Custom VS Handmade

Gus Kalanzis

Havin' fun, learning and putting up with Bastid.
Staff member
Super Mod
Oct 4, 1998
After reading lots of great nominations in the awards forum. I am curious about the different categories and our responses. With all due respect to some very fine makers (including Mad Dog and Chris Reeve) I still consider a custom knife one that is made to the specifications of a customer in concert with the maker from the ground up. That is a little different from what could be considered a handmade knife that I might choose to by at a show or from a maker who has knives available for sale. Any thoughts on the subject would be appreciated. Even if they are not the same as mine

A custom knife may not necessarily be handmade and a handmade knife may not necessarily be custom. If, for instance, a maker creates a knife completely by hand (no power tools) without any prior input from a customer who wanted that knife made, then IMHO, that's not a custom handmade knife. I think that a custom knife would need some input from the person commissioning the project in order for it to be deemed a custom knife. If it was ready made and no additional work was done to it before being delivered to it's propective owner, then that knife was pre-produced. Just my 2 cents.

I agree there are damn few custom knives that are 100% customized for each individual buyer. Also, there are even fewer knives that are really 100% handmade. Don't even try to resolve these issues ...



First off, if the knife is totally handmade I consider it a "custom handmade" regardless of who it was made for. Because at least to start out with, the knife IS made for a specific person: the MAKER.

Example: The Mad Dog Panther was originally Kevin's "personal fighter". He now makes more for other people. He recently made a shorter version (Cougar) for a specific buyer and as far as I know, that won't be the last Cougar. Working closely with Donna he rolled the Voodoo Child, an altered Mako with a second edge and longer thinner grip. Obviously "custom handmade" by anybody's standard, right? But there's gonna be 30 more, so what the hell do you call those?!? Esp. since no two are exactly alike, each blade AND grip is hand-ground and fitted (to each other, not the buyer although that service is available for any Mad Dog).

Jesus. Sorry guys, I can't see any rational reason for differenciating between "handmade" and "handmade custom". The *knife* you end up with is identical in quality.

That said, I think there ARE advantages to having a handmade, hand-fitted "personal fighter". Donna has one, Kevin has one, Hilton Yam has at LEAST one, Dale Seago too, now *I* have one and *love* it. But that aspect won't have that deep personal value to anyone else and shouldn't be judged by it.

Jim March
For what it is worth,

I am friends with a guy who I consider a "custom" Knife maker. He makes knives to order. Some people may be very specific about waht they want, some may just give a price range as guide and he takes it for there.

He doesn't make folders, he doesn't make very many "tactical" knives. In fact, most of his knives are used as charity auction items, awards or are put into private collections. few of his knives are ever seen on the market, though people have paid 5 figures for his work a few times that I know of in the past year.

With that background, I have failed to see how a knife that is produced by anyone by any means in great numbers (even dozens)can be considered "custom." I understand the marketing appeal of the term, but there are other nice descriptions that I think are more accurate: Handmade, high quality, limited edition, collectable, whatever, but not truly "Custom."

Jim March,

I'm curious. What is your definition of handmade? Do you consider Chris Reeves' knives handmade? Along the same lines, do you consider them custom?


The two are not related. Custom refers to the design and handmade refers to the process by which it is made.

Apparently it depends on what your definition of is is.
The official definition of CUSTOM: Made to the specifications of an individual purchaser.

Or of course you can be like our President and change the definition of any word to suit your purpose.

Rob Simonich made me a knife of my design and my specs...that is custom. If he makes another for you, just like mine it is not custom, handmade yes, but not custom.

[This message has been edited by DC (edited 22 December 1998).]

Chris Reeve uses some machine processes. Each one is hand-inspected, often hand polished and in the case of folders, hand-tuned. Or at least, that's my understanding. If so he's right on the extreme upper boundry of "production" and functionally almost zero different from a true handmade. Busse is supposed to be very similar. In both cases there's a lot of machine processes involved.

Mad Dog experimented with this path and "backed off" due to quality issues. The only remnant is some machine-cutting of the blank outlines on smaller pieces.

Personally, I'm not a collector. If there's two similar knives available at the same price range, same functionality I'm going to buy based on quality, ergos, functionality and customer support without worrying about "high end production" versus "handmade". Right? Handmade Dozier small FBs are just about the same price as a smaller Chris Reeve FB, and if I was shopping in that market I have no idea which I'd pick.

Jim March
As much as I like Mad Dog's knives, in no way do I consider mine customs. A FEW people may have stroked him into making customs for them, but if I or any mere mortal that he did not consider a good friend called up and asked for even a miniscule variation, we would not get it. He won't even do something so little as to grind a blade without a choil for someone or any other teeny weeny customization (name your choice of slight variation), because he does not like HIS knives that way, and therefore he will not make them for you that way. This is is NO WAY meant to bash Kevin, it is just a flat out fact and he would probably be the first to agree. I like him, and I like his knives just the way he makes them, but that doesn't mean I will call them something that they aren't.
A custom knife to me begins at the point where I can call up the maker and AT LEAST heve them put small changes on their model to suit me. From there, you get into knives where you can even design them from the ground up, but at the very least, custom to me means that you called up, said what you wanted, even if it is extremely close to the makers preferred design, and THEN the custom maker makes the knife just for you.

One basic standard is, if the maker makes the knife BEFORE YOU EVEN ORDER IT, it would be kinda tough to call it a "custom".
A "well made", "hand made", "benchmade", "high end production", "low volume production", "hand made production" etc or any variant of those terms may apply to such fine knives, but "custom" they ain't.

That's just mine humble opinion, and you know what...I could even be wrong!