How many times have we all heard the term “It’s the sign of the times”? Whatever it is that we love seems to constantly change around us to where we eventually catch ourselves saying “back in the good old days”. What I don’t understand is why we as humans are so prone to be creatures of habit and seemingly scared of change in a world that constantly promises it. We all know people or maybe even know ourself that maybe has not taken advantage of a opportunity because we were uncertain of the outcome. Who knows, sometimes choices are good, and obviously some are bad, but one thing that is for certain, change is going to happen. It needs no approval from you or I, and it definitely is not going to wait for us. So you might as well embrace it, because change its coming.
As we all know, one thing that is not immune from change is the knife market, or more specifically the handmade knife market which is where I make my living. Again, sometimes change is good, and sometimes not. In this article, I am going to give you my logic on what I think is going wrong and what we can do as a knife community to turn it around.
Understand that my goal here is not to anger my whole reading audience, but instead be the guy that steps up and says, out of respect for the craft that we all love so much, it’s time to cut through the stuff that comes out of the back of the bull. Someone needs to be the guy that addresses the elephant in the room, and if I have to be that guy for the purpose of benefiting us all so be it, because the way I see it, we have lost the ability to speak to each other man to man.
My guess is it goes back to a kindergarten mentality of fear of being rejected. We say things to be nice and sometimes that leads people down the wrong path. I think a lot of that happens in the knife community. Its no big secret that this group of like minded people are some of the best folk to ever grace the earth, but sometimes being overly nice can be destructive. I’m not saying we should all strive to be insufferable S.O.B’s, but there comes a time when we need to be honest when our opinions are asked. This by no means says we cannot do it respectfully and not give good advice without being insulting. Believe me, we will come out better in the end. I am reminded of a quote I heard one time. Unfortunately I don’t know who originally said it, but it goes like this. Correct a fool and he will hate you forever, correct a wise man, and he will thank and respect you forever.
In my last article, I wrote specifically about what is good and often overlooked about the annual BLADE show. One thing that I didn’t mention and is equally good is BLADE is a great place to feel out the market, get fresh ideas, see what’s selling, and try to plan and anticipate where the market is going. I gotta say this year was the strangest year for me as far as seeing what’s going on out there.
What I usually sold out of the years before never got so much as picked up, and things I took expecting to bring home, sold out without the weekend being even close to half over. As I spoke to many makers, this seemed to be a common thing. A lot of folks saw a decline in sales especially in knives in the 3 to5 in. blade lengths. Why you ask? Simple. The easy answer and the truth is that the market is flooded with them, but going deeper than that, why is the market flooded? That’s easy as well. Change. Who’s fault is it? Well since we are being honest. it’s yours!
Now of course I don’t really mean that you the reader are singlehandedly responsible for the possibility of a total collapse of the knife world, but I do mean that we as a knife community need to be more responsible and most importantly educated. Educated as a consumer, and educated as makers altogether.
This craft has taken huge popularity leaps in the recent years and more so in recent months with popular shows like Forged in Fire and various survival and woodslore shows. We need to slow down, calm ourselves and don’t forget that this market was and should be based on craftsmanship, good design and performance of a good tool. Not how many likes it gets on social media, and sure as hell not because some YouTuber with no credentials tells you to go out and buy it.
We tend to value things by how they captivate our attention and have gotten away from the things that really make this community great. That is hard work, skill, and honesty just to name a very few. I’ve been to many shows where the most talented maker in the building didn’t sell well while people were paying three times his prices on knives that were supposedly hand forged only to find out upon my own investigation that the knives where stock removal knives heated up to beat hammer marks in them. These knives were carrying Master Smith pricing with not so much a Junior Smith rating by the maker.
Another fine example are people, and worse yet, makers that don’t know simple terminology. I know of some people that consider themselves makers and can’t tell you what a distal taper or a roller platen is. Why is this? Because they obviously don’t do the work. They pay for their blanks to be water jetted, stamped or lasered out. They might or might not grind the bevel. They pay for cnc handles, they pay for heat treating, they pay for laser engraving or for cerakoting to cover up horrible grind lines they put on it, then they may pay for someone to make a sheath for it. Then they put their name on it and call themselves a knifemaker and jack their prices up to cover their costs.
This isn’t knife making folks. Sure, there is nothing wrong with utilizing or farming out work if demand for your product is that high and your o.k. with it. Nor do I have a problem with the man or woman that hires their designs to be made by other makers as long as that person knows what they are talking about. But if you are only one step of the process and don’t know anything about the other ones, let alone have enough respect for the craft to actually try to learn about it, get out of the way and let the ones that work there cabooses off make a living.
Brutally honest I will admit, but these examples will continue to get away with it because of the uneducated consumer.
Now, before you all get the torches and pitchforks out and form a posse against me, let it be known that I watch the shows, even the YouTube videos. They have their place, and I believe they are part of what is drawing interest in this craft – which is good – but everybody jumping into it without properly learning technique and/or design logic is bad, very bad, and that’s where being a responsible and educated consumer is important. Being able to know the difference between quality and crap is essentially going to be the rise or the demise of knife making.
As far as YouTubers go, there are some that are knowledgeable and put out good information, but honestly there are far too few of them. Most are bad ones with no credentials and really have no business telling you anything about something they aren’t knowledgeable enough to understand anyway. We are grown adults, we don’t need people telling us, we need people teaching us so we can draw our own conclusions and make responsible choices of what we want to spend our money on.
I have about three to five YouTubers a week ask me for knives to review, and they promise you a good review if they can keep the knife. Honestly, that appalls me. They have no desire to give you good info, it’s just a way for them to get a knife without paying for it. How is this honorable and beneficial to this craft? So, let it be known, if a YouTuber is reviewing a knife that I sent to them, it’s because I respect and value their opinion, not because I care about Facebook likes. As far as the rest of them, take the information that works for you for what it is but draw your own conclusion. You have your own mind, your own brain. Use it. You might surprise yourself.
So, now that I’ve ripped on all of you for a while, I’ll give you a rest and let you in on what you should expect from me (or any knife maker in general).
Chances are if you know anything about handmade knives and you are going to buy one, you know that it’s going to be costly compared to mass produced knives. What are you buying? Well taking into consideration that if the maker is full time or not, he or she has expenses. Materials, electric/gas bills, maybe pays an employee or two and has insurances and countless costs we all have.
Besides all of that this is another thing you should be paying for. You should be buying a piece of the makers logic and design experience as well as the end product (the knife). For example, I do not design and make golf clubs. Why? Because I don’t know anything about golf. Sounds pretty simple right?
But ask yourselves how many people out there make and design knives that very well may like them, (knives) but ask how much time using them do they actually have? What do they really know about their own product? Is the handle shaped well with comfortable ergos? Is it the correct handle for the knife at all? Is it the correct grind and blade shape for the intended purpose? Is the steel the right selection and if so is the heat treat done properly? These are just a few things you should be paying for in a custom knife.
Again, we get back to the word educated, as in an educated maker that knows and understands these things. In short, not only are you paying for an awesome knife that should last many generations, but you are also paying for the maker’s knowledge that has been obtained, in many cases, through many years of hard work.
Just because someone draws a knife on a piece of paper and it looks cool means less than squat when the rubber meets the road, and nothing is worse than spending good money on something that will not perform. Its is not hard to make a visually appealing knife. It’s a little harder to make a purpose driven knife that is visually appealing. Making a knife that is functional for its given task, comfortable to use, made of high quality materials correctly with good craftsmanship AND is visually appealing is a different ball game. It’s what you should expect from a maker, and it’s what a maker should strive for with each piece.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to tell you where or on what to spend your money. To each their own, and if it pleases you and makes you happy at the end of the day, good for you. I’m simply trying to iterate that education and knowledge is the key to better results, whatever the topic or situation may be.
Don’t believe me? You all think I’m off my rocker? That’s fine, I got broad shoulders and can take it, but all I have to do to prove my point is encourage you and hope you will get off your rear and get some dirt time. It will take you no time whatsoever to figure out what’s good, what works, what is just the next fad and what makers know their stuff and which ones don’t.
There are plenty of skills weekends and knife gatherings out there, many of them free of charge. Get out there. Understand how a distal taper can help with the balance of a knife so it doesn’t wear you out during use. Understand why a certain steel is better in different regions than others due to corriossion resistance or why one is better than the other for edge retention. Learn what handles work, the difference between the different grinds and the best uses for them.
There is so much to learn if you just push away from the keyboard long enough to do it. There are also a lot of very fine and talented makers and craftsmen out there that understand said things and can execute them flawlessly. Many, I’m not ashamed to say I find inspirational and honored to call friends, but on the flipside, there are a lot of clueless hacks out there whose only concern is to get into your wallet. They give all of us a bad name. You’ll do yourself a favor by knowing the difference.
In short, be a good maker. Be a good consumer. Do both of those two a favor and understand what makes both. This is how we all preserve this craft for us and future generations.