Some people ask why they should buy a handmade custom knife when there are a lot of fine factory made knives available for less money. It is true that there are a lot of high quality and well made factory knives available. It is also true that there are a lot of low quality knives being sold.
Here are a few things to consider when deciding between a factory knife and a handmade custom knife:
was it made?
There are a few factory manufacturers still making knives in the United States. Not many, but a few. Even some of the big-name U.S. manufacturers are now having their knives, or parts, made overseas using the cheapest labor they can find. Having a U.S. made knife is important to a lot of people. Americans in general tend to take a lot of pride in their craftsmanship and quality.
I was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky. I am proud to be an American and I believe in the American principals of hard work, quality and honesty.
Factory knives are purely profit driven. They mass produce knives as cost efficiently as possible and sell them for as much as the market will bear. They often use lower quality steels to save in manufacturing costs. Blades are often stamped out of sheet steel (another reason they often use softer steel) and in many cases the blades are ground by a machine.
While a custom knifemaker also wants to make enough profit to stay in business and maybe even make a little money for themselves, most make knives because we love to make knives. I use the highest quality materials that the customer is willing to pay for. It is common to see factory made knives using lower grade steel such as 440A or 440B stainless steel or some other lower-grade steel with some made-up name to hide what it really is. You will almost NEVER see a custom maker using those steels in a knife blade. It is true that handmade custom knife will usually cost more. The cost and quality of the materials, the time and labor that is involved, the investment in equipment and tools all must be taken into consideration.
Mass-produced knives are heat treated in large batches, often with hundreds or even thousands of knives thrown in a basket or passed through an electronic element that heats and cools them very quickly. Who can say if each blade is thoroughly and evenly heated and hardened?
I heat treat 3 or 4, sometimes as many as 6 blades at a time. I take each one out of the oven and I can see immediately if the steel is thoroughly and evenly heated by the color of the steel. I check each blade as it come out of the oven for warpage or other flaws. I then draw temper them in small batches where I can again pay close attention to each individual blade. I test my blades for proper hardness and they are field tested for quality and endurance.
Unlike factory assembly lines which are largely automated, each handmade custom knife I make is ENTIRELY handmade. I do use some power tools in the process but even then everything is guided by hand. I do not use any CNC or computer operated automated equipment or any jigs. I do everything freehand where I can evaluate and adjust every step of the process until I feel it is right. Every bit of the fit and finish is done by hand where I can see and feel if it is right before proceeding to the next step.
Attention to Detail:
This is all of the little extras or minute adjustments that each knife gets that makes it unique. Maybe it's just a couple of extra strokes with a file on the slot of a guard to make it fit better or a slightly different angle of the blade grind that makes it flow better with the profile of the knife. It might be the way a handle is contoured or the shape of an end cap. It might be deciding that this individual knife needs a certain embellishment or something to accentuate a certain feature. This is the kind of individual attention that you will not get from a factory knife.
My handmade custom knives are truly custom. When I make a custom knife to order, the customer decides the style of knife, what type of steel they want, what kind of blade grind, handle material, type of handle pins, type and shape of guards or bolsters and what material they are made from. You can choose to have filework, special etchings, scrimshaw artwork, engraving or inlays. The knife can be entirely your design, based on my suggestions, or a modified version of something I have made before. In each case it will be a unique knife made especially for you to your specifications. There will be no other exactly like it.
Even when I make knives that were not for a custom order but were made instead to sell on my website or at a show, they are still unique custom knives, custom to MY specifications at the time. I seldom work from a template or produce any regular models. I try to make something different and unique every time. Even if I do make a certain "model" knife, since I grind my blades freehand, each one will be unique. The fact that I often use exotic woods or other natural materials in knife handles further adds to it's uniqueness as the grains and patterns are as unique and different as fingerprints.
Much has been said and often disputed about the "spirit" or "soul" of a knife. Whether or not steel has "soul" can be debated for days but every knife I make does has MY spirit and character instilled within it and that will remain long after I am gone. Just as I believe that a person's sprit lives on in those whose lives he has touched, I believe my spirit goes into everything I make. The way I hold a blade against the grinder, the angle at which I use a file and the way I stroke it, my judgment that a handle is shaped right all contribute to the character of that individual knife and define my style of craftsmanship which will be unlike any other.
Reputation and Experience:
I have collected, admired and studied knives for all of my adult life. I made my first knife in may of 2003 under the expert guidance and tutelage of master knifemaker Gil Hibben. I did my first knife show in July of 2007. I spent the 4 years between those dates learning the craft, defining and refining my personal style, experimenting and testing my knives. It took those 4 years before I felt that I had reached the level of craftsmanship worthy of selling.
That same year that I officially opened for business in 2007, I also applied for membership in the Knifemakers Guild. Four of my knives were inspected by experienced and respected voting members of the guild and they judged my work of acceptable quality for consideration for membership. I then presented four knives to a panel of judges at the 2007 Knifemakers Guild Show in July 2007 and they recommended that I be granted probationary membership to the Guild. All of this reinforced my belief that I was ready to start showing and selling my work. In 2009 my knives were again inspected by the Knifemakers Guild and I was voted in as a full voting member of the Guild.
That is not to say that I have stopped learning, I never will. I strive to make each knife better than the last and continue to improve my skills and refine my style. There is not some obscure company logo etched on my blades, it is MY name. I take that very seriously as I take pride in my work.
Simply stated, I stand behind my work. If your Carter Knife ever fails under normal use, I will repair it or replace it at no charge to you for as long as I am alive and able.
I will even resharpen your Carter knife for free whenever it is need, as many times as it is needed. You only pay for shipping.
I don't have a shop full of employees. I do every step of your knife myself. My wife, Karen, helps me at the knife shows but if it comes out of my shop, I did it. I work closely with every customer to make sure you get exactly the knife that you want, built and customized to your specifications. I will personally work with you through every step of the design by providing sketches and drawings for your approval before I start to build your knife. I will keep you informed of how it is coming along and I am always willing to make changes and revisions as we go. The job is not finished until you are satisfied.
I operate my knifemaking business under the legally registered name of Carter Crafts, LLC. This is a licensed limited liability company registered with the state of Kentucky in May 2007. When you are dealing with Carter Crafts, you are dealing with a real person, with a real name, address, phone number, website and email. In addition you can be assured that I operate an honest and ethical business as that is one of the requirements that is monitored and policed by the Knifemakers Guild.
Many of my customers have written to express their satisfaction with a knife that I made for them. You can read some of their comments here: Customer Feedback
want quality and dependability:
I often see hunters with the latest, greatest gun costing thousands of dollars along with all of the other latest gear and gadgets but then they have a $30 Wally World knife on their belt that was dull by the time the got it home from the store. Think about it. You will use that knife a lot more than the gun when hunting. The gun takes one shot (hopefully) and it's work is done. Then the real work begins, with the knife. Also think about a survival situation. No tool is more universal and indispensable than a good knife when your life may depend on it. If you ever watch any of the survival shows or survival experts on TV, the number one item that all will have is a knife. It is simply indispensable for gathering food, making fire, making shelter, and so many other tasks necessary for survival. Would you risk your survival on a cheap knife that might snap in two the first time you use it?
I thank every one of the many knifemakers and friends that have helped me achieve my dream of being a knifemaker. First and foremost I thank Gil Hibben for teaching me, and continuing to teach me, and being the brother that he is. I sincerely thank all of you who rewarded me with the confidence to purchase my custom knives.
Mike Carter - Carter Knives
2522 Frankfort Avenue
Louisville, Kentucky 40206
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