TTAK visits TOPS Knives



I lived in Idaho Falls from 2002-2006. During that time I built Hyde Drift Boats, had my first paid writing gig at a local weekly paper, and worked as a flyfishing guide on the South Fork of the Snake River. I was a knife user, but was unaware of a fledgling knife company that I drove by on my way into work.

TOPS Knives had been founded a few years before my arrival in Idaho, 1998 in fact. I had never heard of them. I knew that Rio Fly Lines were a local company, but my world was flyfishing. Fast forward 11 years, and TOPS is now a serious player in USA Made knife market, and I had a chance to drop in on them last week as a member of the knife media.

Craig Powell, TOPS General Manager.

I was introduced to Craig Powell, General Manager of TOPS, by Joe Flowers at Blade Show 2016. Craig has been my point-of-contact at TOPS ever since, and has kept us abreast of their latest news and releases. He spent last Wednesday morning showing me around TOPS’s two production facilities.

My narrative of my visit is roughly chronological to my experience. It just so happens to be in roughly reverse order of the production process of a knife. Apropos of nothing at all, I am amused by this contrast. But I digress…

Final Assembly

The tour began with the final assembly room. This is just one of many places where the blades are quality inspected. Craig stressed repeatedly how dedicated TOPS is to QC at every stage along the way. A minimum of 6 people are inspecting each knife throughout its construction. Tops is proud of its <1% failure rate on their fixed blades.

All of the 50k+ knives/year TOPS produces are sharpened by the same 3 individuals. They can detect any anomaly in the steel as they put the final hand-ground edge on what had been to that point a CNC-grind process.

Sparks fly


All in a morning’s work

Each knife is hand fit to its sheath, which is another inspection opportunity.

Cerakote and other finishes are done here has well.

Going back to the topic of CNC, that is done in a separate facility. Craig took me there next.

TOPS’s CNC facility

The above machine CNC grinds all of the G10 handle scales. But there is one man, Benny, who does any final detailing on every scale requiring it.

Of course each knife is cut out and ground here as well.

As is heat treating.

I found the tumbling process (used to remove any burrs from the cutout process) particularly hypnotic.


I had been looking forward to visiting TOPS someday when I first learned they were in Idaho Falls. I knew I would be back at some point, and this was one of the highlights of my trip (fishing the Henry’s Fork and Madison Rivers didn’t suck either). I have long been a fan of TOPS. As a young and mid-sized American manufacturer they have had to be innovative and more than a little scrappy to claw market share from the legacy companies, many of whom are moving more of their manufacturing offshore.

Designer and company President Leo Espinoza has a great backstory as well. He literally started at the bottom – cleaning bathrooms and sweeping floors, and has through his hard-work and gifts for design risen to the top…wait for it…of TOPS. (groan)

I want to thank Craig for carving out several hours of his time to show me around. I enjoyed the tour, and I feel like this visit has really cemented the relationship between TOPS and TTAK.

Here are several other pictures (and videos) that didn’t have a place in my narrative, but I think bear sharing.

I thought the laser-engraving was done by gnomes. I stand corrected. @topsknives #knives #knifestagram #knifenation #madeinusa

A post shared by The Truth About Knives (@knifetruth) on

El Chetes, in the rough

Uploaded for embed. Surface grinding at @topsknives

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lots and lots of G10


Knives, knives everywhere.



  1. Cadeyrn says:

    That is a thing of beauty. Impressive!

    1. Brad Griffin says:

      Nick Shabaz, are you here incognito LOL. ‘a thing of beauty’…

  2. Sam L. says:

    Indeed, indeed!

  3. Jason says:

    TOPS puts out some great reasonably priced American made knives. Cant beat em..

  4. Arctodus says:

    You lucky dog you!
    I have been fortunate enough to meet Craig and Leo a few times at different shows and such. Even met Mike Fuller at BLADE a few years back.
    You’d be hard pressed to find a better group of people than the folks at TOPS Knives.

  5. Brad Griffin says:

    I started to read this linearly, but then after pondering your apropos of anything else amusement, I decided to work my way back from the end. I’m enjoying your posts. A lot of variety and interesting opinions. Thanks.

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  6. Brad Griffin says:

    Oh, and I didn’t miss your puns. You have a sharp wit. I need to hone my skills to compete.

  7. Jason says:

    I only have 1 Tops knife, a Silent Hero, and it’s a great knife. I love it. It is very well made, one of the best knives that I own. I traded an ESEE 5 for it and am very happy that I did.

  8. Grey Forte says:

    just picked up a fixed Kelly Worden TOPS USA WORTAC 5 . Would like feedback on this particular knife plz.

  9. Arctodus says:

    Grey Forte,
    I’m not personally familiar with the WORTAC 5, but I Admin a page on Facebook called TOPS Knives Users Group. If you would like, you can ask to join. We have over 5,000 members on the page including dealers (it’s not a buy/sell Group), and some of our members work for TOPS.
    You can get pretty much any information on anything TOPS makes, or has made, in this group.

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TTAK visits TOPS Knives

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