When does a custom knifemaker stop being a custom knifemaker?

Discussion in 'General Knife Discussion' started by 000Robert, Sep 16, 2020.

  1. 000Robert

    000Robert Gold Member Gold Member

    Mar 28, 2020
    I am curious - When does a custom knifemaker stop being a custom knifemaker? Is there a certain number of a knife model made that makes them no longer a custom knifemaker? Or maybe this is a bad idea for a thread.
  2. Richard338

    Richard338 Gold Member Gold Member

    May 3, 2005
    Coop gave a great answer to a similar question, so I'm quoting him here.
  3. Random Dan

    Random Dan Gold Member Gold Member

    Jan 21, 2012
    The above is a great answer. I don't think there is a universally agreed upon "line" for what is custom and what is not. Adding to the confusion the word custom is rather loaded, as it can also be used to describe the ability to choose from a set of colors and options on a production knife (e.g. Benchmade custom shop).
    000Robert and TheEdge01 like this.
  4. TheEdge01


    Apr 3, 2015
    Anyone who makes and designs a knife for a particular customer, is a custom knife maker. As already noted, Benchmade as a company mass produces and customizes knives for individuals, so the buyer is still receiving a custom knife even if it isn’t completely handmade. On the other hand, a handmade knife isn’t exactly custom if a buyer doesn’t offer input to help determine how the knife is made.
    Pugsly648, x20, eveled and 1 other person like this.
  5. 000Robert

    000Robert Gold Member Gold Member

    Mar 28, 2020
    I realize that some knifemakers have some custom stuff for their knives. But I was mainly focusing on the custom knifemakers themselves. If they made 50 knives of each particular style, would they still be considered custom knifemakers? Is there a number of their knives in various knife styles when they would be considered production knifemakers?
  6. midnight flyer

    midnight flyer Basic Member Basic Member

    Jan 12, 2009
    Answers to this question will be nearly completely subjective until you get to a certain threshold. If a knifemaker had a pile of proprietary, patented parts he designed that are interchangeable with one another and allows you to mix and match parts, steel, scales, etc. out of a catalogue to get the knife you always wanted, and he assembles your dream knife from his catalogue of parts, is it a custom knife?

    If a maker uses a off the shelf parts (screws, sheets of micarta, pivot material, pins, compression rivets, adhesives (rather than making their own), etc.), has a company water jet some of his part on his popular models, does that take away from his "custom" status? How an anyone come up with a valid "one size fits all" definition of products that range from a piece of art that are made completely by hand (think of sword smiths in Japan that actually make their own steel) to popular makers that buy their micarta, buy steel bars, use off the shelf pins, have complicated parts laser/water jet cut, so they can spend their time in assembly an fit/finsh?

    Draw a more divergent example: I have an acquaintance that I see on occasion at a local gun show that makes knives from old files and from farrier's rasps. He makes his own "micarta" from things like khaki, blue jeans, orange boat canvas, cuts his own scales from Texas ebony, mesquite, etc., and makes his own decorative pins with aluminum and brass rods with wire in it, filled with epoxy. Since he used no jigs, doesn't have any parts made for him, harvests his own steel, and makes almost all his own parts, none of his knives are exactly alike. Close, though... he has popular designs with the local hunters that he makes over and over. His fixed blade knives are about $225 to $275, and include a sheath made by him from scratch. He feels a sheath is part of the knife as he can't figure out how someone would carry a fixed blade without one. He doesn't make his own steel, tan his own leather or forge his own pins, but outside of that his knives are totally made by him, one at a time.

    So how does he stack up against the guys (some here... no names!!) that have as much of the grunt work done for them (cutting out parts, buying the large shamrock or diamond pattern pins, buying pressure treated scales, factory made micarta, etc.) that turn out artful masterpieces and command hundreds of $$ and have no sheath? These guys are considered nearly artists, have years long waiting lists, and are known for their personalities and they way they deal with customers to be part of the knife, namely, limiting your options.

    And as a professional, for hire cabinet maker on occasion, I am asked to make a copy of a cabinet I made for someone else. I don't make my own plywood, cook my own hide glue, make my saw blades, or make my own finishes. Since it is a copy of my "one off" and I don't make my components, merely cut them out, fit and finish them, does that make me it less of a custom maker? This question has been batted back and forth ad nauseum by cabinet makers, amateurs and artisans since I started in the trades nearly 50 years ago.

    I don't know how you can do much more than debate this question. Hope it doesn't devolve into arguing.
    Last edited: Sep 16, 2020
    000Robert likes this.
  7. 000Robert

    000Robert Gold Member Gold Member

    Mar 28, 2020
    It won't devolve into arguing by me. Personally, my idea of a custom knifemaker is someone that makes their own style of knives. How they make it is not important to me, but I do love the exactness of machines. Maybe that's because I'm a low-level machinist and have been around them my whole life.
    So, someone that makes their own style of Bowie knife, for example, could still be considered a custom knifemaker even though there have probably been hundreds, if not thousands of variations of a Bowie knife.
  8. abcdef


    Oct 28, 2005
    Always an interesting question. Where does one draw the line? Does the true custom maker have to dig the iron ore, smelt it and eventually end up with his/her own custom steel? Raise the feed, feed the animals, butcher them and tan the hides for the sheaths?

    Most would answer "no", but are they correct?
    000Robert likes this.
  9. 000Robert

    000Robert Gold Member Gold Member

    Mar 28, 2020
    I would say that they are.
  10. Danke42


    Feb 10, 2015
    When a custom knifemaker stops making custom knives they're not a custom knifemaker.

    To really suit the title though they do need to be somewhat hands on for each blade. That's in theory what folks are paying for; the ever elusive "name".

    If they're just ordering blanks from who knows where, getting their minions to grind them out and then giving the choice of black or silver Corby bolts they're not really "custom". At that point they're just a niche brand.
  11. Ante Vukorepa

    Ante Vukorepa Basic Member Basic Member

    Aug 28, 2020
    When they take off their costume.


    Wait, no.
    Where are my glasses...
    Dr Heelhook likes this.
  12. mendezj

    mendezj Basic Member Basic Member

    Nov 24, 1998
    Custom or bespoke? In my opinion, the only custom knife is the one made to fit someone’s specific needs or wants. Many so-called custom makers are craftsmen who make knives of their own design or choosing, on their own, in an artisan way. Electrical equipment such as drills, sanding and polishing belts, etc., are perfectly acceptable (even desirable) for any craftsman to use. I believe that any more or less “custom” has nothing to do with the quality of the finished product.
    jideta likes this.
  13. Mitchell Knives

    Mitchell Knives Knifemaker Moderator

    May 21, 2000
    "Custom" is often used as a synonym for "handmade".

    People use these terms interchangeably, which can be confusing.

    Further adding to this confusion is the fact than many "handmade" or "custom" knives are actually made overseas in sweat shops and peddled stateside by criminals posing as knife makers.

    Few knife makers are willing to make a truly unique and custom knife.
    Heirphoto, 22-rimfire, jideta and 2 others like this.
  14. jideta

    jideta Gold Member Gold Member

    Apr 8, 2020

    90% of my knives are handmade.
    Only six are custom.

    I struggled a bit with the whole 'custom' and 'handmade' thing.
    Again, most of are handmade, but I call it 'off the shelf' or 'handmade' unlike other so called 'custom' stuff just so that there is differentiation. What they call 'sole authorship' in design and creation but with no input from the 'custom'er.

    The six 'custom' knives had design input from me; shape, length, handle material, features, etc. One of a kind.

    A custom work is like a commision in art; made to order for a particular reason or person.

    As Mr. Mitchell has said above, I was surprised to find several 'custom makers' who will not deviate from the patterns they already do.
    Handmade? yes.
    Not really custom in my book.
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  15. Danke42


    Feb 10, 2015
    It definitely gets fuzzy on Custom vs. Handmade.

    Some folks that will make you a custom will be pretty darn far from "handmade" but that's not bad always. Cuts down on the human error.

    Other folks who hand make their knives would literally laugh themselves to death if you suggested the open their books for you but instead of signature 10V steel they make a signature blade in a 440C so you only need to pay $100. Custom is not in their spellcheck.
    000Robert likes this.
  16. 000Robert

    000Robert Gold Member Gold Member

    Mar 28, 2020
    Time is money as they say. The more time someone spends on making a knife the more they will charge for making it. I don't see how anyone could make $100 knives and stay in business unless they had a big production facility.
  17. Danke42


    Feb 10, 2015
    Most likely (as long as they are good quality blades) they're an efficient hobbyist or someone with their own machine shop that generates serious cash to pay the bills. Then the can indulge in building knives and turning them over. Especially if they don't include sheaths.
    000Robert likes this.
  18. 000Robert

    000Robert Gold Member Gold Member

    Mar 28, 2020
    That would work.
  19. not2sharp

    not2sharp Gold Member Gold Member

    Jun 29, 1999
    From a collector’s perspective it would be at that point where they stop caring about their collectors/customers. It would make little sense to try to stymy technological progress and I can tell you from experience that most makers are far more capable than their customers of coming up with good knife designs; and justified in limiting themselves to what they believe they can successfully produce with their current experience and equipment.

    I am not even concern about whether they have help in producing their products. Unfortunately, life happens, and a makers physical ability will change over time. I want them to have the ability to continue their art even when their health or success necessitates a less direct hands on approach. The important thing is that the brand and the quality for which is known continue to improve.

    The real damage happens when a maker who has been producing expensive and well regarded product decides to license his brand to a mass manufacturer who then undercuts his own market by selling cheapened knockoffs of the same products at a fraction of the price.

    For example, I believe Randall Made Knives has done an excellent job of maintaining their brand position despite the passing of the founding artist. Things could never be quite the same, but they have done an excellent job of respecting their customer base, and they have been able to maintain reasonably stable products and price points. They may no longer be a “custom knife maker”. But they continue to be what they have been for a long time.

  20. BladeMan

    BladeMan KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Feb 12, 1999
    Interesting Topic.
    As for me as maker, i don't feel that i am no custom maker because i make a specific model a dozen of times or even more of them. I design all my knives myself from scratch and use a hacksaw, files and sandpaper only (and a drill press for holes) to make them. So even if i try very hard all knives, even of the same "model", are always a little different. I make and work at one knife at a time, don't do batches, make the leather sheaths myself and stitch storage cases for each knife too.

    And like stated here, time is money, although i hate to say but if you try to make a living from this, and doing the knives the way i do, i can't offer a mid size fixed blade for 250 bucks when i can make only about 3-5 small to mid-size fixed blades a month. If i make a folder it's down to 1 and maybe 1 fixed blade.
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