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Today I had a friend over to sharpen his knives and I let him try his hand at forging a blade. He commented that he didn't know much about custom knives. This got me to thinking (watch out for the lightning!) and I figure he's not alone in this. He's an experienced hunter and owns some nice factory blades but he (and others I assume) don't know much about custom knives.

Well for general every day use, I'm convinced that a Wharnecliff blade does almost every task well. Designed by Lord Wharnecliff back in the 1800s, this sleek, sharp, pointed blade will do it all except skin efficiently. The drop point blade made famous by Loveless is probably what most people think about when they think "hunting knife." The drop point has enough belly to skin, enough point to penetrate and the dropped point to help the user control the blade. The drop point is the blade on my hip when I'm in the woods. A clip point is similar to a drop point but with a straight line instead of a curve on the spine. There are just as many styles as there are makers, but these are the "Big 3" of blade styles.


There are three main grinds. Hollow Grind: The maker uses the contact wheel to grind the bevels in the knife. The diameter of the wheel controls how "dramatic" the hollow is. Leaves a thick spine with a thin edge. I don't use this grind because I can't figure out how to hammer one in. Convex Grind: A gentle "rounding" from spine to cutting edge. This grind is done in the "slack area" between the platen and the contact wheel or on one of the new rotary platens. This grind is strong and sharp. Some feel it's harder to sharpen. I use this grind on my Bowies and larger knives. Flat Grind: Flat from spine to cutting edge. Ground on the platen. I use this grind on all of my knives except my large knives.


I prefer to use a smaller (under 3") for every day use. Most state laws require a blade to be under 3" for carry. When I'm in the woods I usually carry a 4 1/2" blade, big enough to do just about anything, small enough not to weigh me down because a knife isn't much good if you leave it in the truck. I do carry a large (8") blade when I'm soldiering because you can make a small cut with a big knife but you can't make a big cut with a small knife. Besides what's another pound or two with all the other stuff I've got on?


There are a few (well a lot) of "little" things to look for in a custom knife. These "tell tales" will let you know what kind of work was done by the maker.

Overall design
Does it flow? Is it appealing to you? Will the knife do what you need? Is the knife going to be a tool you'll carry or leave in the truck?

Fit and finish,
This will usually make or break a knifemaker.

Are the edges straight, if not, are they evenly rounded off (ala Ed Fowler.) On the spine, do the sanding marks run the length of the blade? Check for scratches or unfinished areas, especially where the finger groove is near the guard, some makers forget to finish this area or don't bother.

Check the butt and the front of the scales of the knife, are they finished? Like the finger groove, some makers will miss this area or in the case of the front of the handle, will leave some excess epoxy there. Look at the wood around the pins/bolts, sometimes there will be dark rings if the maker lets the wood overheat while finishing and the wood gets scorched. This means the maker didn't use fresh belts. Ensure that the pins are finished like the rest of the handle.

Look in the plunge cut, check to make sure it's finished and the level of polish/satin finishing matches the rest of the knife. Make sure the plunge cuts are even and equally rounded. The plunge and grinds should be clear and not rounded off.

This isn't everything, but will give you a better idea what to look for when purchasing a custom knife.