08-08-2001, 10:09 AM
Gentlemen, After reading the posts about the Guild Show, I would put this question to you. Knives that have the different parts contracted out and then put together by the originator, should they be considered to be custom, handmade, or by another name. I consider a custom knife like a kit knife, where you finish the blade and add the grips. Handmade knife to me means, the maker is responsible for all the processes in making the knife. I can see where the steel and the HT could be excluded in the process and still be considered to be a handmade knife.
What are your thoughts on this subject, because it is a growing situation that the Handmade knifemaking community is experiencing.

Gary Mulkey
08-08-2001, 12:55 PM
Whenever you start debating semantics, things become subjective and everyone and no one has the right answer. I have always felt that a hand made item (knife or whatever) simply means what it says. It was made completely by hand and nothing else. Custom however takes on all kinds of connotations. To me, a custom knife is one that is made to the specifications of a preconceived design either by the maker or buyer and may or may not be unique. I admit that some of my custom pieces began as a mistake and I decided, "Well, let's see what I can make out of this now." Some have even turned out as some of my best work.

Since I'm still a newbie, I am curious if you veterans disagree or not. Let me know what you consider hand made or custom.

Gary Mulkey
Fall Creek Knifeworks

08-08-2001, 12:56 PM
I think IHO that it is the design of the knife that is the unique thing.
what if you do not have the equipment or skill to make a knife(or time) but the flare to design them and got a craftsman to make them. Then under normal rules it is custom designed and made.
I spent many years have knifes of my own design made for me they are mine and mine alone. I know have the time to make them my self and that is as much a challange, as geting them made to my requirments.

Rade L Hawkins
08-08-2001, 02:36 PM
For what its worth here is my definition
#!--"Hand Made" A knife made by hand using hand controlled tools where the tool or the knife is always controlled by the maker of the knife. The power source is irrelevant. It can be water steam electrical hydraulic as long as the maker has full controlled
#2--"Custom Made" Made to order--made to original plans, using specified parts and materials. Could be one of a kind--Special.

I personally don't think machine made parts and computer controlled blade grinders and handles belong in the above two categories. Although some of these parts are made to much finer tolerances than possible with the human eye the still fall under the term of machine made human assembled. If you like this you should buy them some of them are very good. Just remember 1000 other people can buy the same thing,just like yours. I have seen some real good copies of the Mona Lisa and I have seen the real thing and let me tell you looking at the real thing gave me a warm feeling ---the copy didn't

Terrill Hoffman
08-08-2001, 05:06 PM
Knife makers are like photographers. There are no set "RULES" or "LAWS" governing who is and who is not what they say they are. The boy who orders a kit from Kovals can claim to be a knife maker and Uncle Bill with his wife's 20 years old 110 camera can claim to be a photographer.
What counts more than anything is two basic items.
1. The quality of the product.
2. The honesty of the maker.
If the man tells you how he made it and what it is made of, then it is up to the buyer to judge what he is getting. If a maker is working on six knives at a time is he a production line? I for one don't favor laser cutting of blades or CNC machinery but I can understand why some use them. Even artist have to eat! What is needed more than a set rules or guidelines is educated buyers.
Does any of this make sense?

08-08-2001, 08:59 PM
Terril, you make sense mostly. But how can you educate the buying public when the makers themselves can't agree?

To me, a guy who uses a cnc or a laser cutter is a knife machinist and is not making by hand.

First we probably have to decide whether a forged blade or a stock removal blade is best. <G>


08-09-2001, 05:19 PM
Just as what is a custom can be debated I sure this can also. Me I do it real simple, if it looks good and it's something I want to own and would be proud to own, I go for it! That's just me!

08-09-2001, 11:04 PM
I think Rade and Gary pretty much nailed the defs of handmade and custom. I am with them 100% But what do you call a knife that includes some parts made by you and some by others but is alltogether unique? Or a knife made entirely by one person and that is unique but is laser cut or cnc machined? Or a knife made to a particular design but with sufficient variation to be unique? All are "one-offs," not productions and would, I think, be welcome here at the CKD.

Maybe a way to say what qualifies as a "custome knife" is to say what a custom knife is not - a negative definition.

Suppose that three guys at work all decide to order a "Whiz-bang folder" as an EDC. The UPS guy delivers all Whiz Bangs on the same day while our trio is at lunch. The office person sorts the mail, opens the three packages, tosses out the invoices and lays out the knives. The guys return. If none can tell which of the three knifes they ordered and, more importantly, none care which is "their" knife, then the Whiz bang folder is not a custom knife, whether made by hand, machine or assembled from parts.

At least that helps me think about this semantic problem. A custom knife has to have enough invididual variation to be recognized, by folks using common sense, as unique.


08-10-2001, 12:51 AM
I never think that all will agree on the same I guess it is up to the customer to choose what he/she feal is right and up to the maker to be honest about how he make his knives

Rade L Hawkins
08-10-2001, 08:40 AM
Let me add some food for thought here
#1 custom has nothing to do with quality
#2 hand made has nothing to do with quality
#3 neither of the above has any thing to do with value. Any of these can be grossly over or under priced. A poorly made custom or handmade knife should not be worth more than a semi custom that is very good. The thing that is the major concern is that makers are not disclosing the fact that some or all parts are mass produced. The customer now is buying a copy and not an original. To some this is not a big deal, but to others it is . The customer has the right to know.THE THING THAT I FEAR IS THAT WE WILL BECOME PART OF THE GROUP THAT SAYS ________CUSTOMER BEWARE

08-12-2001, 01:52 AM

08-13-2001, 06:12 AM
I don?t know if this adds to anything but:

When I get an email from a person asking me to design and make a knife for him...that is a custom knife.

When I get an email from a person asking me to make one of my Sheepsfoot designs with Dessert Ironwood Handle and Rose Damasteel.....That is a custom knife (even if I have made several that looks the same)

If I make a knife and put it for sale on my website...It is a handmade knife.

If I make a knife for a customer..whatever it is going to is a customknife.

08-13-2001, 04:03 PM
What about the guys like Michael Walker and Paul Fox and Ray Appelton that make knives using CNC, are those not "custom" maybe not, are they handmade, only the finishing. Yet these knives are lusted after and demand high dollar, Yet they do not fit our definitions.

Darrel Ralph
08-18-2001, 08:07 PM
Jerry has a point. The list he just gave is a very small to the real list of makers using CNC,pantagraphs (hand coping machines that make the same part over and over)
If I have a request for a one of a kind knife I build the customer a one of a kind knife. These knives cost 2500.00-10,000.00. There is a lot of work that goes into thinking of a way to make a one of a kind knife , not using the same design that the maker has used before.
There are knife collectors that cannot afford a 2500.00 knife. So the maker has to make a model knife.
The model knife helps cut the cost of making the knife because the maker then can make several of the same blade ect at one time. this cut down on the time it takes to drill holes from one part to the next ect. Thats all.
When making a model knife I offer options to allow the customer to have the knife as custom as they want it. When making any knife if you put dung into the design you get dung out. The propaganda about CNC being made the EVIL in custom knives is wrong in my opinion. Without this advancement knives would look like a yellow jacket jack knife still today. Not to say there is anything wrong with that, but look at other industries around the world. Every product improves. What is the problem with knives looking better, functioning better, and lasting longer?

Some would have collectors believe that cnc is evil. Well , its funny that some of the most sought after makers on the planet have been making these gems for 20 years right under our noses with cnc machines.

If the maker is SMART enough to program, use cad for there designs, and build a knife in there own shop with a cnc machine (THERESELVES) then I feel they are the ones to be sought after.
I also feel that the makers who farm out to cnc shops and assemble parts are really factories.
There is a difference. One maker works like a dog 16 hours a days 7 days a week to make ends meet.
The other buys there handles and blades Finished Then assembles them and goes out to dinner every night.

How many makers do you know that explain in public how there knives are made?

Custom - means made to order.

Handmade - means made with your hands. In my opinion That means NO TOOLS. It says HAND MADE.
I wanna see this done. I dont feel hand made includes lathes, mills, drill press's or electric ect.

Made by the maker in there own shop MEANS THE MAKER MAKES THE KNIFE IN THERE OWN SHOP. This means to me that the majority of the major parts of a knife are made in the makers shop , not farmed out. This should include forging and stock removal type knives. Both styles have to start with steel.

I buy pivots, clips , screws, steel for the blades and handles ect.
I do the rest . I design most of these items that I buy to assure that my ideas are part of the knife.

Also the comment about the heat treating be farmed out, makes me wonder about mind control.
What is the most important part of the knife (called the heart of the knife)
The Blade is called the heart of the knife.
I feel if a maker farms out there heat treating then they give someone else the control over the most important part of the knife. You wont find that in my shop. If I was collecting a knife I would want to MAKE sure the knife was heat treated by the maker.

Im not trying to start a flame here. Knife making has to advance. History proves it. (horse and buggy vs the automobile) Which one do you drive?

Nuff Said

Dave ABQ
08-19-2001, 09:24 AM
This is my interpretation of custom, hand made ect. knives. If the knife maker has control over the entire process, then it is a custom knife. I realize that they will have standard models, but most custom knife makers will allow you to make changes to that model, you end up with a custom knife that way. Now I don't really care what tools the knife maker uses as long as he is controlling it. Now I don't have problems with apprentices, we need them to be the knife makers of the future. I do have a problem with employees, this then becomes a production knife. The difference is an apprentice will go on the be a knife maker, an employee is just making the same part all day long with no intention of becoming a knife maker in their right. I disagree with Darrel Ralph on heat treating, I understand what he is saying, but lets look at custom guns. A custom rifle shop might have several specialist's, someone who is a stock maker, barrel maker, a gentleman who does the machine work and fits the barrel, someone who does the blueing and finish work. That doesn't mean they can't do everything else on the rifle, but these are the areas they excel at. If knife maker "X" sends his blade to be heat treated, I'm fine with that providing he discloses he sends his blades out and to whom he sends them. In the end honesty about their work is what really counts with custom knife makers. The customer will decide what is important to them and buy accordingly. Just my .02.

Les Robertson
08-19-2001, 06:03 PM

You have hit upon my point exactly. If a maker uses a CNC to produce a particular knife. I still consider it a custom knife. The CNC is only as good as the person using it.

Most of the CNC work done on custom knives is done on the handle. Yes, there are some applications that can be done on the blade.

Michael Walker can use a CNC, doesn't mean he uses it on every knife. Im sure he also has a micro-lathe and some other specialty type equipment.

Those who buy his work and Ray's work understand that these makers have taken knife making to a level of percision that few makers (without these tools) can ever hope to attain.

The other factor and probably the most important is that these makers are very upfront about the tools they use and what they use them for.

I once heard Ray say that his knives are the best in the world that are untouched by human hands.

Now, that is about as honest as you can get.

To many makers are missing the point about what is and what is not. Ultimately, the customer decides what is sought after and what is not.

I encourage every maker I work with to look at all the mechanical options for producing knives. Times are changing as is technology.

When I had a statistics course in Grad School. We were told we could use calculators but not run the problems on a computer. We were told this was for are own good. As we need to memorize all these formulas for statistcal analysis.

I replied to the professor, but why learn something that you will not use. Not statistics, but using a calculator to run them. I pointed out that corporate america now uses computer software to run these problems. All we do is plug in the paramaters and the information.

This was one of only two course I got a B in during Grad School. I think he had it in for me. My statistical analysis of the situation backs up my hypothesis! :D

Point being, look to the future and use every bit of technology you can get your hands on. Just be honest about it.

Les Robertson
All infromation is correct (+/-3%)
Statistical Humor

08-20-2001, 04:13 PM
There is nothing wrong with CNC machining. It is simply a manufacturing method that replaces the maker's hand control of a machine with a computer control. There are many great makers and knives which utilize this technology, a few of which I am even priviliged to own.

On the good side it allows for a high degree of precision and for a more cost effective method of replicating parts. Better knives for less you say? No problem there.

On the negative side for me I find makers that utilize this method tend to make knives that look pretty similiar due to common stock componants. I personally like handmade knives because not only do I appreciate the craftsmanship that is required to build a knife by hand I also like the fact you can "customize" it more due to the lack of reliance on stock patterns. For instance, the last handmade I bought I selected the size, blade shape, handle pattern, and made it a lefty and as far as I know there is not another one like it in the world. I like that. It was no easy thing to build completely by hand and that is its great appeal to me. This is not an issue for everyone nor is it particularly logical, but then again how logical is it to buy expensive customes if all we were concerned about was just cutting!

So I guess the question of CNC etc.and what is a custom knife comes down to a few to me:
(there are no universal right/ wrong answers)

1. Who used the term "custom knives" in the first place as very few are truly custom? Bad choice of terms.

2. What is a handmade knife? (I like Rades' definition)

3. Does one cross the line from craftsman to mini-factory with the utilization of automated production methods like CNC machining? These are the same methods used at small knife houses (CRK, Whitewing etc) and big factories. This is not techno-phobia but a question as to at which point does the use of manufacturing aids (be they CNC, outsourcing, etc) change a custom knife from being "custom" to a "production" knife (albeit a really nice and often expensive one).

4. If you found out a knife you thought was handmade was actually CNC-made would you be dissapointed? (this happened to me)

5. should the use of CNC etc be openly disclosed? Why are some makers reluctant to do so? Should you even have to ask?

6. Are you willing to pay a premium for an all handmade knife?

7. Heat treat. I currently avoid the issue by being partial to stellite/ talonite.

8. Do I really need any more knives? noooo... but there are plenty I want!!

08-20-2001, 04:37 PM
bandaidman, many good thoughts.

1. custom as a definition is still being debated among all of us.
2. I can accept Rades Def.
3. You cross the line when you start making more than one of the exact same thing.
4. Yes, if I found out after I had purchased it. No, if I knew ahead of time.
5. Yes, it should be disclosed, personally I know how hard it is to program one of those things and it is a skill that should be praised not shunned. It brings me back to the early days of computers and CADD. Cad users where and many still are considered glorified draftsmen, when it is a different skill and should be treated as such. I think makers either, A) want you to think that it's a handmade knife (and you want to stay away from those guys) or B) can't properly explain what it is that's being done and fear that people will think that the knife they are getting is a production piece. Caveat Empor, I'm afraid applies here.
6. Maybe, depends on the knife and the maker
7. heat treat I understand Darrel's feelings about this. It is the most important phase/process in knifemaking how could you not do it yourself. Yet, I also understand that it is not always feasable (for various reasons) to do so. I'm not as strict, but I think that to really master your craft you must do this at one time or another. Once you have and you understand what's going on, the maker will be better able to farm out the heat treat as they will know what to ask for.
8. ME TOO! :)

OK, I'm a techie, so I'm very pro CNC and CADD and all that related good stuff. I program CNC for a Bridgeport that my buddy uses for motor work. Mostly though I map what he has done manually to allow the bridgeport to speed up the process. He still finishes all his head and motor work by hand. But the hogging out takes forever. the knifemakers will appreciate this, ever sand an intake down to 2000, I have, what a pain, but man, does that motor flow! The thing is while I have saved programs to speed things up we rarely use them, cause he builds purpose built motors and that varies the internals by what you want. Is it a street car or race car? what are you trying to do with it? what kind of racing? drag racing and nascar and rallying are all very different beasts. What are the class limitations of the kind of racing you will be doing? is this going to be a street light racer? a highway car? He asks this every time he builds a motor for someone. Then he builds the motor to suit the purpose. Then of course there is the experimenting. Last time we did this we got more horsepower maybe if we redirect the flow even more we'll get some more.

This is the same in knifemaking you build knives for a task, skinning, caping, camp knife etc. etc. It's the easy repetition once the programming has been done that scares many in the knifemaking community. But if you constantly inovate what difference does it make whether it's done through a computer or by hand.