Friday, September 16, 2016

Survive! Knives and Criticisms of the Small Batch Post

Something of a controversy erupted so the scheduled Olamic review will be next week.  Sorry folks.  That knife deserves a really well written review.  

The folks in the BladeForums subforum for Survive! Knives didn't take kindly to the criticism I leveled against Survive! Knives in my post on Small Batch InsanityHere is the thread (I have a link and a thread because I know some browsers bump out links to forums):

Additionally, since that post I have done some following up with the company regarding my order.  I thought this stuff warranted a post as I know many of you are interested in Survive! Knives stuff, so here it is.

Order Update

One thing the folks on Blade Forum pointed out was that I was not exactly clear on the time line.   They were 100% correct.  I should have been better.  Here is the blow by blow account. 

9/3/16, 3:01 PM: I click on a button for the GSO 4.7 that says "In Stock" and I buy the knife.

9/3/16, 3:03 PM: Confirmation email received from Survive! Knives.  This is an automated email.

9/3/16, 3:03 PM: Order Status email received from Survive! Knives.  It indicates that my order is
awaiting fulfillment.  This is an automated email.

9/10/16, 3:31 PM: I receive an email in response to my email asking about my order.  It is an automated email that says that Survive! Knives is a small team and they are busy fulfilling orders.  This is an automated email.

9/12/16, 1:29 PM: I receive an email from Jordyn.  It says that they are working their way through GSO 4.7 orders from "earlier last year."  I don't know if she means earlier this year or earlier 2015.

9/13/16, 11:15 AM: I receive an email responding to my request for a more precise shipping date (actually ANY shipping date).  This is the same email I received on 9/10/16.  It is an automated email.

9/13/16, 12:44 PM: Jordyn again emails me and tells me that "the GSO 4.7 Cru Forge V knives just need sharpened and then they will be ready to go.  You should have a tracking number from us within the next couple of weeks."

Jordyn's second response confirms that the GSO 4.7s are not "In Stock" they are "In Production".  That's fine, I just wish I knew that when I bought the knife.  They clearly knew when they marked them for sale that they didn't have product to actually ship to people and to say that it is "In Stock" when its not is a bad business practice, whether selling knives, cars, or medicine.  In fact, Survive! Knives has a notation for "In Production" they just didn't use it on the knife I ordered, which they could have easily done.

Argument Restatement 

This highlights my two problems I had with Survive! Knives.  It is not the wait, it's the poor communication combined with up front payment.  

I have waited for years for a knife, two actually--my Swift and my Anso both required a wait of at least two years.  But I understood that going in because both makers told me.  Survive! Knives sort of poor, contradictory communication with customers is not healthy for that business. 

When you add to this the notion that they require payment up front, there is a distinct unease that goes along with placing this order.  I am willing to trust Survive! Knives for a long time.  If problems arise I can take care of them when the time comes.  For now, I think there is enough reason to let the money ride that I won't rescind my order.  The problem is there is a long and sullied history in the custom knife world of payment up front.  Tradition has come to be that reputable makers, from small guys all the way up to world class makers like Scott Sawby, do not ask for money up front absent an outlay for special materials.     

Again, its not the wait or the price.  My problem is the poor communication coupled with up front payment.  Those two things are unacceptable to me.  And really, the up front payment thing isn't the worst thing in the world if there was a reputation of delivering goods backing it up.  But Survive! Knives' poor communication has created expectations for the delivery of knives that has not been met.  It all goes back to the communication issue.  And that is one thing they can fix with zero capital investment.    

BladeForum Feedback

I will ignore all of the ad hominem attacks, personal insults, demeaning comments, claims of my infantile behavior because, well, it's the Internet and people react that way when something they like is criticized.  I assume they are not directed at me because they know me or they have any merit behind them, but were directed at me because I was the person criticize what they like.  To me, this has an unmistakeable display of passion, and that means there is something to this Survive! Knives thing.  I'd rather not be insulted, but it is an indication that people like these blades.

I will also note the problems with brand loyalists. I understand that it is the Survive! Knives sub forum, the epicenter of their fandom, but some of the comments were really nothing more than articles of faith.  But let's move on from those too because as in all issues of pure faith, reason holds no sway.

Chiral.Grolim's Feedback

I will, of course, point out the silliness the legal terms thrown around because, well, traditionally forum boards have not been great sources of legal wisdom.  First, libel is not a term used by the law much anymore; it has been almost universally replaced by the term defamation or false light. Libel is the kind of legalese that non-lawyers use to sound lawyerly.  Second, New York Times Co. v. Sullivan discusses defamation and the 1st Amendment.  Third, typically defamation involves claims that are demonstrable false.  Opinions, like "this is an ugly painting" or "I think they are doing this to drum up publicity" are not the kind of statements subject to defamation claims.  Not much there.

Specifically, the claims listed as dishonest, were, either, not said by me, or at the very least, arguably true.  The first claim that Chiral.Grolim called dishonest and libel was the notion that Survive! Knives used the shortages as marketing.  That is not what I said.  Here is the quote: "But for some reason, folks think this is a good way to build buzz for their gear, like free advertising."  The operative word here is "folks" and by that I meant marketing people in general, not Survive! Knives.  Just look at console releases, which I explicitly referenced in the original post, to see what I mean.  Nothing better than a shortage at Christmas to generate free publicity.

The second claim was that Surive! Knives is peddling vaporware.  Well, here is the definition of vaporware from Google: "software or hardware that has been advertised but is not yet available to buy, either because it is only a concept or because it is still being written or designed."  This pretty clearly applies to Survive! Knives.  They have drawings and CAD renderings of blades and they have taken preorders on them.  They are up on the site, thus being advertised, and are not yet available.  The vaporware may, eventually turn real, just like some lucky kids got SuperGrafx in Japan, but this is neither dishonest or wrong at the moment.

The third claim was that Survive! Knives is running a scheme to bilk consumers.  I never said this and I don't believe this to be the case.  Some folks on the thread do believe that to be true, but I never said that or implied it.

The fourth claim was that the only way to acquire a knife was pay up front and wait years.  Again, I never said this and I don't know if it is true one way or the other, in part, because of just how confusing it is to try to buy a knife from Survive! Knives.     

RCB2000's feedback

RCB2000 brings up the Busse ordering system.  He points out correctly that I did not explain that Busse only takes a dollar to place an order and then charges the rest later.  This is true, both in that I did not mention it in the post and that Busse does this.  I did not mention in the post because I had mentioned in in other posts and on the podcast.  Given that I didn't think I needed to, but I should have. RCB also points out that Busse released a slew of knives this year and that is true too.  They also did a bunch of other work--Blade, LEO/Mil work.  True as well.  My beef with Busse is that after the initial emails we received no communication about delays.  I had to call to get it.  But compared to Survive! Knives, Busse looks saintly.  At least they said the knife was not in stock and they have a wait time of 2-20 weeks (one can complain of the lack of precision, but that's not the point).

RCB2000 also points out given Busse's work load that the four extra weeks seems worth it.  I agree.  It does.  I just wish they would have told me about it instead of forcing me to go look for it.  Maybe in that extra four weeks they can make me a sheath ;)

RCB2000 had one final point about Survive! Knives' order process: "I think you are making it sound more complicated and convoluted that really is, again to serve your narrative."  There is simply no way around this fact--the process is not as simple as it could be.  They could have a binary code: in stock or out of stock, but they chose not to do that.  It may very well be true that the blades are worth the hassle, but there is, unquestionably, a hassle you have to wade through to buy something.  This hassle is unnecessary in two senses.  First, they could just be clearer about what they have and when it will ship.  That's free.  Second, compared to other small elite gear operations, like Muyshondt, Survive! Knives ordering is a baffling.  Muyshondt is a one man show, a part time gig, and he is making very complex items.


Yet, if you go to Enrique's site, you can click a button and buy something.  That is generally not possible on Survive! Knives site, despite appearing as though you can. 

Silver Needle's feedback

Silver Needle claimed I disliked Survive! Knives.  I will be truthful--I don't.  I don't really like or dislike any brand.  I like products and designers, but brands...they don't register for me as a like or dislike thing.  They are pure abstraction, so liking or disliking a brand is similar to having an emotion response to the number 3.476 or some other arbitrary abstraction.  I do like the design and look of many of Survive! Knives' blades, hence me placing an order.

He also pointed out that I was implying that Guy at Survive Knives was using scarcity as a marketing ploy.  Let's be candid here--this is the fundamental tenant of capitalism.  Scarcity drives demand.  To say Guy was not doing that on a macroeconomic level is silly.  Silver Needle is probable correct that it is not Guy's intent or plan, but to deny that he wants to sell hard to get products so he can make money is crazy.  On a microeconomic level, I am certain Silver Needle is right that Guy Seiferd did not plan the scarcity.  It seems like the fundamental issue over at Survive! Knives is a lack of planning, so I will chalk the scarcity up to that and not some nefarious marketing scheme (even if that is what a marketing person would want).  As such, Silver Needle is right and I am wrong here--If I implied it was part of a plan, I was wrong.

Silver Needle makes a very good point and one I wish I would have stated outright.  He says: "If he really thinks Guy is out to fool people by displaying designs and specs on the website yet delaying the production on purpose, then I'd strongly disagree."  I do not think this at all.  What I think happens is simple--Guy is a knife making savant and loves designing and grinding knives.  His business organization and capacity need work.  I have no doubt that if he could, Guy would meet all of the orders instantly.  He just hasn't focused on the production process enough.  And it has been years now.  It's imperative, if Survive! Knives is and thrive as a business that they work on this issue.  I can be patient and wait and so can a lot of the folks in their subforum, but the general knife buying public won't and eventually the fans will have bought all they want or need.

Lazarusrat's feedback

Lazarusrat has a good point too--I am upset that I had to pay in advance.  The custom in the knife world, as mentioned above, it to NOT do this and nothing I have seen from Survive! Knives makes me think I should approach them differently.  In fact, I have never paid up front for a custom knife, whether it was from Charles Gedraitis or Scott Sawby or Steve Karroll.


The custom is you don't do this and I have been careful not to do it either.

Clip's feedback

Clip makes a very good point, basically exactly my criticism--Survive! Knives should have more realistic (and posted) delivery dates.

General feedback

A few people pointed out that Survive! Knives model is very similar to the model used by Randall Made Knives.  This is not true.  The only common feature of the ordering systems is that both take a long time.  Beyond that, there are no similarities.  First, Randall Made Knives require only a $50 deposit on a knife that is usually more than $400.  Survive! Knives requires payment in full ahead of time.  Second, while the wait times are long, right now your order placed today would be delivered in 2021, Randall says that up front, which Survive! Knives does not.  Third, and most critically, Randall Made Knives have generations of reliable production to count on and reassure customers.  Survive! Knives has no track record of delivering products on a timely and consistent basis, even since their founding in 2012.  This has always been an issue with them.  Randall, on the other hand, churns out stuff like clockwork, slow clockwork, but clockwork nonetheless.    


Survive! Knives makes what looks like to be great knives, now they need to work on the business of making those knives.   First and foremost, and least expensively, they need to be clear and honest about what they have and how long it takes to ship stuff.  That is absolutely without question a requirement.  If they can't do that, regardless of how good the knives are, the business will never work.  When all or most of your sales are done over the Internet, a form of communication (among other things), having good communication is key.  If they don't change this, regardless of anything else, including the quality of the product, they will not succeed as a business.  And this is the change that is easiest to make--it's free.

Second, the idea of paying up front is just not in carrying with custom.  Nothing that Survive! Knives, or pretty much any other custom/small batch maker, does convinces me that they should be the exception to the rule and tradition in the knife world.  If they were making Van Barnett-level blades with insane complexity and gold parts, sure.  But they aren't.  I am not investing in a company--despite what some people want--I am buying a product.  If they want to do this "invest in my company thing" fine, go to a crowdfunding site.  If not, don't expect people other than your most ardent fans to accept that as a business model.  People want to buy products, not stock in Survive! Knives.

Finally, to give them slack because they are "young" or "small" is to ignore a whole class of gear makers that are the same age and size or newer and smaller and doing more complex stuff and getting it right, time and time again.  Will Hodges of Tactile Turn makes some of the finest stuff out there and he gets it right over and over again.  Enrique Muyshondt is the same--every product is a superior product made to the highest standards and produced and released on a regular basis.  I have yet to see or hear a reason why Survive! Knives is different or should be held to a different standard.  The list of folks that are in the same position as Survive! Knives or are newer and smaller goes on and on--Jason Hui of Prometheus, Brian Gray of Edison Pens, Brad Dowdy of NockCo, Jens Anso, Eugene of Olamic Cutlery, Jeff Freeman of Freeman Outdoors, Ryan of the James Brand...these are the folks I like to focus on with this blog and one of the reasons I was interested in Survive! Knives to begin with, but if they are going to enter this elite company, they need to do better.

Furthermore, and to take this back full circle to the point I was making in the original Small Batch Insanity post, the knife world is populated by very small companies.  Even if you exclude the folks I mentioned above, the other companies, with three notable exceptions, are all tiny.  Spyderco is a knife company with a global presence that has consistently made great knives for more than twenty years.  They do this with a staff of around 30 people.  CRKT is smaller.  SOG is not much bigger.  In fact, Benchmade, KAI USA, and Gerber/Fiskars are the only companies that are real, medium to large businesses.  Then there is the thing that Thomas W explained to me once--anyone can make a good knife once, a great maker makes them consistently for years.  Chris Reeve has done this.  Mike Stewart has done this.  Sal Glesser has done this.  But some folks don't seem to appreciate that achievement.  Instead, they fawn over these small companies for reasons that are unclear to me.  

I want Survive! Knives to succeed. I want them to make great knives. I want one of them.  But they need to work on the business side a little or they will, as I put it before, get lapped by the competition.  Even if they don't want to do that and invest in infrastructure, they need to communicate with their customers better.  What I experienced is unacceptable.  

I appreciate BladeForums folks for knocking some sense into me.  I hope I could return the favor.   Thanks to RCB2000, Silver Needle, and Clip for letting me quote them.  And, as always, the floor is open--if anyone wants to post a rebuttal, send it to me and I will publish it unaltered.  Additionally anyone is welcome on the podcast.  Heck if Guy Seiferd himself wants to write something or come on, he's welcome, too. 

Anonymous's Feedback

One person took me up on my promise to publish comments unaltered.  Here is what he or she wrote:

Saw your article on everyday commentary and recently your reaching out at the Survive! subforum.

I wanted to give you a heads up to what you are walking into  if you don't already know and a little background history.

I own six  survive knives purchased over years including their newer 2016 models and I have about  $1,000  on "preorder". So I am very much in-the loop and speak from personal involvement and experience.  here is my current collection...

I wanted to give you a heads up, there are MANY very upset customers and non customer (observers) that believe Survive has gone from a legit business making excellent knives, to a legit business making excellent knives that is running a  pyramid scheme, either deliberately or through gross incompetence.  About two years ago, Survive! Changed thier main sales model over from selling them in small batches as they came up, to selling them primarly as "preorder/prepurchases"..  When they made this change, they went so far as to claim it as an "investment" program inesting into the future of thier company.  When they did this, they came up with Multiple CAD drawings of knives that only existed on paper and started taking preorders for thos.. In total, they created nine CAD drawing nonexistant knives and took preorders for those.   The reasoning was so they could know exactly how many knives to commit to and to order the materials in Bulk and for just what they needed.  Seemed legit.  Where this has gone VERY south, is with the lead times. They only make ONE model at a time. Currently, they have been manufacturing the current model (GSO 4.7) for about a year.. and they are still not finished.

I brought this up in a concerned thread that raised lot of drama in bladeforums.. The concern being... if it takes them a year to make ONE knife, and they have NINE models on backorder with prepayments is that model sustainable? You can read this discussion here.

You can also look at a lot of angry customers at their own facebook page.

Just a heads up, the  Bladeforums  survive! subforums is a group of dedicated coolaid drinking fanboys that will absolutely defend Survive! and SK!s business model no matter what you say. I wanted you to know that those specific people do NOT represent the bulk of the knife community and SK! customers.  Many of the bladeforum SK! forum fans are made up of die hard fanboys that have THOUSANDS of dollars to spend on frivolous toys with no care or concern. Ineed you will see a number of thier fans will talk about how "Well I have thousands of dollars on X other investments and not worried about when they come in" The reality is, the rest of the survive customers- it IS a big deal to spend a thousand dollars and go years with nothing to show for. And yes, the lead times ARE a concern because if it takes one year to make one model- and they have 10 other models on backorder prepaid for, is that really a sustainable model? At some point they are going to get a mass demand for refunds..


  1. This is why I keep coming back to your blog. There were so many ways you could have handled this poorly, but you kept a level head, engaged them without a flame war, and then posted your thoughts here.

    I applaud you for keeping a cool head and a reasonable response.

    I also strongly agree that this small batch stuff is mostly nonsense.

  2. Just keep reviewing like you have been man with the honest brutality with a hint of sarcasm. I enjoy reading your reviews for this reason! Ultimately I've found that I have no reason to wait for a Survive! Or Busse when other companies that produce mid level knives (strider, hinderer, zt, crk) have readily available knives comparable or better. I don't see the point in making a super fancy bush craft knife, I'd just take an esee 4 and beat the shit out of it and sharpen chips and dings out if I wanted to take something outside.

  3. Definitely sounds like there's problems with their business model. Whether or not it is a pyramid scheme I can't say. It reminds me of the denim company, Lawless.

  4. Great follow up. You bring up some interesting points. Specifically the disconnect and sustainability concern about relying solely on the most ardent loyalists. I chuckled in reading your experience, as It was seeing it through fresh eyes. You are experiencing frustrations for the first time that have been endured by customers for quite a long time. For example, when I bought my most recent SK! knife "in-stock" item, I already knew I would be lucky to see it in under two months because I knew from past experience that "in-stock" really means it still has yet to be assembled. Just as I now Know "In-Production" doesn't mean it's right around the corner but rather it's got the raw materials in and will take years to complete. That's where you bring a very interesting perspective to this discussion. Myself and fans, and fanboys, and shills all have one thing in common- we all pretty much now KNOW the inside lingo of Survive! Like "in stock" doesn't actually mean in-stock. But that's also why your point about the Inside loyalists who know and accept these caveats is probably not a long term viable path.. Because NEW people, that are used to the knife industry customs will NOT be so accepting of these caveats nor make SK the exception to the rule.

  5. This was an interesting read i almost ordered the 4.7 cru forge cause it said in stock glad i didn't

  6. Some SK! defenders of the wait times will say that because the owners are a nice wholesome small business family representing American values and entrepreneurship that HAVE delivered awesome products in the past, you can pre-order with confidence. This is yet another false equivocation argument used, like the Randall knives argument. Some of the nicest, honest people I have personally known rode the credit card pyramid train to chapter 7 bankruptcy. Nearly HALF of small business never make it to 10 years in America. This includes some of the nicest, most skilled craftsman there are. People don't set out to fail, and false Equivocations won't shield you.

  7. Great article, and a great response to the issues. I'm always impressed at how well you handle the community response to your more controversial posts, because some people just lash out and troll right back, which accomplishes nothing. Keep it up man.

    1. Very true. Tony handled that with class and charity (in Aquinas's sense).

  8. After reading the follow up article, and based off my own experience.. it is clear to me,
    Survive! Knife company has run, and currently runs it's organization as a "BAIT AND SWITCH OPERATION".

    They "bait" their customers in with false advertising ie,"In-stock" and grossly false time estimates in social media and direct customer correspondence. And then "switch" the advertised, social media/web lead times with MUCH different lead times.

    There is this erroneous held belief that because SK! offers refunds, that baiting and switching lead-times is legit and legal. Well, not necessarily! The United States FTC defines under Section 5 ,marketing and guidelines, prohibits ANY form/media of advertising that-
    ** mislead consumers and affect consumers' behavior or decisions about the product or service..
    And the FTC looks at this MUCH more seriously when money is taken up front.

    SK! really needs to step up and take this matter more seriously. While, myself and doubtfully anyone here would make it a legal issue, all it would take is one angry group of customers that complain to the right people.. The FTC takes this stuff very serious,
    If your advertisements don’t comply with the law, you could face enforcement actions or civil
    lawsuits. For advertisers under the FTC’s jurisdiction, that could mean:
    ● orders to cease and desist, with fines up to $11,000 per violation should they occur.
    ● injunctions by federal district courts. Violations of some Commission rules also could
    result in civil penalties of up to $11,000 per violation. Violations of court orders could
    result in civil or criminal contempt proceedings.
    ● in some instances, refunds to consumers for actual damages in civil lawsuits

    It's ironic that a "loyalist" like (Chiral Grolim) would toss around a thinly veiled "libel" accusation against SK! valid criticisms. Such hyperbole is nothing more then laughable petulant rants. Meanwhile, SK! itself may be flirting on the borderline of some very serious trade/advertisement legalities that NONE of us want to see.

    1. Clearly you have a lot of passion for SURVIVE! if you're able to put so much time and energy into comments on here, youtube, Facebook and Bladeforums! I know what I say doesn't matter because of all the koolaid I had to drink to achieve this level of fanboy and shill.

      Oh well.

      I hope you find a knife company you can stand behind so you can lay all this to rest.

  9. Silver Needle posted a respectful and polite reply to my comments on the “Trolling For Hate” article. I want to start by acknowledging that and saying thanks for keeping this conversation classy.

    The party line among Survive! fans seems to be “If you don’t like Survive!, no one is forcing you to buy. Please spend your money with another company and quit posting about Survive! There is nothing to see here, move along.” It is implied (and often stated) that the person complaining has a sense of entitlement or is not patient enough / wants immediate gratification. Despite admitting that there are “some issues,” the Survive! fans actively work to curtail any meaningful discussion about the major issues with Survive!’s business. The problem that is seldom (if ever) discussed by the Survive! fans is very real and immediate financial issues posed buy the incredibly long lead times and Survives! inability to accurately forecast product completion dates.

    Without going into too much detail, if a company thinks it is going to take 3 months to complete product “A” and it ends up taking a year, they often end up running out of cash. When a company has taken money for a bunch of different products, they might end up using the money customers paid for product “B” to cover operating expenses while building product “A”, and then use the money paid for product s “C and D” to build product “B”… and it goes on and on. I know that this is a VERY simplistic explanation, but it shows what many people think is going on with Survive!

    Also, raw material prices (like steel or micarta) and the cost of outsourced manufacturing (which makes up a huge portion of the cost of Survive!’s knives) can increase greatly over time. By the time Survive! gets around to building the last of the Starter Program knives, there is a very real probability that those knives might cost substantially more to produce than Survive! thought they would.

    There is a great demand for Survive! knives right now, and the money is flowing. However, Survive! is building a huge liability of knives that have yet to be built. With the current manufacturing process and business model, and based on the issues outlined in the previous two paragraphs, there is a significant risk that Survive! will not be able to fulfill their obligations in the future.

    With all that in mind, I think that the “if you don’t like Survive, just go away” comments serve to paint a very incomplete picture of Survive! and ignore issues that have a very real probability of causing Survive! to become insolvent. To the layman, these issues are not readily apparent. If they are not talked about openly then future customers will make decisions based on incomplete information. One can only make an informed decision about risk if they have all the information.

    Unlike some, I have no axe to grind with Survive! I think they make nice (not incredible, but nice) knives and would like to see them succeed. However, based on what I know of their business they are in a precarious position. I sincerely believe Survive! will not be in business to fulfill all their orders unless they make some major changes to their business model and internal processes.

  10. I know nothing about SK but what I've read here. Looking at the pictures you posted, I have to ask: what's so special about them? I don't see it.

    1. Several things.. They are a production knife, but

      1) Every aspect is designed and made to absolute fanatical high quality of materials, processes, and fit and finish. Everything from using the very best possible "exotic" steels like 20cv/3V and heat-treatment, to peened finish, to the best ergos and dead-on precise flush Fit-finish that are at or above Busse level. Notice you sill see NO one in the arguments ever claim the Survive! knives are inferior or junk. Some people will try to compare it to an Esee.. while both will do the same job, Esee (with all due respect) is not even in the same league as a Survive! knive for egros,material,fit-finish,processes..

      2) Scarcity.. Like the author mentions- having something that is known to be very good but "you can't touch this" hard to get plays a HUGE part of the mystique. It's ironic that the very thing that adds to knives desirability is also what causes so much controversy.

      The argument all along has never been by anyone that Survive! are anything other then VERY nice knives. The argument has been that NO production knife, no matter how nice justifies the caveats and concerns of the business model and communication.

  11. I wonder what happens if this company ever goes under. I'm thinking about some small time custom knife makers and modifiers who disastrously took a whole bunch of money for orders they could not fill.