What is a Hand Made Knife?


Jan 29, 1999
I was told when I put up some Tantos By Paul Chen on BladeforumsAuctions, that these were not hand made. When I told Spark that they were hand made, I was told that I need to say that they are CAS Iberia. Sure they are brought into the USA by CAS but they are still made by Paul Chen. Each one is different, no two are the same.
To me any one who takes rail road trackes and makes a tanto or sword out of it and everone of them is different in the length and the curviture of the blade. That to me makes it Custom Hand Made.
So Spark changed the catagory to custom hand made knives. I still think these Tantos are in the right place in the Custom Hand Made catagory. What am I missing? Can I not see this? What ia Custom Hand Made?????

Danny Ridenhour
Check out our new website!
"Custom" knives are those where the buyer specifies aspects of the piece before it is produced. People frequently forget this and confuse the term with "handmade." For a discussion of what is and isn't handmade, go here: http://www.bladeforums.com/ubb/Forum4/HTML/000397.html

I'm not sure we'll ever reach widespread agreement on the definition of "handmade," but that thread is a good discussion, anyhow.

-Drew Gleason
Little Bear Knives
Corduroy I repectfully disagree. If a custom knife maker makes a few to take to a show on spec they are no less custom knives. They are hand made to his specs rather than the buyers but they are still custom handmade. Here I use the term handmade to mean one at a time or a very small run where only the same person performs the operations at machines which are not mass production type, say a bandsaw or belt grinder.

My 2 cents. I go with Danny but its Sparc's playground.
I agree that the widespread use of "custom" knife supports your interpretation. There is a school of thought that says when a term is widely used, even if incorrect, it should be accepted. I personally would like to see "custom" returned to its proper use: adj. - made specifically for individual customers (Random House Dictionary). But I'm willing to hear others' opinions on it and bow to the majority.

If I make a knife for myself, it is "custom handmade." If I make a knife for a person to their specs (or alter parts of my design to suit them, such as using a certain handle material or adding a finger groove, etc.), it is "custom handmade." If I make a knife and then try to find a buyer for it, it is "handmade" but not "custom." If I modify an existing knife (putting scales on a Benchmade, for example) it is "custom" but not "handmade"... well, parts of it are handmade but it's still a production knife.

Maybe I'm wasting my time trying to get these terms used more precisely. But I figure I'll take a shot.

Cord, a quick question. I ordered an Apogee from Darrel Ralph, and the only change I hade him do was make it clipless. Does this fit your definition of "custom"? How about a hand made knife sent back to the maker for customisation? 'Taint fish nor fowl?

More info for the Terms and Abbrev. FAQ.


[This message has been edited by stjames (edited 06 August 1999).]
Well, like most of the terms we throw around here, I can't promise my definitions can be exactly and precisely applied to every case. But on those two points, I'd say yes and yes.

The idea is that a custom knife is exactly as you want it, made for you. I personally am a bit disappointed if someone sees one of my knives and says "make me one just like that." Surely they can't want it "just like that" - they must want it a little longer or a little shorter, maybe a bit thicker or with different materials. After all, that's my knife - we're discussing their knife, and we are different people. I have never seen (or made) the knife in which I wouldn't change something after considering it thoroughly. One of the most exciting times for me is when someone approaches me with a drawing on a napkin and a real idea of their knife that they'd like built.

I'm not knocking handmade pieces that makers produce with no customer in mind. These are where makers express themselves most freely. But they shouldn't be called "custom," IMO.

It's funny, but nearly every factory knife I own has some notches ground somewhere or new scales or something. It's not always a real improvement, but without this the knife doesn't feel like it's mine.

Drew, thanks for the quick reply. I was just reading this thread http://www.bladeforums.com/ubb/Forum4/HTML/000397.html and find your reasoning and semantics sound.

As I learn more about knives I begin to think of different things that I would like to see combined together, steels, grind types, blade shapes and thicknesses, handle shape and material, etc. So far I have bought many production folders just to try out one or two different aspects to see how well they work. I think that the next logical step is to have a knife built that has my own specific preferences, either design aspects that I have seen before or ones that I am still in search of.

This issue has more sides than a sphere.

Bob Loveless put forth the following terminology.

"Benchmade" means a standard model made by hand. If someone wants a standard model set up in a non standard way, then I think it is benchmade still because it is based on a stadard model.

"Custom" means a knife made to the customers specifications. Essentially from a drawing or a description.

But really those terms mean nothing.

Because some makers have so many standard models that hardly anything qualifies as custom.

I think the reall issues today are the amount of automation or machine guided work that does into a knife.

Marion David Poff aka Eye, one can msg me at mdpoff@hotmail.com If I fail to check back with this thread and you want some info, email me.


To complicate matters further, there are cheap imports from, for example, Pakistan, that are essentially handmade. They're so low tech that die cast pot metal would almost be an improvement by comparison. Yet, these are handmade "knives." With such a wide variation in quality, from imported garbage to true Art knives, and everything in between, I think it's time to invent a new system of knife nomenclature, perhaps one that includes some kind of quality grading.

As far as I know, Chen's blades are as handmade as many domestic knives that we consider worthy of the title, even though they are somewhat low tech, with the use of acid etching to bring out the "temper lines" etc. I wouldn't call them "custom" though.

Speaking of custom, Chris Reeve's folders are now considered factory knives, which I agree with, but the company will decorate the handles to the customer's specifications. So, where does that leave us? With "custom" production knives?

I think the confusion here is that auction category was intended to be of higher quality (or at least higher price) than Paul Chen's work ... I doubt anybody was literally claiming Chen's knives aren't hand made. Changing the category name to custom hand made doesn't make it any clearer; I expect nearly all the knives that will be allowed in that category will not be custom made.

Why not call the category what we mean, high quality handmade knives, or expensive handmade knives? Then we can disallow Pakistani junk as well as more middle-category knives like Chen's, without starting an irrelevant flame war over what hand made means or what custom made means. I think if we do that, if we say in so many words what we've meant all the time, the semantic arguments will evaporate and we'll find we all knew what hand made means and what custom made means all the time and there never was any real disagreement over those definitions.

The only problem as far as I can see is some people have been squeamish about saying what we mean and use hand made or custom made as euphemisms. Quality is not an obscenity! We don't have to use euphemisms for it -- even the censorship software on this website will let us say the word quality!

Of course that wouldn't end all the argument because we'd still argue about whether so-and-so's knives are of high quality or not -- but at least we'd be arguing about what we disagree about, and the discussion could shed some light on the subject.

If we want to end all the argument we can define it in terms of price instead of quality: this auction category is for knives with starting bids higher than x. Then there's nothing to argue about.

-Cougar Allen :{)
Cougar, "at least we'd be arguing about what we disagree about…" is great. You're very complex, you know?
I just want to add that I don't think we're arguing; I think we're discussing. The knife world is moving with greater alacrity all the time. Terms like Art knife, Presentation grade, custom, handmade, benchmade, and production knife are no longer adequate to describe all the variables. There's a fair chance that these forums will be the think tank that will help a new knife language evolve. Where else do you see so many great (?!) knife-obsessed minds in one place with nothing better to do?

I agree that if we had various handmade categories separated by price range, it would make certain aspects of this discussion moot.

Your little spinnin' smiley is gonna spread throughout the forums like a virus!
I think that all have good points. I think the catagory should be Hand Made By Guild Members. Then a catagory Hand Made Here In The USA. Then Hand Made High Cost. Then Hand Made Low cost. Then Hand Made Just For Me. (Custum)
If Paul Chen made his Tantos here and not in China thay would cost so much more. They were made in a limeted number and each IS different. And unlike the Stuff from Pakastan, Pauls' stuff is marked.
I thank everone for their emput. But I still think if any one puts up a knife in the Hand Made Custom, that knives must have been made for them and now they are selling it. So when you go there today you will see an "Apogee from Darrel Ralph". It was Hand Made for me thus Custom made!

Danny Ridenhour
Check out our new website!

[This message has been edited by 888KNIVESRUS (edited 07 August 1999).]
I'm confused by this same issue to some degree. Let me give you an example. One of the lines we sell is Chris Reeve, often referred to as a custom maker. These knives are beautifully made, of impeccable quality and expensive. There is a lot of hand work in their manufacturer. But are they custom?

A week ago I had a customer ask for A Sebenza with no pocket clip holes. Reeve makes a little screw in cover for the area where the pocket clip attaches for those people that don't want a pocket clip. This customer simply wanted no holes at all, requiring Reeve to make one with one less step in the manufacturing process. They wouldn't do it.

That's not custom in my view. That's high quality production with some hand work involved. It says nothing about the quality and value of Chris Reeve knives. I'm the first person to extol the virtues of these knives. But it does make one wonder whether the term custom fits.

I think custom means custom. A customer can have either a design made from scratch or modifications made to an existing design. Otherwise I think it's a production knife whether it's made by hand or by robot.

Many custom knife makers produce pure custom knives and also production knives. Some of them (Dozier comes to mind, as an example) are willing to modify the production knives to suit a customer's particular desires. I would view one of these customized production knives as custom but not the stock production knife. It may be wonderfully made, hard to get or even purely hand made but production is production and custom is custom no matter who does it in my view. We sell knives from companies like Chris Reeve and William Henry and, soon, Elishewitz. They are outstanding knives in every sense of the word. But I see them as production knives. We also sell some regular production knives that have been customized by Frank Recupero. They are unique-one of a kind. I see them as custom knives even though they began life in the Spyderco or Benchmade manufacturing facility. Take care.

Knife Outlet

Why don't we just come up with a system ourselves?

!!! Loca Grande !!!
Mass Production- Buck, Spyderco etc

Limited Production- Reeve,William Henry

Hand Production High Automation- Pack River

Hand Production Low Automation

Hand Prodction No Automation- Most custom makers

Custom- To your specifications

Marion David Poff aka Eye, one can msg me at mdpoff@hotmail.com If I fail to check back with this thread and you want some info, email me.

Check out my review of the Kasper AFCK, thougths on the AFCK and interview of Bob Kasper. http://www.geocities.com/Yosemite/Meadows/1770/kasperafck.html


One definition that's been tossed about for "hand-made" has been that the makers hands should at all times be in control of either the knife or the tooling or both. And there we usually make an exception for sending the blade out to somebody like Paul Bos for heat treatment.

To further complicate life, we have people who place a high value on "sole authorship" and we have very good knives, accepted as high-end "custom" whether or not they were made to order, that are the work of two or several skilled artisans. At what point do we draw the line between a maker who has an apprentice in his workshop and someone who is now the manager of a small factory?

And, speaking of India and Pakistan as sources for knives that are hand-made, but of dubious quality, if somebody in South Asia ever hired some ABS school instructors and taught some local smiths how to make carbon steel fixed blades to the standards of the high-end North American and European markets, they would be downright dangerous. Imagine a South Asian knife made to a target retail price of $150 instead of $15!

AKTI Member # SA00001
Mr. Poff's criteria are very good. I would like to suggest, muddy the water, that "customized" be added. Customized knives are production/limited production/benchmade knives that have been added to. Engraving, special handle materials, file work, that sort of thing.

I've had Chris Reeve pieces and never considered them to be Custom. Since Chris has folks in his shop performing different tasts to complete the knife I considered them to be limited production, like Rolls Royce. On a larger scale, but still limited production are folks like Microtech and Speed Tech.

I consider the LDC knives to be Benchmade. Each maker contributing to the line makes several of a pattern. Same for Bud Nealy, Bob Dozier, Kit Carson, etc. when the only difference from knife to knife in a model is variations the maker couldn't control.

Customize a benchmade knife by changing a characteristic of the model and it becomes Custom. Embelish such a knife and it becomes a customized Benchmade knife. Customize a production/limited production knife... You get the picture.

I've got knives in all these categories and that's how I think of them.

Take care,