My Knife Making Journey

David Mary

pass the mustard - after you cut it
Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider
Jul 23, 2015
Greetings friends, I am going to lay it all on the line here. Expect this post to be fleshed out as time goes on, but I have been thinking about a lot of these things for a while now, and have thought to post it up, but never quite knew how to word it all. I still don't so bear with me.

Okay, I started making knives in 2015, while living as a tenant in the basement of a long time family friend. I had nothing but a cheap Mastercraft work bench, and bench grinder, and a few miscellaneous tools. At the time I was so green I didn't even use a respirator. I bought blanks on eBay and made handles for them, and then learned to make Kydex sheaths.

Fast forward a year and a half or so, and I started making my own blanks from found steel in the form of sawmill blades, and eventually bought a bar of 1084. All the while I was using a super slow 4 x 36, and it would take me eight hours of grinding to get something that made a Busse look like a scalpel.

I was already a member of Bladeforums by that time, but didn't understand the immense scope of how powerful a resource, and how integral a community it is. Had I only tapped in sooner, I might be an established maker already with a proper shop instead of a 6 x 6 shed outside my basement apartment.

I got the idea to try and sell my knives, and in late 2019 I purchased my first Knifemaker/Craftsman/Service Provider membership, and made a few sales. It was exhilarating! People were messaging me back and telling me how much they liked what I had made, and it almost felt like a dream. But it was really happening, and I wanted more. I have always loved knives, ever since I was a child. Sadly, I had no mentor in my life back then who was able to identify what my real calling was; I didn't even know knife making was a thing you could do. But late bloomer though I am, now I have a way to make an honest living creating something that can both make another person's life easier and hopefully bring them some joy as well.

And then at the start of 2020 I was laid off of my job, but not before I had invested in a bunch of AEB-L, some used sawmill blades, and a ton of handle materials, including those 11 lb boxes of G10 and Micarta end cuts that usaknifemaker sometimes sells. I was at a crossroads. The HR people from work were trying to push us through a process of applying for government stimulus money, but I do not believe in a free ride. When I was in my mid-twenties, and unemployed for longer than I ever had been since starting my adult working life, I actually went to apply for welfare. But during the meeting, something felt off, and while I don't remember the exact wording in the contract I was being asked to sign, I do distinctly remember that it felt like I was basically signing my life and any independence away. So I got up and left the meeting without signing anything.

I went from job to job, never finding real satisfaction or a sense of purpose or fulfillment in anything. Barback, bouncer, cooking, dishwasher, warehouse, factory, call center, roofing labor, chicken catcher....... Most of the jobs were tolerable, but in most jobs there was eventually some kind of moral compromise implied or required. For example, some call centers actually encouraged me to lie to customers about their services or set false expectations just to get them off the phone!

So back to the lay-off, and the proffered "free government money": I got up out of the meeting, and said no, I will not sign these. And they said you know if you don't, then the employer won't do the matching for you and you won't get .... whatever everyone else was getting. I said "Good, I don't want it."

By that time I had already lived here, and had been pursuing knife making as a hobby for five years or so, though I was admittedly quite a slow learner up to then, having not tapped in to a lot of info that I could have. Nevertheless I became more active on Bladeforums, and spent more time in the shop in a month than I probably had in the previous year. And to my amazement, every knife I put up for sale in early 2020 sold within a day or two.

Now that is not to say that my knives were perfect, or even great, but I seem to have found a community of people with an appreciation for the journey, and a willingness to be a part of it. I look at all my customers, especially those from that modest beginning of my ... career? ... as basically putting me through school. Because 2020 was pretty hard, financially. I was still working out my process, doing a lot of trial and error, and trying to make something good with limited resources and equipment. Did you know I have been using the same $300 grinder that I bought back in 2019 all this time? And I didn't even use a drill press until 2021, because I had convinced myself I didn't have enough room on the bench for it (yeah, I was wrong, and the addition of the drill press improved my workflow and quality basically overnight).

What else can I say? I have called myself a "novice knifemaker" a few times on the forum, and one of my earliest repeat customers has told me that he doesn't think that is the case. He said, why say that, is that how you want to be labeled? And my response to him is the same now as it was then: I only want to be labeled as what I am and continue improving from there. Knife making has been very much a two steps forward and one step back proposition for me. I believe I am reasonably intelligent, but by no means a genius, and I certainly have made mistakes along the way, an even ruined some pieces that never saw the light of day, or only did so after I made some serious changes to them. I am still learning to this day, and probably will never stop learning.

Some of my challenges have included the learning curve involved in grinding, and using the right belts, and how to use them to good effect, and then making sure I have enough fresh ones on hand to get through commissions. Buying pin stock is a tricky one, because shortly after I made the decision to standardize everything in my shop for 1/4" pins and tubes, all the suppliers seemed to be perpetually out of stock of 1/4" pins and tubes! I often had to buy the next size down, in metric, which made getting a perfect fit tricky in some holes. I made the mistake of drilling the hole with the SAE bit a size smaller than 1/4" and rocking the material slightly to open up the hole. I made it work a few times, but then with thinner handle material I found it left gaps that needed to be filled with glue. So I have since tried to chuck the pin in the hand drill and spin it along the length of a running AO belt to thin out the pin instead, and so far that is working well with a good fit. These are just small examples of the... logistical learning curve that I am finding no end to.

So my point in all this is that I am very grateful to everyone who has been a part of the journey, and for your kind reception of my work so far. I intend for it to only get better and better, as I continue to grow as a craftsman. I know I have a long way to go yet, but am very grateful for how far I have come and al of you for helping me get here. My biggest goal is to get to the point where I can move to a more suitable location where my shop is indoors, and my home is my own, where my lifestyle will not be an imposition on others, as I am certain it has been to the kind lady that owns the house and lives in the upstairs unit.

What I am about to say next is not meant to sound ungrateful towards those who have commissioned me to make knives for them, as I am certainly very grateful. But commissions involve a certain element of risk, and I have grown increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of taking people's money before the work is done. Nevertheless, my situation made it such that it was the only way certain knives would ever be made, especially the ones done as part of a bigger runs in 2020 and 2021, in and in steels like LC200N and MagnaCut. I did not have the cashflow to purchase big sheets of steel, and the plasma or waterjet cutting plus heat treatment, so I took deposits to make it happen. Thankfully so far those projects have gone through to completion. I can't recall off hand the exact number of them, but it's probably up over a dozen now, and I still have three runs outstanding, two in AEB-L, and one in MagnaCut. Of these, two of them have other people's money tied up in them.

More and more often I read other makers who say they no longer take commissions for a number of reasons, but they all seem to boil down to this: freedom. This is why I have begun to make a push towards right of first refusal (ROFR) knife making, where no deposits are made, and the customer is not strictly bound. And I have further been giving serious thought to putting all future commissions on hold for a period of time, and instead simply buying a sheet or two per month and making whatever I decide to for sale on the exchange, with the goal of achieving better cash flow, to afford a move to a new home and shop, and have the peace of mind in knowing that I don't have people out there wondering "when will David Mary finally make my knife".

Okay these are all just some of the thoughts and experiences of mine regarding knife making, and my journey therein, which I want to share with the community. You are welcome to join in the discussion and share your thoughts or advice, just please remember we're in my sub forum where I like to keep it "family friendly extra". Thank you all for being a part of my journey, and nothing in this world would make me happier than to spend the rest of my life serving you by bringing you ease of cutting, comfort and joy in your daily tasks.

David Mary, by the grace of God, and the acceptance of the Bladeforums community,
Here's the thing... I'm really torn. On one hand I want you to keep taking commissions (especially because I just mentioned two I want from you.) But on the other hand...I don't really care if you take commissions from other people. Hmmm. 🤔

In all seriousness though; David you're a fantastic knifemaker and a wonderful person. I'm so happy (as I am sure we all are) that you have found your calling. I can't wait for what you're going to make next and to see where this journey takes you.

I am a big fan of commissions and knowing that I have something to look forward to. But I discovered your knives via randomly scrolling through the knives for sale section. I purchased that way more than once. I've bought knives you've put up in sales (which I always have fun participating in) where I had to decide quickly what I wanted. I've commissioned work. I have been extremely pleased with every knife regardless of how I've purchased it. I don't see that stopping anytime soon.

But most importantly, have you consulted Smokey? What are his thoughts?
You know what? Ignore my previous response. Crag the Brewer Crag the Brewer said it much better and more succinctly. Brevity is the soul of wit, and today I am most unwitty.
No...... actually i was Literally going to quote You..... haha.

I'm ok with David stopping commissions, as long as he keeps making them for Me! hahah 😂😂😂
The thing that brought me to you originally was your willingness to take commissions. I've bought and used enough knives now that I know what I want. But I just can't find them. I can only ever find something that approximates what I want, which is no longer enough for me to spend money on. So finding a maker that will take custom orders and produce them with excellence is invaluable to me. So I hope you won't completely stop doing that. I think it would be fair to charge in full up front for custom orders. As long as you're clear about it, people know what they're in for. I have four customs from you and three more on the way, so I'll say - your knives are worth paying for up front, and waiting for :thumbsup:
your willingness to take commissions

I do still intend to. I just don't want to spread myself too thin, which I almost did last year, which is why I think I need to hit the maker's market a bit more for a time with some solid basic designs with broad appeal and a decent profit margin.

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I'm glad I figured it out a bit better since then.

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So, you're saying we should all put in commissions before you stop taking custom orders?

In all seriousness, you have proven yourself as an excellent craftsman and a man of your word. Whatever you decide to do in the future, please keep engaging with the forums so we can see your work.
Usually post this type of stuff in my shop thread, but wanted to share this one here as well.
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already said it in another thread, but that big tanto is awesome. hope this one gets into your regular bunch youre gonna make. id be all over one myself......

back on topic...yep. ya got to do what makes the most sense for you to bring in proper income to live and to grow your business. also stay on schedule, and not wear yourself out.