This is the first of a series of interviews I will be conducting with with custom knifemakers and craftsmen, exploring the world of custom knives and the people who make them. If you or someone you know would be interested in being interviewed by BladeReviews please contact me.
STR is a veteran and custom knife maker out of Oklahoma who specializes in creating low rider pocket clips and hand made titanium pry bars. I first learned about STR’s craft when I was looking for custom replacement pocket clips. His story of creativity and resourcefulness is quite interesting and I think you will enjoy hearing about how he has evolved a life long passion for knives into a legitimate business that reaches around the globe. It is with great pleasure that I welcome STR as the subject of BladeReview.com’s first Custom Knife Maker Interview.
BR: Steve, what initially got you into working with knives?
STR: My grandfather gave me his old pen knife when I was very young. He had sharpened down the blades so much by the time I got it that it really wasn’t a knife anymore but more a pipe cleaner which was all I did with it for him when he asked me to.
From an early age I was always pretty good with my hands. One of my first spankings was from taking apart a knife my dad gave me all in effort to see what made it tick! He came home from work and saw that old Kabar he gave me out there on the table in parts and just gave me a whopping right quick that day! I think he felt a bit bad when he later saw that I put it back together but later on like a week or so after that I got another whoopin’ when he discovered that while I had that knife apart I had used his spark plug gapper tool as a parts contributor to make my own folder based on the inner workings of that knife by trying best I could to copy it. I took that spark plug tool apart too. The thicker spacers made dandy handles and one of the others didn’t take long to grind down to a cutting edge and it already had a pivot pin!
Frankly after the initial pain brought on by my daddy back then its a wonder I ever went back to knives but the addiction took hold early on. They say for every ounce of pleasure in life it must be paid for with an equal amount of pain so I guess I’ve had ample of both at this point.
BR: Very cool, you can really say this has been a life long ambition. At what point did you decide to share your craft with the world?
STR: I guess I decided when I realized someone would buy it. Earlier in life I worked with a lot of wood. I didn’t make furniture or anything, not fine furnishings anyway, but more the rough sawn and log type work. It was never fancy but what I made sold and people liked it. Mostly I did crafts type work with small things I could easily tote from show to show. It could be anything from a door stop made to look like a cat carved from a solid block of pine that my wife painted giving it a look and size that was pretty cool or it could be a band saw box made from a log that fell off someone’s truck on their way home. Usually if I was making a band saw box it was found or picked up along side the roads I traveled back then and I’d pull over and get it when it was convenient to stop.
It was hard to turn down a free log for me back then. To me that was almost like finding a $20 bill on the ground! I’d take it home and turn it into some kind of fancy box using my band saw for a minimum amount of effort or materials and when glued all back up the bark covered my glue lines and once it set it was like easy money. To me selling something that was found on the ground that I had next to nothing in kind of gave me a buzz. I set up at flea markets and that kind of thing selling those things for years. Knives were something I messed with too back then though. Knives have always been a favorite hobby of mine. At the time though I saw no money in knives even though I did enjoy them and work on them when the opportunity presented itself. I just didn’t see how I could make that kind of work steady. I dreamed of it but it was destined to remain a hobby really.
BR: So what made that dream of working on knives into an actual business?
STR: Around 2004 I joined blade forums and the rest is history really. Thanks to the internet and blade forums I am pretty much international and I don’t even have to leave my own property! I can do this today but just ten years ago, maybe eleven years ago you’d have been hard pressed to pull this off I think. Now its not really a problem to do something low key like a specialty custom fit pocket clip to any number of knives thanks to being able to access a great many more people. Some of my old habits with the craft sales, like turning something of little value into something someone would buy just kind of drifted into my knives and pocket clips and basically its the same zoo just different animals so to speak. I simply focus my energies in a different area and I’m much more focused now but the routine is about the same.
BR: Where do you get your inspiration for your custom pieces?
STR: I’m not sure where my inspiration comes from. I am a moody maker for the most part. I have to be in the mood to make a knife or it just won’t happen. Once the mood strikes though watch out!
BR: In addition to doing completely custom pieces, I’ve noticed that you like to modify production knives. Tell us about that.
STR: I used to do a lot of production knife work yes. As of early 2010 though I quit doing a lot of the jobs like those posted in my blog and forums. These days most of my focus is on my low rider pocket clips, mini ti pry and my hand made folding knives which have taken a back seat to production knife work for far too long. For the last ten or more years I’ve worked as a field repairman for Kabar. They handed out my contact info to many customers over the years. Kershaw has sent me boxes of parts for their knives and I’ve worked closely with several other manufacturers that ask for privacy who I can’t mention really.
I’ve since given that type of work up mainly due to the fact that the companies including Kabar have changed so much since I started working with them. Also, at least as far as Kabar is concerned it was due to the fact that most of what they were sending my way for work and repairs these last few years had been pinned together slip joint type folders which I do not particularly care for working on. I was referring most of those to a friend when I was asked about those and have basically handed over the reins of Kabar contact info to him since he likes working on the type of knives they were sending me more and more frequently.
In the mean time I’ve field tested new products and proto-types for some of the companies making and manufacturing knives and I’m quite proud of the fact that some models made it to the hands of users with changes made based on my input. I have some rather unique knives from some of those relationships which I was allowed to keep. Some never even made it to production.
BR: I’ve also noticed that you do a good deal of work with titanium, what attracted you to this exotic metal?
STR: Titanium. Just the word practically sells itself! People like it. They are drawn to it. Most don’t even know why they are drawn to it they just like it. Truthfully it does bring a lot to the table. Generally speaking people don’t like spots or rust on their knives. The corrosion resistance and toughness of Ti combined with the optional color schemes you can get by anodizing as well as lighter weight really add up to a win win situation for knives and particularly folding knives. For me the fact that it can be worked and used without needing to be heat treated was another plus. In my opinion its the perfect choice for pocket clip and spring mechanisms of all kinds. When I’ve built lock back folders of my own I used titanium for the springs for the lock rocker arms and never had a single issue with one of them.
BR: Tell us about your low rider pocket clips – they strike me as a great idea, and are really unique.
STR: Its all thanks to the internet. At first I started out just making my own for the knives I owned and made. It always puzzled me why makers would spend countless hours on a design making a knife of their own and then in the end slap a generic store bought pocket clip on there almost as an after thought. It occurred to me that if I was going to make the knife I may as well make the clip for it too and thats what happened. I posted pictures and before long makers and end line users were asking me if I’d make some for them as well. One thing lead to another and here I am. I really could not have done this just a few years ago. The access to the world the internet provides makes it possible and thanks to Blade Forums and KnifeDogs forums I’ve become international from my backyard shop. Go figure!
BR: What got you into making custom titanium pry bars?
STR: My mini ti pry is something that started out much like the band saw boxes of yesteryear. At first when I was approached by a forum member about making a mini pry bar I loved the idea and jumped on it because it allowed me to use what I was deeming a bucket of scrap end cuts of titanium. These scraps lay in that bucket for years and were too small to use for folding knife parts. It was like finding a log on the road all over again only it was a bucket of titanium and to me that was just a high to turn that trash into some money.
I used to dig my neighbors used side walk edger blades out of his trash just to do that same kind of thing by turning trash into $. People bought both the old blade the little knives came from and the knife itself usually made with a dangle sheath of some kind that was most always made out of something otherwise deemed scrap also. That old saying that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure was true for me in this regard I guess. 🙂
BR: What knife are you currently carrying?
STR: I never know what I’ll have on me from day to day. Sometimes I’ll wake up to orders for a pocket clip for a particular knife and just use that as a sign that this is the one I’ll carry today. Today it was a Spyderco Para Military 2. Tomorrow it could be something else! 🙂
BR: Thanks so much for the interview, is there anything else you would like to add?
STR: I wish you and your site all the best. I hope its a success.
BR: Thanks again Steve, hope to see you back here soon.