View Full Version : What it takes to be a knife maker

05-23-2013, 11:48 PM
The answer may surprise you.

Lets hear your thoughts.


05-23-2013, 11:49 PM

05-23-2013, 11:56 PM
Hard work, knowledge, hand-eye coordination and a wife with a great income and insurance coverage.

05-24-2013, 12:21 AM
:spin chair:deep passion for knives & some luck!!:spin chair:

05-24-2013, 12:26 AM
All good answers, but not the one I'm looking for yet.

For those who I've told, please don't tell, yet.


Pensacola Tiger
05-24-2013, 12:30 AM
Making a knife?

05-24-2013, 12:32 AM
leaving your ego outside the shop, and a long attention span.

Don Nguyen
05-24-2013, 01:01 AM
A ton of belts.

And stubbornness.

05-24-2013, 01:06 AM

05-24-2013, 01:21 AM
A sharp wit and a good handle on things?

05-24-2013, 01:22 AM
patience, dedication, passion, obsession, creativity, decent background in math and science, and artistic as all hell...

Chef Niloc
05-24-2013, 01:40 AM
Gods will, a little luck, and some bandages

Patatas Bravas
05-24-2013, 01:48 AM
An excellent teacher or two?

sachem allison
05-24-2013, 01:52 AM
s#!t for brains and relentless dedication and a willingness to help out a young kid who is a bit overwhelmed and not asking for anything in return and getting a bunch of equally dedicated other guys to do the same thing , even though they to are overwhelmed and have a bunch of other stuff to do. A bit of tenacity and sticktoitness.

05-24-2013, 01:52 AM
A man of steel

sachem allison
05-24-2013, 01:53 AM
a willingness to fail and fail and fail until you don't.

sachem allison
05-24-2013, 01:54 AM
but most importantly the love of a good woman or man.

05-24-2013, 02:12 AM
Making a knife?

+ 1 . A good knife maker is another question.

05-24-2013, 02:19 AM
I'm with Mark. You gotta be at least a little crazy...

05-24-2013, 02:30 AM
I would like to say something pretentious like passion... but a mild form of autism seems more important.

Salty dog
05-24-2013, 02:33 AM
A grinder?

05-24-2013, 03:17 AM
An excellent teacher or two?
:yeahthat: and the drive to learn

05-24-2013, 04:05 AM
A mummy knifemaker and a daddy knifemaker?

05-24-2013, 04:06 AM
That's what it would take to make a knife maker, not to *be* one.

05-24-2013, 07:18 AM
Hmmm.... Patience for a bunch of impatient customers? Time, and plenty of it? An understanding of not knowing how you're going to pay for your next meal, let alone the roof over your head or last night's bar tab? MORE time and patience?

Wait, are we talking about making knives or "becoming a chef"?

NO ChoP!
05-24-2013, 07:27 AM
Time, space...and a good shop vac.

05-24-2013, 07:43 AM
Time, space...and a good shop vac.

Never underestimate the value of a good shop vac:razz:

05-24-2013, 09:49 AM
running out of meds?

Don Nguyen
05-24-2013, 10:08 AM
The suspense is killing me! I must know!

mr drinky
05-24-2013, 10:23 AM
The ability to self delude yourself into thinking knifemaking is THE BEST and only option in life ;)

Just kidding, sort of.

I'm going back to basics for my answer. The mastery of a hammer and how to shape things.


05-24-2013, 10:35 AM
There are a lot of good answers. My favorite is "a mommy and a daddy knife maker".

It actually does not take talent, artistic ability, patience, or equipment.

Rick gave an answer that I never even thought of; "make a knife?" I've helped hundreds of folks make a knife and only two or three have become knife makers. It's the same as someone claiming that they are painters just because they helped grandma paint a room. I have written things but I am not a writer, for example.

When I lived in Vegas, I had a guy named Bob S. contacted me and wanted help becoming a knife maker. Over about a decade, he bought everything needed to make knives. He had four power hammers, six forges, a couple of grinders, thousands of dollars worth of handle materials, blade stock, guard stock, pin stock, belts, sand paper etc. He had a dream of becoming a world famous knife maker and selling a hundred knives at his first knife show. Even the idea of making knives filled his mind during his waking hours. He never made a single knife and never became a knife maker.

I've seen guys make a knife with two rocks, or two rocks and a scrap piece of steel and a camp fire.

We're getting closer, keep those thoughts coming.

Love and respect


05-24-2013, 11:28 AM

Being able to accept failure?

Don Nguyen
05-24-2013, 11:29 AM
To understand that money is not part of it.

05-24-2013, 11:30 AM
Ok, how about "stick–to–itiveness"?

05-24-2013, 11:40 AM
steady hands

05-24-2013, 11:44 AM
I'm going with . . . earplugs.

05-24-2013, 12:03 PM
It's not steel, you can make a knife from obsidian. Failure is very important in becoming a good knife maker, but not necessary. Failure will give you greater creativity.

Mark you are right, determination is the one thing that I've seen that makes the biggest difference. I've seen, in my 35 years of knife making, people without talent, without equipment, without money, without space, and some without much smarts, become knife makers.

At the age of seventeen I went to my first major knife show with five knives. I entered into the new knife maker competition. There were two awards, "The best new knife maker" and "The most impressive knife by a new knife maker". I won the award for the most impressive knife by a new knife maker. I thought I was hot stuff. The show was in So.Cal. and was put on by Plaza Cutlery and Dan Delevan.

I was young enough that my dad drove me and my brother down to the show, we put him on a plane back to Vegas, and when the show was over we drove ourselves back home.

In the middle of the show, Dan took me aside and explained to me why I would never make it as a knife maker. He said that I was too young, and that by using my first name to mark my blades, it was a turn off to knife collectors. He was right, I did not sell a single knife. The thing that Dan did not know was how much determination I had to make knives.

Years later Dan was at a show and I reminded him of that early show and what he told me. We both had a good laugh. Since that time he has sold hundreds of knives made with my Damascus steel.

I year or so ago, I had a local kid that had the idea that I would show him how to make knives. He explained to me that he wanted to make all sorts of knives and swords. I gave him a small piece of steel and a file, and told him all of the steps required to make the knife. He has never been back to my shop. He will never make a knife or be a knife maker because he lacks the determination to do it.

Determined knife making is like wedding vows, in sickness and in health, poverty and wealth.

Much love and respect


Marko Tsourkan
05-24-2013, 12:13 PM
Failure. Lots of it. There is no better way to test your determination.

The next thing - creativity, thinking of ways to get better results more efficiently. As you Devin told me once, necessity is the mother of invention, and laziness (or frustration with the lack of efficiency) is the mother of necessity.

It's good to have guidance, but it is also important to be able to figure things out on your own and work with tools/setup you have, while continuously thinking how to improve your process, quality of your work, etc.

05-24-2013, 12:25 PM
Great stories, Devin. Thanks again for sharing them!

05-24-2013, 12:25 PM
I hear ya Hoss, I've been trying my hand at the handle/saya/refurbishing thing for almost a year now.
I would say that 1 out of every 15 that I do is even OK. I would like to think that I'd learn from each project and improve the next time, but that's just not so. Sometimes the next attempt is 20 times worse than the 1st!
I don't have the desire needed to be a knife maker. I'm just doing this for fun and enjoy the hell out of it. It also helps me appreciate what you guys(the pro's) do even more..............
.....and I haven't even attempted anything steel-wise.
The fact that you guys(except Kramer) could ever charge what the knives are truly worth, says a lot about you and the nature of the craft. You makers are like us chefs............definitely not in it for the $$$$,

HHH Knives
05-24-2013, 02:24 PM
Cool thread. Its always interesting to hear what people think about this subject. :)

Thanks for sharing Devin.
God Bless YA

05-24-2013, 03:16 PM
Yey! What do I win? :)

That key to success applies more universally, not just to making knives. Thanks for sharing the story, Hoss! Very cool.

05-24-2013, 03:19 PM
A free shop tour when you come to Panaca.

Thanks everyone for chiming in on this. Lots of fun answers.

Love and respect


05-24-2013, 03:25 PM
Here's the knife and the award.

After the show, a knife maker named Bob Lofgreen, who I studied with for a summer, said that he would like to have the knife and would pay me later for it. He never paid for the knife. He traded the knife to Ken McFall, who gave it back to me about twenty years later.

The blade was a copy of an antique Kris, the handle was about the same size with our twist on it. The handle is pre-ban ivory.


05-24-2013, 04:25 PM
hmmmm.....that looks familiar...Beautiful piece Devin...hard to appreciate fully from the picture though :)

HHH Knives
05-24-2013, 09:51 PM
Wow Devin. Thanks a amazing looking knife. Worthy of the prize. And the fact you got it back after so many years is priceless! Thanks for sharing.


05-24-2013, 09:58 PM
Wow I can't believe that knife, and that you were "new" at it at the time. Love the handle, well everything about it. After looking at that blade I would think he was more about getting you out of the business, you know less competition. Stunning!!!!

05-24-2013, 10:47 PM
Hoss, Thanks for sharing the story! that is one beautiful art knife.....did you carving the ivory handle??

05-25-2013, 10:18 AM
Great thread Hoss! 1983 was a great year indeed, beautiful knife!

05-25-2013, 12:16 PM
Thanks guys.

At the time of the show I had made knives for about five years. The rule for a new maker was that it must be your first major show. I do remember being the youngest maker at the show and the guys that I was competing against were older than my grandfather and had a life time of experience.

I did do some of the carving on the handle. I got a bunch of help from Jim Lofgreen, brother of Bob Lofgreen, who I studied with. Jim made knives and was a bird carver. Both Jim and Bob were incredible knife makers, they've both passed away. At one point Bob wanted me to marry his daughter.

I made my first knife just before I turned thirteen. I worked with Bob and Jim Lofgreen during one summer between my junior and senior year of high school. My grand mother lived near them and it was nice to get some grandma love.

It's been 35 years since I made that first knife. The first one took at least a hundred hours to make and I sold it for $50.00. I thought I was rich! 50 cents an hour isn't much though.

Making knives can be incredibly rewarding and has been for me over the years. The only jobs I've had are welding, machining, and knife making, except for a short stint as a mobile car washer in my teens.

I see more and more members trying their hand at the craft, good luck to all of you, and I hope you find as much joy doing it as I have.

Love and respect


Patatas Bravas
05-25-2013, 01:57 PM
Yey! What do I win? :)

A free shop tour when you come to Panaca.

Based on what I've read, I'd guess that if you show more determination you might be able to get yourself a bigger prize.

05-25-2013, 02:26 PM
I see more and more members trying their hand at the craft, good luck to all of you, and I hope you find as much joy doing it as I have.

Ahh, the difference between an avocation and occupation. Participating on this forum has challenged me both in the kitchen and the garage and for that I'm glad to be here. But nobody is ever going to pay me for either. Good on you and other craftsmen and chefs here for going pro in a field you love.



Salty dog
05-25-2013, 03:32 PM
I'm guessing some personalities are better suited for it as well, like many professions. Heck, I bought all the stuff for making handles and gave up half way through my first one. To work on a project for days? Weeks? Unthinkable in my mind.
I envy you guys that can focus like that.

sachem allison
05-25-2013, 03:47 PM
I'm guessing some personalities are better suited for it as well, like many professions. Heck, I bought all the stuff for making handles and gave up half way through my first one. To work on a project for days? Weeks? Unthinkable in my mind.
I envy you guys that can focus like that.

and yet my friend you can paint a giant dragon on your wall.

Burl Source
05-26-2013, 09:11 PM
I don't know if this will make sense, but here goes.
To become a good knife maker one needs to be willing to learn from your failures.
Instead of looking for a way to blame the failures on something other than yourself, trying to figure out what went wrong.
Then what could be done differently to make things work out right.
and finally, the willingness to keep at a project until it is just right instead of good enough.

Don Nguyen
05-26-2013, 10:49 PM
and finally, the willingness to keep at a project until it is just right instead of good enough.

That's a big one, and really hits home.

Mike Davis
05-30-2013, 09:13 AM
Devin, your comment about poverty is what strikes me most. It is an addiction that will keep you broke, but happy :)

Dream Burls
05-30-2013, 12:16 PM
This is a terrific thread and it has given me a lot of insight into your profession. It does occur to me that many of the qualities listed are a roadmap to success in whatever field one may choose. I distinguish knife making in that it incorporates so may aspects: design, metallurgy, aesthetics, wood crafts, metal crafts, salesmanship, business smarts, etc. My formal education was in the field of architecture. I took courses in civil engineering, arts, calculus, physics, geology, humanities, etc. etc. I can appreciate the diversity of knowledge and skill that it takes to make a knife. Of course loving what you do is the key. I've said this before, but I am very proud to be a part of this very special community.

Chef Doom
06-24-2013, 03:44 PM

08-23-2013, 11:41 AM
This is a wonderful topic!! Devin, you`re 150% correct in my eyes, determination is EVERYTHING. I made my first knife from a rail spike, with a charcoal forge I built into the ground. I had one 2lb...very abused hammer, and a really crappy Harbor Freight anvil I bought off of Craigslist. It was finished with files and sandpaper. Everyone I knew thought I was crazy. All I knew was it was something I had to do.

It's good to have guidance, but it is also important to be able to figure things out on your own and work with tools/setup you have, while continuously thinking how to improve your process, quality of your work, etc.

Marko, your answer really strikes true as well. After 5yrs, and 15 blades, I've never seen or talked to another bladesmith face to face.

I'm hoping to remedy that, possibly this fall...with a 500 mile or so ride north to this tiny little community in eastern Nevada :D.

Sam Cro
08-23-2013, 12:18 PM
What it takes to be a Knife Maker? Many words come to my feeble mind .

incentive, initiate the process , willingness to try, study,research,reading, However, the main thing is to Just Make a Knife! good bad or other it is a start that will grow to a passion you will love or you will determine it is really not for you .

JM2CW (Just My 2 Cents Worth)


Baby Huey
08-23-2013, 12:24 PM
Great post and replies. For me Striving for perfection is up there. Even some failures can have a perfect fix and the knowledge gained from each failure and different methods of controlling the amount of failure is not for the the weekend warrior. That is where the determination keeps you wanting to go on or the want is so great that your determination is fueled by it.

08-23-2013, 12:36 PM
A serious desire to be a knife maker or make knives . With it comes the determination to over come obstacles adn failure and ability to clock in 10,000 hours ( before that Apprentice level or Journeyman level) to master it to the level that the process becomes automatic ,,, you just know what to do to do to achieve an outcome and it becomes internalized so that it is at a subconscious level and you are free to progress at the Mastery level to try new things based on new ideas, thoughts and come up with something new.,,, and there's no end to it..

Alternatively.. just a person who will keep on doing what is required to complete the the task. Will just become very competent at the process .

just my thoughts anyway...


Don Nguyen
08-23-2013, 06:52 PM
with a 500 mile or so ride north to this tiny little community in eastern Nevada :D.

Please kidnap me and take me with you.

08-23-2013, 07:08 PM
Please kidnap me and take me with you.

Lol, you'd look kinda funny on the back of my bike =p.

So I guess we'd have to take the truck :).

04-20-2014, 06:44 AM
I would like to renew this interesting discussion.

What it takes to be a knife maker

Knife making – this is not only a craft, but also very much a creative process. It is an art.
A main motive for creativity is an all-consuming passion of the creator. He cannot really stop creating – the true artist cannot stop drawing, the true writer cannot stop writing, and the real knifemaker cannot stop making knives.

As a Great Russian writer Anton Chekhov said – "Those who experienced pleasure from creative work could not experience pleasures from anything else!"

The technical equipment, professional level, skills, and commercial success are secondary.

Please allow me to quote another Great Russian writer – Lev Tolstoy. It is suited to the subject like no other – "A lot is needed for art, but most important is fire!"
To speak for myself – in relation to knife making, this quote is true both literally and in a figurative sense. :)

04-25-2014, 03:26 PM
To see a knife inside of a piece of steel and remove the unneeded?

Also a mild case of OCD (in the informal meaning, the formal is nasty to have)

04-25-2014, 08:58 PM
by using my first name to mark my blades, it was a turn off to knife collectors.

I seem to remember a guy out your way who marked his knives "Buster". Turned out to be reasonably popular with collectors. :razz:

04-27-2014, 08:34 PM
http://i112.photobucket.com/albums/n162/gunnerjohn/DSC00034.jpg (http://s112.photobucket.com/user/gunnerjohn/media/DSC00034.jpg.html)
A great hat!!!!

04-30-2014, 07:57 PM
Thanks Gunner, it was great seeing you guys at the show. Looks like you have Marko caught in the photo standing in the back ground.


05-01-2014, 05:10 AM
Passion in what your doing, primarily, day after day.
That and a substantial breakfast;)

Marko Tsourkan
05-02-2014, 12:56 PM
To learn from your mistakes and to not get discouraged from failure. In other words, perseverance. Also, never stop learning - what you know today, might be outdated information tomorrow.

05-02-2014, 01:53 PM
I consider failure to be "research". It is a tool that is an integral part of an on going learning curve.