Jay Fisher - World Class Knifemaker

Quality Without Compromise

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"Tharsis Intense" in mirror polished and hot blued O1 high carbon tungsten vanadium tool steel blade, hand-engraved 304 stainless steel bolsters, Fossilized Stromatolite Gemstone handle, sheath in leather inlaid with black frogskin, stands of sculpted, hand-cast bronze
Tharsis

Factory Knives vs. Handmade Knives

"Freedom's Promise" custom designed handmade knife by Jay Fisher in hand-engraved stainless steel, blued steel, gemstone, ivory, opals and hand-carved bronzed leather

A real counterterrorism knife used by one of the top CT teams in the world:
"Ari B'Lilah" Tactical Combat Counterterrorism Knife, obverse side view in CPMS35VN high vanadium-niobium stainless steel blade, pure titanium bolsters, G10 composite handle, tension-locking sheath of kydex, aluminum, stainless steel, 6AL4V titanium, ultimate belt loop extender
More about this Ari B' Lilah IDF YAMAM Counterterrorism Knife

This Page
Why Compare?

I developed this page (and will continue to do so) in order to have a place for people to go for information, education, and reason about the prevalent and unusual comparison between factory knives and handmade custom knives. I don't expect this page to be read by most knife enthusiasts and aficionados, as they understand the simple differences between these very different knife types. For those who don't, they will find clear, concise, and sometimes painful answers in these topics. I've gathered up all the topics that were sprinkled around my website pertaining to this prevalent misconception, and put them all on this page.

Please remember that what you read is my opinion, after over thirty years in this field and business as a professional. If you have over thirty years of your own professional experience in this field, please do share it with the world by developing your own website where we can see thousands of the works you have created. If your life experience is using blades for cutting, welcome to the human race, where everyone alive, sooner or later, uses a knife. Just like any tool that is then created as a work of art, a knife can be a simple affair, or a complex one, a plain tool or an investment grade work of art.

Most people agree that factory knives simply can't be compared to well made fine custom knives by established knife makers, yet people do this all the time. While most people would not compare a F150 pickup truck to a Lamborghini, some insist on comparing factory knives to fine handmade knives. It could be that they simply do not have experience with fine handmade knives, and do have experience with factory or cheap knives. On this page, you will learn the stark and clear differences between the two.

I had to smile where on one foreign knife forum, I was attacked for simply stating what is clear among the many limitations, failings, and shortcomings about knives in general, and factory knives in particular. They claimed that I attacked and impugned other knives and other knifemakers while trying to sell my own product which is somehow a bad thing. It seems that these guys want no one to say anything about any knife, no matter what hype, misinformation, unsubstantiated claims, references, or performance is stated. It seems that they prefer a world of ignorance, where anyone can say anything about any knife, and everyone politely gets in line and agrees. This may be the world they live in, but it is not mine. And it saddens me that this profession is limited, lowered, and disrespected because so much misinformation, nonsense, and ignorance about it has persisted for so long. This is my part to stop all that by simply telling some truths. Of course, not all countries have freedom of speech...

Please understand that what you read here is not an attack. An attack would be a call for rallying disenfranchised customers who have actual complaints, losses, and damages due them for the failings of inferior knives. This would take the form of a class action lawsuit, disclosure demands, and imminent litigation. This would take place as lobbying for congress to pass laws about knife performance, durability, or material claims, since there really are none. This would take place as campaigns against and boycott of companies and individuals that spread wives tales, mystical, unwarranted, or unsubstantiated claims about knives, their properties, their history and origin, their design, function, durability, and their construction. That would be an attack, not some experienced professional knifemaker's opinion simply resting on his own website.

What you are reading here is my own experience, and as you read, you'll recognize your own experiences about knives, I'm certain. You'll probably be able to relate your own encounters of knife failings, limitations, and advertising hyperbole because they are so prevalent in this industry and art. My goal is to simply tell the truth: the mechanical, design, functional, material, and experiential truth about an industry that is rife with misdirection, exaggeration, and outright lies. This is my profession; I am tired of the bull that permeates it, and I'll do my best to educate anyone who will bother to educate themselves about it.

If you are a knifemaker, a knife collector, a knife enthusiast of any kind, you would do well to learn about knives, modern knives, their place, their types, design, function, materials, construction, limitations, and advantages. For some reason, many people think that what they learned when they were kids, or what they learn on a factory website, popular movie or television show, or what they heard about from their friends in forums is good enough and complete enough for everything known about knives, swords, or edged weapons or tools. They may invest more time learning about the personal stats, scores, personal relationships, and earnings of their favorite sports player or Hollywood celebrity than about a tool or investment that they may use every day, or the tool that may save their life. Are you a person who knows more about your favorite musical group, artist, or entertainer than you do about knives?

Please understand that there is nothing right or wrong about any particular knife.

Please read that sentence again. The failings occur in what value, cost, or position of use any particular knife occupies. A cheap knife is fine, if made and sold cheaply. It is not acceptable if that cheap knife is accompanied by lies, falsehoods, lack of information, misdirection, and mystical claims by the purveyor in order to make a dollar, often much more than it's worth. And in this field, it happens all the time.


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Here's an email from someone who just needs a good knife. They've gone the factory route, and can't seem to get the job done. Most people who use knives do so only occasionally, so they might not even notice a problem. But for someone who's livelihood depends on the performance of a simple knife, the longevity, durability, usefulness, and value of a knife is paramount.

Jay---
Thank you, thank you! Your website is the most informative & easy to understand & set up to be user friendly. I was just surfing to find information to purchase skinning knives for my husband and me and found myself staying up late to learn more about handles, blades, steel types, uses, etc. There is much more to a knife than I thought, and you make it interesting.
Any suggestions for a couple of farmers? We put down & field dress our own pigs & steers. We use drop point B*** knives and I find myself constantly walking back to the table to sharpen them during the process - we usually take care of 2 pigs at one time. Would like good quality, don't mind sharpening a couple times, need a handle for my husband that is easy to hold onto - he has arthritis & his grip is not always good.
Would appreciate any comments or suggestions from you.
Thank you again for your awesome website - you have sparked a new interest for me.
K.

My response:

Hello, K. Thanks for writing and thanks for your kind words about my site and work. K., there are several reasons that a knife will not hold an edge throughout the tasks you describe. The first and most predominant issue is usually the blade grind. The blade at and just behind the cutting edge should be thin, particularly with skinning, fleshing, and butchering knives. This will allow a very low edge face angle when sharpening, and thus, a very keen edge. Factory knives simply are not ground thin enough, because it takes a lot of skill and careful practice at the grinder to do this. Factory knives are quickly and lightly ground, quickly machine sharpened, and sent out the door. They are built with the expectation of one to two seasons of use and then they hope you’ll purchase another. They cannot be successfully and continually resharpened without first correcting the thick blade geometry.

Another concern is the steel. B*** makes most of their knives with 420 stainless steel. This is a very poor, cheap, and inferior knife steel, no matter what their web site claims. It does NOT have excellent wear resistance; it has poor wear resistance. This is due to a lower chromium content, so the very hard and wear resistant chromium carbide particles simply are not present. It cannot compare to many of the finer stainless tool steels like 440C, ATS-34, or even D2. It is the same steel used in cheap kitchen knives from China, so that should tell you a lot. The reason that they use it is probably because it is very inexpensive, and can be stamped out of sheet with a die press, so high production runs of blades are less expensive to produce. Compare this to the steels I just listed, which have to be sawn out individually with high cobalt, high alloy saw blades. For the user (you), this translates to a cutting edge that simply does not last due to low wear resistance.

A third concern is heat treating. How the blade is heat treated often remains unknown, and undisclosed to the customer. Is the blade the proper hardness? Unless it’s tested on a scientific, calibrated hardness penetration tester, you can’t know.

Okay, I’m sure you get the picture.

What I would suggest depends on what your specific needs are. If you want a blade that can dress 3 or more pigs without sharpening, you’ll have several choices that should be able to perform. If you’re after the ultimate in wear resistance, D2 or CPMS90V are hard to beat. These steels will maintain an edge for a very long time, but when they do need sharpening, usually a diamond hone is required. If you need a tougher, thinner blade, ATS-34 or CPM154CM can be ground very thin and are less brittle. There are others, of course. I remember many years ago, a professional elk hunting outfitter had me make him a skinning/field dressing knife from 440C. He had a B*** knife that he had to sharpen three times to get through a single elk. With the 440C blade, properly ground, heat treated, and finished, he dressed three elk without ever touching the blade…

For a custom handle for your husband, it sounds like he’ll need to get an idea of what shape works for him. For instance, can he grip a shovel handle easily, or does it need to be larger? How about the size of a pickaxe? This customization would only be available through a custom maker.

...please do find a custom maker who can get you the very knife or knives you need for your important tasks!

Thanks again,
Jay

"Aries" folding knife, obverse side view in damascus stainless steel blade and bolsters, anodized titanium liners, New Zealand Jade gemstone handle, Black Galaxy Granite gemstone case
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Why I don't name names (except on the Funny Pages)

Once or twice, an argumentative type will protest that my comments on this page are generalized. They think that in order to be validated, I should disclose names, manufacturers by company, and specific models, false claims, or types of product sold by exact number. Otherwise, they think my statements must be false... right?

The main reason I don't name names is that most people can see and understand the details that I list. It doesn't take a genius to know that if knife components have bad fit, it's easy to see, and I don't need to list every knife made that has a bad fit by manufacturer and model number. The same goes for poor finish, bad balance, and weak design and inferior handle materials. Anybody can spot a three-rivet handle, anyone can see the bad knife that does not have bolsters. Order from a small supposed "combat" knife manufacturer and you'll find out right away whether or not they even make a sheath to wear their knives! Most people can see the difference in a durable, well-made sheath and a flimsy, thin, weak (or non-existent!)sheath. If they can't, they shouldn't be investing in expensive custom handmade knives.

Interestingly, it seems perfectly acceptable to identify me by name, call me offensive or even profane names, and insult my opinions from an anonymous position such as a forum, bulletin board, or discussion group.

This prevalent practice is one of the reasons why large manufacturers aren't too troubled by the comments of a singular knife maker on his own website. These large manufacturers have plenty of defenders: guys who have spent their peanuts on factory knives that depreciate in every way the minute they are purchased, yet swear they are the best knives ever. Really? Then why can't they be resold... at a profit?  In the rare cases where one or two models do sell for a few dollars more than they were purchased for because they were manufactured as "limited runs" and in "numbered lots," I'll simply ask, "What will their heirs think when the factory or manufactured knife is handed down?" Ask anyone who's bought "commemorative" knives from the back pages of a magazine and then tried to recoup their investment. The truth is a factory knife is a clone, and that will always be the case, a numbered, original clone with options.

If you are insistent on seeing individual knives named and detailed in their descriptive properties from manufacturers and knife companies, I'll refer you to my Funny pages. These are pages of interesting, humorous, and curious emails that people have sent me over the years, and I've included them for some clear understanding of why people write. After the fifth page of these, and after realizing that they clearly won't stop, I tried offering more responsive detail to the topics, so that others may benefit from the topic. If you are intensely supportive of factory knives, manufactured knives, or small boutique shop knives, I'll advise that you never, ever go and read any of these; you will most certainly become inflamed. While it's okay for some factory customers to be critics of my knives, it's not okay for a professional knifemaker who has been doing this for over three decades, making knives for some of the top military, counterterrorism, collectors, and knife-using professionals in the world to have an opinion based on his experience... ahem.

For a deeper discussion of this topic, my "Business of Knifemaking" page explains it in detail. The topic is called: The Truth Can be Painful.

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Dear Mr. Fisher,
I wanted to take a moment and send a word of thanks to you and your organization for having such an informative website. I was trolling the web for grinding ideas when I happened upon your site, and I have to say, wow. I am a hobbyist maker on my best day, but, I do have a set of successes that I take pride in. I have a severe aversion to making "crap," so when I get solid advice on making a better product by veterans, I am all ears.
When I first started in on your site I thought, gee, this guy is full of himself. However, even if you are a cutlery steel sales rep with tons of book smarts behind you, I think there is no better schooling than listening to those who have trod where you are now treading. Your site should be sold as hokum repellant.
Seriously, thank you for giving of your knowledge and time to those of us who need a good tuning up occasionally.

Much respect,
Brian


"Argiope" tactical art knife: 440C high chromium stainless steel blade, hand-engraved 304 stainless steel bolsters, Polvadera Jasper gemstone handle, ostrich leg skin inlaid in hand-carved leather sheath
More about this Argiope

Factory Knives vs. Handmade and Custom Knives

When I started making knives decades ago, I was a bit stunned to realize that there are many people who consider handmade or custom knives not too different than factory made or manufactured knives. Though these same people wouldn't dare make the same comparison with handmade custom jewelry, firearms, and works of art, it seemed that knives were exempt from this distinction, that knives were only products of a simple craft. These same folks consider knife makers as craftsmen, not artists, not creative, and their works not too different than that of factories.

The attitude of comparison is so prevalent in this field that I started illustrating the exact distinctions between well-designed individual works of fine craft and art in handmade knives from factory or poorly produced and manufactured knives on this very website, only to face an onslaught of criticism, negativity, and opposition. For a great point by point comparison, take a good hour or two to read the Tactical Combat Knives page on this very site. Here, you can see the exact limitations, shortfalls, and comparisons of factory or badly made knives in impressive point by point detail. I'm not generalizing; the points are specific and clear. Truth is, most of these masterminds will not take the time to read and educate themselves, choosing rather to share their ignorance than back it up with any troublesome facts. These empty hats then establish running conversations on forums, blogs, and websites determined to defend their factory knives, and attack what I have written on this website. They'll even send me emails directing their rage, simply because they have invested their money in large and small factory knives, and expect me to change my entire belief system to adhere to their spending habits. This continues to this very day.

If someone disagrees with what I write and my opinion, I do not write them raging, incoherent, and fitful emails and comments demanding that they change their entire website, yet that is exactly what some of these people do to me. It's not for me to try to get in their heads and figure out why they do this, but it is quite humorous to see grown men throwing tantrums over a knifemaker's individual opinion. Seems in their mind, I'm not allowed an opinion, unless it agrees with their take on the subject, which is clearly weak and tenuous. If they really believed what they complain about, they could steadfastly claim the reasons, man up with their money, and make a fortune on factory knives while putting individual knifemakers out of business. Do you ever wonder why this is not so? Why haven't the factories overtaken individual makers in volume and quality if factory knives are so great? Why?

You are correct if you assume this is one of the reasons for this very page, my own specific and clear counter to some of those rants. This is my site, and I'm allowed my own opinion here. By the way, the negative attacks, rants, anonymous spews, malicious claims, and flaming emails are one of the reasons why forums are limited in their scope and interest. I know dozens of guys, real knife professionals, who have once posted and participated there, only to leave in disgust. I did. You seldom see any of the very successful makers there, and that is why, several years ago, I quit posting on all forums. There is nothing wrong with most of the knives there, the knife makers who make them, and the people who buy them, but there is a distinct direction of attack and inflame, incite and stir, in order for more conflict, and thus more traffic to occur. This is like the high school kids who gather outside the school after hours to watch a fight between two well-known enemies. Or the look-e-loos who slow down to gawk at an accident scene. People watch conflict. There is some strange attraction to it, perhaps because deep inside, we wonder where our own interest lies, and what we may have to do to respond to impending chaos.

The very same spew happens on blogs, too. Anonymous posters who think the world is in need of their very specialized and detailed opinions decide they will ingratiate themselves into the world of professional knife making by droning on about the products of a real, established, and successful knife maker to make themselves feel better, hoping to curry agreement between other anonymous and ignorant readers. What they don't realize is that merely by posting my name (and other knifemaker's names), they've driven more traffic (and ultimately more knife clients) to this and other maker's sites where readers can get a real education on knives from professionals. This translates to a better understanding of knives in general, so perhaps this is not all bad!

Because name is everything in this field, I felt obligated to respond to some of these comments, not merely to defend my name and reputation in this field, but to plainly and clearly educate those who read about the differences, and to let them know why custom and fine handmade knives are sought after, valued, and cherished by their owners. The long-term investment value of fine handmade knives is also well-established, and knives by well-known makers are known to be one of the top investment opportunities, appreciating year after year. We're  not talking about making 5, 20, or 100 dollars on a knife resale; we are talking about making thousands of dollars, hundreds of percent increases on knives resold that have been made by well-established individual makers. For example, I recently saw a knife I made back in the late 1990s for sale for nearly three thousand dollars on a public site. I sold the knife originally, brand new, for $300.00. A ten times increase in value is a pretty good investment, and you won't find that kind of appreciation in any factory knife. Another example is a knife I sold at a show for $600.00, and I was quite happy with the sale, when I found out that within a month, the same knife sold for $3000.00. In a month. A month!

In case you're thinking that this site is just another blog, just another opinion, please take a few hours to visit a bit of this site. I won't ask you to look at every knife, just take a serious, good look around. There are thousands of knives I've made here, and hundreds of pages of real information. This is not some passing blog opinion, this is my professional experience in the world of knifemaking for more than the last three decades. I do believe I've earned some consideration for my contribution to this field.

If you believe I'm doing this to promote my own work, please note that I'm always busy with orders and professional knife consultation and do not need to convince knife clients of the value of what I do. In reality, it's difficult to get a knife from me, I'm sad to say, simply because demand is high and production is low in the handmade field. The reason for this page is education. People need to know the realities of the factory knife/handmade knife markets, and so very little worthwhile information about the trends, directions, and movement of hand knives is available. It's my contribution to our community, a community that has been my experience since the late 1970s, year in, year out, for decades, a community that is generally kind and supportive and deserves the truth.

While you may be able to find handmade custom knives selling for less than they were purchased for, this is not the norm, unless the knives are used and scarred, the popularity of the maker and knives has declined, or the seller is desperate to make a sale and move his collection. The last reason I listed seems to be the most prevalent. I know of several collectors who have fallen on hard economic times and have had to liquidate their collection of knives. Unfortunately, trying to sell them on forums or online auction sites is a cheap, desperate attempt to move the pieces without paying for the services of a professional dealer, and I don't recommend it. A good dealer knows the market, has access to clients, and can help the owner move the knife more efficiently, but some guys forego this step in order to save a buck. So, the knife sits on a forum for a while, and then the guy tries eBay, or Crag's List, where the likelihood of sales is even smaller (or the price lower), particularly for fine, handmade, or custom knives. For more helpful information on this topic, please read this section on my Business of Knifemaking page.

Custom and handmade knives by established big-name knife makers are typically much better designed, constructed, finished, embellished, and accessorized than factory knives, though factories in recent years have made substantial improvements in their offerings. This seems simple and clear to most people who know this trade, but you might be surprised how many uneducated people think there is no difference. Every time I stumble on or have reported to me that my name is being used in this type of comparison, I remember the two little old ladies that shuffled up to my table at an outdoor art and crafts show in Scottsdale Arizona back in the mid '80s. They looked over my table display and one of them picked up a modest knife to look at the price tag. The astonishment and incredulity washed over her face as she loudly blurted out, "One hundred dollars... for a knife?"

They couldn't wait to slam the knife back down to the table and scurry away. Neither one of them cast one glance in my direction, standing just a few feet away behind the table. They didn't have a clue what it takes to design, construct, finish, and sell a handmade knife, and would be overwhelmed if they knew. After thirty years of making and twenty as my full-time career and my only source of income, they might well be astounded to know that most of my knives start at twenty times as much, and that I'm busy with orders and knife consultation and that I've made and sold literally thousands of knives this way. How could this be? After all, it's just a knife!

"The best education in the world is that got by struggling to earn a living"
--Wendell Phillips
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 "Bulldog" tactical art knife in 440C stainless steel blade, hand-engraved 304 stainless steel bolsters, Mookaite Jasper Gemstone handle, burgundy Ostrich leg skin inlaid in hand-carved leather sheath
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The Skill Factor

When a person decides they want to try to make a knife, it's usually an enthusiastic affair. Knives are attractive to hold and use, everyone likes a good knife, and they can be beautiful and functional. The initial enthusiasm slowly gives way to determination at the difficult process. Sure, a simple knife can be made simply, just as many manufactured knives are made today, and this simple, repeatable process can even be automated to produce hundreds, or even thousands of knives per run.

 Though the initial project may be a modest one, it doesn't take long for a new maker to realize the difference between quality workmanship and rough shaping, between premium materials and plain, between a high value finish and quick surfacing. I've met plenty of new makers in this career, and the one thing each will tell you is that making a knife by hand is a hell of a lot harder than it looks.

If it were easy, everybody would be doing it-
-and then it would have no value.
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"Desert Wind"  Persian Dagger, Obverse side view: 440C high chromium stainless steel blade, hand-engraved 304 stainless steel bolsters, Mossy Nephrite Jade gemstone  handle, stainless steel engraved sheath, Wenge, Cocobolo, Purpleheart hardwood, with custom display stand
More about this Desert Wind

How can a custom handmade knife be "better?"

Claims of superior cutting performance are made to distract the customer from poor finish, bad fit, weak or amateur design, or lack of the service aspects of the knife.

As you can probably imagine, my take on factory knives gets a lot of interest and comment. Most reasonable people understand the simple differences between handmade custom art work and factory produced products, but once in a while someone will claim that my comments are disingenuous or outright wrong. It's okay to disagree, but be prepared to defend your argument if asked to do so with reason and intelligence. I do appreciate the web traffic they send my way, as long as they spell my name right and include my URL.

An example of one of these non-reasoning complaints is one presented by just such a person that factory-made automobiles are better than handmade automobiles, therefore, handmade automobiles are inferior, and that is why there are few handmade autos. If this person is talking about small shops custom making individual autos, he couldn't be more wrong. The most expensive, most valuable autos in the world are made individually, by hand, in small groups in custom shops. Though they might be occasionally referred to as production autos, mere dozens exist. The custom shops of Bugatti, Lamborghini, McClaren, and Pagani are not prolific high volume production shops, and one could not dispute the extremely high value of their autos. Do they perform well? Of course they do, but how can you compare them to a Hundai which may be a better value per mile? What about fine racing cars, worth millions of dollars? Do these complainers think Indi cars and dragsters are made in some production factory? And what about performance? Sure, they can go fast, but how convenient are they to park; what kind of mileage do you get on alcohol and nitromethane?

Apart from this slight oversight, the complainer decided that the only valid comparison of factory knives to handmade custom knives is one of cutting performance. Performance is a hot topic with knife factories for several reasons. The first is that a measurement of cutting ability is entirely subjective and something that can be constructed, guided, arranged, and presented to portray their particular knife in a good light. Performance of cutting chores in repetition is something everyone, especially those ignorant of value can understand. Knives can cut, be bent, hammered through sheet metal, and abraded. Would you do this to your fine firearm? Who would purchase the IIRC, the Colt Third Model Dragoon given to the Sultan Abdulmecid by Sam Colt in 1853, engraved by Gustave Young and toss it in the back of their pickup truck after plinking cans at the dump? It's worth six million, and I bet it doesn't shoot any better than a Ruger.

If you really think that cutting rope, paper, or special cutting testing has any value whatsoever, please divert from this page for a while and take a good, hard read of my Knife Testing page. There, you'll get substantial and significant facts about the knife testing field, how it's constructed on assumptions, errors, and directed for sales and how no cutting tests by any method are valid when it comes to hand knives. What? Did I just write that? You bet I did and when you read the page, it will become crystal clear what this is all about. Knife Testing page.

Okay, I don't have any million dollar knives... yet. But this is the grist of the discussion and it stuns me how uninformed these types can be. Would they have compared the cutting ability of the solid gold dagger made by a big-name contemporary knife maker and valued at a million dollars to a common factory knife mounted to a folding pliers? By gosh, that gold sure holds a lousy edge! It would fail any cutting competition, no matter how many beer cans filled with water or hanging ropes it was tested on. So, obviously, it's an inferior knife, and the guy purchasing it is a fool....right?

Taking the same type of argument: is a fine watch better than a cheap watch because it performs better? How could a mechanical antique pocket watch keep better time (perform better) than a modern electronic watch made in China? Obviously, it can't. Even if it kept perfect time, it would have to be rewound, thus reducing the performance. Yet the old watch is worth hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars more. Does a Vacherin Constantin Tour de l’Ile keep better time (perform better) than a Timex? If it doesn't, then how in the world could one justify the 1.5 million dollar price tag? Could it be that there is much more to the Vacherin than meets the simple requirements of time keeping performance? Could it be the method of construction, the multitude of significant features, the quality of the creation, the reputation of the maker, or the long term investment value known in wide collecting circles that contribute to the value? Could it be that the same features exist in fine custom handmade knives, or is it only about cutting?

By the way, any piece of tool steel, of any type, when geometrically identically ground, shaped, and finished, when properly heat treated and tempered, will cut exactly the same whether it is made by hand by a knife maker, or made in a factory by automated machinery. There is no great mystery to heat treating, sharpening, and finishing the tool steel, this is all fairly simple and documented. Why you see claims of superior cutting performance is to distract the customer or client from poor finish, bad fit, weak or amateur design, or lack of the service aspects of the knife. So, it is not the steel performance that becomes the key here. Otherwise, all knives would look alike, be ground alike, and perform alike, and be made of the same steel, right? So is there more than the steel type and edge sharpness?

Of course there is more, just as there is more to fine handmade knives than there is to factory knives. Just as there is more to fine art than bad art, just as there is more to fine guns, fine jewelry, fine artistic pursuits in every realm. Why is it then that modern knife artists can not be taken as seriously as a fine artist, sculptor, or performer? It is an unusual factor of this tradecraft that I will go into in more depth in my upcoming book.

Do you ever wonder why only blades and specifically cutting edges are the only thing tested? Why is no one testing handle mounting methods, bedding and bonding, bolster construction, fit, finish, balance, or the complex interface of the knife handle with the hand? Why is no one testing sheaths, ever: their potential for security, durability, safety for the user, wear and accessibility options? Why is no one testing stands, cases, or displays? Why is everything, everything of any concern, the cutting edge alone? Could it be that there is more, much more to the knife? Could it be that testing cutting edges is simply a distraction from the rest of the knife which is inferior? More

If you don't understand the difference between simply doing a task and making an investment, you're probably on the wrong website. However, this site is open to all comers and skeptics, and I can only hope that the reader will become educated as to that difference. There is a reason that most fine handmade and custom knives appreciate in value year after year, and are sought after by collector's, users, and knife aficionados. There is a reason that cheap factory knives are cheap, depreciate in value the moment they are purchased, and strive to present themselves by the best cutting performance value alone. There is a reason that factory knives and boutique shop knives are not known for, purchased, and sold for their investment value. When was the last time even the factory itself touted the great investment value of a cheap knife? They don't present their products as investment grade, as worthy of collection or even appreciation of art, because simply, they know what their market is.

To detail the discussion within the simple limitations of performance, please consider this:

  • a bicycle is better than a motor vehicle because it performs with less fuel
  • an actor in a community theatre is better than a big screen actor because they perform accessibly and cheap
  • a cheap wine is better than an expensive one, because they both fill the same sized bottle and have the same alcohol content
  • a cheap firearm is better than a well made firearm because it shoots with less investment and expense
  • a faith healer is better than a physician because they work more cheaply
  • watching a high school basketball game is better than an NBA tournament, because it's cheap and local
  • canned meat is better than a steak, because it's cheaper, and after all, they're both protein
  • a child's finger painting is better than a master's work of art, because it's all just color on paper

Hopefully, you're as sick of these comparisons as I am, but I bet you can add some of your own. The leading thought for the guy who challenges me to make a knife that "outperforms" a $100 cheap piece of junk is this:

  • Any knife can cut; many cut well.
  • Value is not about performance alone, it is determined by the market.
  • The market devalues mass-produced and inferior items
  • The market values finely made, unique, original and artistic works.
  • Critics typically misunderstand the value.
  • The market will demonstrate their beliefs with their money.
  • Critics will never understand this but decry it.
  • The investment will still appreciate despite them.

It's good to understand that these same critics do not have access to the finer things, and their evaluation is based on photographs and information provided to the general public alone. One might think that this is enough to make a value-based decision, but it is not. The true evaluators are ones who not only have the public information about the knife, but also have an actual understanding of it based on their personal and direct possession of the work. Simply put, they have the knife, and are able to judge it personally, intimately, and as actual users, owners, and clients. They have voted with their money, not just an opinion, and the opinion of a person who has never even touched the knife is worth considerably less. Frankly, critic's frivolous opinions are insignificant. In my own work, since my knives are not returned, and since most clients go on to order or purchase more knives and projects from me, the depth of their understanding of the value of their judgment can not be questioned by anyone who is not one of them!

My clients vote with their money; get over it.

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"Triton" in blued O-1 tool steel blade, carbon steel bolsters, Red Tigereye Quartz gemstone handle, Cape Buffalo skin inlaid in hand-carved leather sheath
More about this Triton

What about those legendary Japanese chef and kitchen knives?
This is important: I'm in this business to make the best knife I can for your money. Factories are in it to make the most money they can for the cheapest product.

We've all heard about those legendary blades. Born of the Samurai, forged from the mud of mount Fuji, quenched in the torsos of their enemy slaves. It's time some things were set straight. I don’t know of anything that has been more hyped than early Japanese steel. The reason steels were folded hundreds of times was to define and clarify the grain, because the grain  was so bad to begin with. The reasons blades were made by laminating hard steel over soft steel was because the steels used could not be both hard and tough. Read more details about that at this bookmark on the Blades page. Differential tempering creating the intriguing temper lines (incorrectly called hamon lines) was needed because the steel could not be both hard and tough at the same time, so the cutting edge was left hard while the spine was tempered back.

 There are good, finely made knives made by individuals in every country, not just Japan. The interesting thing to note is that there are more Japanese style blades, swords, and knives in the United States of America than are in Japan (John Yumoto, The Samurai Sword). Note that as early as 1958, 70% of the long swords in existence were in the United States of America. I haven't seen any recent data, but I'm certain that the US holds the record for the amount of swords and knives in private hands when compared to every other country in the world. This has more to do with freedom than need, history, culture, or tradition.

Here's an excerpt from my email response to a client interested in why his friend was smitten with Japanese swords and their obviously weak construction:

Japanese swords and steels are full of interest, truly some of the great masters of their time created fine swords in their day. But the steels were poor, thus the many folds, to refine the grain to run along the length of the blade rather than across it. Like a piece of wood, you wouldn’t want a staff cut and fashioned across a board’s grain rather than along it. This is very simple really, but it’s been way hyped. When they talk about folding, it seems like an immense amount of work, but it really isn’t. A simple fold, repeated, becomes 16,384 “folds” (actually layers) after only ten folds. So why not hype it as being “folded” twenty thousand times? Yeah, ten times.

And the hamon line? Differential tempering. Needed because the steels could not be both hard at the edge and flexible at the spine at the same temper. Modern steels can be. An interesting thought would be that if ancient Japanese sword smiths had access to modern tool steels, would they use them? Of course they would, as all of the masters throughout time used the best tools, technology, and techniques that they could! I believed Michelangelo used a pointing frame for sculpting too, but hid it from his contemporaries.

I’m glad you noticed the handles. The total failing of all of even the historic works of Japanese blade smiths are the handles. Birch was popular, covered over with a layer of rayskin applied with fish glue, wrapped with silk cord. Just how durable, strong, resilient, or trustworthy is that? No one will out-and-out say it, but it’s a very poor way to handle a knife, sword, or weapon of any kind at any time in history. If it were a really good way, why wouldn’t we see it on modern works, like your .45? Okay so it’s all historic, and when I get asked to do this type of handle, I decline. It’s been done, it’s history, it’s a reproduction, and anything I would do would be just a rerun. There are makers though, who thrive on this.

More about this directional grain elongation and arrangement at this link.

Modern tool and die steels are hard and tough, made with the best metallurgy and chemical design we know. That is why industry relies on fine modern tool steels. Ask the company that’s making a die to stamp out medical parts for a dialysis machine, machine tools to make the helicopter gears of an HH 60G Pavehawk, or shears to fabricate the sheet metal of a car. They're using high tech, high quality tool steels that have been highly refined, and double poured in a vacuum and high purity environment. They are not using carbon steels, or hand-forged steels, ever. Want water-resistant ball bearings at four and a half times the strength of carbon steels? They're the best we've ever made them, and they're made out of 440C. What are the steels used to make the tough, hard, and wear-resistant dies that stamp out factory knife blades? Why, D2, 440C, ATS-34.  Are plain carbon steels used to create high temperature, high wear valve seats, machinery, and cutting blades? No, plain carbon steels are inferior steels: they rust, wear, corrode, and have markedly higher failure rates than high alloy stainless tool steels They are plainly weaker in tensile strength. Their advantage? They are easy to work with, easy to machine, and cheap to make a knife (or anything else) with. And they can be hand-forged in an open furnace, like wrought iron (actually mild steel) and other decorative pursuits and hobbies.

I’ve got to acknowledge this though: many steel foundries that pour some the best machine grade tool steels are in Japan (some are in Germany and others in India). Good old American technology, used by a foreign country, often with raw materials that we send them...and when I was a kid, "Made In Japan" meant the worst sort of cheap junk you could find. How Japan has benefitted and grown from those days; perhaps we have a lesson to learn from them after all. By the way, the basis for this achievement came from W. Edwards Deming, an American. Read up on what Deming gave our conquered enemies after WWII; it will open your eyes.

Look, there are some decent knives originating from many other countries including Japan. Please don't buy the typical hype of an historic association of ancient Japanese sword smiths with modern mass production industries. There is not a descendant of a Samurai sword maker hammering out that knife blade in a clay-lined forge with humble helpers tending the bellows, quench-water blessed by priests, and weeks of meticulous hand-sharpening with rottenstone. These knives are mass-produced in a factory by automated machinery.

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"Concordia" chef's knife in 440C high chromium stainless steel blade, 304 stainless steel bolsters, Poppy Jasper gemstone handle, Amerian Black Walnut stand inlaid with Poppy Jasper gemstone
More about this Concordia Chef's Knife

What's wrong with factory knives?

The Inevitable Comparison

If you're buying a cheap knife, that's okay. Cheap knives are a big business worldwide for a reason. People need knives. The issue gets complicated when owners of these cheap knives seek to compare them with fine handmade and custom knives.

No one can seriously expect to compare factory knives with fine handmade and custom knives, and it surprises me that it happens so often. When a person buys a factory knife, it's usually a decision based on economy first, and function second. Factories work hard to create and maintain brand loyalty, and guys fiercely defend their purchases of factory knives, manufactured knives, and boutique shop knives. These guys will go on bulletin boards, knife forums, and any public venue they can to defend their purchases.

There is simply no comparison between the fine construction, unique materials, and craftsmanship that exists in well-made knives individually crafted by a knife maker who has mastered his trade. Every successful individual knife maker makes a knife that is superior to factory knives, or he wouldn't be in business very long. If he's been in business a long time, it's a pretty good indicator that he makes an excellent knife and runs a good business. If it is his full time professional job, and completely supports his family, he's serious about the knives he makes. If he's been successfully making knives for decades, he knows knives. No one has lucky breaks for decades.

One can also argue that a factory that has been in business for a long while is also successful, and knows their market. Otherwise, they would be out of business. The differences are in the market. While factories are geared for economy and volume, a custom individual maker is geared toward extremely high quality.

The knife factory typically makes thousands and thousands of mass-produced knives. Rather than a passion, their industry is simply a business of manufacturing. Manufacturers are governed by the bottom line.

  • No factory is going to take years of losses and struggling to self-train and establish a niche market of extremely fine goods, but an individual knife maker often does just that.
  • No knife manufacturer is going to risk his entire business in order to create new styles, processes, and work with untested materials to be wildly creative and out of the mainstream, but an individual knife maker often does just that.
  • No factory is going to spend six years developing and perfecting a proprietary process without return until it is successful, but a knife maker may do that repeatedly.
  • No boutique knife shop or manufacturer of any size is going to correspond with each individual client to make sure his particular and personal needs are met, but an individual custom knife maker does that on every single custom knife designed, made, and sold.

When carefully considered, these comparisons translate to a simple personal statement:

I'm in this business to make the best knife I can for your money.

Factories are in it to make the most money they can for the cheapest product.

It's funny to read how this statement (used in several places on my site) itself has become the target of attack. Guys read what they want to into it, claiming it means something else; that it is some perverted attack on factories when I'm in the same business as they are... really?

So, in my commitment to education in this field, I will slowly and clearly explain so there is no misunderstanding of what the words mean. That factory is not going to take the time to do this for you; they have no commitment to service in their own industry. But I do, and that is why you are able to read what I'm writing here. Read more about service on my six points at this bookmark.

"I'm in this business to make the best knife I can for your money." This seems pretty clear. I am a professional; this is my business; a client exchanges money for my product. In exchange, I am committed to make the best knife I can for his money, and have, for decades, done this over, and over, and over. I'm not trying to cheapen his knife by cutting corners, I'm not limited by materials and techniques; I'm not focused on cranking out massive volumes of clones of knives. I'm not cutting corners by using automated machine finishing; I'm not neglecting contouring, shaping, and accessories. I make true custom knives that are directly made to order; I feature hundreds of designs and will fit the knife to my client's own hand, his own purpose, with his own artwork, dedication and even a unique stand or case if he requests it. I do not have an advertising department to pay, I do not have a loss control supervisor, a management team, a labor force, or shareholders that I have to make a profit for. I do not have to gear knives toward sales of a hundred thousand units, I do not buy materials and supplies in bulk. I do not have the overhead of a large facility, I do not have a company softball team. Hell, I don't even have a company song!

How is this different from factories, large or small? If you don't get it yet, please read on:

"Factories are in it to make the most money they can for the cheapest product." Factories are not professionals, they are a factory, a large entity of workers assigned different duties within the company. For instance, an accounting worker could claim he is a professional accountant, but he would not claim to be a professional knife maker. A guy (or gal) who works on the line pushing the button on an automated disc sander that grind-sands 20 blades at once is a professional machine operator, but they are not a professional knife maker. The guy who drops the boxes at the end of the packaging machine is not a professional knife maker, and neither is the head of the company; he's a CEO and owner. What this means is that there is NO communication between a factory and a client: absolutely none based on professional knife making. Just try to reach that CEO and ask for a custom knife; I dare you. Factories have tremendous overhead: facilities, automated equipment, loss control, advertising, labor forces, management, softball teams and rah-rah company events. This overhead has to be paid for; they have to cut corners somewhere in order to make money for their shareholders. Where do they cut? Why, the products, of course, and this is why they don't finish, don't contour, don't offer premium materials, don't offer a variety of designs, use plain steels, don't grind properly, and offer next to nothing in accessories for their product. They must be able to sell knives by hundreds of thousands in order to still make profit, so they direct the knives to the masses. Their idea of custom is a unique number somewhere between 67,895 and 67,897. Get it?

Value and the Market

So, if I don't have the overhead that they do, why do my knives cost so much? It's the market. Why does an NBA player get paid so much? Because his work is in high demand, people recognize the value, and can afford it. Why does a studio actor get paid so much, when a community theatre actor does the same thing? Because his work is in high demand, people recognize the value, and can afford it. Why does a successful painter sell his art for so much? Because his work is in high demand, people recognize the value, and can afford it.

To none of these would a blog, forum, or internet flamer complain, but for a knife maker? Well, it's just not right! Because the successful professional knifemaker's work is in high demand, people recognize the value, and can afford it, they offer more. How does this work? Time for some economics 101.

There are simple reasons things cost what they do.

  • Demand
  • Value
  • Means

Here is an easy way to understand this:

  • Demand: If there is a high demand for a product, any product, the price will go up in direct relation to its scarcity or lack of availability. If demand is high, and availability is low, the price will rise. If demand is low and availability is high, the price will go down. If demand is low, and availability is low, the product will disappear and the company making it will fold. If demand and availability are flat, the product and price will stay the same.
  • Value: The value of a product depends on the appeal. If a product has high appeal, it will be in high demand. If a product has low appeal, it will not be in high demand. Simple, yes?
  • Means: The transaction occurs because the customer has the means. If the customer does not have the means, the transaction will not occur.

How do these three factors affect the transaction, the business, and its success?

  • The Transaction: If a product is in high demand, and the value has high appeal, and the customer has the means, the transaction will occur. If the product demand, value appeal, or means is low, the transaction will not occur.
  • The Business: If any one of these three is low, the business will be in trouble.
  • The Success: If all three of these are high, the business will do well.

I could get into the economics and global impact of these, expound upon transaction restrictions and regulations, detail the components of various business models, but this is really enough for most people to understand, even for the complainers who can't seem to see the differences.

The same guys who insist on comparing handmade custom knives with factory or manufactured knives often complain that I'm too hard on factory knives. Is it being too harsh to reveal the truth? The complaints are typically rooted in one of the three factors above.

The demand argument: They just don't understand the demand. Why would my fine handmade custom knives be in high demand? They don't see or acknowledge the multitude of specific knife details made on the hundreds of pages of this website. It's like saying: I don't like Joe NBA player's work, so why would anyone else like his work? Evidently someone does, or he (and I) would be out of business.

The value argument: They don't see the value. To them, a knife is just a blade and handle, something to cut with. They don't value the materials, finish, accessories, embellishment, or execution. Worse, they don't understand a following, an appreciation of those who do understand and value the works I do. It's like a painter whose work you don't care for. You see he has a following (people who value his work) but just don't "get" his work. Evidently, someone recognizes the value of the work, or he (and I) would be out of business.

The means argument: They don't have the means. This is, perhaps, the most persistent (yet unacknowledged) reason. Maybe these guys who defend factory knives have spent their own hard-earned money on them and feel the need to defend their purchases. Maybe they hope that the value of their dollars are well-applied, and they won't be seen as mere consumers of a mass-marketed manufactured product. Perhaps they can't afford a fine handmade knife, so try to berate them while building up the image of their factory knife purchase. This is all part of class warfare between the have and have-nots, and it's based in simple jealousy. Evidently someone has the means or I would be out of business.

When you openly compare factory knives to knives made by well known established knife makers, you open the conversation to reveal the differences in glaring reality. Then, the details are fair game for comment from this (and other) professional knife makers. The most important thing to realize is that:

Factory or manufactured knives depreciate from the moment of purchase.

Fine handmade custom knives from well-known makers appreciate from the moment of purchase.

Though there are a few good knife boutique shops and knife production factories that make a decent product for a modest price, none can compare to finely handmade knives. If there were a valid comparison, you would see factory knives selling for over a thousand dollars each. All custom knife makers would be out of business because of the intense volume of production knife factories. Instead, what you see is custom knife makers with deep backlogs of orders, significantly appreciating values, and high demand. When was the last time a knife manufacturer put a client on a one, two, or three year wait?

The myth of knowledge and professional experience

I read in an Internet post once that the writer believed factories excel over custom makers because they have quality control inspectors and trained metallurgists. Evidently, the guy who wrote this has never had any contact with a real production factory. Quality control in factories is a woman sitting at the end of a line, looking for a bent or discolored blade coming out of the end of an automatic tumbling machine which is used to put the finish on two hundred blades at once. Quality control inspectors look for workers who slow up the production line, cost the company money, and are safety hazards that bump up their insurance rates. They look for ways to make more profit while spending less on the product. No one is sitting at the end of the line with a ten-power magnifier scanning the grinds, looking for hairline cracks and uneven grind lines or a flaw in the finish.

A good custom maker constantly examines all the facets of each individual knife, comparing how his operations and results interact with each other, improving his skill and execution on every single knife. Though he is concerned with safety and loss control, he does not pay for or pass on these expenses to his clients. If a change is needed in his studio or shop, he makes it, without review by the safety department, analysis by the accounting department, and companywide education plans and schemes initiated by the training department.

And trained metallurgists? Please. Just like individual knife makers, knife factories do not smelt their own ore, forge their own blades, and many do not even do their own heat treating. No knife factory is going to be bothered with someone analyzing tool steels when the exact methods of steel alloy composition, heat treatment, and usage are carefully and clearly prescribed by the steel manufacturer.

These hyped-up concepts of high quality factory work are pervasive in every industry, and they're promoted by industries that want you to think that they are more than they really are. I spent 15 years in industry; you can read about my background here. I know how factories, plants, and production facilities are run: low budget, low quality, with lots of hype and advertising. Get as many units as possible of the product out the door as fast as possible with as little investment as possible. Cut corners on safety, health insurance, retirement, and quality left and right to save a buck. If you think you know how bad industry is, talk to someone who's spend 15 years there, and they'll probably tell you it's a lot worse than you imagined. They even give bonuses for workers who figure out how to cut corners! If the unions let them, that is...

You often get just what you pay for, and sometimes a great deal less. A good custom knifemaker will understand and be able to illuminate the difference and advantages of his knives and knife making skill compared to both other makers and factories. The points listed below and on other areas of this site will help you get the facts from my perspective. Some readers may disagree with my concepts and opinions, but after about 40 years of making fine custom and handmade knives, and about 30 years as a full time professional knifemaker to the military, counterterrorism units, police, collectors, and professional knife users, this is what I have learned.

Look, there are many decent factory knives, suitable for many uses. Factories have had many years to determine what makes a knife attractive and saleable, and what makes the knife buyer have loyalty to the factory. Not all factory knives are junk, just most of them. And none of them are better than custom knives by well known makers. If you need a cheap, junky knife to use and abuse, without concern for quality or value, you can buy the latest popular factory knife and that will work okay for you. But if you buy knives like that, you're probably not even reading this...

Please remember this simple, clear fact: knives by custom makers appreciate after they're purchased, and factory knives immediately depreciate.

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Hello Mr. Fisher,
As the title of this email already says, each time I am visiting your website (daily :) ) I become even more and more impressed.
You are for sure the best knifemaker alive and not only for your gorgeous work but also for your vast knowledge.
Any visitor, no matter of his profession will definitely find in your website a reason to go further, to learn more and to improve reaching for perfection. I never tried to find a fault in your work as I am sure it would be a waste of time, the way you are judging things, the sack of knowledge behind each and every thing you make is enough to know that you are facing a very fine educated man and craftsman.

I simply adore your courage to face and combat the lies promoted by the huge "sharks" on the market, never seen this before and maybe I will never see it again; it requires arguments, self trust and motivation for the good of the customers. Once again thank you very much for all your efforts to share your vast knowledge with us! May God bless you for long and peaceful years in the Enchanted Spirits Studio! :) All the best,

--A.


"Kairos" combat, counterterrorism knife in 440C high chromium stainless steel blade, 304 stainless steel bolsters, G10 fiberglass/epoxy composite handle, hybrid tension-locking sheath in kydex, anodized aluminum, stainless steel with HULA, LIMA, and UBLX
More about this "Kairos" counterterrorism knife

Here are some dirty little knife factory secrets:

Factories are limited by their process.
Artists are limited by their vision.

It's often said that you get what you pay for. If you're looking for a cheap knife, that's okay; this is probably not the website you should be looking at. For those who insist on comparison and a quick education into the differences between manufactured knives and knives by well-known custom knife makers, here are some points to chew on:

  • Factories often use the cheapest steels and materials possible to make their knives, so that their profit margin is high. The only way a company can make money is to buy their materials as cheap as possible, sell the finished product for as much as the market will bear, and pay their workers as little as they can get away with. This way they pocket all the rest, and that's called profit. Any narrowing of the margins, i.e., more expensive materials, a lower sale price, or higher wages cuts into their profit. Remember that they're in this business for one thing: profit. It's not art to them; it's not a lifelong endeavor to create superior knives and lead the field in innovation and creative application; it's only about the dollar. No matter what they tell you on their mission statement, they are not dedicated to your personal satisfaction. If they were, they'd be custom knife makers. Most of them don't really care if your knife isn't up to snuff, or fails when you need it most, or causes accidents if you slip because it won't hold an edge.
  • Many factories have blades and knife components farmed out (made by outside contractors and companies) overseas, sometimes by child labor, with workers earning literally pennies a week. Pakistan, India, China, and Taiwan are notorious for this. This leads to unregulated materials and metallurgical alloys, ill-fitting parts, bad finishes, and questionable moral issues. It also destroys their guarantee, because foreign factories cannot be held responsible for failures. But factory knives are usually so cheap, they'll just replace a bad knife with another bad knife. You might be surprised to learn that many of the American knife factories use parts that are farmed out overseas, but they won't admit that. How do I know this? I get queries all the time from those very foreign companies, wanting to make parts for my knives. They tell me the names of the manufacturers they make knife parts for for reference. But you don't have to go that far. If a video of a knifemaker's shop, facility, or operation shows 50-300 knives, knife parts, components, or bins of identical pieces, he is having this work farmed out. This is almost always done in Pakistan, India, Taiwan, and China; this is simply how the process works. Then, the maker puts his buckets of parts together and claims he made the knife. As knifemakers, we all know about this practice; it has led to more than one maker being kicked out of an organization, show, or group for misrepresenting his work as "made by hand."
  • There is no law that prevents factories from marking or stamping anything on a knife blade, possibly misleading the customer to think that the steel blade is something it's not. I've had blades professionally analyzed that are marked ATS-34 and they are not. There is no standard or law in this industry to prevent this type of misrepresentation. A factory can simply claim ignorance (since many of their blades are farmed out), or they can say that ATS-34 is their model number. But they would have to be sued into disclosure to reveal even this, an event not likely to happen. If you have a valid complaint, they'll just give you another bad knife or maybe your money back.
  • Factories purposefully list stainless knife steel as Surgical or Solingen (there is no such thing), or other descriptive text that has no reference or meaning in steel technology or industry. Often, factories will create their own designation of letters and numbers that are not listed in the Machinists Guide©, AISI, or SAE designation, or any steel engineering references. Then, they'll claim it's a special steel unique to their product. This is just a ploy to sell knives; any manufacturer should be up front about disclosing the exact material and alloy components unless he has something to hide. He ought to be able to elucidate why he's chosen that particular material, what it is made out of (alloy content and percentages), the process he uses to manufacture it, and why he claims it is superior. There are no secret steels in this industry. Claiming some superior steel properties is often an attempt to draw attention away from poor design, bad fit and assembly, and low quality finish. Think about this: if there really were a "super steel" that only this one knife manufacturer, boutique shop, or knife maker supplies, and it is superior to all other known and engineered tool steels, wouldn't the military industrial complex keep this business buried in specialty orders? Orders that overwhelm the small and meager knife blade industry? This is an often-used tactic. Take CPMS30V, for instance. More than one knife manufacturer claims that this steel was developed for the cutlery industry. This is false; simply contact the manufacturer of this steel to find out that 1 to 1.5 percent of their business is in knife blades. What is this steel designed for? What are 90 percent of their sales for? Plastic injection molding dies.
  • Factories will misleadingly list stainless knife blades as 440 Stainless, when what is important is the letter designation after the numbers. 440a is much different than 440c; 440a has significantly less carbon than 440c, barely classifying it as a martensitic tool steel. To the uninitiated, an incomplete 440 designation is a blanket that less suitable steels hide under.
  • Factories can mislead by using steel designations from other countries, because a new letter and number set is intriguing, mysterious, and beguiling to the knife customer, who may want to try that new stuff he's been seeing so much in advertising. After having an inferior factory knife, who wouldn't want to use a new type of super steel? Again, focusing only on steel alloy and designation ignores fit, finish, balance, design, accessories, and service.
  • Most factory stainless kitchen knives are made of 420 series stainless steels, which are nothing but thin, sharpened springs. They are only suitable for light duty food service. These are the steels that have given stainless tool steels a bad name, originating on cheap kitchen and service knives in the 1960s and 1970s. The origin of these cheap kitchen knives? Japan and China. More about 420 series stainless steels here.
  • Some are using 420 stainless steel (a very poor performer) and claim that it has more carbon than "regular" 420 so is better (and is also the description for 422 stainless, another poor performer). By the way, all 420 series stainless steels that can't be hardened any harder than 52C Rockwell! That's softer than a drill bit or a hand saw for wood! More about 420 series stainless steels here.
  • Some knives are absolutely rust free, and the factories will tout this as a great feature. Usually this means that the knife is made of stainless like 316 stainless steel, which is used in industry for pipes and mechanisms that work in acids or caustics. 316 is NOT a tool steel, and cannot be hardened. It has horrible wear characteristics, and is not a suitable knife blade. It is usually used on dive and scuba knives, and left very thick. It's fine for scraping around in coral beds and sand and mud, and once in a great while cutting a line, but very little else. It does polish nicely though.
  • Titanium blades? Titanium's main advantage is its light weight, corrosion resistance, and toughness. Toughness is not hardness. Titanium cannot be hardened anywhere near knife hardness, only to about 35 on the Rockwell C scale. It is not durable enough to hold an edge. It has its uses, in handles, fittings, and springs, but it is not a working knife blade. While there are specialty knives made with titanium blades, they are usually used for dive knives where they are not expected to perform and the main concern is corrosion resistance with lack of care.
  • Ceramics? Where did they go? There was a great push in the late 1980s and early 1990s toward ceramic blades, but they are not tough enough to resist breakage and chipping, and couldn't be sharpened, so they are all but gone. Ceramic-metals, cermets (used on metal cutting machine tools like lathes and mills), are too expensive and brittle for knife use.
  • Factory blades are ground often by automated machinery (CNC machines) , so there is no specific and accurate control of blade grind geometry following the edge profile. Sure, there is repetitive machining, but no fine finishing, and no custom or variation of styles. I go into blade geometry on my Blades page, for this is extremely important and has many components, factors, and specific properties that contribute to a finely designed, ground, finished, and serviced blade. The reason handmade knives excel is because CNC manufacturing limits the amount of work, geometry of the grind, accuracy of the grind, and variability that the human hand can apply to fine tune a knife shape. Also, no CNC can finish any knife blade! This must be done by hand, as minute changes in blade grind geometry take place that a machine can not adjust or accommodate for. This is why NO factory knife is finished, ever! No mirror, no fine satin, no polish.
  • Factories purposefully leave blade grinds thick in hunting, utility, and defense knives, so that the knife appears heavy and strong, and after three sharpenings and a season of use, the knife is not capable of being sharpened without blade regrinding and relieving of thickness behind the cutting edge. More on that on the Blades page. After three sharpenings, you'll be frustrated with the tremendous time and effort it takes to relieve the knife because it's too thick, and they'll hope you just buy another knife.
  • Factories know that brand loyalty is a powerful thing, and use it to sell knives. Guys will say, "I've always bought (Brand) knives, and they've seemed to work well and last a few years, so I'll always buy (Brand) knives. After all, my (Dad, Cousin, Grandpa, Buddy, etc.) said they were good enough for him." They don't want to be embarrassed by making a poor buying choice, so constantly reinforce the manufacturer's hype to make their buying decision seem more logical.
  • Most factory knives are designed for a limited time use. The only way to capitalize on brand loyalty is to limit the functionality of the knife to a couple of years. That way, the consumer will be back for another knife, because he's loyal to the brand. Though one may argue that a group of used factory knives is a collection, the resale propensity and value of that collection is extremely limited, or non-existent.
  • Factories don't really know what you need to maintain a sharp cutting edge, and they don't even send the knife from the factory with a sharp edge! In fact, most people have never even seen a knife with a truly sharp cutting edge, and are astonished and frightened when they drag their finger over one. I've seen this again and again, and it's very sad. Mostly, factories use a fine, hard buffer and light abrasive to quickly rough in an edge, then out the door it goes. But a dull knife is a dangerous knife, because you will apply more pressure to achieve a cut, and then you will slip. And a slip is a knife out of control, headed at high speed towards a soft body part. Most cuts are from slips! Want to know just how sharp a knife edge can be and how to apply it? Get John Juranitch's book, "Razor Edge Sharpening." A 40 year consultant with the meat packing and textile industries knows cutting edges.
  • Factories are always on the lookout to capitalize off someone else's work, and attempt to copy custom knife makers, as it is custom knife makers that are at the forefront of blade design and thus the real innovators. They will often contract to use a custom knife maker's name or design to promote their product. It might surprise you to find out many makers (including me) have been asked by factories to endorse a design or line with their name. Though many have agreed with some small percentage of monetary compensation for each knife sold, I've personally refused, as my name is more valuable than the knife they manufacture.
  • They use words in their name like bench or tech to gather their product under the umbrella of fine craftsmen and handmade custom work. This is because it is understood that a huge difference exists between a handmade, finely tuned, unique custom knife made by an experienced craftsman, and a piece of steel, stamped out of a sheet or cut out by an automated plasma or water jet cutter, ground on an automated computer numerically controlled system, and assembled in America (thus deserving the Made in America stamp) with parts made by little kids in Pakistan.
  • Factories are limited by bean counters, safety loss control, and materials cost and availability. This effects the geometry of your knife, the shape, the finish, the fit, the feel, the balance, the materials, the performance, the cost, the reliability, and your own safety and trust of their product. All these factors are marginalized by bean counters and accountants. Remember, with factories you WILL get less than you pay for, and the guarantee is backed by a replacement of another inferior knife, and your purchase is not an investment.
  • Fit on factory knives is always poor. Handles are not bedded to each individual knife, components are rarely finished together as this would increase the hand work and slow up production.
  • Factory knives are NEVER finely finished. Finishing is an extremely labor intensive process, and takes skilled hands because the geometry of materials changes as they are finished. Factories opt for flat, "textured," or coated finishes because they are quick and cheap. More on finishing and value.
  • Jimping and machine cuts on factory knives abound. No one expects to see factory knives embellished with hand work, and that is one of the value arguments for fine handmade knives and artwork.
  • No factory knives are personalized or embellished individually, ever. This simply is not done because that would require a conversation between the manufacturer and the client, and factories don't talk to clients, only to distributors and their research department. The only deviation from this is large group input, like large military units and advertisers for commemorative and popular causes.
  • Because most blade grinds are done by machine, there is no careful contouring of the grind termination, leading to a weak blade where the grinds meet the flat near the handle junction, the most critical part of the blade construction. Details on my Knife Anatomy page.
  • Factories limit their use of bolsters, or delete them altogether due to difficult and challenging making and finishing of these small parts to suit individual knives. These critical components reinforce the blade to handle junction, bed and reinforce the handle, and reduce wear areas of the handle by framing the handle materials in tough metals.
  • Factory knives often have meager mechanical attachment points of the handles to the blade tang. Often, only a machine screw or two holds it all together: a weak short lived, poor way to handle any knife.
  • Factories and boutique shops do not typically make a sheath that is worthy of any knife. The sheath for nearly all factory knives is an afterthought, and is probably more of an inconvenience to the manufacturer than a useful accessory for the knife owner or user. This is a sadly neglected part of this tradecraft that I go into in great detail on my Sheaths page.
  • Factories never use rare, unusual, proprietary, or high value materials, like precious metals, gemstone, exotics, or any material that is limited in availability. Otherwise, how could they produce one thousand or ten thousand or one hundred thousand in a run?
  • Some materials used on factory knives are purposefully jigged, textured, cut, or scarred, not mainly to give texture to grip, but to aid in hiding imperfections in the surface. This is an old trick well known in the jewelry trade.
  • Factory knives are rarely contoured, rounded, or comfortably finished to be inviting to the hand. The trends are often to make the knife look macho or techie, but the reality is that contouring is an expensive, labor-eating skill requiring off-hand control.
  • Factories never include finely made or custom display stands, cases, well made blocks or any worthwhile accessories that are part of a quality knife experience. You may see a cheap block accompanying some kitchen knives, but the closest thing to display is the cardboard box the knife came in.
  • There simply is no hand-embellishment of any kind on a factory knife. Laser engraving is an automated process, and does not make a factory knife unique or original. Even aftermarket engraving or re-handling of a factory knife does not increase its value.
  • Most factory knife designs are for straight, narrow blades. Any time a blade or handle shape is deeply cut, ground, shaped, carved, inset with rings, quillons, or radical curves, this increases the stock size, machine and finishing time, and cost of the piece.
  • The sheer volume of factory knives lowers their value. Factories and boutique shops know this and will limit their production runs, even numbering their knives as if they are a limited edition of fine art reproductions. They know that this is a powerful incentive to buy. Limited production also applies to handmade custom knives, but an individual knife maker's life is limited and he will actually benefit from having a limited number of knives produced, as will his clients. This is typical for artists, but not a valid value asset in a production run by a manufacturer. Notable phrase: The Franklin Mint.
  • Factories never take direct input from individual clients and build a knife just to suit them. This seems like an obvious point, but a great deal of value and product evolution is derived in fine handmade works because individual knife makers listen to their clients, and build knives to suit them. This is another reason factories copy custom knife maker's patterns. They can get the really cool new designs without having to invest in research.
  • Factory knives are not investment knives. When you purchase them, they are like a car, they devalue right off the lot. They will not increase in value, not one cent. Just take a look around at a garage sale or auction; there are boxes of knives for pennies. No matter how much B.S. the factories pile on (and there is a lot of it), your factory knife will not be worth anything close to what you paid for it the second after you've handed over the money. In ten years it won't be worth a lick, in twenty a person receiving it as a gift will be insulted. Factories try all kinds of marketing campaigns to hype the value, often associating other market brands, commonly recognized causes, organizations, or styles based on popular entertainment. This is all hyperbole spewed so that the money will leave your hands and enter theirs.
  • Here is the truth: sometimes you want a cheap, throwaway knife. Factories can supply these for you. Buy them at a garage sale, you'll get a lot better deal, and you'll keep more of your own money. But when you want something more, when you want a good knife, a custom knife, a fine knife, or an investment knife, there is only one group of people that can supply your needs: handmade and custom knife makers.
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"Altair" obverse side view: CPM154CM stainless steel blade, hand-engraved 304 stainless steel bolsters, Pietersite gemstone handle, Frog skin inlaid in hand-carved leather sheath
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Horrid lies, misrepresentations, and misleading claims by knife boutique shops

Boutique shops (pre-production, semi-production, and other monikers) are small manufacturers, with a dozen or more people making knives or assembling knives typically made by CNC machine or imported from foreign manufacturers. They can be recognized by their name; they use the name of one person, or one knifemaker who may or may not have made knives on his own before starting the small manufacturing firm. They may also use the word "tech" in their names; this is quite common and an attempt to advertise the technical aspect of their work in a positive way. Another technique is to pay known knifemakers to use their designs, thus capitalizing on the maker's name while making cheap knockoffs. They would like you to think they are specialized, run in small or limited batches, or even make custom, made-to-order knives, but they are not and do not. They are simply small manufacturing companies, or small assembly companies that sell knives.

One of the most offensive claims is the "Made in America" claim they paint their products with. Watch for sentences carefully constructed in their business description. For instance one claims, "The high tech components are assembled and hand fit by dedicated and caring craftsmen here in our facility." Okay, that means assembled from parts; where do the parts come from? How much of a craftsman does it take to assemble something; anything? Watch any "How It's Made" show on the Discovery Science channel, and you'll see plenty of assembly line work. Are these people craftsmen: simply repeating the screwing, riveting, or assembling of parts? That's not what most people would call a craftsman; rather more specifically, they are an assembly line worker. This same company goes on to claim that their knives are "American Made." That's simply not true or accurate, the reality is that they are "American Assembled." By the way, that same company claims their blades are "cryogenically tempered," and there is no such thing. What they are referring to is cryogenic treatment which is not a tempering process in any sense of the word; it's a quenching and aging process. This demonstrates to me that they don't even know what heat treating is about, I'm guessing because they don't heat treat their own knife blades. Yet they pay numerous knifemakers money for using the maker's name to endorse a particular design they then have the pieces of the knife putzed up on a CNC mill in a foreign country.

Boutique shops can be the very worst offenders of truth. Why? Because they attempt to sell knives for hundreds of dollars, much more than knives sold by large foreign production factories, so they feel obligated to try to aggressively sell their products using every advantage possible, including lies, misrepresentations, and inflated or emotional claims. Sometimes, they make their knives, and then ship them out to engravers, scrimshanders, and other artists who embellish them as an afterthought and then the knives find their way back on their website with another digit added to the price. Their products are not particularly better than the large factory or foreign made knives, as they are also factories, only smaller. In order to entice the customer to buy, they make outrageous claims so the customer thinks they are purchasing something superior to other knives. The basis for their claims is often either a misrepresentation or an outright lie. They hope you'll never find this website, never read this section, because surely, you will become educated as to their snake oil ploys.

Please understand that lying, exaggerating, and using emotional pitches for the sake of advertising is not illegal! It breaks laws only if a product is switched with another you thought you purchased (bait and switch) or if concrete claims incite a lawsuit. Because knives are generally low priced items (at least boutique shop knives are), the only reasonable method of recovery from misrepresentations is via a class action lawsuit, where one or several persons sue on behalf of a larger group. Since the money received from any individual knife sale for a knife that has been misrepresented is rather small, typically no one is going to initiate this type of legal action, because the personal benefit is small. Nevertheless, advertising writers know that they better not make actionable claims in order to avoid this legal hassle and the destruction of their business. They also know the power of the word, and they will do anything, write anything, say anything that paints their product as superior. There is nothing wrong with that, if their product does indeed have superior traits. But when they are selling a CNC-manufactured product no different than one made by a foreign mass producer, they typically stretch the claims as much as possible, even misrepresenting and lying about factors of the knife and materials, just to make the sale.

Since buyers have loyalty because they have invested, they don't want to look the fool for being duped, even when facts and details about this bad advertising practice are revealed. Often, they carry the ball for the boutique shops, finding like minds in online forums and at factory knife shows to agree with their investment decisions. And the company is emboldened to making new and sometimes ridiculous claims, claims not based in any facts or evidence.

Like any business, I, too, have to advertise. The only difference is that I clearly, accurately, and concisely describe every facet of every knife in clear physical reality. I relate who buys my knives, why they buy them, and how they use or collect them. My business is one of accuracy, not vague claims. When I describe the steel I've made a blade with, I describe it using AISI, ASTM, and SAE classifications, not some vague mystery designation. When I give a Rockwell hardness, it is because the actual knife blade has been tested on a verified, calibrated apparatus, and I never give a range of hardnesses or vague numbers. When I describe the grind, it is done with succinct, clear language, and I describe why every particular knife is made the way it is. You can clearly see that I work in truthfulness, not vague generalities, and as a service aspect to my business and profession, I describe every material, its properties, its use, and its value in the military combat, hunting, chef's, working, and collecting genres of my trade.

Why most boutique shops and factories don't do this is beyond reason. I suppose it's because the guy writing the advertising copy is an ad writer or website developer, and not a knifemaker. I also suspect that these very boutique shops and small factories know that their product does not merit serious description, does not stand up to scrutiny, and is generally inferior to, or at the least, similar to large foreign manufacturers, so they think they need a leg up on their competition. So they exaggerate, they mislead, they tell stories, and they lie. This does the tradecraft of knives no good, and it's my obligation to point this out for the good of our profession, and as a service to people who are genuinely interested in knife facts before they purchase.

Consider that some of the worst offenders don't even make a sheath for one of their knives. Not one sheath to be found; sheaths are not their concern; you don't need to actually carry one of their knives into the field, into service or into combat. If you intend to, they may recommend a company who makes absolutely terrible hot-formed single thickness kydex sheaths held together with black colored brass eyelets, which is one of the weakest, cheapest ways to sheath a knife anyone has ever devised. I write about this in great detail on my comparisons topic on my locking knife sheaths page.

Here's a section included because I want you, the reader, to see the ploys and spot them when these boutique shops use them. This way, you can simply spot the ploys these companies use and protect yourself in the process.

Let's go, bit by bit, for fun, and see what these players are bloating and lying about:

  • The "handmade" connection that isn't: in one particular website java display screen, you'll see images of guys standing, guys grinding, guys fitting, guys making the knives. But read a little deeper and do some research off of their own website and you'll find out that the company was created solely for the purpose of making knives by CNC machine. Yes, these are all machine-made knives, and no person is standing behind the grinder creating each blade. The owner of this company even claims in an old interview that his aim was to have machines do as much work as possible on the knives, to hire as few men as possible to do the work, to have a high machine investment and high profit. That's fine, but why try to misrepresent the knives as handmade? That is because most people know that handmade products are generally better built than machine made. This is because a machine actually limits what can be done, and does not improve on the human hand (unless the hand is poorly skilled). So, the company tries to suggest hand work (other than assembly) is being done on their knives by showing guys hand-grinding. Not so.
  • The worst set of misrepresentations are always about steel. Often these companies make great claims to steel superiority, yet offer no hint of what the steel is. They claim a proprietary steel, yet that is not listed in any steel reference anywhere by an official entity like ANSI, SAE, ASTM, or the AISI, the very organizations that test, certify, identify, and regulate all steels. They have a great deal of mysticism invested in this secret steel, yet own no patent, only a trademark on the name. They claim a proprietary specialized process, but that's just misleading bunk, because since they do not smelt their own ore, refine and pour their own steel, they are getting it from a foundry somewhere. The foundry or steel mill that supplies their steel knows what it is, what alloy elements are in it and tells them how to heat treat it.

    Here's the main thing: If this were a truly exceptional performer in the steel trade, it would be made and sold to countless machine tool companies, used in aerospace and military manufacturing, in the medical, processing, and agricultural manufacturing industries. This is because the steel volume in hand-knives is small potatoes, and there are much more demanding uses industrially for steels. Planer blades, metal cutting shear blades, injection molding dies, turbine blades, ball bearings, and high pressure valve seats are made of highly durable steels, and they are made of the list of clearly identified steels I use for knife blades listed at this topic on my Blades page.

    Perhaps the foundry who makes this steel does sell it to all of those industries. If they do, I can guarantee one thing: those industries know exactly what is in the steel, and how to heat treat it, or they wouldn't buy it! Machinists (which is what our modern trade is based on) don't work with mystery steels and secret processes. If it is a known tool steel (which is most assuredly the case), and it gets out that the boutique knife manufacturer has been lying, misleading, or purposely omitting the information about their steel, their company may collapse, with the threats of class action lawsuits. They are, then, walking a tightrope of trickery, hoping for their secrecy to continue. Why would someone do this? Why not just be clear and accurate about something as critical as a steel type? It's because they have something to hide, and that alone should be a warning of an inferior blade.
    Here are some misleading an lying representations and I know you can spot these on several boutique knife websites:
    • They give a generalized hardness (example: "56-60 HRC"). This means that the hardness is non-specific, or they are not testing each and every knife. Maybe they have different hardnesses for various blades, but if so, they don't make that claim and don't describe why. This generalized hardness syndrome is claimed on nearly all factory knives, by the way. I believe it is because they really don't test every knife, and know that someone could test any knife of theirs at any time, so they only want to represent hardness only in a general way in case the harness is off by a point, or two, or three! Each point of hardness on this scale is a substantial difference in hardness. One metallurgist informed me that at this range of the scale, it represents about 20 percent change per point! That explains why a 60HRC file can cut a 56HRC tool with ease. Why wouldn't you just claim the exact hardness?
    • One American knife manufacturer uses 420 series stainless steel in their blades, but claim a hardness range of "52-58 C Rockwell." Since 420 stainless steel can not be made harder than 52 C Rockwell by any means, their claim is factually correct, but misleading since the customer may think the knife is harder. It can't be, it isn't, and their claim stands. Wouldn't it be better if they simply told you the hardness of each knife down to the exact Rockwell hardness point?
    • You'll find claims that their blades can be "dented or misaligned and are malleable!" This is an atrocious failure of any steel knife blade! Blades used for cutting in hand knives should be very hard and wear resistant, not malleable and soft! Reading this, it sounds like a very weak excuse for a soft blade. Wouldn't it be better if the knife blade did not dent, misalign, or be easily misshapen?
    • You'll see claims their blades can be "easily resharpened." this is a huge red flag. No wear-resistant steel can be easily resharpened; if it can, by definition, it's a softer steel. This is simple physics.
    • They often misrepresent edge retention (wear resistance) using the old argument of edge-chipping on a microscopic scale. They typically claim that edges and steels that are too hard actually chip on the cutting edge, leading to a dull knife. This is rarely the case, and if it is, it's a mis-processed blade. Would you rather have a knife that is "malleable" and "dents and misaligns?" This is what they want you to believe: that a softer, less wear-resistant blade is somehow better than a hard, wear resistant blade! Hey, maybe their steel is just 420 stainless!
    • They'll make broad claims that are clearly not true (at worst), or misleading (at best) sometimes claiming their steel has "higher levels of lateral strength at high hardness than have ever been achieved by any other steel." Really? Somebody alert the AISI (The American Iron and Steel Institute) because of this wildly aggressive and undocumented claim! Okay, this claim is not only false, it's misleading and horribly generalized. Lateral strength? Is that shear strength, compressive strength, or tensile strength? These are the actual strength factors used to measure all steels; there is no "lateral strength" factor. And comparing it to "any other steel" is just an irresponsible act. If they won't even tell you what the steel is, how could you trust them to make a valid, scientific comparison? Again, if their steel, treatment, and product were really all they typically claim, they would be so busy making industrial, military, scientific, manufacturing, and medical equipment that they wouldn't have time for hand knives. The aerospace industry alone would keep them busy for generations! This is the oldest snake oil trick in the world in knifemaking; claim some fantastic steel property, while ignoring fit, finish, balance, design, accessories, and service. After all, who is going to check and verify their claims?
    • You'll see claims of high toughness in their steel. Well, I should hope so. All modern tool steels are very tough, and they are also wear resistant, which their steel does not seem to be (being malleable and all). You'll read emotional sales pitches, using terms like "bring it on," and "exceptional performance," and "unparalleled edge holding" (while being malleable), and "live demonstration testing" (whatever that is; perhaps it involves large ungulate mammals). Bring out the beer cans full of water and hanging rope, please. None of these claims are specific, clear, or scientific. This is because, in order to be, they would have to give a detailed list of the steel's alloy components, their heat treating process, their tempering process, and its relationship to engineering data by AISI. But they can't do this, because, after all, they're selling the secret, not real data. Again, if it were a fantastic new discovery and superior steel, it would be in high demand for industrial and military uses, not sold on some knife blade ground by a machine.
    • Some companies suggest their heat treating is superior because it takes "over 50 hours or more" (or less). Really? Is that the reason blades are better? Heat treating is prescribed by an exact set of procedures (a recipe that is easier than baking a cake) by the steel manufacturer. Oh, right, I forgot, their steel is special, so takes longer... and the hint is that because the process takes longer, it's somehow better... right. Then they may justify it by saying that heat treating and tempering can also be the most expensive process involved in the making of a fine blade. I'll call that an outright lie. A fine blade cost more because of the intensive labor of milling, grinding, and finishing it, not because of some time in a heat treat furnace and tempering oven (it's just an oven, after all). I'm guessing this claim is made because they want you to believe that you pay for some special, long process, and that is why you pay more for their knives. More money tied up in mystique of the mystery steel, eh? For a steel that "bends and deforms and is malleable?" Hmmm.
    • Grain? A lot of guys and companies are using this, because it's so vague and unsupportable. One company claims that "stainless steel can not be sharpened because the grains are too large." Another company claims that "grain structure and carbide distribution are the keys to great performance, not Rockwell hardness." This is absurd. It's important to know that hardness is key to the great performance of a knife. Otherwise, why would we heat treat a knife blade at all? Why not leave it very tough and malleable? Ahem. What about grain structure and carbide distribution? That's part of the steel, built into the alloy, brought about by transformation. What is transformation? It's changing the crystalline structure of pearlite, ferrite, carbides, bainite, austentite, and martensite. How does this grain structure and carbide distribution change and balance take place? By heat treating! How does any machinist, engineer, or technician of any skill at all measure the success or failure of any steel heat treating process? By testing with a Rockwell Hardness Tester after hardening and tempering. For God's sake, it's in the skill set of even the most basic of machinists! To discount the hardness is a twisted, subversive, and sneaky way to get you to ignore wear resistance and steel alloy details, and perhaps justify why their blades are "malleable."
    • They often make dreamy fantasy claims to their steel properties. This is common in low-class, low-information knife sales ploys "...that the very soul of a blades performance will be born." Birth? Of a knife blade? "...heat treating is the heart and soul of a blade." What? Soul? A blade has no soul. This is a weak ploy, bent on plying your emotions. Why, my blade has soul, and yours doesn't. This is advertising crap 101. Rather than describe details about blade steel, grind geometry, fit, finish, and service, they try to tug at your spiritual side. And what is the context of this gibberish? Why, the heat treating, in which they discount the Rockwell hardness test, the only way to measure it!
    • Their blades may not be stainless steel. Okay, so this narrows down the field a bit. Maybe the mystery steel isn't 420. Maybe it's L6, or worse, plain carbon steel alloy, which is not a tool steel and would fit their profile of "malleability" and high toughness. They'll go on to use imagery in their advertising so that you may picture yourself in wild and foreign lands, mountain retreats, or tropical jungles. That way, you can have a vacation in your mind, perhaps visualize yourself there because you have bought their picture (and their knife). Bold claims abound like "no rusting when exposed to blood, moisture, or left on a lawn overnight" abound. Good grief, is this a weak attempt to paint a steel that is not stainless as being stainless? Why do companies do this? It's truly horrid advertising, rather than just explain the steel type and how to care for it. Whose blood is it? And why did they leave it in the wet grass overnight? This typically sounds like a child's writing. There's so much more, and it's sad. Suggestions of light speckling when a knife is abandoned in the jungle and the suggestion to remove the corrosion with water and sand, hand-applied may be mentioned. What a bunch of nonsense. But that's not all:
    • Many coat their blades. If so, why would you need to worry about leaving your knife in the wet jungle grass with blood or water on it? How could the blade corrode if it's coated? The reason that manufacturers coat blades is threefold: One: they are not corrosion resistant in any way, and Two: it is a fast, cheap way to avoid the intensive hand-labor of finishing the surfaces of a knife blade, and Three: they want a black, coyote, green, or other color of blade. Question: are you supposed to rub the sand and water until the coating comes off? Or just until the pits in the coating are gone? And how do you know when to stop? This is so bad... and the most vulnerable surface of the blade, the edge, can never be coated or protected in any way (since it must be sharpened), and will be the first to suffer corrosion decay, thus decreased performance (dulling).

I could go on and on; these websites are is full of weak, junky claims, falsehoods, imaginative imagery, and bunk.

Just look at the knives. Poorly ground, thick and blocky blades, three hollow rivet handles, no bolsters, machine made handles, coated finishes, shallow serrations, heavy thick tangs, and the best... no sheath to wear your knife at all. Yet guys go on to purchase from them, sing their praises, and follow like mindless sheep. How sad for our profession.

My suggestion is that if you need a knife in this price range, go to a custom knifemaker, or even to an imported knife manufacturer. You'll get just as good a knife, and perhaps pay less. But you won't get to talk about how your knife is made of mystery material by a secret process hidden in the tomb of a mountain. You won't be able to sell the magic, but you will be able to know exactly what the steel is, what to expect, and how to maintain it to get the most reliable and durable performance from it.

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"Taranis" obverse side view in CPMS30V high vanadium stainless tool steel blade, 304 stainless steel bolsters, Olive/Black G10 fiberglass epoxy composite laminate handle, locking kydex, aluminum, stainless steel sheath with ultimate belt loop extender and accessories
More about this Counterterrorism Taranis

Isn't this just a sales pitch?

I don't need to sell everyone a knife.
I just want the right knife to go to the person who wants it.

I had a good laugh when one frustrated e-mailer nagged that I was just a capitalist, and my site was designed to sell only my knives. What would he have me do? Sell factory knives? Other maker's knives? Let my family starve in the dark? This is another curious thing about the internet. Some people think that it should be free from commerce, unless it's something they are buying, or simply an educational source, or should reinforce the knife buying decisions they have made.

Yes, I make and sell knives; that is my business and career. You bet I'm trying to sell my knives. This is my business, and it's my professional responsibility to do the best job I can to illustrate why my knives are a better purchase, immediately and in the long term. I don't need to sell everyone a knife. I just want the right knife to go to the person who wants it, along with the highest level of knowledge and intelligent reason about the knife materials, construction, and use. The only place you can buy a Jay Fisher knife is through this website, or to find one that a client is reselling. If he is reselling it, you shouldn't be surprised to find that he's selling it for more than my new knives currently on order on this site!

Unless you purchase a knife immediately available on this web site, you'll have to wait. Like most well-known makers, I have a substantial waiting list, which is as it should be. Ever hear of a factory putting you on a waiting list? Of course not, their knives are mass produced. Another point to illustrate the differences.

Do I recommend only my knives? This is a funny question. Why, of course I do; my banker wouldn't have it any other way! Seriously though, if my style of knife does not suit you, or if you need a knife immediately, or if you want a really good, well-made or custom knife, please do some internet research and go to one of my contemporaries for your purchase. There are a substantial group of knife makers out there who can make you a fine custom knife that is far better than a knife bought from a factory, large or small. Please look for them; they deserve your patronage, and you deserve a good knife. You also deserve to know everything possible about the knife, its materials, construction, care, use, service, and value. Only a custom knifemaker can offer that to you.

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"Macha" blade engraving close up detail. Note also "vampire" rip teeth serrations
More about this Macha

It's just too expensive!

I spotted some traffic coming from a forum where guys had downloaded a picture of one of my PJLT combat knives and proceeded to complain that the knife (supposedly belonging to one of their "friends") had been purchased for $2300.00. The banter went back and forth, ad nauseum, with misstatements, ignorant claims, exaggerations, outright lies. For instance, the knife pictured and claimed to have been sold for $2300.00 was actually sold for considerably less than half that.

Still, they just couldn't see how a knife could be worth more than 300 or 400 bucks, no matter how it was made or by who. They kept coming back to the materials, namely the blade steel, over and over, as if the blade steel was the determinant factor of a knife's value. I write about these ridiculous notions and misconceptions on numerous sections on my Blades page. It didn't matter to them that my PJLT pattern has a very long history and high performance reputation among United States Air Force Pararescuemen who actually use this knife; all that seemed to matter to them was the blade steel.

These geniuses go on to claim knowledge and experience with other steels, with other makers, and clearly try again and again to compare handmade custom knives to factory knives. the very subject of this page. No one even considered the grind geometry, the fit, the finish, the balance, the design, or the service of the knife in its potential use in the field. The knife they pictured has a 42 component locking stainless steel, corrosion resistant aluminum alloy welt frame, and double thickness stainless screwed waterproof knife sheath, clearly the finest combat knife sheath made in the world today, but all they could say was that the steel was 440 (actually 440C, since that matters). Did they even stop to consider the cost of that sheath? It is significant. The knife has bolsters. None of the common factory or boutique shop knives they compared the PJLT to had any bolsters, and the bolsters on the PJLT are made of 304 high nickel, high chromium austenitic stainless steel. Hardly anybody makes bolstered knives; that's just too much trouble to make a knife that strong. If other makers of combat knives do (rarely) step out and use stainless steel for fittings, they use the softer, less corrosion-resistant 410 stainless steel, less corrosion resistant, less durable, and never heat treated to reach its highest condition). They also use (worse) brass or nickel silver. Did the commenters consider the cost of that personalization, custom digitizing, or accessories? Did they consider any of the dozens of other factors that are detailed in significant facts and illustrations on my huge Tactical Combat Knives page? Nope, it's just about the steel type, which they would know well, being all trained machinists, and metallurgists, and knife makers themselves... whoops; they are none of those.

And no one, not a single one of them considered my professional track record, experience, longevity, history, and the actual value of my work, a value that keeps me continually in orders and consultation.

They tried to demean the knife and the client's purchase and claim that the knife was made by one of my sons, as a collaborative piece, and that somehow it was a lesser knife for that. This is an outright lie, as first, the knife they identified was made by my own hands, and is a sole authorship piece. Even if it was a collaborative knife, it would be made to the same extremely high standards as if my own hands had made it; all of our collaboratives were made this way. This is why there is a waiting list for both my sole authorship knives and my collaborative works in the studio, and the demand shows no sign of letting up.

This demonstrates how ignorance festers and steams on the web. Not a one of these chatterers owns one of my knives, and clearly, they never will. It's like the owner of a cheap car complaining that an extremely fine, hand-made vehicle could not be worth the price because they are both made of steel and rubber. Is the determining factor of any object's value based solely on economy? Because if it is, these guys would have the United States Air Force Pararescueman who owns the knife turn it in for a cheap piece of plastic handled junk from China, simply because they, as authorities posting anonymously on the internet, can't afford it, so nobody else should.

This illustrates, unfortunately, an attitude that currently seems to dominate conversations, media, and even politics, the attitude of "Haves vs. Have-nots." Those who do not have, and may not desire some item, lifestyle, location, or view take it upon themselves to tell others how they should live, what they should buy, how much it should cost, and, in effect, how much I should make for what I do. Would they do the same for an NBA basketball player, a Hollywood celebrity, or even their doctor? How about the mechanic that lives down the street, the health care worker in their family, or the teacher who teaches their child? Where does this stop? The only way, perhaps, for them to see the jealous, shallow, and vain attitude that they display so willingly to others is to have them be the recipient of such judgment. Tell these guys how much they should earn, no matter how good of work, how much experience, how much value they instill in the fruits of their labor, and the conversation would quickly change. Also be sure to tell them that they can not buy an expensive tactical knife, ever, because their compadres on some anonymous forum get to decide what they have and how they spend their money.

I force no one to purchase the fruits of my creation, the yield of my labor and efforts. People buy my knives because they want to. To have someone else, usually a stranger, tell you what to buy and what not to buy is surrendering your own freedom to decide. Conversely, I do not go on forums trying to run down their choices for what they purchase. Clearly, a cheaper knife is simply that, and there is a reason for this, detailed in clear and voluminous detail on this very site on this very page. If a cheap knife is all a person can afford, and it is what he wants, I will not fault him or try to decry how he spends his money. Since the sales of cheap tactical-style knives is a billion dollar a year industry, they have many friends who can claim that their cheap knife is just as good as a fine handmade custom knife, while they ignore the clear distinctions and differences.

Yet, I believe, time and with information, clarity and reason will prevail. If only people would educate themselves about knives the way that they can rattle off sports figures' stats, dates, scores, and game plays, maybe they would actually know something about the world of fine handmade custom knives.

More about this topic on my Business of Knifemaking page at this bookmark.

The jealous poison their own banquet, then eat it.

--Anon


Ignorance deprives men of freedom because they do not know what alternatives there are.

--Ralph Barton Perry
Philosopher, 1876-1957

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"Horus" obverse side view in ATS-34 high molydenum stainless steel blade, 304 stainless steel bolsters, engraved, Micarta phenolic handle, locking kydex, aluminum, stainless steel sheath with black lacquered brass engraved flashplate.
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What about the soul of the blade?

I read this rather interesting comment by a big name American knife factory: "Heat-treating or tempering the blade helps the knife hold its edge longer and makes it easier for you to re-sharpen the blade. It’s the heart and soul of the blade in our humble opinion."

It's sad that a major manufacturer decides to post such drivel and misinformation on their web site, and an example of how advertising has left knowledge, learning, and valid information about their products to advertising writers who obviously don't know much about the product at all. Just for fun, let's take a look at this.

The beginning of the sentence is "heat treating or tempering-" Well? Which is it? One or the other? Hopefully, it's both! Heat treating is the overall process, a combination of heating and cooling to obtain desired conditions or properties. Tempering is a small part of the heat treating process. Hopefully, all the blades are heat treated, and hopefully, all their blades are tempered as well! Bad writing should not occur from the IT department that creates and maintains their website. Incidentally, IT means Information Technology. How informative is their statement?

Better yet, let's talk about the heart and soul of the blade. Their opinion is not humble, it's just ridiculous. A knife blade is an object, a piece of steel, and I will soundly claim it has no heart or soul! If this company has somehow discovered a muscular pump circulating life's blood inside the knife blade to keep it alive, then their discovery ranks with some of the most important in medical history! And to have a soul, too, well, the theological institutions will have to rewrite all of their texts and historical documents to reflect this stunning revelation, at once!

It's astounding to me that someone along the line of management approved of this drivel to explain their mission and belief. How is the buyer of their product supposed to trust the other claims they make and the level of quality of their knives if can't clearly state the very basics of heat treating knife blades, and then go on to claim a knife has a heart and soul? It's selling the dream, the idea, the emotion of a knife, not the quality, execution, process, materials, finish, or service. Perhaps this is because they are lacking in those other characteristics and want to distract their potential buyers with emotional nonsense.

While makers who are also artists (like me) may claim that a knife design is inspired by a creative thought, idea, object, or history, we don't (and shouldn't) claim some mystical, magical, emotional property for a piece of tool steel. More about that on my Business of Knifemaking page at this bookmark.

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"Arcturus" obverse side view in ATS-34 high molybdenum stainless steel blade, 304 stainless steel bolsters, red/blue G10 fiberglass/epoxy composite handle, locking kydex, aluminum, stainless steel sheath with ultimate extender and HULA accessories
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What about pop steels and factory knives?

Factories, knife makers, and salesmen always need something new. That is because they must continually sell the hyperbole, to generate interest in their product. Usually, this is because of poor overall product design. In knives, the fit and finish and balance and accessories are all labor-intensive high skill areas of production, and the fine hands-on workmanship required to make a fine finish, fit, balance, and accessories often does not happen. Factories and low quality makers then rely upon gimmicks, tricks, hype, and envy to sell their product. So, every couple years, a new steel hits the market and all the guys are talking about it. It's on the forums, in the magazines, and in discussions at shows. It's the future of knife making, lots of sales are made based on it, and then it just fades away as another gimmick steel name starts dripping off the drooling tongues of dealers, suppliers, factories, collectors, and makers. Read more about this and other knife truths at the heading: "What's wrong with factory knives?" above. It does not mean that these popular steels are not worth investing in, they may well be. But will they replace all tool steels in knife blades? Of course not, because every steel has its advantages and disadvantages.

Though there are very good tool steels, there is no super steel. You can read more details about this on my FAQ page at the question: "Is there an ultimate blade?" here. My military, police, professional collectors know that with most production knives, the hype is thicker than fertilizer at a feed lot. Yes, there are some very good knives out there, made of fine steels. I even use many of the steels I've identified above because they are good steels. But more attention should be paid to design, fit, finish, balance, accessories, and service, because these factors are what is woefully lacking in most knife purchases and ultimately, it is these factors that determine the value of a knife. This point is so important, I've decided to give it it's own page here.

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"Aldebaran" Fine investment grade collectors or using knife, obverse side view: ATS-34 stainless steel blade, 304 stainless steel bolsters, gemstone handle, alligator inlaid leather sheath
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Grind geometry unrest!

Comparing factory knives to handmade custom knives is like comparing a hand-rolled Cuban cigar to a pack of cheap smokes.

I happened to see my name coming up in a popular knife forum on the internet, and guys were piling on defending their favorite knife blade grind geometry. They didn't like what I had to say on my site, and were fiercely defending their opinions. It's curious that rather than ask me outright to clarify my opinions, they chose to comment on a forum...
I felt compelled to respond:

Hello all of you who've commented. I'm sorry you didn't bother to just write and ask me to clarify some of my points on my website, but I do appreciate the traffic and interest.

When I write about factory knives on my site, I am talking about the cheap stuff, most of it coming out of foreign factories. If you have a personal favorite factory or boutique shop knife, by all means, purchase and collect those types of knives. Everyone has a different idea and desire in fine knives.

Most of you who comment here know a great deal more than the typical public. The public who is new to knives might simply want to know why a handmade knife is different, and why they may wish to spend their hard-earned money on a handmade or custom knife. Most of the knives they've seen are cheap foreign factory knives, and I'm simply describing the differences. If you're buying a knife to use up, abuse, and eventually throw away, that's one type of purchase. If you're buying a knife that will appreciate year after year, that's another type of purchase. The two are very different.

My information on my website is simply my opinion, after having made knives for many (30) years. It is my full time professional occupation and has been for over 20 years. My opinions are derived from having made knives for other professionals: military, police, chefs, collectors, and museums in my career and their direct input and feedback. These guys use knives more than I ever will, and I listen to, respect, and continue to build knives for them the way they request. That is what being a custom maker is all about.

If my views differ from yours, that's okay too! When I write about convex grinds, I'm talking about axe grinds. When you are talking about convex grinds on this post, I think you are talking about what us older makers call a "taper" grind. I think it's simply a difference in semantics. On my site, I do mention that I make taper grinds, too, and that I find them most useful on thinner stock blades. They do have a purpose, can be made extremely sharp, and if they are made on thin stock have great longevity. I've made many knives this way. I've also made axe grinds. Knives that are used to chop need to be made this way. Not all knife grinds are alike, there is no set standard guaranteeing one is absolutely the best grind ever. If there was, don't you think that all the other grinds would be discarded? Any grind that has sufficient thinness can be made sharp at the cutting edge. Any grind. Any.

The point I'm trying to illustrate on my site is that as a knife is used up, sharpened again and again, more stock will have to be removed behind the cutting edge to keep it sufficiently thin. If the blade is thick, you'll simply have to remove more stock. A hollow grind is thin, so it may be able to be sharpened more often without spending a large amount of time and effort to removing or relieving the blade behind the cutting edge. I also state on my site that a hollow grind is not a grind suitable for chopping or high impact, though a hollow grind, if made well, can be strong. Most guys who use a knife professionally know that a knife is not an axe.

If I'm still entitled to my own opinion, I'll offer this: I know that guys can go on and on about the intricacies of grind geometry and complex angles, micro crystalline structure, wear characteristics, and steel alloy components, and these are important. My question is: are they also looking at fit, finish, balance, design, service, and accessories? These are what I believe sets knives apart, in addition to steel type and grind shape. I think they are important enough that I've given them their own page on my site here.

Want to know more about obsessive-defensive knife owners? I've given them their own section on my Business of Knifemaking page at this bookmark

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"Bulldog" tactical combat knife, USMC version in etched 440C high chromium stainless steel blade, 304 stainless steel bolsters, Madegasscar Rosewood hardwood handle, kydex, aluminum and blued steel sheath
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Opinions, Disagreements, and Defense

This site is about my work, but I've also included a generous amount of my opinions about knives, steels, blade geometry, handles, bolsters, guards, sheaths, stands, and cases. I've described at great length the materials and techniques used to build a modern custom knife, and I've made it clear that these are my opinions based on over thirty years making knives, over twenty years as a full time professional knifemaker (this is my real job!). Most of the people reading this are interested in knives, some are enthusiasts, and some are a bit obsessive. Some of the obsessive types are not obsessive in a constructive way, and they are what I term: "obsessive-defensive."

What this usually means in the knife world is that they've spend a good deal of their money on a knife that is manufactured and then they've read somewhere on this site that a particular feature, material, process, or presentation of their factory knife is poor or cheap, and they feel the need to obsessively defend their purchase. Sadly, this will not make their money go any farther, no matter how many times they recite how great their knife is, how well made, how valuable, or how unique. They will often go on all the knife forums and bulletin boards posting over and again to anyone who might read that their knife is superior, better than other knives, made of better materials, of higher value, or any number of details to justify the dollars they've spent. They may even claim that their purchases are an investment, but this is foolish, as no factory knife sells for more than it is purchased for, unless it is very, very old. They won't convince the masses of their opinion, they won't increase the value of their factory or poorly made knife, but they will spend countless hours trying.

I get emails from these types. Not very often, but they do come in. Usually, the emails are in the form of constructive criticism about some comment I've made that might directly apply to their knife purchase or collection. They simply want me to change what I've written, to reflect their opinion, and because this site gets so much traffic, it might change many more minds in the handmade knife world. Stubborn me, I won't cooperate, and don't even answer their email. So they go on to the next venue, bulletin board, posting, web site, or comment box until they reach agreement and find themselves a happy home.

You'll see this type post often on knife forums, usually anonymously. This allows them their rant, they may even find sympathetic voices, but it does not relieve them of the buyers remorse they have for a cheap knife.

What is the answer? It's simple really, and I've repeated it countless times on this website. A fine knife worthy of investment will appreciate in monetary value over time, a knife that is not worthy will depreciate. I'm not saying that a factory knife or poorly made knife does not have its place in the world; it does. In the utility arena, where knives are abused, uncared for, and eventually discarded, this type of knife reigns. But to compare them to fine handmade collector's or investment knives is ridiculous.

For those who are obsessive-defensive, I'll offer this: Trying to change the value or opinions of the entire world by writing to individual websites or ranting on bulletin boards and forums is as rational as trying to push a rope up a wall.

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The best critics are my clients; they speak with their money.

Fine handmade knife: "Mercury Magnum" obverse side view: blued O-1 high carbon alloy tool steel blade, hand-engraved 304 stainless steel bolsters, Eudialite gemstone handle, Elephant skin inalid in hand-carved leather sheath
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Six concrete differences between factory and fine handmade custom knives

Though there are many differences between fine handmade and custom knives and factory, manufactured, or poorly made knives listed above, I've created a special page that details six distinctions by name with details. The differences are Fit, Finish, Balance, Design, Accessories, and Service. If you don't recognize these distinctions, please read about them on the page.

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"Andrimne" Chef's Master Knife, obverse side view in 440C high chromium stainless steel blade, 304 stainless steel guard ferrule and pommel ferrule, Peach hardwood turned handle, hand-stamped, hand-laced leather sheath
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