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.
“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.”
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.
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.
“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.
“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.”
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.”
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.
“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.”
- Shop Dump: Salem Straub & Andreas Kalani
- Samurai Chef’s Knives
- Micarta: A Do-Everything Handle Material
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