Is it really hand made?

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Jul 22, 1999
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Hi. I'm relatively new to custom knife collecting and I'm new to this forum. I don't know whether or not this subject has been recently discussed but here is my question: I'm wondering how much hand work or hand controlled machine work does a custom knifemaker have to put into a knife for it to be considered hand made? I could be wrong but I get the impression that some "custom" knife makers have a lot of their knife parts CNC machined and/or laser cut and still call the knife "hand made." Any insight into this issue would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.
 
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Speaking for the knifemakers that I know almost all of them hand make the entire knife by hand except for hardware items such as screws.

The very rare one who does large volumes and must keep closely to a pattern will occasionally use a waterjet cutter to profile parts but the final shaping and grinding is always done by the maker himself by hand.

Perhaps a half dozen knifemakers in North America have access to CNC machines and use them on a regular basis. These designs are easy to spot.

If in doubt simply ask the maker most will not lie about this.

The use of water jet or laser to cut out blades is insignificant as it represents only about 15 minutes to 30 minutes per knife at most out of several hours minumum to make an average knife.

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george
www.tichbourneknives.com
[email protected]

 

Take a look at the latest (October, of all things) issue of BLADE for an article on the subject of how custom some "custom" knives are.

It is, of course, an apologia for the practices of some of the high-enders in the rarified atmosphere of the very fortunate "people will pay for anything I make" few.

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Regards,
Desert Rat



[This message has been edited by Desert Rat (edited 31 July 1999).]
 
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I think that there is no need to apologize for access to high tech knifemaking equipment. This industry has made huge leaps in the last few years thanks to makers pushing the envelope so to speak, unfortunately the only way to do so is to invest in more and more equipment to be able to carry out the complex work that the public has come to expect.

The technology gap that has developed is not readily obvious to the general public but apparently small items such as tightly fitted guards are almost impossible to do without a milling machine, inlaid materials in a handle require a milling machine and so on. Semi factory production runs where every knife is exactly the same require precision equipment that can repeat the same operation to plus or minus .001" therefor digital readouts become necessary but the public expects this precision and repeatability.

It is not difficult to see why some makers put every spare dollar into newer and more sophisticated equipment, simply to keep up. This is also the reason why more makers do not make folders. They have become so precise that without the equipment a maker can't deliver the quality that the public expects.

So Rat this is the reason that makers in the so called rarified high end use the exotic equipment. They got there by putting out a product that is superior to the competition and in order to maintain that lead they must invest in the technology and so on and so on.

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george
www.tichbourneknives.com
[email protected]

 

A very tight guard can be done without much in the way of equipment -- did a couple this afternoon, but it sure would be easier with a machine shop.

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Regards,
Desert Rat

 
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Come on Rat join the 20th century, time's running out.

Just kidding of course but that is the reason I purchased my little milling drill press. Nothing that I do is high tech because I am reluctant to get into anything that I can't do as well as the competition.
After all when the man at the next table is Greg Lightfoot any folders that I put on my table will be compared to his and without the skill and essential equipment to match his product mine will come off a poor second.
The result is that unless I can compete on an even basis I will not make folders.

By putting product on the table that is as good or better than the competition a maker will improve his standing in the knifemaking community, not doing so will do great harm to his reputation.

I am trying to make this a full time profession and I can't risk my reputation by doing less than quality work at a level that the market has come to expect so I have to invest in equipment to achieve that quality level.

If the average quality level is raised by some new invention we all will have to meet that level somehow or risk losing our customers.

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george
www.tichbourneknives.com
[email protected]

[This message has been edited by george tichbourne (edited 02 August 1999).]

[This message has been edited by george tichbourne (edited 02 August 1999).]
 
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I don't consider CNC machining to be "cheating" at the surface. If the maker is doing the programming, and it's a one-off item, then I would by all means still consider it a handmade. The maker simply chose a more advanced tool. If the design is used to mass produce in shop fashion, then I would remove the "handmade" designation.
 

hso

Platinum Member
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Dec 16, 1998
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I think the article in the most recent Blade approaches this question well. My personal rule has been if the maker is the only one that touches the knife, excluding heat treat, during it's production then it is certainly custom. Decoration and imbelishment by others doesn't count against the knife being custom, but if the maker performs these tasks it certainly counts in their favor.

If the maker actually holds the tool or the knife during all the steps of production, again excepting heat treat, then I consider it a hand made custom knife.

John W. Smith in Kentucky makes hand made custom knives, starting out by cutting out the blank on a Craftsman band saw.

I hope that contributes to the discussion.

Mike


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TANSTAAFL
 
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I agree with Brian. The design input should be by the maker even if programmable equipment is used.

Mike your comment re embellishment by the maker adding more than if it were by others is well taken and I endorse it wholeheartedly. Makers who use outside scrimshanders and engravers should only get part of the credit. Where makers do their own scrim and engraving however the quality should be up to the market norm to be deemed acceptable.

I would add one other outside service that is as acceptable as heat treating, lost wax metal casting, as long as the maker has carved the wax himself.

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george
www.tichbourneknives.com
[email protected]



[This message has been edited by george tichbourne (edited 02 August 1999).]
 
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Whew,

Talk about us vs. them. Let's be real, given the cost of doing business and, frankly, just living today, is it a surprise that anyone looks for a way to diminish the tedious part of their work? If having blades cut out with laser or waterjet cutting technology gives someone more time to make knives I say DO IT.
People who don't have access to these tools or services can get up on a soapbox and raise cain but the reality is that what the consumer really buys is the mental effort that goes into a lot of knives.

Look at the knives Michael Walker or Roy Appleton make using the vey, very expensive wire EDM technology to implement their design efforts - w/o that level of precision those knives just wouldn't be possible. Most of us can't afford either the knives or the technology but that doesn't diminish what is accomplished by those who do, does it?

Knifemakers and designers who have the skill to use these tools should do it and move the cutting edge along. BTW Since many makers now buy damascus from specialist producers is that going to be an on-going debate also?
 
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Mar 1, 1999
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Just a comment, for me I could care less if the knife was made by one person or by a hundred people so long as it is a good knife. For example, if one person makes a knife, and 10 people make the same knife using advanced technology and achieving more precision, then I say give me the knife made by the ten people. Chris Reeve Knives come to mind. All I want is the better knife, regardless of how it came to be. But that's just the way I see it. A lot of you want a custom knife because it is just that, a custom knife made by one person with the person's hard work and soul behind that knife. But I just think, "Oh no, another person touched your knife before you were done making it! It's no longer custom." idea is a little extreme. I mean who cares if the blade stock was cut by someone else? The maker still has to grind it to a finished blade.

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Johnny
[]xxxxxx[]=============>
 
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I think the whole issue of "hand made" misses the point. Every knife requires tools to make and the kind of tools shouldn't matter. Many artistic knives require high tech equipment. These are no less "hand made" because of that.

Further, the one-maker concept doesn't seem to make sense either. Would you require the maker to smelt the iron ore or shoot the stag? I wouldn't consider a knife made by a talented team of people any less "handmade".

What is important is how unique the knife is. A beautiful knife which is the only one of its kind in all the world, which represents the creativeness of the maker(s), and which has perfect fit and finish is a knife I am going to value highly.


 
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Let's be serious here. Does anyone honestly believe that the cooks' line in any restaraunt can compare with a meal personally prepared by a master chef? That an engine tuned at Pit Pros, with the finest electronic equipment can compare with one tuned by a master mechanic personally?

If mere mechanics and precision are all that one wishes, then there are myriad shortcuts available for realizing these things. Enjoy your Microtech - their forum is over at KF. But we're talking about art here. We're talking about a master craftsman able to adjust a mechanism simply by it's feel, or to tune a blade's temper by it's sight and sound and smell.

I don't want an un-named assistant at a production shop checking my pivot assembly. I don't want someone just putting an edge on my knife and then fixing their mark to it.

Yes, it does matter who forged the steel (I will purchase knives with 2nd party made damascus, if I know the smith), and if the maker procured his own natural handle materials, then even more of his soul is imparted to the knife.

Original artwork is imbued with a certain trace of the maker's spirit. While I'll pay a certain amount for precision (RARELY more than $200), I only spend custom money when I feel that I'm purchasing art.
 
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I'm fairly new to knife collecting and this forum, but I can see something happening here. Someone is asking for a standard to measure up to. In the mean time, everybody is trying to give his own opinion on the matter, ranging from extremist who wouldn't fork over money for a exceptionally well made blade just 'cause some knifemaker had his assistant cut the blank, to the chap who doesn't mind that every Tom, Dick and Harry at has had a hand in the production, so long as the knife was designed by, and finally inspected by, the guy who put his name on the blade.

Is there really a regulatory standard that says how much of the knife should be handcrafted, or whether handtools were used instead of computer controlled machines, or how much of the work has to be done by the knife maker whose name is on the blade? I don't think so. If there is, then I suggest that perhaps we do need the government to hold our hand every step of our lives and dictate to us what we should or should not do.

We are free men with our own will and intelligence, so I guess that means that we should make our own choices. So, Don G, I hope that you are not looking for some sort of regulation, but instead are able to take the opinion of everyone who has posted and form your own opinion.

My own opinion is that for a knife to be "handmade", the knifemaker has to be directly in charge of the most important aspects of the production process. This means that he has to design the blade. Since the steel used and the way it is heat treated are very important to the knife's performance, I believe that he should be directly incharge of this process. The polishing, grinding and final edge should be done by him, since unskilled use of power grinders and polishers can ruin the heat treatment of the blade. I don't care if the knife maker uses the latest high-tech, computer controlled techno-marvel, or an old cast iron hammer and anvil, so long as his work is of a high standard and he is always in control of the process. In fact, I would probably prefer the guy using the lastest high-tech gizmo (if he knows how to use it properly), since he can exert tighter quality control.

If the knife maker wants to call his stuff "custom", instead of "handmade", then the additional criteria would be that the design must be limited in it's production run, and that any special decorations (inlays, etching, etc.) must be done by him.

I guess that concludes my sermon. Hope you manage to figure out what is really important to you.

__________
Regards,
Steelwolf
 
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Good milling is an art and should be appreciated as such. So is good freehand grinding, good filework, or anything else. It all requires tools and the skills to use them.

Personally, I like to see nice "low tech" handwork and don't enjoy a complex milling job as much. But that's just my preference - I have respect for either. My only concern is that the factories have all the best equipment and their work is getting better every year (esecially in folders). It's already hard to tell some makers' folders from factory pieces. So I do feel that makers should be focussing their efforts on embellishment, super-fine finishing, and exotic designs and materials, which factories will never be able to duplicate. I respect the work of people who make very precisely machined, basic folders like Pat Crawford (who makes some incredible fancy pieces as well) or simple, straightforward using fixed-blades like Bob Dozier, but I feel that their market will evaporate as factories acquire the ability to produce nearly identical knives.

As for the "one maker" idea, I do believe that there should be some standard. I recently let a friend into my shop to teach him what little I know, and he has profiled blades and done rough work on knives that I will eventually put my mark on. That doesn't bother me, but it's also part of the reason that I made my shop "Little Bear Knives" and not "Drew Gleason Knives" - I wanted to bring in more people later. I think that the customer should ask how the knife was made and by whom and the maker(s) should be up-front with the answers. This settles any questions and is also an enjoyable part of the whole process of getting a handmade knife.

On a final note, I'm more upset by the sketchy definition of the word "custom" than I am by that of "handmade." A custom knife is one in which the customer has input into the design and/or materials before it is produced. Many makers, myself included, have come to use "custom" to refer even to knives that we make to our own preferences and then try to find buyers for. These are handmade; they are not custom. I'd like to turn thois trend around and start reserving "custom" for that special situation when a knifemaker acts not as the sole progenitor of a knife but as the bridge between a knife-lover's fantasy and a beautiful piece of reality.

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-Drew Gleason
Little Bear Knives
 

amacks

Gold Member
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Oct 13, 1998
Messages
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An example of a knife partially done by CNC, but still art:
josedeb.jpg

Aaron
ps every thread should be illustrated

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Don't forget to pay your taxes...they eventually become my knives
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[This message has been edited by amacks (edited 05 August 1999).]
 
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I think the best examples of knives made with state of the art machinery would be Mike Walker and Ray Appleton. Walkers knives are so well made and beautiful that they are constantly being shown at various Art Museums.They also design and build the machinery they use so theres are not only hand made but hand made with hand made machinery.
Bob
 
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Let me throw in another opinion about the difference between hand made and custom. I view a custom knife as one of a kind. As soon as a knife maker begins producing a particular "model" of knife then that is a production knife regardless of how it is made in my opinion. There are production knives made entirely by hand and production knives made by CNC robots. There are production knives with very small production and long waiting lists and there are production knives that leave the factory by the thousands. There are high quality production knives and low quality ones.

Many custom knifemakers who also make production knives are willing to modify these models to suit a particular customer's desires. Then the production knife becomes a custom knife in my view just as though it was designed and hand made as a one off product for some particular customer.

I own some nice Benchmade and Spyderco knives that were customized by Frank Recupero and I view them as custom even though they began life in a production factory. I have some very well made and beautiful knives from Chris Reeve and William Henry that can only be described as production knives despite the hand work involved in their manufacture and the prices they command. These makers won't modify a knife for a customer or make one to a customer's specification. They are small scale, high quality production knife manufacturers. I'm not criticizing their products, obviously, I'm just removing them from the definition of custom.

I like to separate the method of manufacture from the issue of "custom." Custom means one off-specially made or modified for a customer. It has nothing to do with how the knife was made in my opinion. Take care.

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Fred
Knife Outlet
www.knifeoutlet.com

 

Les Robertson

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This is not a Us V Them thing. First, there is no such thing as a "handmade" knife, in the literal sense of the word. All knives are made with tools.

Now, this being said, is there a difference between someone using a band saw or having the blade laser cut, water jet, CNC, etc. The answer is yes.

Having the blade laser cut, water jet cut, CNC, will do two things for the maker and ultimately the customer.

First, using any of these methods will provide the maker with a cleaner more accurate "blank" to start with. Remember, none of the aforementioned techniques "grind" the blade.

Second, because the maker is not using a band saw or some other method, he/she is not wasting their time doing "Monkey Work" as in "you could train a monkey to do that work".
This should lower the cost of each knife made. Hopefully, the savings will be passed onto the customer.

For the most part Custom now comes with two definitions. First, the literal word, meaning it was a one of a kind or custom ordered piece. The second and more common meaning, it is a category of knives.

Like it or not, the true test of any makers work in this now "Globalized" market, is the aftermarket.

While there are 10 - 20% of the buyers out there who buy for the thrill of collecting with no thoughts of the future value of their knife.

However, reality is, 80-90% of the buyers, will get rid of most of their knives, either by selling or trading. This process both annoys and baffels makers. Makers, this is not a personal attack on you, collectors, are just that and therefore are always looking for a way to add a new piece to their collections.

The amount of makers that are entering the market place right now is tremendous. Most will not last 5 years.

This will be for 1 or more of the following reasons.

1) Their work does not improve at a rapid pace.

2) Their work costs more than it should

3) They do not advertise or market their knives correctly or at all.

4) They make the same knife as 100 other makers.

5) They lack the technology or ability to compete "successfully" in the open market.

Don't belive me? Take out Knives 99 and Knives 94 and look through the maker directory. You will be amazed at the amount of makers who are no longer listed.

Some die or retire, but for most, they just couldnt sell enough knives to make the business pay for it's self.

Why couldnt they make the business pay for it's self, refer to 1-5.

Which makers will be successful and which won't. Actually, once you have been buying and selling knives for about 14 years, it get s pretty easy to figure out which will make it and which won't.

This is no joke. When I go to shows I take a book with me. I put a makers name in it. I talk to him, ask him some questions and check prices. If the prices are appropriate and he answers the questions correctly, I keep his name. If not I put a line through it.

Generally, I get these guys within the first 3 years of making knives. Not one of the 372 makers has made it past 5 years.

Don't get me wrong, this has nothing to do with me. I have no influence on these individuals, as I don't buy any knives from them. These makers are doomed from the start.

Yes, some of these makers are still making knives today. No, I won't tell you who they are. Never ask a magician how a trick works.

Remember, buy what you like!



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Les Robertson
Moderator
Robertson's Custom Cutlery
http://www.robertsoncustomcutlery.com/rcc/makers.shtml
I thought I was wrong once, but I was mistaken.
 
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