Custom knives are a large and often misunderstood sector of the greater knife community, encompassing a number of incredibly talented and dedicated knife makers, and a very loyal fan base. In fact, many knife enthusiasts will exclusively buy custom knives.
In this article we'll dive into the world of custom knives, hopefully alleviate some misunderstandings, and feature some exceptional knife makers in the community.
What is a Custom Knife?
To start, let us discuss what a custom knife is. This definition is not as clear-cut as many people think.
As a general rule, custom knives can be defined as a knife made by an individual knife maker as opposed to a large business. Custom knives are considered to be handmade, which means that the individual knife maker is hand grinding and sharpening, as well as making and affixing all the handle components.
In some cases custom makers also make their own sheaths, and some will even forge their own steel.
Many custom makers offer the ability to have the end user choose their own handle materials, blade grinds, and sometimes steel types. In some cases, custom knife makers will also collaborate with buyers on knife designs. This allows knife buyers to truly create the knife that was built for them!
Of course all of this comes at a price, typically both in time and money. Custom knives almost always cost more than similar production options, and there is often a long wait time for an order to delivery. However, when working with a great custom knife maker, the attention to detail, fit and finish, and heat treatment is often superior to their production counterparts.
Although it might be too late to pick up a custom knife for the holidays, check out our 2022 Holiday Gift Guide for some last-minute shopping ideas!
Understanding Custom Knife Pricing
Custom knife pricing, like production knife pricing, can vary widely between different makers. Material costs play a big role in pricing, as some steel and handle materials cost more than others.
Like everything in manufacturing, buying in bulk means that materials can cost less per unit. While companies like Spyderco or Benchmade have the money to purchase in bulk and the space to store large orders, most custom knife makers do not. This means they are paying more per unit of material than a large company is.
Also, custom makers generally have far less equipment than a large production company, meaning they are also unable to buy equipment and components such as grinder belts in bulk.
Time is perhaps the largest factor when it comes to custom knife pricing. Most makers start off making knives part-time. With limited time and no assistance in the shop, these makers need to make the most of every minute they have. This means if they are working with steels that are harder to grind, or spend a great deal of time on a complicated handle scale, that will increase the buyers' cost.
Picking Custom Makers to Buy From
If you are spending time on social media you will come across hundreds of custom knife makers of varying skill and experience. Most custom knife makers do not have any kind of budget for advertising and rely heavily on word of mouth to get their name out there.
If you are new to buying custom knives I’d highly recommend finding established makers with great reputations. This in no way means that some less-known makers aren’t producing amazing work.
In many cases, the risk is worth the reward!
To make things easier I have compiled a list of makers who I have either purchased from, or have handled and used their knives. I can confidently say every maker on this list is on top of their game!
Knives by Nuge is a custom knife maker out of New Jersey. He makes a wide array of knives including EDC, bushcraft, kitchen, and special-purpose knives. The majority of Nuge’s knives are sold as batch drops, and he usually has inventory on his website.
Nuge primarily works with 1095 high carbon steel and Nitro-V stainless steel. Both are great options for hard-use outdoor knives, and Nitro-V is a phenomenal choice for kitchen and EDC knives.
The Wicket, his most popular small neck knife, often sees fun seasonal-themed releases, and he makes all the knives for the Black Flag Outdoor Academy. While most of his knives are sold in drops he does occasionally offer some custom options if you are paying attention to his Instagram page.
Jason specializes in making hunting and outdoor knives. His small Stowe Away knife is a great all-purpose small knife that is perfect for EDC and your outdoor adventures.
KPaw knives are designed to skirt the line between being highly functional and aesthetically pleasing. He also pays particular attention to his handle designs, ensuring they are comfortable in the hand during extended use.
He recently lost access to his original Instagram page, so don’t let the small follower number fool you - KPaw is a well-respected knife maker who puts out top-notch work.
Corey Bowman is a custom knife maker with a true passion for what he does. His knives feature a simple yet unique design aesthetic and are 100 percent designed to be used.
Most Bowman knives are designed for outdoor use like hunting, fishing, and bushcraft, though Corey loves to experiment with new design ideas and has a number of small fixed blades in his lineup that are well-suited for EDC purposes.
Corvus Knife and Tool is owned by Jerry Saunders, who also makes all the knives. Jerry has a long history in survival in both military and civilian areas, which has led him down the path of making some no nonsense outdoor and survival knives.
Each of his knife designs is drawn from his personal experiences and are purpose driven. A majority of his line up is made from tough 80CrV2 steel, though he has recently released an ultralight and slightly flexible knife made from AEB-L stainless steel, which is designed to be an outdoor person's EDC knife.
No matter which knife you choose, you can expect a rugged and well-built tool that will tackle even the toughest tasks.
Paul Lackey has been making knives since 2016 and focuses on outdoor knives for hunting, fishing, and bushcraft. He works primarily with 80CrV2 and 8670 for his blade steels, and offers a variety of handle materials that really make his knives pop.
Paul offers a large line of knives ranging from small enough to fit in your pocket, to full size camp knives, and just about everything in between. These knives not only look great, but perform great and are built to last a lifetime.
JD Custom Knives makes a variety of knives built for use in a variety of outdoor tasks. If you are looking for a full custom knife with your choice of blade steel and handle materials, JD Custom Knives is a great choice for you.
You can be ensured that your knife will be built with the finest attention to detail, high quality US sourced materials, and will be backed up by a lifetime warranty.
Field and Steel is a UK based custom knife company owned by Steve Armstrong that is focused on outdoor knives, but also has quite a few knives suited for EDC use.
Field and Steel is known for the distinctive rock pattern on the handle scales, which not only provides a unique aesthetic but also ensures a positive grip on the handles in wet conditions.
If you are in the US the shipping from the UK can be a little bit of a pain, but I can assure it is worth the wait!
Malone Knives makes some serious hard use outdoor knives that look as good as they perform. While Malone Knives no longer produces full made to order customs, they do on occasion offer a number of semi-custom options allowing you to essentially “build your own” version of one of the existing models.
No matter if you choose to build your own or purchase one of Malone Knives' standard models, you can be assured you will get a top notch knife that was built with incredible attention to detail and will last a lifetime.
Wilson Custom Knives is owned by Sam Wilson, and he makes some of the most unique custom fixed blades out there!
If you grew up in the 80s like I did, you're probably familiar with the hollow handle survival knives that were popular at the time, and if you managed to get your hands on one you also knew how terrible they were!
Well, Sam set out to make those styles of knives, but not terrible! He accomplished this goal with a full line of custom hollow handled knives that are the highest of quality.
In addition he is now releasing a line of mid-tech knives based on his custom designs, at a price that won’t break the bank. Along with his line of knives, Wilson Custom also has a number of survival tools and accessories under his other brand Gear Convoy.
Custom knives are incredible tools that are designed to work hard and last a lifetime, but like all tools they will require maintenance. Check out this article on High Carbon Steel maintenance, and be sure to pick up some KPL Knife Shield to keep your knife clean and rust free! Use code BLACKFLAG for a 10% discount at checkout!