Custom Features, Factory Price
One might think that a custom knifemaker would be cutting into his own pocketbook by allowing a manufacturer to sell a much more affordable version of his knife, but the opposite is actually the case. Manufacturers have generated more awareness of custom makers by promoting their names to a whole new group of consumers.
In recent years, several successful custom knifemakers have experienced such demand for their wares that they have turned to production manufacturing.
Should you buy a custom knife, or would a factory knife serve just as well? Ironically, the answer is that both segments of the cutlery market offer good values. The trick is to choose wisely. What follows are some examples of knives with custom qualities at factory prices to help you decide.
Bob Dozier grew up in the swamps of Louisiana and, four decades ago, started making hunting knives out of old files and truck springs. Today, you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone who can make a better knife for the money.
Dozier’s knives are refined to a high degree of fit and finish, but the knifemaker avoids the extras that drive the price of a custom knife upward. he designs his knives without bolsters and relies instead on a deep finger choil to help ensure a secure grip. Dozier uses moderately priced D2, a time-proven steel with high chromium content that helps it resist rust and corrosion. D2 steel also has a stellar reputation for edge-holding capability.
Dozier’s entire model line is loaded with excellent values, but his Professional Guide-$195 retail-is one of the best you’ll find. At 9 3/16 ” overall, this is a true hunting fixed blade with a healthy 4 ¾” of cutting edge. The Pro Guide knife has a versatile clip point blade with a deep hollow for power slicing. The Micarta handle has a finger choil to enhance the grip, plus an extra recess ground across the upper scales for added purchase. Dozier includes a Kydex sheath with every knife.
Ernest “Ernie” Emerson’s custom knives are legendary among tactical knife users because he was one of the first to pioneer the genre we now call the tactical folder. Ernie’s designs were born out of his own experiences as both a practitioner and instructor in the martial arts.
Caught up in the tactical folder craze he helped create, Ernie simply couldn’t keep up with the demand for his custom work. Rather than disappoint customers, he turned to manufacturing. His company, Emerson Knives, has prospered ever since.
Recently, Emerson Knives began offering “Mini” versions of his two most popular designs for the user who doesn’t need a full-size tactical. The Mini-Commander is 8” long overall and shares the same handle dimensions as Emerson’s full size Commander. The curvaceous handle is 4 5/8” long and features Titanium liners with durable black or green G-10 epoxy/ fiberglass laminate scales.
The business end of the knife has a 3 3/8” recurved clip point blade along with a deep V-grind. Made of 154CM steel, the blade is offered in either a Silver Satin or Black Teflon finish with a 50 percent straight/50 percent serrated edge optional. The Mini-Commander also incorporates Emerson’s patented “Wave” feature, a ramp on the blade’s backside that can be hooked into the pocket for lightning-fast deployment. Like many other Emerson models, lefthand versions are available. The suggested retail for the MiniCommander is $180.
Pat Crawford, like Emerson, was deeply entrenched in making custom tactical knives long before the mid-’90s boom occurred. Crawford’s custom knives are in high demand, but that doesn’t mean you can’t afford one. Take a closer look in the company catalog and there are some good deals to be had. A top pick here is the Peregrine model, a small tactical fixed blade.
At 7” overall, and with a blade length of 3 3/8”, the Peregrine is perfect in size for those who like the rock-solid construction of a fixed blade but the easy carry of a folder. The blade is the clip-point style with full-tang construction using beefy 1/8” 154CM stainless steel. The handle, topped with black Micarta scales, is skeletonized to reduce weight. A versatile Kydex sheath is included along with hook and chain attachments that allow belt or neck carry. The fit and finish on Crawford’s knives are impeccable, and they’re built with vault-like construction. At $200, the Peregrine is a knife you’ll enjoy admiring as much as using.
Chris Reeve began making knives in his home town of Durban, South Africa, in 1981 and made the leap to full-time custom knifemaker three years later. In 1987, Reeve designed the Sebenza-the Zulu word meaning “to work”-a multipurpose folding knife that has endured as his top seller.
The knife became so popular that Chris and wife, Anne, later moved to Boise, Idaho, to be closer to the larger U.S. cutlery market. By 1997 he was selling so many that he was literally forced into manufacturing the knife to keep up with the demand.
The Sebenza is a crossover design that appeals just as much to the hunter as to the law enforcement or military user. Collectors gobble up dressed-up versions of the knife adorned with features such as fly cut patterns, colorful anodized coatings and wooden inlays. Another reason for the Sebenza’s celebrity is that the knife is arguably the toughest folder on the market. The handle is allTitanium with a beefy, built-in frame lock for securing the blade in the open position. The knife is available in two sizes: a large model with a 3½”. blade (4½” closed) and a smaller version with a 2 7/8” blade (4” closed). Recently, Reeve began using an allnew blade steel, CPM S30V, that he judges to be superior to even the ATS-34 and BG-42 steels so popular today. The small Sebenza sells for $305, the large model for $345.
Bud Nealy spent more than 30 years as a professional jazz and pop musician on Broadway and all around New York City before becoming serious about grinding steel. Now his list of customers includes a devoted cadre of serious law enforcement and military users.
Bud Nealy is the master of the concealment or “hideaway” knife and is every bit as well known for his sheath system as he is for making excellent tactical knives. His patented MCS (Multi-Concealment Sheath) system allows the user nine different carrying options, from simple belt-loop attachment to more sophisticated undercover fare. In addition, his knives feature thinner-than-normal handles, adding to the stealth factor and making any Nealy lightweight knife/sheath combo a comfortable experience.
Bud’s most popular knife is his Pesh-Kabz (pronounced PESHKOBS), a Persian-influenced design for tactical or utility purposes. He offers the knife in 3” or 5” blade lengths (7” and 9” overall respectively) and a choice of three blade steels: ATS-34 stainless, black powder-coated MS high-speed tool steel, and a special Daryl Meier Damascus clad steel.
The large Pesh-Kabz sells for $235, the smaller model $215, which includes top-flight ATS-34 blade steel, G-10 synthetic handles and Nealy’s patented MCS nine-position sheath system-a great value from one of the tactical world’s top knifemakers.
Ryan Wilson is the very definition of a child prodigy in the world of custom knifemaking. This 23-yearold grew up in his father’s custom gunmaking shop, Wilson Combat, Inc., and was exposed to the fine art of machining and finishing at an early age. Ryan developed an affinity for knives at age 6, built his first kit knife at age 12 and sold his first batch of 50 tactical fixed blades when he was only 16.
In the seven years since making his first custom offerings, Wilson has built up his business to the point that he is now a full-time knifemaker with his own company, Wilson’s Tactical.
Ryan Wilson’s top seller is his Model 2 fixed blade, a robust tactical fixed blade that would be equally at home behind enemy lines or field dressing a deer. Available in 9” or 10” lengths, the Model 2 features 11/64”-thick D2 blade steel and a deep, hollowground clip-point. Ample handle scales- available in a variety of green and black Micarta stylesoffer up a superb, full grip and the asymmetrical guard allows for extra thumb space when needed.
At $195, it’s no surprise that Ryan’s Model 2 is a hot seller. A multi-positional Kydex sheath is included with the Model 2.
Copyright National Rifle Association of America Mar 2004
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