Writing this blog is kinda challenging, surprisingly so, in fact. Not only is it hard to carve out time to write it, but it’s also hard to not get lost in looking at all the old photos I have. However, looking back through them has made me re-appreciate how far we’ve come from the garage days.
2011 wasn’t really that big of a jump in the amount of knives I made, since I only sold 20 that year, but it did mark advancement in tooling and my overall knife making skills. One of the drivers behind the advancements in tools came from my buddy Jon, who has a unique ability to find things on the cheap. It was Jon who found the 2x36 belt grinder attachment for a bench grinder that became my main grinding tool as well as the big steel welding table that we still use today in the shop as the table with all our grinders bolted or welded onto it. Having a better means of grinding really changed the game for me and made grinding much more enjoyable. In fact once I got a KMG 2x72 years down the road I wondered how I ever made knives without it. If you are thinking about making knives I would highly suggest saving your pennies and buying a nice 2x72 belt grinder, it will make knife making much more enjoyable and give you better results.
The process did not change from 2010 to 2011, it was still cut out rough pieces with an angle grinder, shaping with various grinding implements, heat treating the blade in my modular furnace and temper in my kitchen oven, making handle parts, shaping to fit to the blade, making some sort of sheath, and sharpening. Now that is a massive simplification and that whole process, since it was taking place in my “spare” time could take an entire week… or longer. People ask me why I don’t do many hand rubbed satin blades these days. Well, back in 2011 I had no other options for blade finishes so every knife I made was hand rubbed, and that continued into 2012, where I made a lot more knives, so part of the reason I don’t hand rub much is because I used to do it so much that I kind of burnt myself out on it. The other reason is that once I had other ways of finishing blades, people didn’t ask for hand rubbed satin. In fact, once I had blast and tumble capabilities, 87% of my orders were for blast and tumble finishes.
Now one thing that gets lost in the tides of time is that I made completely custom knives back in those days, meaning I would design knives specifically for people based on what they wanted. It would take weeks of emailing sketches back and forth before I had a design to even start making. Since I was doing it for the love of the craft, that time cost never registered in my mind, but on average I was spending 10 hours of design time for every knife I eventually made… and the ones I didn’t make. What that really means is that I actually paid to make knives for people even if I set my hourly wage at $5 an hour. The most expensive knife I made in 2011 was $250 and that is the dagger in the pictures. I had $2,540 in total sales in 2011 and I spent 4 or 5 time that much on tooling, consumables, and material.
People often don’t see that every full time knife maker came from making knives at a deficit at some point in their career. In fact, when I look back at all the time and money I spent getting to the point I am today, I know I still haven’t broken even. It’s not so much the money I’ve spent, but the time. Time is the real non-renewable resource and one that becomes more expensive as you get older and it becomes more limited. The real cost in making anything is not the materials, but the time. When you buy anything what you are actually paying for it the time from someone’s life it took to make that product. Now you can slice that time up and aggregate it over many items and drop the cost down, you can use machines to speed up the process so you can make more items in the same amount of time, but time still remains the basis of all economy. I mention this at this point because I wouldn’t learn this particular lesson until years later, but even back in 2011 I could see that if I was going to keep making knives I had to make more money so I could have better tools to make better knives. I had no idea that knife making would become my vocation at that point and would be how I fed my family, but once it did become my full time job in the summer of 2012, I had to do some learning about running a business and not just making knives.
2012 will have several posts about it because it was a year that changed my life. It has significantly more documentation both photographically and that was when I started making Youtube videos.
Thank you for reading!