"custom knife" terminology


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hso
October 13, 2012, 10:21 PM
This started as a discussion in another thread and instead of hijacking the good thread I thought it better to start over here.

Within the knife making and collecting community the term "knife-maker" has a specific meaning that is different from what many in the firearms community think of when "custom rifle/pistol" is used. It might be useful to define some terms so there are "definitions" for common terms for discussion.

To be a knifemaker/knife-maker you have to make the blade since the blade is the basic part of a knife. It need not be pretty or ergonomic or even very good. You forged/ground the blade by hand so you made a knife. Features and Quality become other topics. This is the basic requirement in common with the Knifemaker's Guild, the Professional Knifemaker's Association and the American Bladesmith Association. There was a disagreement in the Guild about whether a blade that comes out of a CNC that you finish makes you a knife-maker since it isn't cut, ground, and finished by hand, but the Guild decided it was machine instead of man made and disqualified as a hand made blade. Heck, now that laser and water jet cutting has become so economically practical for knifemakers there is an ongoing argument about whether having your blades blanked out disqualifies you for the Guild, but I expect that to be accepted since it does just produce a flat blank that has to be hand ground.

To be a knife-builder you need not make the blade, but may order it from a supplier like Jantz supply or reuse one from an existing knife (production or supplier provided). The quality can be poor or exceptional, the features may be spartan or elaborate, but you bought or found a blade and built the knife up from that blade using raw materials for the rest or acquired finished parts that you fitted together so you built a knife. A lot of people start building knives from parts ordered from places like Jantz or Knifekits.com and some go on to grind their own blades and become knifemakers. That transition to grinding your own blades sets the knifemaker apart from the person that is a fine builder.

To be a "custom" knifemaker is an esoteric discussion, but most knife collectors and knifemakers think that it not only requires that the blade has to be hand ground by the knifemaker, but the knifemaker has to either be fully inspired by imagination to produce a single unique knife or by the client's specifications for a single unique piece in making the blade and knife. The knife is not just one like many others made by the knifemaker.

(There's some discussion in the knife making/collecting community about whether there is any difference between a "custom knife-maker" and a "knife-maker" since whether the knives they make are one of many or one of a kind, but there is no disagreement that the blade has to be cut out, ground and finished by hand and needs to be different from a "bread and butter" piece.)

To further confuse the issue , a knife manufacturer is a company using multiple people to produce the knives being sold to the public. It may be just a handful of people with a couple of people specializing in grinding or building, but no one person makes the knife and the knives are produced to be alike save for small details.


OTOH, a "custom gun" usually starts with a finished, or nearly finished, receiver bought from a ATF licensed manufacturer instead of being machined from a block of steel by a gunsmith who has gone to the trouble and expense of becoming licensed. The barrel may be a blank that is bored and chambered and crowned by the gunsmith or it may be ordered nearly complete. The stock may be finished and only require fitting as may the other components. It is still called a custom gun, though, in the firearms community if a finished barrel and finished receiver and finished stock and bolt and trigger and sights, etc are assembled and fitted together. No so with knives.


I'm sure that these definitions and explanations may seem overly picky to some here, but it isn't difficult to understand that a knifemaker has to make the blade themselves vs. a knife-builder who acquires the blade from elsewhere.

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JohnKSa
October 14, 2012, 09:51 PM
Nice work , but its customized , not a "custom knife".So if I want a custom gun I have to find a gunsmith who starts from scratch? If I send him a receiver or an unmodified gun for him to use as a basis then the result is only customized, it's not a "custom gun"?

hso
October 15, 2012, 12:27 AM
In knifemaking the terms have meaning.

It is a customized knife if you take another knife and customize it significantly, even if you throw everything away but the blade. Even if you do a very good job.

If you're taking a "kit" and building a knife from a kit blade it is a kit knife. Even if you're doing a very good job.

If you're collaborating with a knifemaker by their making the blade and you working with them completing the knife by building it up with guard, hilt, butt then it is a custom collaboration.

If you're making the blade yourself and building the knife into something unique due to your or your client's vision it is a custom knife.

People who make and collect custom knives are very familiar with these terms and the differences are very important.

It takes nothing away from a gifted knife builder like RC that, and he doesn't claim to have made the blades, he built great looking knives from purchased blades and parts and existing knives.

It takes a great deal away from a knifemaker that forges or grinds the blade of a knife to call anyone who doesn't craft the blade's work the same as theirs. I've forged and ground blades and the people who have the skill and talent to make practical and beautiful blades and then make knives from them are of a different level of skill and talent. They are knifemakers who actually make the heart of the knife, the blade, and create a knife. The rest do something else and have no reason to be considered making knives or as knifemakers if it didn't include making the blade.

JohnKSa
October 15, 2012, 01:09 AM
In knifemaking the terms have meaning.

...

People who make and collect custom knives are very familiar with these terms and the differences are very important.Interesting. I was not aware that the knifemaking world defined "custom" and "customized" differently than the gunsmithing world does.

hso
October 15, 2012, 01:23 AM
Very differently.

I hang out with a lot of knifemakers and collectors and the difference is significant. Making a blade is the key point. Heck, purists consider that a custom knife has to be a sole authorship piece with the one craftsman making the blade, guard, grip, butt and only fittings allowed to come from another source (and the blade has to be held in the hand or the tool working it has to be handheld instead of CNCs or milled).

RC's knife building skill and talent is outstanding and his sheath making looks to be brilliant. You can't take anything away from him by calling his work what it is, but you shouldn't call it what it isn't.

bikerdoc
October 15, 2012, 07:36 AM
Bit of a rant here so forgive me.
I am Big fan of "customized" knives. Like RC, I enjoy taking a name brand, quality, 5 dollar abused yard sale knife, and customizing it. While not the detailed quality and craftsmanship of RC's, I enjoy the process.
I am a forging disaster, so that's out, but I have annealed files and stock reduced them, then re hardened and finished. A lot of work.
Like RC I get the most enjoyment out of "customizing"
Made the mistake of posting the below knife on another forum and had my butt handed to me about how I was not a knife maker. I deleted the the text and picture in the post and left the word deleted never to return to that forum. Total cost of the below "customized knife" was 5 bucks and a few hours time. got the bull horn some where free Made a sheath from an old pair of motor cycle boots.
Ya, I know the difference between custom and customized.
End of rant.
Didn't mean to hijack you thread RC, keep em coming my friend.
http://i247.photobucket.com/albums/gg134/bikerdoc1948/IMG_1253.jpg

9mmepiphany
October 15, 2012, 01:50 PM
I found it interesting how close I actually was to the usage of titles in the knife making/collecting community. It just made sense that it would be mostly based on making the blade. Makes me happy :p

To further confuse the issue , a knife manufacturer is a company using multiple people to produce the knives being sold to the public. It may be just a handful of people with a couple of people specializing in grinding or building, but no one person makes the knife and the knives are produced to be alike save for small details.
This is the perfect description for gun folks to understand the difference between high end production and custom 1911s. They all want to call them custom guns, but the best they really are is semi-custom...which I feel is an oxymoron.

hso
October 15, 2012, 02:53 PM
Wellllllll, m'be, but maybe not.

John and I were discussing this and he pointed out that to make a receiver from a billet requires in addition to the technical capability the regulatory permission from the BATFE. IOW, you have to be a licensed firearms manufacturer. That pushes gunsmiths to purchase receivers from licensed manufacturers instead of going to the expense and trouble of becoming a licensed manufacturer.

No such licensing is required to craft a blade.

CWL
October 15, 2012, 03:01 PM
I prefer the term "modified" for when people making changes to a purchased knife that is already finished and ready to use.

Hanging out with other knife collectors and on the knife forums, we often encounter people who change the scales, scrape the coating off the blade, or something similar and then claim that they own a "custom" knife. (Or who then try to sell their "custom" knife.)

That to me, is a "mod", nothing more.

hso
October 15, 2012, 03:06 PM
Folks making those claims get shot down pretty quickly.

Modders don't usually get treated as customizers or builders and making a claim of having a "custom" knife flies in the face of even the most relazed recognized definitions.

One of the local guys took an Estwing small axe and stripped everything off of it leaving the forged steel hafted head. He then did some grinding on it to give it more of a beak and cord wrapped the haft and soaked it in bed liner to make a very different axe. He doesn't consider what he did as making a "custom" axe or even customizing it. In his mind he modded it heavily to make it look the way he wanted and feel the way he wanted.

JTW Jr.
October 16, 2012, 01:57 AM
Very well explained HSO.

Many years ago I started "modding" Emerson and Benchmades folders , doing scale changes , titanium backspacers , blade refinishing , etc. Then we referred to it as "pimping".

I did enough of that to buy more shop tools , then starting making my own fixed blades.

The stuff I learned in modding knives helped out with making knives from scratch. (bar stock ).

I still do not refer to my work as custom , as I do not make it to anyones specs other than my own. Yes I start with bars of steel , cut out my own patterns on a band saw , grind and shape my own blades , do my own handles , and my own sheaths ( leather and kydex ). I do farm out my heat treat to Paul Bos.

But I do my designs , to my liking, and don't take orders. I guess mine are handmade, not sure , I don't label them. To me they are knives I made..... for me its a hobby.

Would I do it differently if this were my profession ? Probably , but that is one of the reasons I want it to remain a hobby for me. No stress , just fun time in the shop.

I have seen guys that mod production knives to levels that blow me away.

Years back a friend handed one of his modded Emersons to Ernie Emerson in person. Ernie told him the work ( bolsters, scales , blade regrind, ti backspacer , jeweled liners , etc ) was just as good as his handmade customs. True praise right there !

hso
October 16, 2012, 07:54 AM
I hear you. I've forged and ground and heat treated and finished my own blades, but I can't bring myself to equate that to being a knifemaker or me being a bladesmith (a whole other discussion between forging and stock reducing) in spite of the simple rule - if you're making the blades and building knives from them you're a knifemaker. I'm close friends with real artists and I can't bring myself to claim to be in the same general category.

bikerdoc
October 16, 2012, 08:18 AM
JTW JR, said
But I do my designs , to my liking, and don't take orders. I guess mine are handmade, not sure , I don't label them. To me they are knives I made..... for me its a hobby.

Would I do it differently if this were my profession ? Probably , but that is one of the reasons I want it to remain a hobby for me. No stress , just fun time in the shop.


That is the way I feel.

Whether it is canes, knives, jewelry boxes, whatever, shop time is my time.

harvjr
October 16, 2012, 09:27 AM
hso,

Excellent presentation on the terminology.

I have met many individuals who buy all the components and assemble them and call it a "custom knife". Some have got the bug and gone on to grind their own blades and have become extremeiy good "KNIFE MAKERS". Dan Dick from Hutch. KS is a fine example of this!!! Without telling the customer it is a assembled knife it is really misleading the customer.

Harv

conw
October 16, 2012, 05:11 PM
Re. 1911s and other guns and "custom vs semi-custom." Aside from the weird market pressures exerted by BATFE, consider that the gun is ultimately more complex and has more moving parts and variables to consider than any knife ever would.

A gun, using many aftermarket and a few proprietary parts, is sufficiently customized and unique to be considered custom once it has become significantly different from anything else available due to labor and technical prowess of the customizer; there is also more variability in function (and room for improvement of performance in many ways) with a gun than a knife.

Of course the whole concept of custom is bastardized anyway. Like custom cabinets you order out of a catalog, custom factory-built motorcycles, etc.

Question for HSO - what is a semi custom knife? One of a batch of handmade knives made by a maker who makes knives in the "custom" process outlined in this thread?

JTW Jr.
October 16, 2012, 06:22 PM
Semi-custom could be along the lines of a mid-tech. Where the maker may have the blade completely ground by an outside vendor , partially ground , etc.

I have known makers who have called knives "semi-custom" or "mid-tech" that had just as much handwork as their full customs.

Semi-custom could be if the maker makes a batch of knives to his specs. Some makers use water jet to cut the profiles of their blades ( which makes logic business sense) as you can get more blades from a sheet of steel vs cutting from bar stock on a bandsaw.

As comparing to the "custom 1911's" , yes all that I know of start with a frame , slide and barrel , few make their own parts of any type , and it is all in the fitting. Not really custom in my view.

Similar to building a hot rod , is it really custom if you use all off the shelf speed parts ?

Each realm has its own meaning of custom.

If you have a say in the build process then it should be considered "custom made" for you , but if you can't have any say on the variables of the build process, is it really "custom" , or is merely cookie cutter built to the makers specs ?

I still prefer "handmade by maker".

hso
October 16, 2012, 08:57 PM
what is a semi custom knife? One of a batch of handmade knives made by a maker who makes knives in the "custom" process outlined in this thread?

I see it used as a marketing term. I've seen it applied to what are more accurately referred to as semi-production knives, but "custom" sounds much better than "production". I see it on high end manufactured pieces with a lot of hand fitting/tuning/finishing.

A custom knife has to be a unique piece bearing only a passing resemblance to others made by the knifemaker, if any at all. Some one person wanted that knife to have a unique look and the knifemaker made it to be unique.

kim breed
October 16, 2012, 09:11 PM
you get it Mikie.....:what:

hso
October 17, 2012, 12:50 AM
I hope so, brother Breed. I've been watching the making and marketing of production to custom knives for a while. The "use" of language to almost completely alter the perception of something has amused me at times. "mid tech", "semi-custom", "boutique", "custom production" are all marketing terms for "production knife of very high quality that is hand fitted and finished and sharpened". Chris Reeves doesn't bother with such deception. He manufactures knives or exceptional quality and leaves the reputation of his products to speak for themselves.

I've literally had scores of the same "semi-custom" knife in my possession at the same time with the only difference being the serial numbers.:rolleyes:

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