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Real money making/selling custom knives?

Discussion in 'Shop Talk - BladeSmith Questions and Answers' started by jaymeister99, May 15, 2011.

  1. jaymeister99


    Sep 14, 2010
    I'm about to start (finally) making knives for profit. What is a realistic income from making/selling custom knives?

    I know, loaded question!
  2. Fletch Helical

    Fletch Helical

    Sep 29, 2009
    Have you heard the saying that the way to make a million dollars making knives is to start out with two million dollars?
  3. Seals


    Oct 12, 2007
    Good luck and dont quit your day job!
  4. Southclaw


    Nov 30, 2009
    All of your "profit" will probably just go back into knife making for quite a bit of time. And you will probably be putting money in to knife making from your other job too.:eek:

    It is fun though.:D
  5. Salem Straub

    Salem Straub KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Oct 20, 2008
    Yes, you will spend a lot of real money making/selling custom knives. Oh wait, you mean can real money be made?

    I'd recommend finding a nice girl with a solid job. Sharing the bills makes being a full time maker a lot easier. It helps as well if you live out in the country where the rent is low and will often include an existing shop building.

    It's like any piece work I guess, you don't make much money until you gain some efficiency with experience. You can't pass the cost of all the hours spent on a knife on to the customer, at first.

    It helps to make them for a while as a hobbyist until your shop and skills are up to par. Then jump in the water. Of course your shop and skills should always be improving.
  6. Rick Marchand

    Rick Marchand Donkey on the Edge Moderator Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Jan 6, 2005
    You can make a living from this... but it really depends on your idea of success? If it is having cash to spend on toys, you might be disappointed. If it is doing what makes you happy everyday and just "getting by" with the bills... you won't regret it.
  7. Michael Rader

    Michael Rader

    Apr 17, 2009
    Making a "profit" on custom knife making? Let me get my dictionary... I don't know what that word means.

    Seriously, don't listen to any of us. #1) Study business. Period. Real business strategy and tactics. Bob Kramer once told me to treat this as a real business. Strange as that may sound, I don't think many of us think of knife making this way. #2) Study those who have actually succeeded. Bob Kramer, Ken Onion and numerous others in this field have become very successful.

    Final note: If someone who is poor is giving you advice to do what they do - then run.
  8. Troop


    Oct 26, 2006
    We don't do it for the money.
  9. Stacy E. Apelt - Bladesmith

    Stacy E. Apelt - Bladesmith ilmarinen - MODERATOR Moderator Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Aug 20, 2004
    Making a profit to me is selling a knife/sword and using that money to buy some supplies and equipment that I want.
    I will go to a show and sell a lot of knives and wood.......
    but when I get home I will have about 20% of that cash left after purchasing wood/ivory/steel/tools/.........
    After the lodging,food, and travel, it is usually a wash.....but I had a ball doing it, and came home with stuff for lots more projects.

    Eventually you will reach the point where you have all the "stuff" you need/want, and then will start making a real profit, but most makers never seem to find this imaginary point. Some folks think it is purely mythological.

    My favorite quote is from Cleston Synard - " If I won $1,000,000 in the lottery, I'd still keep on makin' knives.....untill it was all gone."
  10. Justin King

    Justin King

    Nov 8, 2009
    What these guys said... I have been given the "opportunity" to make knives for a portion of my income since things have really slowed down at my day job. The good news is that I am home a lot, the bad news is that my wife and kid rarely see me because I am in the workshop 7 days a week, 10-12 hours a day (at least, HT days can go into the wee hours) until I am so run down that I have to take a day off. It takes a lot of knifemaking to pay a little bit of bills, and that's no lie.
    My advice if you are bent on it is to explore the market, and the marketability of what you intend to make, before you are counting on knives to put food on the table. Think ahead and spend ahead so that running out of supplies, or having an equipment failure, doesen't bring you to a screeching halt when you have to get a knife out the door yesterday.
  11. Will Leavitt

    Will Leavitt

    Jul 28, 2006
    Seems like we go through this topic every other week at least.....

    How much money do you realistically need to live? What are your costs involved in making a knife, include utilities, expendables, depreciation on equipment. How many hours does it take for you to make a knife? Now figure out how many knives a week you need to SELL, not make, SELL, to live.

    As you just said, you're about to start selling knives for profit..... that's a dang long way from making a living at it. There's a lot to learn about the business of knifemaking that requires a few bloody noses.

    Let's be honest, if you don't have a waiting list (a few makers could succeed without a current one) then the odds are you couldn't make it as a full time maker.
  12. NickWheeler


    Dec 3, 1999
    About $300,000.00
  13. Patrice Lemée

    Patrice Lemée

    Aug 13, 2002
    Looks like The Dreamy One is dreaming himself. ;)
  14. jaymeister99


    Sep 14, 2010
    $300,000? I'm in!

    I would be doing this part time for a while, then hopefully to full time, to hopefully a full blown semi-custom shop. But my first reason for doing this would be to do something I would honestly enjoy doing, the money is second.

    But this is a business first, and if its going to go anywhere it needs to be treated as such. I have a lot of background in marketing and sales so that helps. I now work in manufacturing, so that helps too.

    I've already figured what it would take to live off the knives alone. Already spent a couple hundred hours of planning. I got a long way to go!
    Last edited: May 16, 2011
  15. AcridSaint


    Jun 23, 2006
    I read something in a hobby magazine when I was a teenager. The guy was an owner of a hobby shop and he said "if you love something, don't turn it into a job". I liked working on computers, so I turned that into a job. Took me 12 years to find a computer job I actually liked and I still don't do computer "stuff" for enjoyment anymore. Maybe I should have listened to the guy in the article...
  16. hkpokes_you


    Aug 29, 2008
    It's funny -- what do I do with the extra money I make from my day job? For the last four years: buy knife supplies, tools, etc.

    At this point, if I can sell some of what I make I recoup the costs for my last batch of supplies. But I am totally in the red over the course of four years.

    But -- if I HAD to make money at this, could I? Not much, but probably. Think realistically about your skills though -- don't be too ambitious. Get decent through practice and asking questions. Then find some sort of design that YOU can produce to the standards of the WORKING GRADE custom knife market. Watch your materials costs, but don't do a rats ass job or use crappy materials because if you do you will lose every cent you spend; so you should think outside of the box and find a way to optimize your design for your production capabilities -- this is the key -- materials, shipping, and HT will kill you otherwise, and you will sound every waking hour working.

    What does an efficient operation look like? Well, I made kitchen knives out of 15n20 strips from the NJ Steel Baron -- dirt cheap (less than 20 bucks for 2" by 4 feet), but high quality, easy to work steel in thin stock. Did the things on a 1x30 harbor freight belt sander -- but, with premium blaze ceramic belts; that's the only way to remove material at an appreciable rate with a 30 dollar sander. And then make twenty knives out of the steel you buy. Why 20? Because you ship it to peters heat treat -- and if you have more than four knives of the same steel they HT 20 of them together for $72. If you do it one at a time it costs something like 18 per. Any order 4 or more gets the 72 rate though. Get the knives HT to the upper range of the usable hardness range -- carbon steel is run too soft for home use kitchen knives these days. You can run them at 61 easily and they work great and are easy to sharpen.

    THEN -- you have a pile of knives laying around your house. Sharpen them -- and in the interest of time micro bevel them with the sharpmaker or a lansky crock stick box.

    Once all of that is done make handles out of home made micarta, or some sort of cord, or carbon fiber tape that you mummify in a high quality waterproof epoxy. You don't want the handle to make your knife to be the most expensive part of the operation; but you don't want it to look bad or nobody will buy it.

    THEN you give some away to people like chefs, food writers for a local paper, etc. You have enough of them to get the word out.

    After that sell a couple on BF -- and move the rest at craft fairs, or consignment shops.

    Your first batch will probably only have a couple knives you can sell with a clear conscience.
    Last edited: May 16, 2011
  17. Rick Marchand

    Rick Marchand Donkey on the Edge Moderator Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Jan 6, 2005
    You are talking about becoming disenchanted with your chosen profession. There is a big difference between that and simply not being able to make a living doing what you love to do.

    I like to think of it this way....

    "Don't turn a hobby into a job... turn a job into a passion."

    If all you want out of it is enjoyment and relaxation... don't ruin it. A hobby is something you can walk away from. A passion on the otherhand, is something you can't imagine ever quitting, even through difficult times. You don't stick with it for financial reasons... you do it because you truely love it. No bad experiences can tarnish the feeling it gives you. Perhaps addiction is a better term used to describe it.
    Last edited: May 16, 2011
  18. MSCantrell

    MSCantrell KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Mar 12, 2005
    That's the total over a 30-year knifmaking career, right?

  19. Will Leavitt

    Will Leavitt

    Jul 28, 2006
    Well since you've figured it all out why bother asking us. In all of your research did you look back about 2 pages to see Dmitri's thread on this?
  20. jaymeister99


    Sep 14, 2010
    Sorry if you took my comments that way, I haven't figured it all out. Just beginning to. Like I said, I got a long way to go.

    Let me clarify a bit: I've already figured the income I would need to live off the knives alone (thats a tough one, and at best will be a few years off till it can be full time). Rough estimates for materials, supplies, and outside process (HT, water cutting, etc). Rough estimates of how many knives I would need to sell, and what prices they would need to sell at.

    I'm still way off of where I would need to be, and still have a heck of a lot more to figure out.
    Last edited: May 16, 2011

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