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Handmade Knives – Some Random Thoughts

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Master bladesmith Walter Sorrells talks about some topics on handmade knives and knife-making in this video. He particularly discusses two questions, “What are handmade knives?” and “What’s the fuss about?”

He usually makes videos on how to actually make knives, but he thinks it’s good to step back and philosophize sometimes. Walter says he started out as a Japanese sword guy professionally, then in recent years, he started doing more production-oriented, modern knives. This was a completely different workflow, both in terms of philosophy and end results.

It might be a mistake to respond to what trolls say on forums, he says, but a lot of folks talk about the definition of a handmade knife according to what they think is “right.” The point of people, he thinks, is what differentiates a knife made in a factory from one made by an individual craftsman?

His opinion is this: his goal when he makes knives is to come up with something that is functional, reasonably priced according to quality. That’s no different from what factories are trying to do. But where craftsmen can distinguish themselves is that they can put their personal stamp on their items – they are reflections of their personalities.

Sometimes, people go off-track on the assumption that because they’re buying something that’s hand-crafted, it’s intrinsically superior and they expect perfection. He thinks this is a mistake, because there are certain ways that factories can make high-quality knives. The most important thing here is the uniqueness when buying handcrafted items, much more than excellence. It’s right to expect this, but it’s not ultimately what the goal should be – though there are very good knife-makers who can make beyond superior knives.

He says, for example, what distinguishes his Japanese blades from the regular knives is that with the former, he’ll make one-of-a-kind items that really push the envelope. For the latter, he’ll make them high-quality, but they won’t be as unique.

Another issue is “how handcrafted” something is. He says he has all the equipment necessary to make high-quality knives, which is a far cry from manual tools like files and so on. The equipment is still controlled by hand and with the mind, he says, especially now that they are very much in reach for regular guys. So the question is how far does he go towards the factory process when he can no longer call his products “handcrafted?” The question can be answered in the relationship between the maker and the buyer – the issue of accountability and honesty, which to him is the most important thing to remember.

 

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