EDITOR'S NOTE: A long, long time ago I asked Aaron, former cohost of the podcast and your congenial host at the now-defunct Practically Everyday.com to write a primer on how to buy a custom knife. The process is daunting and the prices make a mistake super-painful. Aaron has a great deal of experience in the custom market, both on the primary and secondary market. Here is that piece. All of the words and pictures are Aaron's. Enjoy these glorious shots. I know I did.
Breaking into the custom knife world can be difficult. The costs are high, especially to begin with, and there is a steep learning curve to catch the trend. The difference between what is “in” now and what is on the decline tomorrow can change in the blink of an eye, but it’s important to know how the market is trending so you don’t lose your shirt.
There are three major venues to purchase a knife from: Direct order, Secondary Market, and Knife Show.
This has to be the most “expected” way to get a custom knife right? Find a maker you like, place an order with them for what you want, and then receive the ordered knife from the maker. This is partly true, however a lot of the really “hot” knife makers have closed their lists. The wait times have gotten so long they’ve stopped taking orders in order to get caught up. Fear not however! The fun part in this game is finding the new makers, who will be the NEXT big thing, and getting on their order lists early. Additionally, old makers tend to open up their lists from time to time, if you’re plugged in enough you can catch those opportunities.
Once you get your order in, and you’ve waited your year or so for your name to come up, it’s time to place your order. That’s the simple part, pick your model (assuming the maker in question has “models”), materials, and whatever other options are available to you. You should be quoted a price, or a break down of pricing options. Following is an example pricing breakdown from a popular maker I just finished dealing with (Ed. note: NOT RJ Martin):
$485.00 base price for the knife model
$45.00 for M4 blade steel
$25.00 for acid wash blade
$25.00 for IKBS
$75.00 for Carbon Fiber scales
$150.00 for Zirconium bolsters
$75.00 for Zirconium back spacer
$75.00 for carved clip
You can pick and choose from these, or suggest a configuration and get a total. From there the maker will start on your knife, and hopefully update you along the way. The struggle for you from this point on will be just waiting till it’s delivered.
The Secondary Market
This particular method of buying custom knives has a lot of…different opinions regarding it. Some people have issues with the value custom knives gain after they’re delivered from the maker. Some custom maker’s knives can gain 2-300% in value the day they are delivered. So, if you’re willing to pay a premium a lot of knives are available to you. If you think this is ridiculous and unfair, I refer you to the above or below method.
There are two methods for finding knives on the secondary market. Either via a dealer, or via a forum. There are a ton of custom knife dealers out there. A quick google search can help you find them. Otherwise there are several knife-forums out there. Bladeforums and the USN amongst others, both have classifieds ads, and both will have a TON of options for you to blow a solid mortgage payment on.
This is probably one of the hardest to understand methods of acquiring a custom knife. Knife shows will be an opportunity to skip the lists for some of the more popular makers in the business. Most of the makers will be doing lottery sales, where you enter for the chance to buy a knife, and if drawn you can pick from what is on the table and pay the maker price. You might get luck and find a maker that has their knives “first come, first served.” Knife dealers will also have tables setup at most major shows, so you’ll have another chance to look through their inventory. Other collectors will also be buying and selling… Knife Shows basically turn into a hybrid of all the other ways to get a custom knife, if that makes sense.
I hope this is somewhat helpful for you to get started in the “knife-game.” In spite of the varying ways and prices to acquire different knives, let me stress to you one thing: Buy what YOU LIKE. Too many people get caught up thinking their knife collection is an investment opportunity. The market is way to volatile and reactionary to be a safe way to grown your money. With that said, buying and selling can be a good way to grow your collection just be careful to not get to “in your head” about it. Before I quit let me offer a closing note: I sincerely think that the custom knife market bubble is going to pop, people who paid $2500 for a Mayo folder (in one instance) will be stuck upside down in their collections. IF you bought the knives you like and enjoy to carry…. Then who really cares right?