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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.