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
Being able to accept failure?
To understand that money is not part of it.
Ok, how about "stick–to–itiveness"?
I'm going with . . . earplugs.
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
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.
Great stories, Devin. Thanks again for sharing them!
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 $$$$,