Sunday, September 14, 2014

Knife Thursday's Discussion of Custom v. Midtech v. Production Knife

In case you haven't heard, the Knife Thursday podcast is dedicating the entire third seasons (10 episodes) to a discussion of what it means to say a knife is a custom, midtech, or production.  They plan on asking a bunch of people--knife knuts and industry folks--about what they think each of those things is.  It is such an interesting discussion, I thought I'd offer my two cents.

First, let's clear the ground of weeds--the terms here are MARKETING terms.  People claim their knives are customs to make them seem more prestigious and more exclusive.  There is an element of craftsmanship about these things, no doubt, but really this term allows makers to ask for higher prices for their knives.  A knife being a custom doesn't mean that it is better than a production.  It doesn't mean that it has better fit and finish.  And it doesn't mean it has better materials.  It could mean those things, but it doesn't have to.  Custom means money, hence the proliferation of the term.

Thus far everyone on the podcast has focused on how something is made and I think that is a logical starting point.  The problem is that how a knife is made rapidly becomes unhelpful once you consider boutique brands and unusual cases.  Instead, I think the best way to capture what knife knuts mean by these terms is to focus on WHO made the knife.  After all, we don't say a knife is a Bob Smith custom, if it was ground by Bob Smith at the Spyderco factory.  Instead we call that a production knife and the reason why is because WHO made it is 1) not necessarily important; and 2) no single person did everything.  Additionally, the how definition starts to make less sense when you consider some of the high tech toys at the disposal of some of the best makers.  Brian Tighe's machining ability dwarfs some manufacturers, but he is still a one man show and thus I think his stuff is most properly considered a custom.  

Some History

The distinction between custom and production is a relatively recent one.  When the advent of mass production capabilities brought about by the Industrial Revolution, humans gained the ability to make objects quickly and in large numbers.  One of the hallmarks of a production item was the fact that it had interchangeable parts with others from its production line.  Production pieces looked and functioned the same.  Their parts were identical.  Prior to the Industrial Revolution EVERYTHING was custom.  

Until recently, the idea of a custom item, pejoratively called handmade/homemade, meant that it was basically a homemade take off on a production item, a lesser piece.  The term "homemade" conjures up images of a ghost sheet halloween custom and a lumpy, ugly cable knit sweater.  In some areas custom always had a positive connotation--furniture, cars--any item that is sought out for how it is made.  But in many areas, the idea of something being handmade implied it was a patchwork, a rough fascimile of the original.  Handmade suits were of suspect quality because while a few could tailor them better than any machine, most did not have that skill and so the suit was, in some way, of lesser quality than the production suit.  

But in the past 50 years or so, we have had a desire to get back to authentic roots.  We have also seen a proliferation in craftsman with superior skill and machines that allow them to capitalize on that skill. And so, over time, the term custom or handmade has become a marker of quality.  And so it is in knives as well.

The Definitions

Single Source ("Handmade") Custom: a knife designed, fabricated, ground, and finished by a single person holding themselves out as the creator.  Essentially the person is using only raw materials and maybe a few common off the shelf parts (a pivot, screw, or bolt).  I don't think it is important that it be made solely or even partially with hand tools so long as all of the work is done by a single person.

Custom: a knife designed, ground and finished by a single person with a few off the shelf parts or the use of fabrication operations in certain stages. 

Midtech: a knife in which the designer had some hand in the final creation of the knife.

Production: a knife in which no single person is holding themselves out as the creator of the knife; a knife designed by one person and made by another or many others.

Modified: a previously finished knife changed by someone else other than the person or company that made it.

Applying the Defintions

First, lets look at the most hands-on of hands-on makers--Aaron Gough.  Gough made the "viral video" rounds when this video surfaced:



Gough makes fixed blades and he does virtually everything not only by himself, of course, but with hand tools.  He cuts the blade shapes with a hack saw.  He does the grinding with a file (though he has upgraded to a motorized grinder).  He does the handle work the same way.  Gough, it seems to me, is someone that virtually everyone on planet Earth would agree makes a custom knife.  Its easy to apply the custom label, any custom label, to him.  But some would say that a custom knife uses NO off the shelf parts.  If you look at a Yuna knife, he doesn't just fabricate the blade and grind it, he makes everything himself going so far as to make his own screws.  


Image courtesy of Yuna Knives.
 
By this definition, basically Gough, Yuna, Howard Hitchmough and a few others would truly be custom makers.  

That doesn't seem fair.  It also doesn't seem to capture what we knife knuts mean by the term "custom."  It is a definition with virtually no utility because it doesn't mean what we want it to mean.  But, if you apply the "who" made it definition, these definitely work.  They are customs by the "how" it was made definition, and the "who" made it definition.  So it works there.

Let's jump to the other end of the "how its made" spectrum with guys like Brian Tighe and John Grimsmo.  If custom requires handwork these guys ain't custom makers, but that doesn't seem to make sense.  It would be like saying that a person is only the author of a book if they wrote it with pen and paper.  The fact that they have new technology in the production phase seems, to me, to be immaterial.  They designed the knife.  They made it (with the help of machines).  They finished it (again with the help of machines). The problem is that what constitutes a machine? A grinder is a machine.  It has a motor.  And so you fall down a rabbit hole that, in the end, has to do with defining "machine" instead of trying to make sense of what constitutes a custom knife.  But if you take the "who made it" definition, these are easy cases.  Both Brian and John designed, fabricated, ground, and finished the knives AND they hold themselves out as the creator.  


Image courtesy of Grimsmo Knives.

These are single source custom knives, too. 

But the single source custom seems to miss a lot of folks out there, folks that have real talent but are limited in some way by either a level of demand and/or a lack of certain machines.  These are the guys that use water jetted parts or outside heat treaters.  As a woodworkers I can identify with these folks--I use premade hinges and drawer slides (though the best drawers I have ever made were ones I made of wood).  I also don't have the room or money for a lathe, so I used premade turned legs.  For knife makers in this category, they face similar limitations.  The monetary investment a proper heat treating oven represents is just too large.  Additionally when you have a list three years long, having mass produced lockside and show side handles is huge boon.  These aren't the parts that knife folks find interesting and so I am not averse to knives made this way (though I do not own any; the Pathfinder, the SES, and the Dauntless are all, to my knowledge, single source customs).

Many folks fall into this category.  TuffThumbz has been very open about his use of water jet.  I also think that many, many folks use outside heat treaters.  Lots of folks think that using outside produced parts makes a knife something other than a custom.  Its not fair, it seems to me, to say that these folks are in the same category as the Yunas and Goughs of the world.  


Image courtesy of Blade HQ

At the same time, these folks are clearly not production scale makers or even midtech makers. One on needs to look at the lavish detail and amazing individuality of a TuffKnives creation to see that it is far from the world of production blades.  By separating out single source customs from other customs we can still capture the essence of what we mean--knives that are designed and finished by a single person are special and worth distinction and more money.

Midtechs are knives that move much closer to full production.  Often the designer (the name on the midtech) creates the CAD drawing and then outsources production of nearly everything.  The only hands-on work is in the final grinding, assembly and fitting.  The designer/maker might grind the blades or tune the lock up, but the parts are made by someone else and usually assembled by someone else.  Chad Nichols is doing a lot of the midtech work right now.  Jon Graham's recent midtech release seems like the emblematic knife of this class.  Jon does some final work on the knife and designed it, but everything else is done by others.  Similarly the "semi-custom" Bodegas offered by Todd Begg fall into this category.  


Image courtesy of FortHenryCustomKnives.com

There is nothing wrong with this at all, but it is different in substance from the other two classes of knives.  It is also something worth less, it seems to me, though not much less.  It is even further removed from the custom idea and is edging closing into the production world.  There is, obviously a spectrum with customs on one hand and midtechs on the other.  The less the knife maker does on the final product the more it is clearly a midtech until the maker does nothing in which case it is a production collaboration.  Not all midtechs are created equal, but when you start talking about outsourcing more than a few water jet parts or heat treat, I think it is clearly a midtech. 

Lisa Pelton of DPx Gear contends that midtechs are knives that are limited in number.  I don't share that opinion.  To me, the limited number of knives produced is wholly immaterial to its status as a midtech.  Afterall, Kershaw only made 211 Blue G10 Blackwash Skylines, but that is no one's idea of a midtech.  Midtechs tend to be limited in number because, as Steve pointed out on the podcast, the amount of work a maker has to do, while greatly lessened from a full custom, is still time consuming enough to make the final numbers tiny by comparison.  But limited numbers are a secondary attribute of a midtech knife, an effect, not the cause.  A midtech needs to be touched, worked on, by its designer. Otherwise it is just a small batch production knife.  The issue of limited numbers is a secondary thing, not essential to the nature of a midtech.  It would be like saying all loud cars are fast.  Many cars are loud because they are fast, but a jalopy can be equally loud but no where near as fast.     

Production knives seem easy to define, but throwing things off are knives like Bark River blades.  They are handmade.  They assembled by hand.  They are ground by hand.  They are assembled from raw materials and very few off the shelf parts.  But they are assembled in mass with interchangeable parts (returning to the original definition of production outlined at the time of the Industrial Revolution).  They are very nice, but they are still productions.  

Finally, modified knives.  In a real sense these are the knife equivalent of fan fiction.  They take something that pre-exists and is crafted by others and change it.  But having had a few modified knives (I refuse to use "pimped"; giving that work a good connotation is something I refuse to do--a pimp is a sex offender and a slave trader) and they were great.  The Dietz mod to the Burnley Kwaiken, for instance, is actually better--from a design standpoint--than the Burnley flipper.  It retains the beautiful elegant silhouette of the Kwaiken, AND offers better flipping action.  Tough to beat that. 

Conclusions

In all, I think the distinction is really a classic Wittgensteinian language problem (see: Wittgenstein's quandary over the definition of the word "game").  We have a general intuition about what the words mean, but the closer we inspect them the less certain we are of their meanings.  Human brains do not do well with these problems.  They are particularly vexing to how we think because generally get greater insight with closer inspection, not less.  But in terms of the gear world (departing quickly from the philosophy world), I think the better way to figure out what these words mean is to first focus on not the how, but the who, and then second distinguishing from types of customs.

More importantly, we have to realize this is a spectrum.  Watching Gough take that slab of steel and G10 and transform it into a very elegant blade is fascinating.  But putting the bar there for custom knives is not only silly (sort of like insisting that Willie Mays is the standard for Hall of Famers), it robs the terms of meaning.  The differences are ones of degree, not kind.  Gough is on one end of the spectrum, along with a handful of other folks, and Spyderco is on the other.  Guys that buy, as oppose to make, their own screws, but nothing else are much closer to Gough.  Guys that get parts water jetted are substantially further away from Gough, but I think still properly seen as custom makers.  

For some folks, the work done by the "custom maker" is important.  Some kind of work is more true to the sense of a custom knife than others.   In my mind, having someone else anodize the knife is not as big a deal, for classification purposes, as having someone else grind the knife. It seems to me, whether I agree with this proposition or not, that most people feel like the most important thing a knife maker can do to impart his or her own touch to the knife is to do the final grind.  I'd argue that fitting the lock is just as significant, but I think most hold out grinding the blade as the emblematic way of put a person's authorship on a blade.  

In the end, this is about money.  Customs demand higher prices.  And if you could claim something you are selling is worth 600% more depending on the label its given, you'd call it a custom too.  I'm not saying that to imply that any custom maker is dishonestly claiming something to be a custom when it isn't (though I have reason to believe this does happen), but simply to remind people of why the terms matter in the first place.  Its about money and then probably about pride.  Its not about fit and finish, craftsmanship, or materials because in the modern market you can find productions that rival the vast majority of customs on any one of those counts.  

Interestingly for me, this exercise is not so much about knives, but about language.  We, as the knife community, have a vague intuition about what these terms mean, but at the edges these intuitions fail.  I think that the definitions I laid out above, both meaningfully distinguish between different kinds of knives and, at the same time, match up well with those intuitions we all share.  I hope this helps and I hope it contributes to the excellent discussion on the Knife Thursday podcast (though from when I started writing this until I finished, Chris and Steve seemed to have moved on somewhat to other topics).  I'd love to hear everyone's take, so comment below.        

33 comments:

  1. Great piece, as always, T.

    I like the Lonergan take on the problem better than W's, although there is some overlap. Lon. thought there are different "realms of meaning." The two most basic ones are common sense and theory. Common sense defines things according to us. It uses imprecise, descriptive terms. Theory attempts to define things in relation to other things. It tries, thus, to be more objective, more systematic.

    So, for example, when using common sense terms, we would say something is hot, cold, really hot, or f-ing cold, etc. Using theoretical terms, ones that define temperatures in relation to themselves, we say it's 20, 30, 90 degrees Fahrenheit or Celsius. Another example would be the movement from saying the sun revolves around the earth (things in relation to us) to saying we revolve around the sun (things in relation to themselves).

    In this light, I'd say you're seeking to move from a common sense definition to a theoretical one. This is what you usually do, and it's a big part of why I appreciate your site.

    But one criticism: I'm not sure the suit example was a good one. I know a fair amount about suits, and I don't think there was ever a time when either the general public or experts thought custom/handmade suits were inferior to factory made ones. Your Halloween costume example was perfect though.

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    1. I should have been more precise about the suit example. There are and have been tailors that can nail a suit, but having your significant other make one at home will produce lesser results, unless that person is wildly talented. The ghost sheet costume is a better example. Your right.

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    2. That makes sense. I don't think I've ever heard of anyone trying to make a suit at home. A shirt or pants, but never a suit. Jackets are really complicated to make. My grandmother was a dressmaker and she made us Halloween costumes, back when most were homemade, and she never would have tried to make a suit jacket or sport coat.

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  2. I agree with you about language. It's all about trying to fit knives into different sets. The problem is no matter how many we come up with, there will always be a knife that doesn't fit into a specific set perfectly.

    What I propose to Knife Thursday was a simple 5-10 question survey.

    Each question would basically be 'Who completed X major operation on the knife'?

    A) Maker by hand
    B) Maker by automated machine
    C) 3rd party in house assistance
    D) 3rd party outside vendor

    I haven't heard back from Chris yet but I think it's a much simpler way to do it. It also puts the onus back on the individual customer to research and decide for themselves.

    -Jonathan (Scurvy)

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    1. My only concern here is distinguishing between made by hand and made by machine. That is a rabbit hole with no bottom. Both a grinder and a CNC machine are machines. One has a computer for a brain, but I don't think that means a whole lot because in the end Tighe and Grimsmo are programming that brain and I think that shows a whole lot of skill.

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    2. It's not a rabbit hole with no bottom. I was very clear when i stated 'automated machine'. One has a computer involved the other doesn't. That doesn't make it any less skillful than the other, just different.

      When looking at the grind on a blade or the contouring on a handle and you are impressed with the symmetry, a lot of people want to know if the symmetry was a result of a computer program or a steady hand.

      Neither is better than the other but they are markedly different style and that's why it bears distinguishing.

      Don't think I am trying to disparage CNC makers, RJ Martin is my favorite knifemaker.

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    3. In the world of woodworking, there are folks that have treadle powered lathes and saws. Those are not "automated machines". A grinder is automated in the sense that it moves automatically, once power is provided.

      The problem with this distinction is it both whittles down to nothing eventually (what if you jig up everything on a mill so all you have to do is pull a lever?) and it doesn't really result in a substantial difference to the final product.

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    4. The only person I can find that would make "handmade" customs under your definition would be Gough and a few others. Most folks at least have a motorized grinder.

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    5. Come on Tony, you are being awfully stubborn on this. The wording can be adjusted but I made it pretty clear I was referring to computer controlled versus not.

      Again, it's not to disparage one against the other, it's just to make a distinction.

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    6. Also, you state below that flashlights don't fall into the rubric but you are more than willing to pull woodworking in as another example even though it doesn't fall into this rubric either...

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    7. A grinder is automatic, once turned on, but it doesn't grind automatically, at least not in a way that self-adjusts.

      In tailoring there's handsewn, hand-guided machine sewn, and completely machine sewn. I'd think that would apply here.

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    8. Scurvy,

      The problem with distinguishing the end product based on the kinds of machines used is twofold--first, machines are always changing and I am sure there are or will be computer controlled grinders, and then we have to get into this debate about what part of the machine or the process is computer controlled and what part isn't. Its a rabbit hole in that regard. And second, I am not sure it matters. Why does it matter that Brian Tighe programs a machine to make a cut instead of using a mill to make the same cut? In short, I think it is a distinction without a difference.

      As for the flashlight thing v. woodworking, woodworking is much closer to knife making than flashlights are. The rubric outlined above is solely for knives, but sometimes woodworking offers good examples. Flashlights are more like building computers. There are certain parts in both enterprises that simply have to be purchased off the shelf. A person can't make a hard drive or a RAM and a person can't make an emitter. No matter the skill it just can't happen.

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    9. So in your mind there is absolutely no reason to distinguish people like Tighe/Grimsmo who use 100% CNC from people like Rexford/Burch who use 100% manually controlled machines?

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    10. Maybe I missed something but in my opinion the most important thing is the quality of the final product not the method. You can have crappy products that are hand made, poorly CNC produced parts or hideous knives that are machined to the utmost precision yet still hilariously unattractive. The most important thing to me is that each process is leveraged for a reason.

      In the end I largely feel that this is an esoteric argument.....

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    11. I agree with Andrew that it's esoteric. I think just a simple disclosure survey puts the onus back on the buyer as to what attributes they value in a knife. Same way we tell people what country the product is made it. Just simple disclosure.

      I feel like there a lot of people who got the Jon Graham 'mid-tech' thinking they got a knife that was hand finished/assembled by Graham only to find that all he did was sharpen them.

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    12. Scurvy,

      Think of it this way--from the perspective of the Amish, there is no difference. I point that out because for me its not about the tools but about the vision and the execution.

      Bark River uses many of the same tools and methods that Rexford and Burch do, but their knives are productions because of who made them, not how. I know they laser or water jet some blade blanks, but there is a lot of similarity between their production process and that of a maker using just a grinder, et al. Its not the tools but the person that matters.

      Andrew,

      As for leveraging each part of the process, I agree, but aside from a few very outstanding makers, some of the finest production knives are as nice fit and finish wise and materials wise as good customs. Al Mar's stuff is pretty outstanding. The Production Dauntless was great. The high end ZTs are really incredible. Some of Lionsteel's stuff is really top shelf.

      This is not say that custom knives can't be better. They can. Just not necessarily. I handled a Tim Gaylean flipper at the Mystic Show that was better than anything I have ever held. I have handle a few Walkers, Lums, and Hitchmoughs that are peerless in the production world. But a lot of custom stuff, even nice custom stuff, is not obviously or always superior to the best production stuff. The capacities many production houses have are so sophisticated its hard to outdo them.

      Again, I think the only way to meaningfully distinguish is to focus on the who and not the how or the what.

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    13. Tony. You sound so stern when you call me by name :) I'm going to call my first CNC machines Al Mar and Tim Gaylean.

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    14. Tony,

      I understand your point but to some people there is a difference. Not so much to me because as I said earlier, RJ is my favorite maker.

      If it didn't make a difference then Grimsmo and Tighe would be such a point of discussion in the market.

      I really don't see the issue.

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  3. Does that mean the Aeon Mk II is considered a Mid-Tech light and not a custom one as Enrique contracted out the Ti machining (all the delays were associated with this step) and did the final assembly?

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    1. Lights are hard to fit into this rubric and I certainly intended it to only apply to knives. The essential problem in carrying over the terms is that lights have parts that NO ONE can make other than a big factory--namely the emitters. Even McGizmo and Cool Fall don't make their own emitters and the emitter is the heart of the light. So in that sense it is impossible for someone to make a custom light. It would be the equivalent of someone making a custom knife with a blade final ground by someone else.

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    2. The clothing analogy is similar. Custom tailors assemble premade parts. I don't know of a single custom tailor worldwide that weaves his own cloth, spins his own thread, or raises his own sheep. They all buy fabric and trimmings (buttons, thread, zippers, canvas and horse-hair stiffeners or fusing) and put them together.

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  4. Nice write-up, but I'd like to see the definition from another view. A custom is an item that was made specifically for you, it means that you can have more or less impact in the final finish or that it can be totally bespoke. In this line of thinking a custom maker can also make "custom" knives without a specific client in mind as long as each knife is more or less tailored to a unique configuration.

    Also important for me is that the maker has enough flexibility in his base design and manufacturing capabilities to change materials, thicknesses, size and similar parameters.This makes a clear distinction to mid-techs since farming out waterjetting of certain bigger components makes it more difficult to change these.

    Whether or not the maker uses CNC machines or external heat treaters is another discussion that's more in line with in-house movements and hand vs. machine finishing for mechanical watches.

    Keep it up,

    Anders

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    1. I kind of agree. There seems to be two main sets of criteria: how unique the design is and the process/way the knife was made (Aristotle's formal and efficient causes).

      Again, this reminds me of tailored clothing. In the "language game" of that world, people use four main categories: "custom/bespoke," "made-to-measure," "made-to-order," and "ready-to-wear":

      1) Custom/bespoke garments are made to one's own personal pattern, thus made to fit one's physique and stylistic preferences.

      2) Made-to-measure garments take an existing pattern and make a few adaptations to one's own measurements and stylistic choices (1" longer arms, pleats or flat front, etc.).

      3) Made-to-order garments only allow one to choose from a very short list of stylistic features, generally just the fabric type and model number.

      Under this definition, your Sebenza would probably be considered made to order, as you didn't change the proportions of the knife, just added a few decorative features.

      To move from design to how it was made (formal cause to efficient cause), I'm reminded of how a preeminent tailor, Chris Despos out of Chicago, said he preferred the term "benchmade" over custom/bespoke to describe his work, because it meant the garment was both one of a kind and largely handmade. Of course, he'd be one of the first to say that virtually no tailored garments are completely handmade.

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  6. I have a serious issue with the gear community's corruption of the word "custom". The word has meant, for every industry to which it has been applied over the centuries of its use, something that is made to order; specifically, something that is made at the request of an individual customer to his or her specifications. This is the *only* correct definition, and you'll note that there is no indication or requirement of who is making the product, how it is being made, or what it is being made out of.

    I have a Small Sebenza 21 that was made for me with silver-toned hardware and engraved text but otherwise a standard Sebenza. This is a custom-made item, as it was made specifically at my request and modified to my specifications. It is irrelevant how much handwork Chris Reeve actually did on my knife, or what types of machines were used to make it. This is the definition of custom: made for me, the way I wanted it.

    On the other hand, most of the "custom" Hinderers and Striders out there are *not* custom-made knives by any correct definition of the word. They may be partially or completely handmade, they may be designed and built individually, and they may be produced in limited runs, but unless they are specially ordered and made for a specific customer, they are not custom. Full stop.

    Most of the so-called "custom" knives on the market are more like "couture" knives, in that they are complex and special designs, devised by a headlining designer, made by hand from rare and expensive materials, and produced in limited quantities. However, any piece of gear must meet the following four criteria, with no exceptions, to fit the correct and non-negotiable dictionary definition of "custom":

    1. The customer must place the order *first*, directly with the maker, before any manufacturing has begun.
    2. The customer must have some input in the design, features, or specifications of the product.
    3. The maker must build the product to the customer's specifications *after* the order has been placed.
    4. The product must be unique in some aspect of its appearance, features, materials, design, or functionality, and cannot simply be pulled from a bin.

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  7. First, language evolves over time and the same word as different meanings in different contexts. My wife is an organic chemist. When she says something is "organic" she means it has carbon in it. When we are looking for fruit for our son, "organic" means something different. Language is in flux all of the time. There is no such thing as a "correct and non-negotiable dictionary definition". Sorry.

    Supposing there is, in legal settings the US Supreme Court uses the Merriam Webster dictionary. It defines custom as "made or performed according to a personal order." Simply picking out the parts on your Sebenza 21 from a buffet of choices doesn't capture any of the meaning of the word "custom knife" as used by most people. You may have specified the engraving and the color of the hardware, but all of that stuff is either machined or off the shelf parts. In a real sense, that misses the mark completely.

    Like it or not, custom knife has come to mean something that involves a specific maker doing the work entirely or mostly by themselves.

    Also, the idea that engraving something at the customer's specification seems to be wholly unlike a custom when you have a Things Remembered in every mall in America.

    I have ordered knives like this--my Pathfinder was built on a platform Chuck developed but made and completed to my specifications. I think the word that best fits these sorts of knives is "one-off" or "bespoke." They are customs, too, but the fact they are built for me, doesn't seem to embrace what the knife community means when it says something is a custom knife.

    I get your point, but the term, and language in general, is pretty mutable over time and context.

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  8. Tony wrote this: "Like it or not, custom knife has come to mean something that involves a specific maker doing the work entirely or mostly by themselves."

    Interesting. In other realms, that's generally the definition of "bench made." I wonder if "custom" replaced bench made in knife talk because a production knife company took the name "Benchmade."

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    1. Wouldn't be the first time--see Bali-Song (r) v. Balisong.

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    2. Oh, I didn't know that either. Looks like Benchmade plays the language game for keeps!

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  9. I kind of feel like the "mid-tech" classification is the thing muddying the waters here. In my mind, there are production knives and non-production. You can call the non-production "custom" if you want, even if that doesn't follow the classic English definition. And I would have to put the dpx knives into the production category, no matter how badly their marketing people want to convince us their knives are more "special" than that.

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  10. I can remember when...
    A rather large crowd argued that nobody that used stock removal was a knife maker. It had to be hand forged. This argument can be seen in my 1980's era 6" Randall #5:
    I requested a catalog model, blade material (forged O1-vs-stainless) blade length, guard material and handle material (Sambar Stag FTW!) I placed the order, waited and Gary Randall's crew made it for me. How can this be anything but a custom knife?

    On a different note, I'd change "production" to "manufactured". If a knife shop has people making certain components in bulk and then the knife is assembled from stocked parts, it has been manufactured. The only difference between a small shop and the big guys is in their manufacturing capacity. Even Rolex watches are manufactured.

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    1. I like the use of manufactured over production quite a bit.

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  11. I think the question of whether it matters relates significantly to the status of the knife once bought - safe/shelf queen or user.
    A custom or single source or expensive factory blade when used loses significant dollar value but may be more enjoyable to use but not necessarily.

    One of my favourite knives is the Sanrenmu 605 and I own a Mnandi, Strider SMF, Hinderer XM18 and Sebenza plus the Caly 3 and some other Spydercos. It cost $5. It is simply a good design and in some ways is more valuable to me than my more expensive knives because I use it so often.

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