So you have scoured the Internet and saved your pennies for an expensive production light and when you receive it you are still disappointed by the quality. Or you have been looking for that unusual pocket knife and you finally found one only to have a buddy buy the same one at the same time. It might be time to step up to some custom gear. Hopefully I can give you a little primer on what to look for and what to avoid as a consumer looking to buy custom gear.
Internet's ability to allow a person to reach customers instantly all
over the world and to gather people with similar, uncommon interests
("There are other people like you that collect flashlights? Really?")
has been a boon to custom gear makers. Additionally, the
commoditization of goods including knives, flashlights, watches, pens,
and other gear means that people are willing to pay more for that piece
of custom craftsmanship.
I have entered into about a
half dozen transactions with custom makers. Some of them were great
(McGizmo) and some were not (Lummi). Most were somewhere in the
middle. I am not going to highlight specific people (other than that
reference right there) but I feel confident in my determinations after
six or seven different experience. Of course your mileage may vary. It
may even vary with the same custom maker. These people are not
machines, they are craftsmen and if you want quality you have to pay and
you have to wait. That means there is a lot of variability in this
Here are some tips to buying custom gear:
1. Check Reputation
are places where you can find out about a particular custom maker's
reputation. Forums are really helpful in this respect. There are tons
of folks out there that have tons of gear, custom included. Forums
allow you to interact with people that have the very best stuff in the
world. In addition to all of the forums listed on the "Resources" page,
another place to look are forums specifically for custom gear. Here
are a two:
Custom Guns and Knives
JerzeeDevil Forums (be careful at work, some posts are NSFW)
You can find a lot of custom stuff on both of the knife forums (bladeforums.com and knifeforums.com).
YouTube is also a good source of information on custom gear. It also
gives you a chance to see the stuff in someone's hand to get a sense of
size and dimension.
In the best of all worlds you can
go to a store or a show and see a custom maker's stuff. Where I am, in
New England, this is virtually impossible. How awesome would it be to
get this in your hands to check out:
big caveat in this whole reputation check, is post-purchase
rationalization, a commitment to one's previous decisions, even if they
are wrong. If you drop a grand on a knife, it may be hard to see it's
2. Email, Email, Email
more sophisticated folks have a good website that is up to date. That
doesn't necessarily mean that a good website equals good gear. Plenty
of great and talented makers have lots of skill at the lathe or grinding
wheel but not so much at the computer. McGizmo's
main storefront is a sub-forum on CPF and he is, without question, the
best custom maker I have ever dealt with--quick, on-time, and superb
products. This is what awaits you:
they return your email promptly it is likely they will be more
professional and deliver the goods as promised and on time. There is
always a chance that bespoke goods will take a bit longer to make than
predicted and this is when email is handy. If you have to hound them
for updates, it is not a good sign. They should be sending you regular
updates. I don't mean daily stuff, but when the order with Lummi went
south it was weeks after the delivery date before I could get a real
response. That's not the way to do business no matter what your
3. Make a detailed "contract" or want list
few folks will make something to your specifications. And really you
probably don't want that to happen. Your sketch on the back of a napkin
may be impossible to convert to reality. It may also be more difficult
than worthwhile to implement. If, however, the maker willing to
indulge you then make a specific list of what you want. The more
specific the better.
If you are picking from their
pre-existing designs, it doesn't hurt to be specific either. There are
usually options and upgrades available and the more specific the
better. If you want wood handles, ask for pictures of various pieces.
If you can, pick out the wood grain you like best, for example. You
might want to grab the piece that looks like this:
If you can get custom anodizing, see a sample of a pattern beforehand. Ask about details if there are options.
4. Save your pennies
There is no such thing as "cheap" custom gear. It is all expensive. Even slabs of metal without moving parts
are expensive. Most makers will want some sort of upfront deposit, to
cover materials in the first instance. Many will require entire
payments up front. When the prices easily hit four digits, plan on
buying gear months if not a year later.
5. Wait patiently
with the wait for saving up money, prepare to wait once you have paid.
This stuff wouldn't be so sought after if it wasn't amazing. And it
wouldn't be amazing if it were quick and easy to make. Yuna Knives has
an excellent estimated delivery policy.
It would be great if you could just order a custom product and have it
delivered, but that is unlikely. Again, McGizmo usually only posts what
he has on hand, but few custom makers have so established a business
that they can make multiples of a given item with confidence that they
will sell. That much unaccounted for expense is hard to deal with for
small scale folks. So in most instances it is a waiting game. And as
was said before, be prepared for unforeseen delays. It is likely they
will happen and it is what takes place AFTER that that matters. If the
maker is prompt and makes contact soon that is a good sign. If you get
radio or email silence, that is a bad sign.
6. Use Paypal
is amazing. You know that. But what you might not know is that there
dispute resolution system is superb. I have had the unfortunate
opportunity to use it once and it worked perfectly. It gives you so
much confidence in buying. It cuts through all of the legal baloney of
dealing with people over state lines and overseas. I am very pleased
with Paypal and their insurance is worth the money. Nothing else I have
found on the Internet offers the ease of use and power of Paypal. If
the custom maker doesn't take Paypal, move on unless there is a VERY
good reason to not worry about wonky transactions.
7. Go to the head of the line
way to skip the agonizing wait for a custom piece of gear is to go to a
custom gear reseller. There are a host of sites that sell custom
knives. Here are a few with larger collections for sale:
True North Knives
sites offer custom knives, at a reasonable price, and offer them for
immediate delivery, something that custom makers can't usually pull
off. These sites buy knives from makers, usually at shows, and then
resell them for a slightly higher price to customers. The maker ensures
that his products will be sold, the resellers ensure a stock of unique
and high quality products, and the customer gets to skip the wait. You
have some selection but not a ton. You can't, for example, ask for a
modified version of a knife you see. What you see is what you get.
flashlights, it is a bit more difficult to find resellers. A reliable
place for custom stuff is the B/S/T forum of CPF, found here.
Aside from that, there is little else out there that offers custom
lights. One interesting trend is the combination of high end production
lights and custom mods, found at True North Knives. There LensLight
and Starlingear have combined to make some unique looking lights. You
can find more about them here. They are not my thing, but I can see why people would like them. They are definitely different.
is some really spectacular custom gear out there and the Internet makes
it possible for us to have access to unprecedented levels of quality.
You pay for it. You'll wait for it. But it is worth it. My Haiku convinced me.