A new book from the publishers of BLADE magazine, Greatest Living Knifemakers, celebrates today’s legends who make knives in ways that most can only dream about. They make knives that can easily fetch tens of thousands of dollars, and even more.
Given all that talent, how does a book like this come together? Who gets to decide who is counting among the “Greatest Living Knifemakers” anyway? If you’re someone looking to collect or make knives, you’ll enjoy this interview with the editor of the book, Steve Shackleford, who is also a member of the BLADE Magazine Cutlery Hall of Fame®.
Many talented people make knives of outstanding quality. How did you go about choosing who should appear in this book?
The hardest part was choosing who NOT to include. I’ve been covering the knife industry for BLADE®, the world’s No. 1 knife publication, since 1985, so I’ve had the privilege of seeing and handling some of the world’s greatest knives, and meeting some of the world’s greatest knifemakers.
As a result, some of the makers I picked peaked years ago and don’t even make that many knives anymore. On the other hand, some are peaking now. However, at some point in their careers each has made knives that are among the world’s best.
In addition, each has either made knives and/or introduced designs, techniques, folding mechanisms, damascus or other steels and other materials, etc., that in turn have set a standard or inspired other makers in the way they make knives.
And, of course, to qualify as per the book’s title, each must be living, though Tony Bose passed away after the book was finished. We decided to include him as a tribute to his fantastic slip joints and the overall impact he had on the knife industry, which was and remains monumental.
What makes a knifemaker “great”?
Some of that is covered in my first answer above but there are other things as well. They must have a lifelong dedication to making knives, which all of those profiled have exhibited, as well as a passion to make knives for much more than just the money.
It’s kind of hard to explain unless you’ve followed knives for a long time, but, in a nutshell, most great knifemakers make knives because they sweat the load, they agonize over the details, and they don’t provide just a “product”—they produce a knife that almost always acts, looks and feels like it’s the best knife that maker makes. There’s much more but that’s part of it.
Are there any names that couldn’t make it into the book due to space limitations?
As noted above, yes, many make knives worthy of inclusion. However, I won’t name names here in case we decide to do a second volume of the book.
Are the names ranked or is this just a collection of noteworthy knifemakers?
Since they are all great and, as John Wayne’s character once said of two great gunfighters in the movie Rio Bravo, “I’d hate to have to live on the difference,” I decided to list them all in alphabetical order—with the exception of R.J. Martin.
His profile appears first in the book because it is the only profile written by the maker himself. I did not ask him to write it, he volunteered to do it. I was so taken by the quality of his writing and the information he provided on what being a great knifemaker is really like that it was a no-brainer to include it.
In my opinion, it’s one of the best ways for the reader to truly appreciate what it’s like to be a great knifemaker—done from a great knifemaker’s point of view. I think it’s the best profile in the book, hands down.
Do great knifemakers have a peak or a golden era within their careers, or are they great throughout their careers?
As with most all great talents, they do indeed seem to peak at certain times. Some peak for longer periods than others and some even seem to have more than one peak. Some may burn out early and then something happens to help them regain their mojo.
However, in most cases the great ones maintain varying levels of greatness throughout their careers, and I think that’s the case with all of those featured in the book.
Is there a list of the knifemakers featured in this book posted somewhere for people to check out?
Yep, right here.
What’s a standout knife for you that’s featured in this book?
I wouldn’t touch that one with a 10-foot blade, other than to say they all stand out.
* Greatest Living Knifemakers is available here directly from the publisher.