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Who are the Best Bladesmiths?

Discussion in 'Custom & Handmade Knives' started by Bill R, May 1, 2002.

  1. Bill R

    Bill R

    Sep 15, 1999
    Who do you consider to be among the top 5 or 10 bladesmiths in the world? Two that immediately come to my mind are Jerry Fisk and Yoshindo Yoshihara. Any others?
  2. Will York

    Will York Platinum Member Platinum Member

    Jan 21, 2000
    Kinda reminds me of a line out of "Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid", when they're on the run. Cassidy asks, "Who's the best lawman?" The Kid replies, "Best? You mean toughest...or easiest to bribe?"

    Everything has a context. When assessing bladesmiths, one person's best might mean perfection in finish work. Another's might be original design--either in terms of aesthetics or in terms of function, or both. Then again, one might ask who forges the best steel, assuming that by bladesmith you mean someone who forges rather than creating by stock removal.

    In the October 1997 issue of BLADE Magazine, Ed Fowler reported on a 52100 blade tested by Metallographic Laboratory Services in California. The owner of the lab stated that the sample had the finest grain structure in the cutting edge of any steel he had ever examined, with carbide size between 1/2 and 1 micron. As Mr. Fowler said in the article, "This is as fine as it gets," comparing it to D2 at 10-15 microns and CPM420V at 2-4 microns.

    That blade was forged and heat treated by Rick Dunkerley. The same knife was later put through a flex test in which it was clamped in a vise, bent 90 degrees, then bent back 180 degrees, back again 180 degrees, back again 180 degrees, back again 180 degrees, back again 180 degrees and finally cracked at the edge on the next flex. In cutting tests a Dunkerley 52100 blade has made over 1000 cuts through rope without re-sharpening. With a few strokes on a fine Arkansas, that edge was restored to full sharpness. Both the flex test and cutting test were witnessed by other knife makers with national reputations, Phil Wilson on the flex test and Barry Gallagher on the rope cutting, I believe.

    52100 is Rick's basic "using knife" steel, and he uses and tests his own hunting knives as a professional outfitter and elk hunting guide in Montana. He also does some of the most elaborate mosaic damascus to be found, having won national awards in many categories, and has even forged CPM steels--both from powder and from bar stock.

    I’d have to put him on my short list.

    For variety of experience with forging different kinds of blades and steel, and for innovation, I’d have to add Steve Schwarzer. He’s forged just about anything one can forge in the way of knife blades and steels, and was instrumental in the development of mosaic damascus as we know it today. He studied techniques from ancient Italian glassware artists and applied them to the forging of damascus steel, continuing its development and perfection until it now has become the standard for beauty and intricacy in forged blade steels.

    So, there’s two I’d have to look at putting in the top ten or fewer—probably fewer as far as US bladesmiths go. I admit I’m not familiar with the talent worldwide.

  3. not2sharp

    not2sharp Gold Member Gold Member

    Jun 29, 1999
    How would you define "best"? There are thousands of good knife makers out there and plenty of guys who make excellent knives, but who are not very good at generating attention.

    There are no "best" ones. There are just some better ones whom specialize in making specific knives within certain price ranges. It depends on what you are looking for.

  4. Bill R

    Bill R

    Sep 15, 1999
    I would definately agree that there are lots of great makers, some well know, some not so well known. I have knives by makers that fall into the later that are some of the best fit/finish I have seen. Will hit it on what I am refering to. A bladesmith who forges steel with artistry and perfection and is highly regarded by his/her peers. Of course as with anything it is subjective.
  5. Keith Montgomery

    Keith Montgomery

    May 9, 2000
    You have gone and asked one of those questions that I find impossible to answer. There are far too many great bladesmiths and no matter how many I listed, I am sure that I would miss some.

    Those that I have either already gotten a knife from or have one on order from are, Ed Fowler, Rick Dunkerly, Ron Leuschen, Jerry Fisk and Al Pendray. If I had the money there would be another two or three hundred on this list.
  6. tom mayo

    tom mayo

    Jan 27, 1999
  7. Keith Montgomery

    Keith Montgomery

    May 9, 2000
    I agree that there are some less well known makers that are exceptionally good. The great thing about these makers is that their knives are a very good value. They have not been around long enough to feel that they can start to charge the big bucks just yet. A couple that come to mind are Bill Buxton and Ron Leuschen. These guys knives are way better than you would guess from the prices they charge. I am sure there are many others that would fit into that same classification.

    There are many well known makers whose knives are also priced well under what you might expect. I contacted Al Penray about a wootz knife and was actually floored by how low a price I was quoted. The knives of Audra Draper also offer tremendous value.

    I know that what I am posting is not really on topic. The topic that would more fit with what I have included here would be, Makers who offer great value in their knives. Actually that isn't really fair. Most of the guys that charge the higher prices offer fantastic value as well. If I did not believe this, I would not have already ordered another knife from Ed Fowler. His knives certainly are not inexpensive, but to me are worth every penny that I pay for them.

    Some day I would love to have knives from smiths such as Ed Caffrey, Joe Flournoy, Shane Taylor, Michael Vagnino, Ron Newton, Daniel Winkler, James Rodebaugh, Audra Draper, Bill Burke, Kenny Rowe, John Fitch, Harvey Dean, Jonny Walker Nilsson, Yoshindo Yoshihara and the many other great bladesmiths out there. I just have to figure out a legal way to get the money I will need to aquire them.

    To all those that I that I missed in the above paragraph, please forgive me. Just know that there are many more of you that make knives that I would do almost anything to own.
  8. Keith Montgomery

    Keith Montgomery

    May 9, 2000
    Tom, I am not sure what the eye rolling is all about. A liitle enlightenment would be appreciated.
  9. TAH

    TAH Gold Member Gold Member

    Jul 3, 2001
    It always amazes me that when this type of question comes up, folks rarely mention some of the older makers from the 70s and 80s, many who are still making knives. Not that the ones mentioned are of lesser talent, but you seldom hear names like Dowell, Carter, Rigney, Imel, Johnson, Herron, Warenski, Schnieder, Chappel, Frank, Hoel, Lake, Horn...to mention just a few. Are these "older" knifemakers not recognized anymore or are the "new" collectors not aware of their work and in some cases their contributions and innovations to custom knives? Why aren't people interested in these guys? Many times when I bounce around from forum to forum, the same names are mentioned over and over as if certain knifemakers become hip and trendy to collect. I like talking about these older makers, but everytime I do, the thread seems to burn out quickly.
  10. Will York

    Will York Platinum Member Platinum Member

    Jan 21, 2000
    You know, Tom probably has cause to roll his eyes, at least in my case. Hell, I don't have but a few years history of reading about and owning a few knives. I see some of the lists of the "best" that people like Levine and Robertson come up with, and I've never heard of half the people on those lists. I guess I'd have to qualify my opinion based on what has been pretty much public knowledge over the past five years or so, makers who have been written about in the trade magazines and who get some play on the net. I'm sure there are plenty of heavyweights I'm not even remotely aware of.

    So roll on, big cat. No offense taken here.

  11. Richard

    Richard BOUNCED EMAIL: I need to update my email address in my profile!

    Oct 3, 1998
    KWM, Tom likes to do that I think. Gets his post count way up there quick.

    Saves having to post anything constructive to do it too.
  12. Blues

    Blues Lapsed SuperMod / Cattle Knife Rustler Staff Member Super Mod

    Oct 2, 1998
    Ever the diplomat, Will. ;)
  13. Keith Montgomery

    Keith Montgomery

    May 9, 2000
    TAH, I am not sure how many of the names you mentioned pertain to this topic. Although I know that Ted Dowell forged his own damascus but I an not sure that he does any longer. This question was asked about bladesmiths so I took it that stock removal guys were not to be included.

    I would love to own a knife made by Bill Moran, it is just that I can never imagine myself being able to afford one.
  14. TAH

    TAH Gold Member Gold Member

    Jul 3, 2001
    Hi Keith,
    I wasn't sure if he was including stock removal guys either, but I just felt like taking the opportunity and raising the observation anyway.
  15. Les Robertson

    Les Robertson Banned BANNED

    Oct 10, 1998
    Interesting thread, not because of the names being used.

    But the fact that people have actually stated that their opinion is based on their "experience". That of course differs from person to person.

    Who is the best? First define the criteria.

    Collectors love to jump on here and list their favorite makers. Others list what they have read or heard about in print or on the internet. Many times never even having seen the makers work they are referring to in person.

    TAH brings up some exceptional world class talent. Why don't people know who they are? TAH I think you are basing that on what you are reading here. If the maker hasn't been in a magazine in the last several years, does not have a web site and or post here. The 45 or so people who frequent the custom knife section of BF don't know who they are.

    That is to be expected.

    My clients know who those makers are.

    No matter what it is, everything has a educational procedure.

    I think it is very difficult to get into custom knives right now as a collector. There are so many choices it can be quite a daunting task to pick and choose which makers to buy from.

    Fortunately, I have been able to spend the last 18 years learning from some of the best. Even with being a full time dealer for the last 7 years. There are still makers I don't know about. Mostly because they are new, however they are doing good work.

    That is why I don't get a table at the Guild Show. It is the only show I attened where I spend the entire show on the other side of the table.

    Every show I attend on top of that, I try and meet at least 5 new makers.

    So who is the best? Maybe the question should be who is in the top 5.

    The interesting thing is that from guys like Gary Levine, Bob Neal, Paul Basch, me, etc. You will find our answers are all most the same in each category.

    Thats because we have all been around for at least 3 generation of knife makers now. We have got to see them come and go.

    After awhile it gets easy to seperate the really great ones.

    As collectors, you should each have who you feel is the best, based on your criteria. After all it's your collection.
  16. Joss

    Joss Platinum Member Platinum Member

    Nov 20, 2001
    Here is a quote from Jerry Fisk
    That took place during a discussion on this forum on ABS mastersmiths, and whether or not there should be a step further than MS.

    "I have often thought that we needed a step above MS for those who could attain it. My guess would be approx 10% of the Masters could go the step above. Yes it would be difficult. All Masters are not created equal. This would recognize those that could do the work. I personally think it would be a good idea but I do not think the abs needs it quite yet. I think one day it will. Right off hand the only ABS Masters that I could think of that would pass it would be Steve Swarzer, Hudson, Fogg, Newton, Hancock and Dean. There may be a couple of others bumping the gates but not quite there. But again, it is not time yet to do such."

    Just to add to the discussion....

  17. Bill R

    Bill R

    Sep 15, 1999
    Les: I'm glad you responded as I always respect your opinion. I think you are certainly correct in that one should collect what they like first. BTW, who are your top 5?

    Joss: That is a great quote. That is exactly the type of thing I had in mind when I started this thread.

    I completely agree that it is next to impossible to choose a "best" maker or bladesmith. I actually started thinking about this topic this past weekend when I attended the Solvang show and was able to look at some great blades by Yoshindo Yoshihara. His work seems to garner respect from collectors and makers alike.
  18. Joss

    Joss Platinum Member Platinum Member

    Nov 20, 2001
    Y. Yoshihara is a mukansa-rated smith & swordmaker, which means he's so good that he doesn't compete anymore in the annual swordmaking contest. There are others, and I don't know that there's a consensus that he's the best Jpz swordsmith - but he's clearly among the bests. He's mostly the best known in the West.

  19. Keith Montgomery

    Keith Montgomery

    May 9, 2000
    Well Les, being one of those 45 people that frequent the Custom Knife forum, I can tell you that I do know all the names and am familiar with the work of the makers in TAH's list. My love of knives goes back 40 years and I have been really into them for over 30 years.

    Many years ago my favorite makers were Ted Dowell, Jim Pugh, Bob Loveless, Bill Moran, Corbet Sigman, Chubby Hueske, Dwight Towell, Lloyd Hale and Wayne Goddard. As time moved along other makers moved into the spotlight. I still loved the knives of the above makers, but there were now others that were making knives I liked every bit as much. Names like, D.E. Henry, Clyde Fisher, Frank Centofante, Paul Fox, Jess Horn and Ron Lake were added to the list of makers whose knives I would love to own.

    As time has gone by, more and more names have been added to the list. The reason that I mentioned the names I did in the above posts was that these are one that I am familiar with. I have only had the money to buy custom knives in the last few years and the knives I have purchased or researched heavily are the ones from the makers listed above. That does not mean that I would not love to own knives made by the makers that first got me interested in custom knives. Someday I will own at least a couple of them.

    Now, as to who is the best, I have to agree with Les. First we must define the criteria. The best for what purpose? What style of knife are we talking about? Do we consider the best bladesmith to be the one that can make a superb knife no matter what style it is. Once again going back to something that Jerry Fisk posted in an earlier thread, he seemed to think that the best would be those that could do an equally good job of making anything from a folder to a sword.

    If you told me that I had to pick just one maker as the best bladesmith, I would without hesitation pick William F.(Bill) Moran. Not only does he still make absolutely stunning knives, he has also done so much to promote the improvement of the high performance forged blade. He is also the man that re-introduced damascus to the world of knives. When people talk about great bladesmiths, his is always the name that comes first to my mind.

    Well enough of this for now. I am sure I will be back, as this is a topic that I am thoroughly enjoying.
  20. Gus Kalanzis

    Gus Kalanzis Havin' fun, learning and putting up with Bastid. Staff Member Super Mod Moderator

    Oct 4, 1998
    I do not know about the 45 people. On the first page I see threads started by 22 different folks. I do not think I am going to count the posts. I will leave that up to Les. :D

    I would venture to say there are a number of us who could match the style of the knife with the names TAH mentioned from a distance :). I do not think I would have a problem with their later knives. I am embarrassed that I did not know who Y. Yoshihara is, but thanks to you folks I will soon :D

    I like the names in Joss's quote of Jerry also.

    I feel Ron Newton is one of those folks knockin' on that door that Jerry is talking about.

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