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Have knife sales dropped here?

Discussion in 'Shop Talk - BladeSmith Questions and Answers' started by jawilder, Sep 9, 2020.

  1. JamesBro

    JamesBro Gold Member Gold Member

    Aug 21, 2012
  2. JamesBro

    JamesBro Gold Member Gold Member

    Aug 21, 2012
    If a moderator wishes the last post was a screwup and can be erased..I was just reading and wandered into the wrong country
  3. Joshua Fisher

    Joshua Fisher KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Mar 27, 2018
    One thing to keep in mind is that you never know what someone’s costs really are unless they are willing to share, I buy woods in bulk or when I get special deals on figured woods and it greatly reduces costs, it’s also much cheaper to buy wood and have it stabilized at k&g yourself if you have the means to cut blocks and source material. I just got a board of exhibition grade makore that was intended for guitars, I’ve cut into blocks and will get about 20 knife handles from it, after I send them out to be stabilized I’ll have less than $10 per block in cost. The same thing from a retailer or supplier ready to go would be easily $40-$60 per block. So by sourcing and spending a bit of time myself I’ll be able to offer a higher quality handle option at a more competitive price. Sometimes nothing beats that perfect piece that you don’t have to search for and if your making art pieces or high end customs you can afford to do that from a business perspective but if you are making knives intended as tools and targeting a user market and not just collectors then you need to be mindful of ways that you can effect your cost and ultimately your final price. All things being equal if a maker is able to offer the same quality handle material as another maker at a lower price because they put in the work to source it at a better cost can you really fault them?
    Brock Cutlery, Jsega51 and 954Ink like this.
  4. PEU

    PEU Gaucho Knifemaker Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Aug 6, 2006
    A local knifemaker once told me when we were discussing prices: "every knifemaker has his own circus" And what I understood from it was that realities and prices depend not only on the market value of the items for sale, but they also depend on a lot of other things not related to the market.

    So, you may want to try to equalize prices across the knifemaking board and the effort will be futile, it doesn't happen here in Argentina, it won't happen in a market 100x our size such as the USA.

    Its knifemakers who don't sell well (not speaking about you) the ones who want to make a knife cartel with homogenous or standardized prices or price ranges. The ones who run a successful circus don't care, they are happy with their audience and trying constantly to increase it.

  5. 954Ink

    954Ink Gold Member Gold Member Basic Member

    Feb 22, 2020
    Let me start with so many great opinions have been shared on this thread.
    Im an avid collector with a decent hobby budget. I'm also a professional furniture builder. The percentage of knowledgeable clientele seems to be dropping. I believe it takes a lot more energy to convey the subtle differences in finishes that cost substantially more to achieve. I also believe that gun collecting and knife collecting overlap. I teach firearm safety as a hobby (I'm certified) most of the compliments I receive about my carry knives are generally followed by you spent how much! statement. My point in this statement is to reflect that though many people collect knives a small percent collect custom or mid tech knives. Add the declining economy and fear induced gun purchases suddenly this market has cooled. I cant judge any makers who are lowering their prices to stay afloat, my competitors are doing the same. I dont think the lowered prices will affect their long term brand value more so reflective of being in survival mode.
    To reference IG and FB. The hype videos that many companies release regarding their products are substantial in their perception.
    Makers like Gough have lead lots of people here from his youtube videos. Perhaps market saturation is less of problem than people expecting more advertising and social marketing now a days.
    Suddenly a naive consumer believes a certain brand goes above and beyond because they dont understand the industry. The sub forums here do limit a makers ability to broaden their customer base. They also shephard the interested customers to schisms and sects. I see several imo sub par custom makers on FB garnish a tremendous following for their over priced, eccentric creations. They also get bombarded with an extreme amount of tire kickers so the trade off between exposure to customers vs tire kickers seems hard to differentiate. Several small makers have other people handle those accounts to filter out the customers from inquiries. Does the additional cost and time balance to more money? Also the potential for negative comments and perceptions based on not responding fast enough or with the desired opinion.
    To wrap up this mess train. I believe the reduced market exposure coupled with moe diligent collectors on BF might offset the exposure from FB or IG.
    Brock Cutlery, daizee, ArchVV and 2 others like this.
  6. Jason Fry

    Jason Fry KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Jun 5, 2008
    "The ones who run a successful circus don't care, they are happy with their audience and trying constantly to increase it."

    I like this approach. Kind of like when I tournament fished, the competition wasn't the other anglers, it was the fish. Our concern should be for meeting the needs of our buyers and increasing our potential pool of buyers. The competition is with myself: how good of a knife can I make today?
  7. weo

    weo KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Sep 21, 2014
    I like this, thanks. This could be a lesson on life in general.
    Busto, Branson1369 and PEU like this.
  8. Cushing H.

    Cushing H. Gold Member Gold Member

    Jun 3, 2019
    So ... a couple things.....

    why the repeated comments that “hobbiest knives Are inferior to non-hobbiest knives “ ( paraphrasing a little). Certainly there are knives out there made by people just as a hobby that are xtremely well made? (For the record, I am NOT making that claim about mine ... but almost everyone I have given knives to comment that they are sharp, and just don’t seem to get dull...)

    second - some of the blades, and especially handle construction, I have seen out there must take an incredible amount of time to achieve ... regardless of whether you are a “hobbiest” or a “pro”. How can you ever put a consistent dollar value on that time and attention? (I cannot). To me it would still come down to Supply/demand market forces, along with your ability to market yourself (Which I guess is the same as saying know and be satisfied with your “circus”...)
  9. Storm W

    Storm W KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Feb 19, 2019
    Your example basically reinforces what I was trying to say. Perhaps I can get out in the weeds and be less than clear at times. Lol. What I am trying to say is that there are enough hobby maker who do very good work who do not value their own labor and more or less do a mild up charge on the material used. One maker (i forget who) did a nice video on the cost of making a knife. For just a regular hunter using standard materials it cost around $40 to make a knife and that was several years ago. This number doesn't factor in overhead and equipment cost. Something as simple as a kitchen knife is going to cost more because of the larger surface area. If someone does not make a large quantity of knives the equipment cost add probably 50% at least. If on $150 knife you then have to buy bulk premium wood and then age it until the moisture is right, break it down and send it out to be stabilized to compete thats tough. It basically creates competition with low to no markup for labor. When make something we add value to a item but if the labor costs is never added the transaction it just becomes a resale product with no added value. That does mean that people who do this are evil or even wrong. Its a free country. They should be aware of how it affects the industry.

    The bottom sub $150 range doesn't compete with even high end production knives. It is worrisome because if the knife is good you can't compete and if thats a real value for the knife it is a defective product and could damage the reputation of the industry. My thoughts are that its a great way to tell people that they are getting a special deal and only paying cost. Everyone loves it when they can get something special because they know a guy.

    The $150-$300 range is fine but if it is all done with ultra premium materials it makes it impossible to compete. My thought is like the first category,if you are doing it for a friend let them know they are getting a special deal. They won't like it less. If you just want to sell really nice knives for that price you will know why some people get bent out of shape. But thats fine, you weren't doing it for them anyway.

    The last group are the people who want to charge more but they are wanting to charge more but don't think they can. The community could make a resource for makers to get a idea of what their pieces are worth. This would be good for collecting as well since their would be more products at a better price and really let the market shape the market.
  10. Horsewright

    Horsewright KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Oct 4, 2011
    I disagree with this thought. A small business owner's time REALLY is money. Nothing wrong with doing alternative sourcing of materials in fact, really cool! But ya must charge the going rate. By the time ya find it, get it to you, process it etc and make it into a usable handle material in this example, you have way more than $10 into it. You have your time in it and your time must have a $ value. Many years ago I read numerous studies published by UC Davis on small business failures and success. At the time I was starting my first small ranch. Wanted to make it work and it did, probably because of this reading. Their research had proven that the number one reason for a small business failure was the owner not putting a $ value on their time. Sooner or later that catches up if ya don't. Example:

    I traded a kitchen knife for this stack of elk sheds:


    This is a 4x8' table so thats a pretty sizable stack of elk sheds there. How many handle scales? Hundreds. So I've got pennies in a set of scales. But by the time I cut em up for storage cause I need my workbench back:


    Then cut em up for scales later when I need them:


    Sand em flat and then dye em:


    Finish em after the dye:


    All that has to happen before they are ready to put on a knife. I've got way more time in them then just pennies a set and I charge accordingly.


    Lately I've been paying my daughter to do a lot of this scale prep work for me on her days off. Cost me two $100 bills but I have over a hundred sets of elk scales ready to go. Paying her @$20 an hour is cheaper than me doing it and meanwhile I'm doing something else that makes more money. In knife making I feel that the customer is paying you for your time/labor. That is your profit on each and every knife. Ya can't give away your time, ya just can't. Pretty good circus around here, I can watch all three rings at the same time from this seat. Course around here maybe its not a circus, more like pushing the cattle in or something:

  11. JTknives

    JTknives Blade Heat Treating www.jarodtodd.com Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Jun 11, 2006
    I agree with horsewright. I never fully understood the saying “time is money” until I started getting busy with the heat treating business. We only have X amount of time and my time has a different value then say my wife’s or my new helper. No I’m not saying my wife’s time is worth less then me. I’m saying we each have a range of things we are best at. It was hard for me at first to delegate out operations. I have always been the guy that wants to do it all. But my time is more valuable programming, drawing, and plasma cutting knives with heat treating tossed in. My wife is a master at tempering as well as all the paperwork and shipping. She is also a wicked surface grinder.

    Anyways what I’m getting at is time is money so use your time as efficiently as possible and let others do the same. Handle scales is a great example but in our shop it’s surface grinding. This has been our one bottle neck that we just cant open up. We had to adjust prices to reflect that. I never realized how much time it sucked out of my day until I hired someone to run it. I quickly realized I was paying my employee more then I was making to surface grind the blades. This was not including power or overhead. We are talking straight cash money for his time vs the charge to the customer. Surface grinding takes along time.

    Where was I going with this, oh yeah time is money so the trick is learning where Your time is best spent and what’s best to let others do for you. This is what was grown our business to where it is today.

    PS I wish we had more conversations like this on BF. I like getting down and gritty with the details and seeing others deep thoughts.
    bikerector, 954Ink and DustinY like this.
  12. Joshua Fisher

    Joshua Fisher KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Mar 27, 2018
    Wood and antler definitely have different processing times and I agree I charge accordingly when I do use antler. You can buy good premium boards that are dried and don’t need to be stored long term, the exact example I used was a board that I got on sale while I was getting some bocote that I normally use, the board took me 5 minutes to cut into over 20 blocks, it will take 5 more to package it up and I’ll send it out with the rest of my mail going out so not much time in that when it gets back to me it will take me a minute per block to resaw into scales then another 1-2 minutes to flatten each side of the scales so each block with have 5 minutes of time by the point it’s ready to use like another other material I buy that’s ready to put on a knife. Working in batches as you know saves time and is more efficient. I do agree that is someone’s using The most high end materials and selling the knife at cost just for the fun of making it it can seem hard to complete but people like that aren’t putting out knives like that everyday it may take weeks for them to finish it or weeks in between selling a knife here or there so in the end If you are making knives full time you aren’t competing with that.
  13. Joshua Fisher

    Joshua Fisher KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Mar 27, 2018
    I agree that conversations like this are really good for all of those involved at learning more about the process and how others look at things, for me forging tangs flat and keeping the forged look and getting handle scales to fit up good was a huge bottle neck so I changed it up and started doing most of my production work by stock removal and doing more artistic pieces or bigger pieces by forging and charging accordingly for the time it takes me with my setup to flatten the tang while keeping a forged look on the ricasso. I keep thinking of doing some hidden tang forged knives but I know without a mill that slotting guards will become the new bottle neck so my brain tells me the simple answer is buy a mill or in your case a second surface grinder, setup across from the first grinder one operator can work both machines one left handed and one right handed. Joking aside I actually have operated machinery like that when another employee was sick, with two of the same machines producing parts I’d load one machine and get it going then over to the second and by the time it was going and I was back to the first I was unloading and the cycle continued, supervisor couldn’t believe that we were able to keep production up.
    daizee and Storm W like this.
  14. Cushing H.

    Cushing H. Gold Member Gold Member

    Jun 3, 2019
    Horsewright, what you have always posted long since made it clear you are working and thinking like a business - you too JT, since I have seen you expand and work on how to do that. Many others have not (and I have been yelled at when I pointed that out. :-(. )

    I might add that there is an issue of SCALE here. Horsewright, you have somehow managed to create a situation where you make a LOT of knives with a huge material variability (and keep the quality up) ... JT, you have been steadily increasing the quantity of blades you process.

    I have to wonder how easy it is to make a small business Really viable By relying on a small quantity Of really expensive things, versus a larger quantity (Which really highlights the time-is-money issue) of somewhat less expensive things (my earlier comments re the need to market your stuff still holding...)?
    DustinY likes this.
  15. DustinY

    DustinY KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Dec 29, 2016
    I think i'm starting to understand Wheeler's point of view more and more (at least what i perceive to be his point of view), and i don't want to prescribe intentions to him without knowing him or his situation, but i'll explain what i mean. I think he's a fixed plant mechanic for a paper mill - probably makes really good money if his career path reflects our mechanics here in the mining industry (i'm out in AZ). Anyone here can climb the ladder to 30$-40$ an hour, with stuff like call outs being worth 6 1/2 hours just for answering the phone, and time and half after you're on site (multiple calls a night can happen, and on holidays, you're starting to see how that can snowball). But if you're dedicated to creating ultimate show pieces, it seems almost impossible as one man to pump that out (2-3 a week to make a decent salary, cover overhead, etc etc). I could be wrong, but this seems to be the reality, this will be my free time thing, but i don't know if it could every transition into a full time thing (maybe after my M.S if i manage to achieve that, hopefully, where i can build a name around my product or transition into folders, idk).

    Fun topic to talk about, especially as a hobbyist.
    Brock Cutlery likes this.
  16. razor-edge-knives

    razor-edge-knives Moderator Moderator Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Apr 3, 2011
    Depends who you are... You may only have to do 1 a month once you build a following :)

    Lee Lerman just sold one for over 10k on IG
    DustinY likes this.
  17. DustinY

    DustinY KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Dec 29, 2016

    Certainly room for nuance in the discussion, but that's why I mentioned building a following, moving to folders, or getting my M.S and attempting it after that.
    razor-edge-knives likes this.
  18. 954Ink

    954Ink Gold Member Gold Member Basic Member

    Feb 22, 2020
    Assessing your labor rate is crucial for a business owner. I'm about to hit 10 years in business (thank god) and have learned that it's better to turn down a project than work at a loss. After you have broke down your costs you should be able to line item things out so you have a perceived price for your products. After that you'll know your true profit margin. It's a weird thing to go from an apprentice making $9 bucks an hour to a wood worker who makes $55 an hour but after you accept what you need to make and add up the variables you will be successful.
  19. Cushing H.

    Cushing H. Gold Member Gold Member

    Jun 3, 2019
    I think you need to be careful, though, to distinguish what you **want** to make in terms of your hourly rate, versus what you **can** Make (which will be determined by the market).

    I know the dollar values are very different ... but I have known quite a few engineers who have many years of experience, and want to try consulting ... and say that with their experience they should get something like $150/hr. Most companies are looking to pay something like $60/hr ... and there are a lot of younger engineers who say “that is just fine with me”. Guess who gets the jobs?

    or ... there was a guy who was running a lawn mowing/ snow removal service who kept increasing and increasing his charges (beyond what others were charging). When asked why - he would say “I need to make a living!”. I suspect he both had overly high expectations for profit, and did not manage his expenses well. He eventually went out of business.

    I guess the point is that your personal worth per hour is not that easy to define, and frequently is not within your control...
    DustinY likes this.
  20. not2sharp

    not2sharp Gold Member Gold Member

    Jun 29, 1999
    When you first start out your personal worth is $Zero. You toss a few knives up for sale at $150.00 and get some tentative bites. If your stuff is any good, then after you do that 2-3 time, you will start getting inquiries. Soon you will start building out an order book, and as the backlog builds you raise the price to $175...and so on. Eventually, your quality and customer base may command the kind of income that you believe you need; otherwise you go out of business. It is that simple.

    Jason Fry likes this.

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