making a living in knives?


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jonc
November 18, 2012, 05:55 PM
Out of curiousity
How do unprofessional knife makers learn their trade?
Are there apprenticeship opportunities?
Is it better just to buy some files and start practicing?
How much does a well made file knife sell for?
Is it feasible to make a living making knives?
Why does there seem to be a ton of knife manufacturers in Oregon?

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Valkman
November 18, 2012, 07:02 PM
To make a million making knives it's easy - just start with 2 million. :) It is very tough to start making knives and make a living doing it, you'd better be married to someone who makes good money and has health care.

I bought some steel and a grinder and started grinding and my knives slowly got better until I was happy with them - that took about 3 years but you're always "remaking" your knives and redesigning them too.

I'd keep my day job and mess with making knives until I was selling so many I had a waiting list before I'd ever think of going pro. You have to really love making knives to do it all day everyday and it takes a big commitment.

hso
November 18, 2012, 07:08 PM
Are there apprenticeship opportunities?

Yes. There are also knifemakers that will train people interested in getting a jump on learning.

Is it feasible to make a living making knives?

Yes, but very few knifemakers do. It is very difficult to just make a living as a knifemaker. Many retire from jobs having generally set themselves up for retirement and "make a living" making knives that way. Others have spouses with good jobs and benefits so they "make a living" as a family. The very very few make a living at it as young professionals. They have a great deal of skill and talent and were at the right place at the right time to be recognized.

Tirod
November 19, 2012, 10:58 AM
Knives from files are actually just art pieces. Files are usually case hardened mild steel, once you start working on them, most of the carbon diffuses and they become the low alloy steel that they are.

Here's a starting point - research metallurgy, forging, and forming steel. Alloys, heat treat, and the equipment it takes to make knives. Most of the knives made in the world are blanked from strip steel and then finished. Custom knives are a very small part of the industry. Most brands are small shops with a lot of the work outsourced to production facilities - which make parts, or the whole knife with just their name on it.

Blades with extreme grinds made in quantity are sometimes cast to shape, not ground. The rule is whatever is cheaper - not necessarily better. In that class a lot of multiple grind tacticool blades, daggers, and imports can be found - cast to shape and finished after they get pulled from the mold. Others are laser cut or punched on turret presses. A close check of knives with exposed holes in the handles or on the perimeter of the blade will show how it was worked to shape.

Attend a Blade show. Just look and listen, don't ask too many questions if at all, don't actually touch a knife unless you have money in hand to buy it. Bring hundreds, at least 20 or 30, and you might be able to buy a few. High end knives aren't really used much, most are collected and stored. People who buy a $850 two blade trapper don't often take it camping as their cook stove and fish gutting knife. It goes in a case - that's the market, study the high rollers and learn what they want. Same for exotic tactical knives - soldiers don't actually buy them, they get PX knives, the few that bother. Collectors and wannabees buy all the rest, it's the ugly truth of the "commando" knife market. Only gun show commandos buy them.

Customs for sale need every surface and flat finished to a high degree, with matching grind lines at points, no rough areas, perfectly fitting joints, and expensive steels and materials used. The more exotic the alloy, the more abrasion resistant it is, and the more expensive the tools needed to work it. The high end makers don't charge more just because the blade steel cost double, they charge because their labor and overhead costs on the knife go up quadruple. Working steels goes up geometrically in cost, not incrementally. That means to work high end steel, you wind up paying 4 times more for the tools, and need tools to finish small flats on the blade or handle that few even sell. They know what they are worth to you and charge accordingly.

For the money, you could get better results oil painting. It uses the same inner vision and hand eye coordination, and you either have it, or work years to get it. And then the market has to want to buy it - timing is everything. The REKAT Pocket Hobbit was a hit intially, but died from declining quality and public interest. The Folts Minimalist is a hit - the CRKT licensed copy made in China is on every knife store shelf. But not the originals. There's another rub - better to sell the design for reproduction rather than watch it be stolen out from under you. Look into the Buck Strider SnG editions for how well that turned out - the 420 versions are junk. Nobody wants that kind of rep, but it can and will happen.

One thing for sure, if you make a classic style with little embellishment or weird lines, it will sell - slowly. Once a reputation is established, you've given away a knife or two to placate an abusive customer, then you look like you've "paid your dues." It's really about establishing yourself as a Brand, marketing pure and simple. People buy what they know and can trust. It's 95% of what really changes hands.

rcmodel
November 19, 2012, 12:52 PM
Knives from files are actually just art pieces. Files are usually case hardened mild steel,Maybe todays Chinese files are.

The old Nicholson files weren't when I was making knives from them years ago.

rc

Mp7
November 19, 2012, 12:57 PM
...what u find here on flea-markets ... 100 year old Kruppsteel files ....
are as good as "free" steel gets.

JShirley
November 20, 2012, 10:16 AM
W1 and W2 make fine blades, so I'd be careful how much generalization you do about files. Or about people, incidentally. I carried and used a true custom forged knife my first deployment. Probably a $300-400 knife if it hadn't been a gift.

hso
November 20, 2012, 11:34 AM
Tirod,

I agree with some of what you've said, but the most accurate is that a knifemaker becomes independently financially successful when they become a brand and that only comes after a lot of work and sacrifice and, to some degree, luck.

I disagree that exotic steels are needed or that only collectors are the customers (although they are almost the exclusive driver of the high end market). There are plenty of internationally sought after knifemakers like Faust, Dozier, Fogg, Keeslar, Herron, etc. using 1095, D2, 5160, 440C who's knives command very high prices. There are also hundreds of less well known makers that produce excellent knives that collectors and users happily purchase. We even have members here that are full time makers in Fuad Acawi and Stephen Fowler who members have bought their knives. Toss in Gary Wheeler, Kim Breed who retired from military service and make knives full time.

So, yes, the most successful knifemakers produce knives of outstanding quality, using exotic steels and rare handle materials and fittings, and are sought by the production companies for collaborations, but that's just the upper end of the spectrum and there are a lot of full time and part time knifemakers forging and grinding knives that collectors and users purchase.

SlamFire1
November 20, 2012, 12:08 PM
High end knives aren't really used much, most are collected and stored. People who buy a $850 two blade trapper don't often take it camping as their cook stove and fish gutting knife….

This is so true. After taking a Randall to the field for a couple of squirrel and deer hunts, all the scratches on the handle from rocks and trees have really ruined its value and I could have done just as well with a lot cheaper knife. I used a Morseth Cascade to field dress and skin a deer, (worked great) but I am not going to do that again as if I lose it in the leaves, they are not in production and price of what is out there is ridiculous.

Same for exotic tactical knives - soldiers don't actually buy them, they get PX knives, the few that bother. Collectors and wannabees buy all the rest, it's the ugly truth of the "commando" knife market. Only gun show commandos buy them.

I am aware of Special Forces types being given “The Yarborough” on graduation, http://www.chrisreeve.com/greenberet.htm but I will have to ask a bud, whose son got one, whether the kid carries it with him on missions. Most of the military I have talked to are very pragmatic in the choice of knives. They want good “throw away knives”. That is knives that do perform but are cheap enough that if they lose them, they are not out a lot of money. It is interesting to talk to recently deployed vets just how things get broken and lost in the field. A bud of mine talked about his Aladdin thermos which had been run over by a MRAP but was still functional. He had been blown up in the field, sent to hospital, his gear did not follow, and wanted that thermos back. I did not ask if his personnal knife made it back, but probably not.

Names and publicity make a huge difference in the price of knives. Established names such as Randall command a lot of money, but there are few established names. The days when there were just a few knife makers, Dan D, Morseth, Loveless, Moron, etc, are gone. Now there are lots of guys making excellent knives and unlike back in the 50's/60's/70's, we have an outstanding variety of outstanding factory knives.

josiewales
November 20, 2012, 06:02 PM
Knives from files are actually just art pieces.

The old Buck knives weren't any good? They were made from files.

rcmodel
November 20, 2012, 06:40 PM
As are today's Anza's.

http://anzaknives.biz/store/

And they are certainly not just art pieces.

rc

Fat_46
November 20, 2012, 10:30 PM
My user knives are all "customs". As ar my field knives. Anza got me started, and hso fueled it. I have Bradshaw's, Breed's, and a bunch by less well known makers. Some are users, and some(apologies to Chief Dan George) are "just fer lookin' at.

At the end of the day it really is all up to you. I feel a certain sense of pride, and most likely entitlement, when I can dress/process/cook and slice game I've taken with a custom. Would I be as satisfied with factory made pieces? Maybe. My EDC is a Kershaw "Damascus" Leek, and my go-to kitchen knife is a Kershaw Shun Santoku. But there is just **something** about picking up a knife that you know was made by someone, tempered with sweat, and sharpened with love!

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