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What is a handmade knife?

When Tactical Knives' editorial Steven Dick approached me about writing this article, I thought, “Wow! Now there’s a subject that’s REALLY a bag of worms!” This question has been the subject of many discussions between members of the Knifemakers’ Guild. At the annual meeting last year, we formed a committee to write new Bylaws that encompass the technology of the 21st century. Here are the “proposed”, and I want to stress the word “proposed” new bylaws, on which the guild is voting. The new bylaws will be finalized at the Guild show this year.

For the purposes of these Bylaws, the term “Handmade Knives” shall mean those knives that are 100% made by the maker, in the maker’s own shop using his or her own equipment. Notwithstanding the foregoing, the following shall not disqualify a knife from being a “Handmade Knife”:

1. Embellishments, including engraving, Scrimshaw and carving;

2. Assembly items such as screws, pins, balls, washers, and bolt sets;

3. Heat treatment services

4. Precision ground, mill run and Damascus bar stock and sheet stock and

5. Collaborations between Probationary, Voting and/or Founding members.

As far as “the technology of the 21st century”, I was of course referring to CNC (Computer Numeric Controlled), CAD (Computer Assisted Drawing), Laser and Water jet cutting. Some people have a problem with knife makers, making knives with any help from CAD and CNC. Even though, my shop is all manual, I think we must embrace technology, not pretend that it’s not there. It’s not going away.

The new 2-D and 3-D CNC mills and Lathes are marvelous machines. They are an expensive investment and time consuming learning to operate. If the knife maker makes only 4 or 5 models, then this technology is a real time saver. Most makers and I don’t make 30 or 40 knives of the same kind, at the same time. That is way too boring.

A 3-D mill can spit out parts that are perfect. To me, that is not a handmade knife. I feel that as long as the maker grinds, shapes, and finishes the knife, then using technology to speed you up, is OK. What I don’t think is right, is using this technology to finish a knife 90% and then the maker just does the final assembly and finishing.

There is one well know knife maker (Bob Terzuola) that has used the services of a laser cutter for years. When he goes to a show, Bob lays two liners and a blade on his table. This lets his customers see, how his knives start out. All Bob has done, is taken some of the grunt work out of making a knife. In my opinion, his knives are as much hand made as mine. At this time, I make my knives the old fashioned way. Maybe in the future I will use the services of a laser to cut out my liners and blades. Well I finally joined the Twenty-First Century, please click here.

The bottom line is what do our customers want. If they walk up to a Knife maker’s table and he has 30 knives shaped exactly the same, and the action is exactly the same, they know that more advanced technology was used to make these knives. At the other end of the spectrum, you have those makers who forge the steel and produce the screws that are used in their knives. You will find that the majority of makers are somewhere in the middle.

Well-educated knife collectors can see and recognize those differences in how a knife is made, and have made a choice about the kind of knife he/she wants to accumulate. The bottom line is, I feel that the knife maker should tell the customer about the steps he/she used to make their knives.