Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Custom Knives, Part 2: A Cowboy, Pimp, and Klingon Walk Into a Bar...

In the last part of this commentary I gave you an idea of what I liked and a general idea of what I thought was missing from a large percentage of custom knives these days.  I also gave you a preview of this commentary.  I broke down the folly of custom knifemakers into three categories: the Cowboy, the Pimp, and the Klingon.  Each of these categories represents a specific form of poor design, each is a one word summary to a larger critique.  This is that larger critique.

The Cowboy

The Cowboy's chief sin is unoriginality.  These knives, designed to look like something old, are just plain boring.  They are not pleasant to use.  The materials are chosen almost exclusively on the basis of looks and those looks are "I want my Grandpa's knife."  Nothing in these knives is exciting.  They take two hands to open thanks to the always inconvenient nail knick.  They have really unpleasant to handle materals like jigged bone or stag (though I can appreciate the look and feel of real wood and/or nice mammoth ivory).  Some of the fixed blade knives in this group are very, very well made. I tried to find a distinctive example, but the designs are so boring and so wrote that even Google Images couldn't help.  In fact when I typed in "Custom Knife Canoe" I am almost certain I heard my router yawn.  Here is as good as it gets, a nice, well-made Case Bulldog (I know it is not a custom, but since all of these knives look the same, it doesn't really matter what knife I chose):

Great quality, but snooze worthy design.  The problem with these knives is that they are such a slave to form that they lose any sense of innovation in a thick layer of polish and xeroxing what's been done before.  Suffice to say, if the knife has any of the following words in its description it is a Cowboy knife best avoided: peanut, sod buster, canoe, congress, jigged bone, nail knick.  BOR-ING.

The Pimp

The Pimp is not boring.  Far from it.  It is weird and unusual looking.  Instead, its chief design sin is gluttony.  This knife style is gauche.  It is over done, worked on, and over done some more.  Once the thumb stud has a jewel in the center, the bolsters are Moku Ti, the handle is Lightning Strike Carbon fiber, and the lanyard is ostrich leather, the Pimp design reaches for the epitome of over done--the jeweled lanyard bead or even worse something from Starlingear.  To me, the gauche, Liberace look of the Pimp style of custom knife design is best seen in knives from Brian Tighe.  Here is one of the worst offenders, the Tighe NIRK:

Pretty much every William Henry knife, other than their really quite pleasing EDC line, falls into the trap of the pimp knife.  There is a lot of interesting stuff going on in some of these knives, like the NIRK above, but it is lost in a sea of baubles and embellishments.  

The Klingon

Named for the warrior race of Star Trek lore, Klingon design is brutish, angry, and fearsome.  It's cardinal sin is its impracticality.  So many of these knives just strike me as silly.  What is the point?  I mean they are too weird and expensive to really help people who need knives in their job, like in the military or in law enforcement.  They are too difficult to carry and are guaranteed to land you on the terrorist watch list if you busted it out at Home Depot.  The market for these knives seems to exclusively well-to-do Mall Ninjas.  Because just about everyone else thinks these things are an embarassment:

What?  What is that?  How do you open it?  How do you cut with it?  How do you disengage the lock?  I see a flipper, a hole, and a cut out on the handle as if the knife had a thumb stud, but there isn't one there.  Seriously, load up on your body armor and go to your job at the Mall of America's SWAT team.  That little knife seems to offend nearly every one of the 10 principles of good design, laid out in the last post.  

There are, of course, combinations of the three types.

The Cowboy Pimp (that is one PISSED OFF bald eagle):

The Pimp Klingon (for those times when a jewel encrusted bah'leth is too conspicuous):

The Klingon Cowboy (what is "Howdy Partner" in Klingon?):

And the worst of all design sinners in custom knives--the Gil Hibben knife.  I picked one at random from United Cutlery's website, this particular piece of shit is called the Dragon Lord.  And again, yes I know it is not a custom, but you get the point.  Why if it is it he dragon lord, is the sheath made of mudane old cow skin?:

Note it incorporates the boring features of a cowboy knife--the leather sheath and checked handle, with the silly gaudy lines of a pimp knife, and with approximately 43 sharpened edges, it is unmistakeably the tool of a Klingon Warrior.   Shame that Gil Hibben is best known for these types of knives, as he make really fine custom blades.  Here is his site (not United Cutlery's).  Okay, not all of his customs are great.  There is this RIDICULOUS thing (it has an 8 inch blade and weighs OVER 2 pounds):

  Next up, well designed custom knives.


  1. Haha, that klingon blade and the huge last knife had me chuckling pretty good.

  2. LOL, that bald eagle has seriously had enough of your sh*t.

  3. pretty low hanging fruit here

  4. Lol, I don't think I'll ever be able to look at custom knives the same way again!

  5. ha! You hit the nail right on the head!

    I just started designing / making my own knives and my focus is on clean lines and functionality.

    I was concerned that the only market for these types of custom designs was myself or people who would buy a production knife from Walmart.

    Thanks for writing it!
    You've given me hope :)