Collectors are, without a doubt, the most important people in custom knives. For without collectors the custom knife market, we know today, would not exist. The “Collector Zone” is the core of custom knives. This zone is where you are “enlightened” and begin to “get it.” You can look at a knife and you begin to understand why a particular knife costs what it does. Terms like; Rockwell Hardness, Vanadium, flux and subzero quench actually mean something to you. You are able to tell if the grind lines are straight and if the maker is left or right handed! Perhaps the most pleasure of being a collector is found knowing you are getting what you want. As you spend more time in the Collector Zone, you continue to gain knowledge and insight. This will make you feel more comfortable about spending more money on a single knife.
Having visited many makers’ shops, I’ve seen knives being made in varying stages of completion. You develop a great appreciation for what it takes to make a custom knife. Understanding the process of creating a custom knife will help you appreciate the quality; or the lack of, in the final product. The saying goes, “You pay to go to school.” This education can be gained through reading books, attending knife shows, talking with makers, dealers and other collectors, surfing the web and most importantly, always asking questions. Adopting this course of action may not be as much fun as that “spur of the moment” purchase; however, ultimately it will save you money. You will start to experience a thing called “Pride of Ownership.” Pride of Ownership comes in several different forms. Examples are; the knife you own is from a well-known knife maker, the knife is a prototype, number 1 or a one-of-a-kind. Collectors take pride when the materials used on the knife are rare, the knife was featured on the cover of a magazine or simply, the knife was made to your specifications.
Recently, another reason for buying custom knives has started to become more prevalent- buying custom knives for investment purposes. This is an investment, not only in terms of money, but of your time and other resources, as well. Therefore; on many levels, you are an investor. Either way, determining the maker’s position in the market will help you to upgrade or change. If you are going to consider this aspect of collecting custom knives, let me make the following recommendation. Start out with knives you are familiar with and go for quick turn around, smaller profits and the least amount of risk.
Knife Buying Skills:
Skill #1: Determine the maker’s versatility.
Carry a small notebook with makers you are interested in to shows with questions to determine the spectrum of their abilities. Can you do a hand rubbed satin finish or mirror finish? Can you work different types of steel? The maker needs to fully understand what you want. Clear communication cannot be stressed enough. In addition to quality work, I feel the key to a good custom knife maker is their willingness to talk about their knives. I have found over the years that if a maker gets excited about their work, then generally the collectors will also. While it is true that, you are buying the knife and not the maker, for many collectors the two go hand in hand. Fact is, the custom knife community is so tight knit, a maker’s reputation can either enhance or decrease their knives desirability.
Skill #2: Determine the maker’s position in the current market.
Given the choice, I am sure you would prefer to have knives you love, as well as knives that will be loved by others. This way, if you were to sell one of your knives in the future, you would get your money back or maybe even more. Changing the direction of your collecting with minimal financial impact can increase the level of enjoyment your collection provides you through the infusion of new knives. You can help yourself accomplish this goal by understanding the maker’s position (perceived or actual) in the knife market. Ask yourself, “Do they advertise, attend shows, and have an Internet site? What is the demand for their knives by other collectors?” Custom knives are experiencing an explosion like the market has never seen before. New custom knife makers are appearing each day. Consequently, it is important for the collector that the maker to keep their name out there in front of the knife buying public. Failure to do this will impact the value of your collection in a negative way.
Skill #3: Determine the maker’s position in the aftermarket.
For the most part knife makers deal only in the primary market. That is to say, direct sales to a customer. It would be easy to see why some makers would make the mistake that this market has little bearing on them. In fact, the aftermarket may affect them more than the primary market. Strong demand for a makers work in the aftermarket will increase the demand for their work in the primary market. Perhaps the best source for your knives in the aftermarket are custom knife dealers.
Skill #4: Know the cost of materials.
Knowing the cost of different materials is actually two-fold. First is the actual cost for the material. Second is the additional cost the maker charges to work a particular material. The price of steel does vary depending on the type of steel. Example, BG-42 is more expensive than ATS-34. As with blade steel(s), handle materials differ in type, grade and time it takes to work them. It is important to know the price differences to evaluate the value of a knife when considering it.
Skill #5: Determine which knife to buy.
The choices offered in today’s custom knife market are virtually limitless
Rule #1: Buy what you like.
It sounds simple and it is. One of the great things about custom knives is that you can get what you want. The main reason people say buy what you like is because you may have it a long time. Whether that is your intention or not!
Rule # 2: Do your homework before you buy.
I started doing this early on as a collector. I still enjoy looking at the Knives ‘86 that I got in the fall of 1985. In this book are pages of notes. Which knives I liked, questions to ask the makers, etc. I then contacted the makers for their catalogs or just called them to get the information on each. Once that was done I picked my five favorites taking into account several factors or knife buying skills listed here. Today, the Internet saves a lot of time when researching knives.
Rule #3: Decide the direction of your knife collection. (Well, at least for this week!) Determining a direction for your collection will be easier if you can master Rule #1 & #2. Taking the time to do your homework before attending a show or placing the order will save you from a custom knife collector’s worst enemy- “buyer’s remorse.”
Rule #4: Buy the very best knife you can afford.
I feel that this is an important concept to understand, as this will help you look past what for many of us consider to be the most important factor; price. Price is not the most important factor, cost is. Some of you may be saying isn’t price and cost the same. Price is what you are willing to pay for a product. Cost is the hidden part of price or what it may cost you down the road. This is another reason why mastering Skill’s #1 – #4 are so important. As these skills will enable you to determine which knife is the best for you for the amount of money you have to spend. Sometimes it is more prudent to take the money you were going to spend on two knives and only purchase one. When you are considering purchasing a knife always employ Rule #1 and consider the short and long term “cost” of each knife you buy.
Rule #5: The truth changes. This is true with so many things in life, to include the knives in your collection. Enlightenment can be a “double edged sword.” As you gain expertise in custom knives you will begin to evaluate your collection. Mistakes that were invisible to you before now start to catch your eye. This expertise; however, is now helping you select better-made knives. Knife magazines, without a doubt, will influence the custom knife buyer by putting a knife on the cover or doing a big spread on a knife or knives. This is neither good nor bad; just something you need to be aware of as a collector. Consequently, the “truth changes” within your collection as you review these magazines again.
Because of the ability to disseminate information quickly, the Internet has become a powerful factor in both trends and fads also. This starts, what can be a maker’s greatest asset on the Internet, the “buzz.” The buzz can influence buyers to act quicker than they normally would, creating a huge backlog of orders for the maker. Of course, the buzz can work both ways. Collectors need to pay attention to the buzz as it can have a long-term affect on their collection.