Bladeart.com’s Larry Brahms includes Todd Rexford among the makers who employ exceptional design, materials, and fit and finish, and yet never deviate from the knife’s ultimate purpose—to cut. “Injection” features Chad Nichols’ Fade stainless damascus and Mokuti accents throughout. (SharpByCoop.com photo)
Here are a few to add to your list of those “moving on up”
By Stephen Garger
Technological and design advances in the knifemaking arena seem to have come quicker over the past couple of years. This may be due, at least in part, to the increasing number of makers—including those outside U.S. borders—exploding on the scene. In addition, steels, patterns and handle materials are evolving within a context of quickened networks of communication that allows information to be shared instantly.
Taken as a whole, this may make it difficult for the average knife enthusiast to keep up—not only with advances in knifemaking, but with the makers who bear watching in the coming year. Such a group includes not only new makers but also experienced ones who may just be coming into their own, or have developed a new style or technique.
Bladeart.com’s Larry Brahms lists knifemakers Brad Southard, Jeremy Marsh, Todd Rexford, Michael Burch, Sal Manaro and Aaron Fredrick among those to watch, noting that over the past year all six have grown dramatically in the craft. “Each utilizes exceptional design, materials, and fit and finish, and yet they never deviate from the piece’s ultimate purpose, which is to cut,” Brahms noted.
Frederick also is one BladeGallery.com President Dan O’Malley tabbed to watch in 2012. “Aaron was one of the first tactical makers to really hit the market and was becoming very well known when, in 2004, he went into the military to serve his country,” O’Malley said. “When Aaron returned to the U.S. and knifemaking toward the end of 2010, his designs were highly influenced by his overseas experiences, and his melding of tactical styles with gent’s folders is spectacular—combining an exceptional fit and finish with brawn.”
Frederick’s 3PS model is a good example and combines materials such as lightning-strike carbon fiber with damascus bolsters and a stainless blade for a BladeGallery.com price of $525. “Aaron’s work was on the forefront of the movement toward using the flipper mechanism,” O’Malley stated, “and his smooth action makes this opener a fantastic choice for quick tactical deployment.”
Two other makers O’Malley said to study are Andre DeVilliers and Michael Quesenberry. DeVilliers is a self-taught member of the South African Knifemakers Guild O’Malley described as “a maker who is going places. His distinctive knives are innovative, dependable and beautiful.” The relatively lower cost of living in South Africa allows DeVilliers to be price competitive in the U.S. market while keeping pace with the coolest and hottest materials.
“Most of his knives are designed for hard use but also have a refinement that is rarely found in knives of that type, which creates a category I like to call ‘dress tactical,’” O’Malley said. “Andre is using hi-tech steels like 19c27 and Damasteel stainless damascus, and is a big fan of ‘nightmare grinds,’ and does some of the best of those grinds in the business.” O’Malley indicated DeVilliers’ “Pathfinder” is a well-thought-through folder featuring strong construction, with aggressive geometric lines and a BladeGallery.com price of around $550, depending on materials.
“Michael Quesenberry is a part-time knifemaker, a self-confessed hobbyist, but an extraordinarily talented one,” O’Malley began. Most of Quesenberry’s knives are forged, though he will grind stainless steel on customer request. “Michael considers it a point of pride that he does all his own leatherwork and damascus, as well as heat treating and cryogenic treatment,” O’Malley reported. “He does everything from field-use hunters to dramatic art knives, and his control over damascus is particularly exceptional—even creating mosaic damascus knives with integral bolsters, which is a particularly difficult technique.”
Quesenberry credits Roy Holt with getting him started on the right path to knifemaking, and also values the friendship of makers Gary Iames and Buz Johns for inspiring him to craftsmanship levels he never dreamed possible. BladeGallery.com’s price for a Quesenberry damascus integral with a stag handle is around $1,100. O’Malley also mentioned Andre Thorburn, Daniel Winkler (specifically the Winkler II line), and Sniper Bladeworks (Lance Abernathy and Jody Muller) as makers to watch.
The makers purveyor Don Guild deems those to keep an eye on in 2012 are all well known: Emmanuel Espinosa, Stephen Olszewski, Ken Steigerwalt, Juergen Steinau and Wolfgang Loerchner. An award-winning maker, Loerchner has crafted many fixed blades. According to Guild, though, Loerchner is concentrating on art folders that display exceptional fit and finish.
“An art knife of superior, velvety mechanical operation that also has the eye appeal that drives [Loerchner’s] work is not being done by another maker I know of,” Guild opined. “To combine art and mechanics [Guild’s emphasis] in the same knife is a rare talent only a few makers possess, and that combination serves to provide an understated beauty of form and function. Everything he creates is truly handmade and has been sought by top collectors for years, and now the international trade is chasing his work.”
The proliferation of makers renders the field increasingly hard to chart—a challenge that merely adds to the fun of buying and collecting knives. The makers described herein only scratch the surface of those to watch in 2012. However, they give you some to be on the lookout for while balancing the search with your own experience and subjective taste.
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