knight.”
Among other handforged makers Robertson praised are Russ Andrews and Daniel Winkler. Robertson said Andrews’ Hawthorne Bowie sells for $1,100 in W2 blade steel and $1,500 in damascus. Its high-grade walnut handle and stainless steel furniture add luster to Russ’s signature bowie, and Robertson asserts collectors are always on the lookout for this “bowie that borders on being a fighter.” Winkler’s Razor Ridge hunter is complemented by a Karen Shook sheath and sells for $850, Robertson said. It has a blade of 1084 carbon steel, a stainless guard and bolster, and an elk-antler handle.
“Dan can never fill the demand for this knife,” Robertson opined. “It’s his hottest knife, made by one of [my] top 10 ABS master smiths, and is perfect for what it’s designed to do. It feels great in the hand.”
Lin Rhea, Shawn McIntyre, Scott McGhee, Tad Lynch and Phillip Patton are other makers with work to watch—and buy quickly if possible, Robertson advised. The purveyor indicated Rhea’s Sub-Hilt fighter sells for about $1,950, with a blade of W2 or damascus steel and a handle of presentation wood or ancient ivory. McIntyre’s Black Tie hunter is fashioned with a blade of 1080 and 15N20 damascus and a black palm wood handle. Depending on materials, it sells for $550 to $750, Robertson said.
The purveyor indicated the Bushman utility knife from McGhee sells for $260 and includes a blade of Cruforge V steel with a hammer-marked finish and a paracord-wrap handle. Lynch’s Model 1 fighter comes in 5160 or W2 blade steel with a walnut handle and stainless fittings. Clean, functional and balanced, it sells for $600, Robertson said. The Drop Point camp knife from Patton is handled in Micarta or G-10 and comes with a choice of W2 or O1 blade steel. Robertson said the base knife goes for $250, and its combination of utilitarian design and handle ergonomics makes for a great field knife.
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Prices* For Hottest Hammer Knives
Russ Andrews Hawthorne bowie $1,100-$1,500
Kaj Embretsen Viking dagger $5,000
Don Hanson Pirate folder $1,700-$1,800
Jason Knight Founder’s Bowie $1,200
Tad Lynch Model 1 fighter $600
Scott McGhee Bushman utility knife $260
Shawn McIntyre Black Tie Hunter $550-$750
Phillip Patton Drop-point camp knife $250
Lin Rhea Sub-hilt fighter $1,950
Mike Ruth Seashell bowie $2,000-$2,600
Nick Wheeler Paranee collaboration $850
John White High-end knives $2,500 and up
Daniel Winkler ` Razor Ridge hunter $850
Owen Wood Oversized dagger $7,000-$8,000
*According to the sources in the story.
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