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Today I am sitting down with Geoff Blauvelt, aka TuffThumbz.
I stumbled across Geoff’s work while browsing through some of my favorite knife videos on YouTube. One thing that really stood out was Geoff’s amazing energy and charisma. These were dark and crowded videos filmed in some dank corner of his shop, and often featured Geoff swearing enthusiastically as he extolled the virtues of a particular knife. While his comments were refreshingly real and entertaining, this was thinly veiled knife porn of the most explicit nature. Naturally, I found myself pouring over his old videos, listening to his reviews and watching how his work had evolved, riveted to the screen.
To this day his YouTube channel is one of my favorites to see pop up on my subscription page. It’s fascinating to me because every day it seems like the work he does gets better and better.
Yes, Geoff is a true knife addict, a blade aficionado of epic proportions. Perhaps he didn’t create knife customizing, or knife “pimping” as he calls it, but he sure as hell helped popularize it. Today TuffThumbz is synonymous with customized production blades. His videos are still dimly lit shop creations (but now available in HD) and the swearing is, well it’s as authentic as ever. To be honest, I wouldn’t have it any other way…
Hey Geoff, welcome to the site – great to have you here. If you don’t mind, please tell us a little about yourself.
Hi Dan, thanks for the chance to share a bit about me and what I do. My name is Geoff Blauvelt and I am a knifeaholic lol. I am 27 and have been collecting knives for about 4 years now. I used to be a scenic artist and painter, always been a creative person, but it never did much for me as a way to express my creativity. I have lived in PA my whole life and have always had an interest in the outdoors, guns and knives.
Don’t worry Geoff – you are in good hands. Take 2 custom scale orders and call me in the morning. 😉 So tell me, what got you into customizing knives?
Well I did not know people customized knives until I joined BladeForums and saw some work for people like Ferrk, Barry H and other random tinkerers in the knife community. I was very taken aback by this and started one of the more popular threads on the site called “pics of customized production knives.” You can see a pic on the second page of my first custom scales job, its pretty bad, I used wood from an IKEA chair and very limited tools. The popularity of the thread and excitement I felt from seeing posts of peoples work really hit me hard – I knew I had to get into this. Living in Philadelpia at the time left me limited on space, so it was mostly coating scales and blades with spray paint and small mods. The main interest was making something my own and unique to me.
Tell us a little more about the beginning. What kind of tools did you have? Did you have any previous experience making stuff?
When I moved out to a more rural area of PA I got the chance to use my garage as a work area, and bought a Dremel and started messing with some of the g10 on my production knives. I finally got some g10 for myself, and spent days working on one set of scales all by hand with the Dremmel. This was really time consuming and hard, but I loved it.
After leaving the city and being laid off of multiple jobs I was on the search for work and was having no luck. I had some random construction jobs but I’ve always hated having someone breathing down my neck and basically wasting my time making chicken scratch and feeling bored and trapped in a 9-5 job.
Finally I had an interview coming up and the thought of standing behind a counter and doing retail drove me to push hard for working for myself.
I decided to contact a knife pimper by the name of Jeff Karg of Kargknives.
He is the reason I am where I am right now. He took time out of his day almost everyday for 2 weeks to really show me the ropes and get me started. What he told me sparked something in my brain that exploded and has never stopped since. I sold off my zt300 and a few others, and got some tools and started pimping my knives to show people my work. I had a youtube channel with about 300 subscribers so I started showing my work on there, and got a little buzz going. Got a free website up and posted pics on all the forums i could. Finally someone contacted me for some work. I feel that the fact that I pimped a Spyderco Para 2 with the milling all done by hand really put me on the map. No one wanted to touch the thing and I was crazy enough to try it. To this day I’ve done more Para 2s then any other knife – about 50.
And today your inventory of tools and techniques is rapidly growing. Can you point to any particular tool that revolutionized the way you work on knives?
Well I will always love my Dremel – it has so many uses, and I couldn’t live without one. The tool that got my work to be a lot better was a shop fox oscillating spindle sander/ drill press. This allowed my work to be a lot more precise and professional looking. I am always looking for better tools and ways to speed up my work without compromising the quality. My next tool is a mill or belt grinder.
Your YouTube channel has been an electronic journal of sorts, chronicling your progression as a knife customizer. I’ve been following it for a few months and frankly, it’s been fascinating watching the ups and downs, seeing your talents grow and ogling all the knife porn and cool projects you have your hands on. How big of a role has your YouTube channel played in your whole knife pimpin’ project?
For me my YouTube channel is my most important outlet for my work. The knife community on YouTube is like no other.
I started with reviews but noticed my custom works had alot more views. After talking to alot of great people like Gavkoo, lazyspoiledkitty, zippothisknifethat, oremoto, darkchild AtpeacePeice, and X4CTO they told me they liked my work which inspired me to post more. People love seeing their knives pimped. Not a lot of guys doing what I do and will pimp a $25 rat1 or tenacious. I’m also one of the first to do this on YouTube. However, it’s not all business on my channel. It is mostly knife porn and just a relaxed way to show my work.
One of the draws to my work is having your work displayed and saying, “Hey that’s my knife everyone.” I think that is a big part to my success. Every time I’m working on a knife im thinking about how I can wow my people on YouTube. The comments and friends I made there keep me wanting to push my limits.
Geoff I agree, I think the YouTube channel is very cool and the community there is very special. Very few makers or customizers will put their work out there day in and day out like you do; it really lets people see your personality and connect with your work.
What is your favorite part about customizing a knife?
As a collector, it’s being able to handle all the knives I’ve wanted to own – it is really fun. As a customizer, the best part is pushing the limits of the materials and creating things that make people excited. Turning a boring black g10 scale into a crazy work of art is so much fun.
Spoken like a true knife nut. I agree man, you get some really cool blades on your workbench. I can obviously tell that this has turned from a hobby into a full blown passion, but has it also turned into a full blown job or do you still do other work?
At first I was getting a few jobs a week but always felt like it was to good to be true and was still looking for a job. A month later i was doing it from 7am till 4 in the morning and its been growing ever since. No more BS retail jobs for me. 🙂 I love it and I’m so thankful to the knife community for giving me this amazing opportunity.
Well Geoff I know a lot of hard work went into it too. It’s very cool to hear your success story.
Is there a piece, pattern or technique that you are most proud of?
I’m most proud of the bubble wrap pattern because its my first completely made up pattern. I borrow a lot from my biggest inspiration, Jenz Anso.
Jenz does amazing work, an excellent choice for inspiration if I do say so. What is on the horizon for TuffThumbz? Are we going to start seeing any full on custom knives?
To me the next step is making knives and titanium conversions. I have the tools coming and I’m ready to get started. I hope to keep doing scales and adding more materials like Titanium and working on making knives in my spare time.
Very exciting news. I will be keeping a close eye on your channel page and might have to get you back here down the road as a full on custom maker. 🙂
Ok, winding things down here, what are your current EDC knives?
Right now its my Spyderco lil Temperance 2 and TOPS ALRT neck knife.
Very nice choices. Thanks so much for the interview, Geoff. Is there anything else you would like to add?
I just want to say how thankful I am to everyone who put trust in me to do what i do. Knife collecting and this job has made me a better person and given me the opportunity to talk to amazing people all over the world and make some life long friends. I can see some people starting to pimp knives on youtube because I inspired them, that is the biggest reward i could ever ask for.
Thanks so much Dan, and you can expect a lot more from me in the future. Don’t ever tell me the sky is the limit when there are footprints on the moon, a quote I tell myself… as corny as it is that is how I feel.
Thanks again Geoff, my pleasure.