This story is as fun as it gets for me. Part of making knives seems to be the ability to share that experience with anyone and everyone. Too often I see the greats teaching the next generation the trade. Sometimes for a fee, usually cheaper than any college course, and if used and perfected a hell of a lot more profitable. Other times, they teach for just the enjoyment of passing along the knowledge.
Many of us learned to be men from our dads and grandpas. I’m sure many a lady learned something from their dads they never expected to be useful but ended up being a life saver. My point is looking back we find that the value is in the moment as much as the knowledge.
We see the images of a family sitting around a table buried in technology and information. All contained in those little boxes we used to use to connect with each other now they drive us apart. No family escapes todays immediate satisfaction the smartphone offers. Statistics show that our attention span is but a spark compared to what it once was. We cannot get enough of it.. scroll , scroll , scroll.
Social Media and technology are going nowhere soon. We can’t walk away from it but we can teach ourselves to let it work for us and show some control. Instead of watching everyone else have a life , we can go out and make moments of our own and share them, and let people know we disconnect to connect.
Steve Johnson and I have known each other for a few years. Starting way back when we sat across a table , him selling knives, me buying them. From there we ended up working on the same side of the table on a small little start up company. The little company has nothing to do with knives by the way. We do the knife thing as a moonlight job. Well I write about knife makers and he is a knife maker.
So as you would expect I get to hear of Johnson Adventure Blades new projects in a text or from his Instagram. It was on such occasion I was witness to a buzz saw or sawmill- saw that had several distinctive cuts across the face. They were a very “I am home kind of feel. ”
Instant flash backs of going up the mountain in our 80’s Suburban , opening and closing dads hunting knife from its sheath. The smell of the leather stands out the most. It was a mix of leather and gun oil. We all had the cheap plastic orange vests with the elastic bands on the sides that lasted maybe the first 5 minutes of hunting. Nobody had any camo on. Not that it would have made any difference. The camo back then was terrible. It was so bad It is kind of cool too.
Okay.. I am rambling again.
As I said, the missing blades from the now recycled saw blade peaked my interest, more because I knew Steve wasn’t the kind to just do what others have done just to get it over with. He would twist it somehow.
Over the next few months I watched the social media feeds. Patiently waiting on the finished product. Excited for the day I would get to write this vary post! Slowly the knife started to take shape.
The part of the story that gets fun is seeing Steve’s family take part in building something more than just a knife. Steve’s little boy decided it was time for him to take up knife making and help his dad in the shop. As you can expect he was allowed to participate on everything but the actual knife as Giles is not old enough for sharp metal but his enthusiasm would not be denied his part in the project.
The story goes , the Giles Bowie started out as the Hunters Bowie. Steve asked Giles- “what do you think about the name ?” since he helped make them. Giles replied ” Ahh No, let’s call it the Giles Bowie.” Steve thought it had a pretty good ring to it. So that is how the Giles Bowie came to be.
I would expect Steve was able to get very little done that night but had the best time going nowhere fast. Those little people with their broken English and short attention span can be a hoot. Dad’s tools might as well be King Arthurs Sword. You can bet they will disappear as fast as they found them. When you finally buy a new one , you will find the old one..
Little Giles wasn’t the only one who helped in the making of the Bowie. The Giles Bowie was a family project. Amelia ( Steve’s daughter ) can find her way to the shop from time to time.
More than likely these experiences set the tone for a good story on a winter night when one of them walks thru dads shop. Telling their own kids ” when dad and I made this knife.”
As I said earlier, its not “if” they remember how to make a knife. It is “if” they remember the time dad and I made a knife. N.H.
“A sharp edge will get someone to comply very quickly… thus the name Compliance Edge.”
Q1– I was scrolling thru your current product mix. Very cool stuff! Would you consider yourself a small batch production company or do you open your doors to guys who might want something outside of your current assortment?
A1 -I would definitely consider myself more of a small batch company. It tends to be easier to just do a run of one model at a time, however often times I just grab a handful of different blanks based off of what I feel like making at the moment.
It is good to have a variety of different things to work on at once, and that way customers have more choices as well. But I definitely do not make anything outside of my current assortment.
My design process takes up to 6 months from conception to final product, so for someone to send me a sketch, it would be very difficult to make that knife and have it turn out well without doing several prototypes, etc.
Q2– I noticed the price range on your current models. Starting a $240.00 up to $800.00 can you tell us the difference between the $240.00 and the $800.00 knives?
A2– the $240 range knives are both handle-less fixed blades. Just one solid piece of steel ground and textured into a knife, with a full flat grind. This process is a lot faster than making one with nice straight bevels and handles.
Most of my designs with handles are in the $350-$450 range, being that the grinds and handle work take a lot of extra time and materials.
Then they jump from $450-$800, because the $800 is a folder, which is crazy expensive to make, and requires VERY tedious and time consuming work.
Q3 Is there a knife or a knife smith that influenced your work or pushed you to knife making? If not, what did?
A3– I was mainly inspired by Mick Strider. I loved the overall look of his fixed blades, and decided to use similar materials, but with my own designs.
Q4– Has your experience in martial arts influenced your knife designs?
Cutting Edge Length: 3″ •Overall Length: 7.18″ •1.2″ Width •Blade Steel: .20″ Thick CPM 3V at 60HRC •Handles: None •Black Kydex Sheath •The Featherweight is a minimalist design that is great for a variety of tasks.
Cutting Edge Length: 3.37″ •Overall Length: 7.93″ •1.21″ Width •Blade Steel: .27″ Thick S35VN Stainless •Handles: .25″ Thick G10 •The Copperhead is a thicker mid-sized knife, that is useful as both a utility knife, and a defensive tool.
Cutting Edge Length: 3.37″ •Overall Length: 7.93″ •1.21″ Width •Blade Steel: .27″ Thick S35VN Stainless •Handles: .25″ Thick G10 •The Copperhead is a thicker mid-sized knife, that is useful as both a utility knife, and a defensive tool.
A4– Absolutely! I was lucky enough to train nearly my whole life in BJJ and Judo. Both of those arts are amazing because you can go 100% without getting hurt or hurting your opponent. They teach you how to control another human against their will.
Because of my prior training, I was luck enough to get drawn into the combative training world as well, and that’s what helped get me started with knives.
I would show some of the people we were training my designs, and they would give me feedback based off of their real world experience.
The two biggest features in all of my current designs are a round butt, and a huge finger guard. That way you can slam the knife down into a target without your hand sliding up the blade, and then use your other hand to push down on the round butt end of the knife.
Much more effective than a cool looking “skull crusher” which would just slice your assisting hand wide open if you pushed down on it. The guys that are in the know get it and love it, and the guys that watch a lot of movies say “you should add a skull crusher and lanyard hole to that one”.
Q4– What is your favorite knife you make and why?
A4– My favorite is the FBK. It is the only knife of mine that I can look at and say “it needs no improvement”. I could honestly just make only those for the next few years and be happy.
Q5– Where do you see the handmade knife market going in the next 10 years? Where does Compliance Edge fit into that market?
A5- I am a little too new to the industry to know where it is going. As an Economics grad I can look at the general market and make speculations, but it’s hard to say how much they will affect knives.
I think that even if markets in general start to tank, the supply of quality custom knives is so low compared to the current demand, if anything the two may start to equal out. And if the knife market does take a huge hit, I can strive to be the best/rise above the competition.
Q6– Knife laws too strict or not strict enough?
A6– Too strict! It’s a felony in CA to conceal a blade, but felons will still do it! If you aren’t a convict, you should be allowed to carry a concealed fixed blade. We can open carry them, but you get lots of funny looks, so being able to do so concealed for the law abiding citizens would be nice. ” note *I agree with this 100% the modern trend is to blame and punish the guy following the law , not stop the persons breaking it! ” *
Q7– Handmade knife market a saturated market and if so what do you do to set your business apart from others out there?
A7– I think there is always room for more makers, but there are a lot of people making very similar products.
I think what sets me apart is my attention to detail. The straight grinds, clean lines and blended edges. My knives are similar in style to many other makers, and in photos they can look very close, but in person the fit and finish is often times noticeably different.
Q8– How did you come up with the name Compliance Edge?
A8– A sharp edge will get someone to comply very quickly… thus the name Compliance Edge.
Q9– What is your favorite materials both handle / blade to work with and why?
A9– I love G10 for handles. It is easy to work with, looks great, and is virtually indestructible. Even Micarta will fade out over time, but G10 will remain the same for years. For blades I love CPM S35VN. It is very strong, takes and holds a great edge, and is stainless.
Q10– You spend a lot of time on each knife. Can you describe the process you use in coming up with a new design?
A10– Everything starts with a hand sketch. I usually tweak elements of the sketch multiple times so when I’m drawing, I usually set it aside and look at it several times a month.
Once I am happy with that I will either hand-cut it out, or create a CAD file and have it water jet cut. It just depends on how excited I am to work on it!
From there I will make the prototype, and see how I like the balance, ergonomics, and functionality. If it needs adjustments they are made, until I get it right.
I am constantly tweaking old designs as well. After making hundreds of Vendettas I decided to slightly change up the blade shape the other day. So the designs are constantly evolving alongside my knowledge and skills.
Q12– What are your expectations for every knife you make in terms of quality? What quality checks do you use to make sure each knife holds up to your demanding standards?
A12– Every knife should be more or less free of blemishes, and should look like the picture on the website. If they don’t look like what the customer expects, they will be disappointed right when they open the box.
My goal is to create the same knife every time. When you make them by hand, this is not an easy task, so consistency/skill are key. In terms of a function check, each knife is heat-treated the same exact way, and the Rockwell hardness is tested multiple times.
This way you only need to beat on a knife here and there, rather than smacking every single one around to ensure it won’t break, or chip.
They say, the difference between those that can and those that can’t is doing what others won’t.
We all know that guy who works a little longer in the night when others sleep. Then get up before light just to get that extra bit of work in before they hit the day job.
Working on a skill , trade, or whatever they strive to master trying to be the difference between the average and the exception. It has to be something you love to do or you would never justify what it takes to be exceptional in a crowded hobby/industry.
Daniel Pica speaks of his early years making knives. Spending the few late hours he had, crafting what would become Screech Owl Knives. Starting very young it was about getting a knife sharp, later in life it was about making the best knife he could make.
Daniel gave a few minutes of his time answering some question I often have, scrolling thru images and reading websites on custom knives. I am not the best at formatting so hang with me while I try to type out a question and answer!
Q&A with Screech Owl Knives :
Q1) -Hunting and fishing were an important part of life as you grew up. How does that influence the style of knives you make?
A1) I design and build all my knives based on what I like to do outdoors. Some of my knives excel at processing game or fish and some are more suited for camping or wood working.
Q2) Is functionality more important than the way the knife looks or can a knife look good and work well too?
A2) Functionality and practicality are the biggest considerations for my outdoor and tactical blades. I believe the craftsmanship and attention to detail make them beautiful. As you know, form follows function. This holds true with my tactical blades also but those knives offer me more creative flexibility.
Q3) What knife do you take into the field or do you use several? If so what are those and what do you use them for?
A3) In the field I will carry my Thicket Buster for camping/bushcraft, and for hunting I will carry my Fish N Fowl, Oak Bottom Hunter or Cottontail depending on the game. If I am stalking game I carry a Critter, a very compact and versatile knife.
Q4) What is your dream hunt? Sure this is supposed to be about knives but I’m a hunter too.
A4) My dream hunt would be a Colorado archery hunt for bull Elk or a trophy white tail deer hunt in Iowa.
Q5) You talked a little about why you started making knives. If it had not been for a little extra income for the family, do you still think knife making would have found its way in your life?
A5) Definitely. I have always had an interest in knives and caught the sharpening bug at a young age. In the beginning it was more than making extra money; it was about making a knife that would be perfect companion for me on my adventures.
Q6) What tools did you start out with or recommend folks looking to get into knife making should start with?
A6) I started with a Kalamazoo 1×42 inch belt grinder and recommend this to beginners because it is a bombproof American made machine for only $275.
Q7) If a guy had a limited budget, what tool for knife making do you suggest he spend the most on?
A7) I would suggest bars of 01 tool steel for blade material and some good files.
Q8) Do you have a favorite knife you have made? Why is it your favorite?
A8) My favorite knife I have made myself would be my Thicket Buster. It is the first knife I made and has served me well on several trips outdoors. It is a very tough, extremely sharp blade that excels in wood working and bush craft. You could say we have some great memories together!
Q9)Before knife making did you have any other experience with metal / fabrication?
A9) I had limited experience with sheet metal work in the construction field. I do have many years experience in carpentry and residential construction. Construction is my background where I have specialized in tile, trim carpentry, flooring and various other kinds of finish work.
Q10)Where did you get the name for your brand?
A10) When I first started this I had a full time job and only made knives at night. I live off the beaten path and it was only the owls and me up at that point. The owls would be making noise all night long. My son would wake up the next morning and tell me about “the owls at night” he had heard.. So I started out as Night Owl Knives. Turns out a man used this name a few years back so I had to switch to the current name.
Q11) What are your thoughts on today’s production knives?
A11) There are many great designs available today. However, I feel as though the factories still do not do a good job with getting the most out of their steels. There are exceptions here though. It is still hard to find a good production fillet knife!
Q12)If a customer were to be looking to buy a custom knife , what would you suggest they do to make sure they are getting what they paid for?
A 12) Buy a knife based on an intended task. Do the research to find exactly what kind of knife you need based on what you use knives for most.
Q13)What knife steel is your favorite to work with and why?
A13) I like CPM154 for its fine grain structure and the great edge it takes. This steel polishes great, has good corrosion resistance and is pretty tough. This steel makes a great skinner, edc or fillet knife!
Q14)Damascus – for show or is it usable too?
A14) Damascus is usable but is mostly for show in my opinion. I do think a good high performance stainless Damascus folder is a great choice to carry but comes at a price.
I will invite you to take a look at Screech Owl Knives’ -Facebook, Instagram, and Website below. Great advice about really giving a lot of thought into what you intend to do with the knife and working from there! These are not dollar store knives, they are high end tools made just for you. Take the time to make it a great experience!
Everyone remembers their first knife. Usually given to him by his dad or grandpa. A first knife can be a big step in a little man’s life. The moment represents more than just getting a knife. A knife is a tool that demands respect. Its a cutting instrument, that can be useful but treat her wrong or carless she will bite you back.
The element of danger represents passing over a threshold of maturity and responsibility. The first knife becomes a symbol of personal growth in the eyes of those around you.
The age at which we get the knife isn’t as important as having the maturity and skill it takes to handle one properly. Sure, most of us fell in the 8-12 years old and had no issues owning a knife. Then there are those that even at 30 years shouldn’t be within 20 yards of any cutting implement. Let me give you a hint , if every time you pick up a knife you end up putting on a Band-Aid… you are that guy. Please remove head from Click.
I had this little gem built for my son.
overall length – 7″
Handle material – plum tree cut off my property
Blade Length – 2 7/8 “
Sheath – Leather
He is only 5 and will not have the opportunity to fly solo with this knife for sometime. I do feel it important to show him the knife, let him know a knife is not a toy and can hurt someone or himself if not used properly.
Explain how that a knife is something to be respected, and used with caution when he is ready. Until then, dad can carry it on our fishing / hunting adventures. Giving him the ability to visually observe how the knife works on a bluegill or a dove. Explaining the basics like.. never cut towards yourself, make sure nobody is in front of the blade, and so on.
I read a snip-it just this last week on how so many young adults do not even know how to make a doctors appointment, call an electrician, or basic life skills needed to function in the world. To me this is what happens when we expect the world to raise our kids. Time to jump in and view raising kids as an experience worth of a lifetime of work even during the hard times.
Oh, and don’t buy your kids a made in B.F.E knife. That’s dangerous and not worthy of him passing on to his son/daughter ( ladies are hunting and fishing like crazy these days ! I get it not trying to leave the ladies out but this post was a father /son point of view because that is what I know from personal experience so … is what it is ) .. Get him/her a quality Made in the U.S.A knife.. production or custom but quality. They do make a smaller handle for the ladies and a custom knife smith will make to spec. N.H.
Special thanks to Last Resort Blades . ( yes I do use this company a lot- get over it… like a good play in football .. if it works run it until it doesn’t )
Lark Custom Knives – ” Specializing in traditional straight knives, art knives, and folders.“
David Lark-specializes in engraving amazing works of art on steel. Engraving was very popular as printing presses became common place. Engraving as you would guess is a difficult skill to learn and a lifetime to perfect. As different methods of printing came about Engraving has been kept alive by guns smiths , jewelers, and knife smiths.
The process involves a harden steel, tool called burins or gravers. I will not get into the details of such tools but I will say they come in a variety of sizes and shapes to fit the needs of the engraver. Click here for more info on engraving. Better get a cup of coffee or a beer or two . This is a long read.
What you need to know about engraving is that its an incredibly hard skill to learn and know the difference between a laser etch and a true engraving. Look close, a laser will burn the image into the steel, while an engraver removes material from the blade. Also evident by touching the knife. Laser etching will happen when price point is a concern. An engraved knife is like a hand made car it’s only going to go up in price and you have to pay to play.
Check out some of David’s Work and give him a ring if interested in a piece of his art. Pricing varies based on how involved the project is.
Stovall Custom Knives- Specializing in fixed hunters and Every day carry!
They say it takes around 10,000 hours to master a skill. Sometimes we have to split our time with work, family, and other so those 10,000 hours don’t stack up as nice as we would like. Stovall Custom Knives work around the ” part time” ( disclaimer – I have a hunch part time has been going on for a long time because this stuff is solid ) is to adopt the focus method. Instead of trying to learn it all at once, Anthony has focused most if not all his efforts in hunters and E.D.C’s.
Such focus in my opinion multiplies one’s efforts and allows a part time knife maker to work thru and perfect technique and skill at a faster pace than say.. learning to forge a sword, dagger, and bowie within a few months. You might get all those cutting implements built but how good will they be? My money is on the guy who narrows his focus to up his odds at winning . One knife at a time, the next better than the one before it. Enough with the words, lets look at some of A.W. Stovall Custom Knives.
Folders are hard enough to do , but doing folders really well is an art. Like anything, the more moving parts, the increased chances of something going wrong.
Above that, learning folders can be intimidating. So much can go wrong with the geometry, fit, usability of a folder that many knife makers tend to take on the folder when there are no more mountains to climb in the fixed blade category. I wouldn’t go as far as saying just because you don’t make a folder you are not as good as someone who does, but fixed to folder seems to be the natural progression of a knife maker.
I did a quick search and it seems the first folding knives ” known” were made in Austria around 600-500 BC. The next group of individuals to take on the folder were the good old Romans. So people have been losing pocket knives forever!
Ty does an amazing job and his attention to detail is awesome. I won’t go on and on about it. Rather, I would just like to show you some images he has on his Facebook.
From time to time I get to buy the knives I feature! After a while I need to make room for the next round of knives. I promised Mr. Morse she would go to a good home at a fair price. No reserve , no minimum bid the market sets the price. Hand made , won’t be another one like it.
See here for interested buyers. Auction ends 4/30/2016
Stonehenge Metal Works – ” I could build something shiny but I don’t like to”
Michael Redmond started making axes and knives out of his garage a few years back. Eventually his friends started to request his awesome cutting implements next thing he knows an experiment became his focus.
“Growing up it was a common for every member of the house to carry a pocket knife. I have always collected knives, axes, swords, pretty much anything with a sharp edge. I also grew up welding and fabricating so I have a Metal working back ground. One thing led to another and now I make sharp stuff.”- Michael Redmond
Michael goes on to tell me what makes his knives and axes different from others out there today. ” I have a very rustic look about most of my Works. I can make something shiny but I don’t like to. If one of my customers ask for shiny I make the piece shiny. Customers can identify my work from my Stonehenge logo wood burned or etched into the piece.” I really believe that’s a humble answer.
Michael’s knives are a look all their own. I have said it before but it is hard to make a 100 % unique knife . They have kind of been around a while and there is only so much one can do to make them new. Then skinner below is as unique as they come! Not for the skinny jean wearing type.
This being Stonehenge Skinnin’ knife is large enough to be a heavy duty field knife but blade geometry of a deep sweeping almost ulu like blade.
In the world of skinners there are two philosophies – sweeping, deep belly blades or smaller more precision based blades with fine points and hand over blade kind of geometry. Neither one is wrong, its entirely how one prefers to get the job done.
The feature I like most about Stoneheng knives is the more you use one the better looking it is going to get. Kind of the ” chicks dig scars” mentality. The handles are not over done piece of glass made for the show room not the show. The blade cheek is nor a mirror polish that will show every scratch. In fact, this knife will probably scratch you back. ( * I am not against having a knife with a high polish and detailed finish on a knife. I do respect the fact that custom knives are made to the buyers preference or makers style.)
Now to the really fun stuff. Let us move into the ax segment of the show shall we. Can one really go wrong with a custom battle ax? No , no you cannot and we all should have one.
“My favorite thing to make are my large battle axes. The are constructed from antique plow disc.” Michael Redmond
If you can’t do a little QA from time to time how ya going to know if you are doing it right? Michael’s videos on Facebook. He tests out his work on various objects for a good time and research . ( Link below)
What I thought was cool, is you just do not see a lot of guys taking on axes these days. At least I don’t. The axe represents so much and to this day a useful tool. An axeis a chunk of metal built for brut strength and trauma. The ax built countries, and fought battles. The axe is worth of the custom knife maker world in my mind.
I asked Michael if he had any advise for guys and gals out there thinking about getting started making knives and axes. His suggestion was to keep at it. Get the basics but buy quality tools, specifically a good forge, grinder, and anvil.
Its a very good point. I was talking with a knife maker the other day about tools. One of the biggest expense is the grinder. Grinders also happen to be available in all kinds of arrangements and price points.
Beginner knife makers have to roll the dice on getting a grinder that is affordable but run the risk of growing out of it too soon, or having a grinder that makes the knife making ordeal harder than it needs to be. Do the research and figure what will work best for you. I do know one thing, if you never get started how will you ever know if its worth it?
“Each blade is heat treated the old fashioned way” – Mark Morse . Crown Antler Knives for the fun of it.
There is nothing more classic or Montana than a traditional crown antler knife. The crown of the antler is the part of the antler where the base of the antler is fixed to the animals head. Most often we see deer or elk antlers used in North America. ( I have folks from all over the world read this so.. ) * These are not called horns, difference being antlers fall off the animal every year and horns do not*
Crown Antler knives are often seen in paintings and drawings of Mountain Men , Native Americans, and various other period correct recreations. Antlers and knives are nothing new. Antlers have been part of the knife world from the beginning.
Today’s antler knives come in two styles. The crown antler style where the tang of the knife is hidden inside the antler. These are considered by most to be the most decorative and authentic of the antler handles. The fun part of these knives is the fact that no two are the same. Even if the antlers are from the same deer or elk, no two are exactly alike.
The second antler style would be when a section of antler is shaved off to form what we traditionally call a scale. These scales are fastened to the tang of the knife using an epoxy and pins. These are often used when the look of antler is desired but a more consistent handle shape and thickness is needed as well.
Mark’s total focus is on his antler styled knives. He has from time to time done other styles of handles as seen below. I happen to own one of Marks knives and the quality of it considering the price are exceptional.
Mark uses a convex style blade. Convex blades are good for chopping and hold up to abuse well. Sharpening can be tricky but with practice and the right equipment you should be good to go. Mark recommends sharpening by stropping on 440 grit sandpaper.
A lot of time crown antler knives are put on a shelf and become discussion peace’s. I get why, usually if a knife maker decides to make a crown antler knife , its to show skill and create a work of art. Morse knives still creates a show piece but provides them at such a great value often, just enough to replace the knife and a little for his time, that a buyer doesn’t feel so bad about getting her dirty or putting the blade to work.
The unique thing about Marks knives are his prices, hand made crown antler knives for under $100.00 most of the time. For the field or for show that is one heck of a value.