“5 from the Grinder” with Sean McWilliams

Today’s installment of our 5 from the Grinder series is Sean McWilliams. What makes Sean unique is that he specializes in forging stainless steel, a difficult and not universally accepted practice. The problem with forging stainless as I understand it is it requires a very narrow temperature band to work. Too cold, and the steel doesn’t move effectively and may develop cracks. Too hot, and it becomes hard and brittle, and may develop cracks.

Sean has made a career out of embracing the challenge of forging stainless blades. I will let him tell you why.


Sean McWilliams

First, in a few sentences, please introduce yourself and let us know what led you to making/designing knives.

I’m a bit of a different knife maker, not so much because I forge, but because I forge stainless steels. Why? Because I can, but more because forging makes a superior blade. I like knives that really cut, stay sharp, and don’t corrode or darken. Knives that go where I go, in the sky, out the door, in the rain, in the cold, on the rivers and oceans. It’s a good feeling, having my knife instantly accessible, ready to go when the situation gets “dicey.”


Kwaito II 3-1/2” blade forged 1/8” S35VN, tapered full tang with tactical cord wrap, 7” overall. With Kydex-Cordura sheath in Desert camo. Bead blast finish

Question 1: What knifemaker(s) or designer(s) have had the biggest influence on you? Do you have any mentors?

My most important influencers have been bladesmiths like Bill Moran, emphasized ‘classic’ design, Jim Hrisoulas, Author of THE COMPLETE BLADESMITH, Henry Frank and Bob Terzuola folders and linerlocks. The ABS continues its position against forged stainless knives, but to my many, many customers over 30 years, all are firm believers in my forged stainless knives.


Columbian Compact Tactical CTX 4-1/2” blade forged 1/4” S35VN, saber ground blade, 416 stainless guard and buttcap. With Kydex-Cordura sheath in ACU camo. Bead blast finish.


Question 2: What is your favorite knife pattern or style from history?

If you look at my blades, they’re almost all spear point or clip point  Bowie style blades. Handles are durable space-age materials, contoured for grip and comfort, fittings are all stainless steel. Blade shapes remain traditional and flat ground-these styles persist beacuse they WORK! Because my blades could cut their way out of a leather sheath in a heartbeat, I have replaced leather with kydex lined Cordura nylon sheaths that allow multiple carry options.


Panama Fighter-4 4-1/2” blade forged 3/16” S35VN, 416 stainless guard, Maroon Linen micarta, satin finish. With Burgundy Kydex-Cordura sheath.


Question 3: What is the next big thing in knifemaking? / What direction do you see the industry going?

The next big thing in knives will be just like the last big thing- mostly hype, bling and dazzle, with little real substance, maybe the knife world would finally recognize the viability of forged stainless-that would be really BIG. The knife market follows demographics and I see that going two opposite directions. High end or cheaper and cheaper, just like society, with the middle class slated for termination.
I’m not going that way, and knives in general are not going away. Real people will need real knives, maybe more than ever. And that’s where you’ll find me, forging stainless. “To achieve the impossible, one must first accomplish the absurd.” Einstein.


Model #1 4-1/2” blade, forged 3/16” S35VN, tapered full tang, Green Canvas micarta scales, 8-1/4” overall, bead blast finish. With green Kydex-Cordura sheath.

Question 4: Is there a knife from your lineup that you feel best exhibits who you are as a knifemaker/designer in terms of design elements, aesthetic or techniques used?

The Panama folder linerlock represents an apex of design for me. To get the shape and feel of the Panama Fighter into a folding package was quite a complex challenge. From the challenges of  forging the S35VN blades and using all stainless construction to hardware details, forming, heat treating and finishing the pocket clip, it has been a journey of joy, heartbreak, and excitement. I can’t wait to finish my own PF linerlock finished. Might become my everyday EDC.


Panama Folder Linerlock 3-7/16” blade forged S35VN, 416 stainless bolsters and liners, Green Canvas micarta scales, stainless pocket clip, thumb stud and screws have subdued finish, 8-3/8’ overall.

Question 5: What is your EDC and why?

My EDC is a Model #2 with a cord wrapped handle, 5” blade, 9” overall. Very slim package, lives on the packstrap of my day pack, always there, instantly accessible, nobody even notices. It’s forged of BG-42 stainless, been carrying it over 20 years.

Model 2CW001

Model 2 with cord-wrap.

You can check out more of Sean’s work at his website: SeanMcwilliamsForge, or follow him on Twitter (@bladesmith111).

If you are a knifemaker or know a knifemaker that would like to be featured in a future 5 from the Grinder post, please send an email to thetruthaboutknives@gmail.com


Ranger-7 Survival Knife, 7-1/2” blade forged 5/16” CPM T440V, 416 stainless guard and buttcap with lashing holes.Natural Canvas micarta. Kydex-Cordura Ranger Cargo sheath has pockets in front and top flap for survival items. Bead blast finish.


  1. Robert Evans says:

    Wow, I remember reading about Sean’s knives back in the mid-1980’s in the old Fighting Knives magazine that Greg Walker edited. Nice to see he’s still still making knives!

  2. NavyRetGold says:

    McWilliams seems to be making real knives for real world applications instead of “art knives” which only have the purpose of separating a collector’s money from his wallet for a product of questionable utility. However, McWilliams’ prices can only be described as outrageous. So I don’t really see much here to be applauded. How about doing an article on a knifemaker who doesn’t price his stuff like it was made of solid gold. Are all readers happy to throw down $1000 on a utility knife?

    1. Robert Evans says:

      TTAK has already done some “5 from the Grinder” featuring less expensive knives, look particularly at the one on L.T. Wright Knives. I have a couple of of these and they are tough knives at a price a working man can afford.

      As for McWilliams, he has been in the business at least since the 1980’s, he hand-forges all of his knives, and they are hand-forged stainless steel, which adds another level of difficulty to the making, so his prices are justified as far as that goes, and in line with the work of similar master blacksmiths.

      1. NavyRetGold says:

        Fair enough. And I agree McWilliams turns out some very appealing product. I would like to acquire a nice fighter for myself, I just don’t want to spend the coin he asks. I should not have presumed to speak for anybody other than myself. That’s MY problem, not HIS, as he apparently has plenty of customers willing to pay what he asks. I’m a fan of his work, it’s just outside of my price range. In any case, it’s nice to see what a master blacksmith is capable of producing.

        1. If you are looking for a “fighter” at a less vertigo-inducing price, look at some of Kim Breed’s knives. His knives are usually 80CrV2 and not stainless, but almost all are sub $300 which is probably the best deal in custom knife from a maker of considerable stature. You will appreciate the fact that he is a retired SOF Master Sgt.

          Best way to see Kim is

  3. NavyRetGold says:

    Thanks, Clay. I’ll check it out. Yes I do appreciate that he is a retired SOF MSgt. Those guys are real American heroes and deserve our respect. I saw in his picture gallery that he is a fan of Bloody Mary’s! Gotta love that! Saw some interesting knife designs.. I’ll investigate further.

  4. shannon says:

    I have a old relic appears to have silver guard and four rivets inGold guard thick goes into a point on both sides what do I got fixed blade

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“5 from the Grinder” with Sean McWilliams

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