Monet gave his landlord three paintings to pay for his rent. The landlord felt sorry for him and so took the paintings. Jackson Pollack traded a six-foot by four-foot canvas for dinner. Van Gogh sold some of his paintings to other artists so they could paint over them. He got a good price because the canvas was already stretched. Diego Rivera decorated a fence that surrounded his patroness' home to help pay for food and lodging.
Do you see a pattern there? Each of those people was later recognized as a giant in the world of Art. But in the beginning, many throughout their lives, were unsuccessful. The works they created had little or no value.
You can see the same thing today in knifemaking. There are major, established names whose knives command top dollar prices. These are people that for the last twenty or thirty years have been making custom knives and year after year have produced knives that are high quality, aesthetically pleasing, has a recognizable style and incorporate innovative designs. they are also the ones that promoted themselves, that signed agreements to have their designs reproduced by the Production Houses.
What this means is that if you've ever just looked through the catalogues from Spderco, Camillus, Benchmade, CRKT or Kershaw, some knifemaker names are probably already familiar. Looking through the pages you'll see names like Carson, Terzuola, Kasper, Moran, Crawford, Horn or Mayo. These are some of the BIG names in knifemaking today.
But they aren't the only names. As you get into the world of Custom Knives other names will become equally familiar. There are people like Mike (Whiskers) Allen, Thomas Watson, A. T. Barr, Robert Washburn, Rade Hawkins, Bob Dozier and Terry Primos. These people are all great knifemakers. Some have been making knives forever, A. T. Barr, Tom Watson and Whiskers Allen; others are fairly new to the field like Terry Primos. New or old, they don't have quite as popular a name as the others and their knives don't carry as much of a premium price.
There are makers like Mike Obenauf. Mike is Kit Carson's son-in-law. For years he has worked in Kit's shop, under Kit's supervision and guidance. Now, Mike is going out on his own and selling knives that are very high quality. Generally, one of Mike's knives will sell for about $100.00 to $200.00 less than the same basic knife from his father-in-law.
So Method #2 for buying Custom Knives on a budget is to look at the knives themselves, not just the maker’s name. Quite often you can buy a very high quality knife for a lot less money from a great but less known knifemaker.
Here are some links to really great but not as well known knifemakers.
A. T. Barr
Thanks for offering all this information. I've been wanting to treat myself to a custom knife for about 6 months now and really appreciate the trouble you have gone to.
Thanks for the links.
Here are two of my favorite "unknown" knife makers:
As you can see, I am rather fond of Japanese style blades. Both of these smiths make the best quality products, not always on time, but one can never rush a functional work of art.
Maybe, I've been around knives too long but I never considered Bo Dozier to be an unsung or unknown knife maker.
He is to most of the world out there. Remember, almost no one has custom knives. If you look at the total output of all the custom knifemakers in the US and the compare it to the annual output of a Camillus, Case, Buck or United you get a feel for just how small the current base of custom knife owners really is. Even for most knife owners, the only way they might know about custom knifemakers is when the larger production houses use a name to help market their knives.