On November 11, the Northeast Cutlery Collectors Association had a show near my house. A fifty minute drive put me in prime custom knife territory with a bevy of productions models present as well. There was the added benefit of the show being the weekend before the much, much larger New York Custom Knife Show. Lots of folks going there stopped in Massachusetts on their way. Overall the show was decent--there were a lot of custom fixed blades and a few custom folders. A few USN folks were there with some impressive customs, a couple of high end dealers had some rare items, and there were a handful of custom makers there was well. Here are some highlights.
Skiff Made Blades
Steve Skiff is a custom maker from upstate New York. He had five or six folders and three or four fixed blades on display. The folders were mostly art or collectors knives, which don't really interest me, though Steve's were especially nice. It was his utility or tactical folders that were truly amazing. Here is a model very similar to the one I handled:
I am a sucker for bolsters and clean lines and Steve's tools had them in spades. The knife was a liner lock and was as smooth as glass. Steve's attention to detail helped him get the pivot tolerances down to 1 or 2 THOUSANDTHS of an inch and the result is a blade that swings out with fluid grace. Other nice touches include bluish purple titanium anodized liners that have been engine turned. Steve's fixed blades were equally nice--clean lines, meticulous grinds, and excellent sheathes (which is also makes). His prices were quite competitive and it took a great deal of restraint to not drop a few bucks on one of his blades, money I don't have to spend right now.
When people throw out the phrase "it was a little gem" describing a knife it is usually hyperbole. With Hitchmough stuff it is certainly true. His utility knives are insane, having hand-made pins and beautiful wood inlays. The lock is interesting--a modified liner lock. Instead of having full liners, Howard cuts into the handle scale itself a small channel. In the channel he inserts a very small piece of metal that pops out and engages the blade tang. It works exactly like a liner lock, but the lock is not the liner. It makes his knives very slim and very light, but I cannot even begin to imagine the effort it would take to do all of this routing work in metal as small as the interior of a knife. Not a problem though because Mr. Hitchmough made surgical tools in his prior job. Something tells me this is not his smallest work or tightest space. Here is a picture of his "utility" folder:
He had two sizes available--a large called the Monarch and the perfect size in my opinion, a 2.5 inch blade called the Regent. Both were stunning. Both made me ponder how much I could get for my entire knife collection. In the end they were, for the work involved and the fame of the maker, very modestly priced.
As beautiful as these two knives were, Howard's art knives were insane. I am not normally a fan of art knives, but Howard's were so aesthetically pleasing I had to take note. There were jewels and gold all over the place. But unlike the pimpilicious looks of a WH knife, there were also design choices beyond "glue as much glitter on as possible." One knife had an engraving of a duck in flight and the blade was the shape of a feather. The pearl lever on the lockback looked like a feather as well and the gold bale set everything off. He also acid etched the hell out of the Damascus steel. The end result was a ridiculously high end blade that also happened to be pleasing to the eye of someone other than an art knife collector. Some of these art knives were, simply, the finest blades I have ever handled, including the one Ron Lake I saw three years ago at a larger knife show. Howard is a master of the form.
There were three guys with a table that had a more informal set up, but the cool thing was they were more hanging out than selling. I wish I would have gotten their names. They did have a Gen 3 Hinderer with a flipper and a slicer blade (for a bargain price comparatively speaking). It was, of course, buttery smooth and brawny. They also had a Strider SnG with gunner grips that had a Krein regrind. Talk about a dream blade--the gunner grips are awesome and the overall feel of the knife was excellent. The Krein regrind put an incredible edge on the blade. I tweeted after this that I have been bitten by the Strider bug. The hunt for a three hole pivot PT is officially on (anyone want to help? send me an email). Finally, they had a Mayo. This was the first Mayo I got to handle in person and the blade was stunning. It was a hawkbill which is rare, even among Mayos, and the pivot was bearing-equipped making for lightening quick deployment. If it were not so hard to get a Mayo that would be the thing I would save up for, but I could save for three years and never get a chance to buy one. It was gorgeous though.
Michael Burch's blades were there via a secondary market dealer. He also had a few other customs, but the Burches were the stars of entire show (though I'd prefer a Hitchmough Regent in a heart beat). He had five and when I swung back through an hour later he was down to three. The cheapest was selling for $1600. Burch's wide short blades with smoky hamon lines have taken USN and the custom world by storm. His book seems to have been closed forever and what is out there rarely gets sold. This was the first time I have seen a Burch blade up close and they are really excellent. The use of 1095 steel allows for that trademark hamon and the silhouette is unmistakeably Burch. I think the secondary market prices are a bit high, but I'd definitely consider one if I had the opportunity to buy one.
Overall the show was small. I'd like to see them combine with an outdoor or gun show and attract more people, but the size was just right for me that day. It was my second NCCA show and I will be going back. Hopefully I can make the big show in Mystic Connecticut in 2013. I'd love to walk away with a gorgeous custom knife if I could.