A look into the world of knife making and handmade knives with Allen Elishewitz
Welcome to episode 4 of the Hardest Kit on the Planet Podcast brought to you by Heinnie Haynes. In this podcast we try and extract as much knowledge and ideas as possible from some of the hardest people and companies on the planet. Our aim for the podcast is to continually provide you with some great knowledge and information from a wide range of people and companies who are actually out there doing the business.
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The Show Notes
In this episode I (Ben Roberts) talk to Allen Elishewitz, who is a world renowned knife maker and designer. In this podcast we talk all things knives and knife making, looking at exactly how he works, and how you can get into knife making yourself.
Click the link at the top of the page to listen or download. The full transcript as always is below . . .
Who are you and what do you do?
I’m Allen Elishewitz, i’m a self taught knife maker. All my knives are handmade, I don’t use and CNC or CAD designs, i’ve got nothing against it, I just don’t do it. I’ve had some mid-techs I sent out, and they were done that way.
Why do you prefer this traditional approach?
I just couldn’t get feel of designing on a computer screen. And, when I learn to design, in the 80s it was all done by hand anyway. I just couldn’t convey the spaces and see on the screen as I could on paper.
I’ve always called myself and handmade knife maker, so if I started using a CNC machine, I would no longer be a handmade designer. When you can produce hundreds of the same knife from a machine, it’s no longer handmade.
So, how did you get into the knife industry?
I’ve always been interested in knives, since I can remember. The first knife I brought was a slip joint from a drugstore, back when they could sell them. I took it into school one day, knowing that I shouldn’t have it, so when a teacher walked in, I quickly closed it. And, of course, closed it on my finger. A weeks weeks later I went back to the shop and got myself the biggest bowie knife they had.
Again I was cutting some stuff in my room, my mum came it, so I quickly stopped cutting and hid the knife under my bed. When she walked out I realised I had taken a chunk out of hand. Thats where the love affair started.
In the mid 80s in Bankok was when I really started to seriously get into knife making. When I was there I lived really close to some knife makers and places like that. SO, while I was in high school there I had all these knife makers make stuff for me. But, when I went to college, this was too expensive so I had to learn how to make my own.
When did you move from Thailand to the States?
In 1986. It was then that I got my first grinder. I tried using it in my first apartment, that didn’t work out well, so I then moved into my parents and that’s when I really started getting into it.
How could you advise others to get into knife making?
Well, when I started there was no internet or anything, so it was a much smaller industry. It was all about 2 magazines and lots of shows.
Trial and error was how I learnt. When I was learning I also didn’t spend to long shadowing people as to not pick up too many of their traits.
I’d recommend that people these days get on Youtube, and look at some of the videos on there such as forging. Just watch lots of these and do lots of research. Also, go and find some designers, spend time in the workshops seeing and getting a feel of the machines.
So where do you get your design inspiration, and how do you decide what materials to use in your knives?
Designing is about a month long process for me. It’s like writing a story. Firstly, I look at all my designs and look at what i’m missing, such as a tactical knife. From there i just doodle simple drawings until something stands out. Such as the thought that i need a clip point knife. Then I think about the scales, from there it just keeps evolving and become ever more refined. After a month or so, the shape starts coming and the concept starts coming out.
Once that is done, I then bring out the drafting papers and start defining the drawing further. Drafting is a really precise, I can draw to about 5 in 7000’s. I know professional draftsmen who can do even better, but for my designs I know if it will work on paper, it will work on steel.
The more precise you can make the drawing the better your end product will be. Everything just gets better, and easier, as you don’t have to try and work out things later.
Looking now at material selection. The design is one thing but the materials you choose can completely change the knife. You can have the same design or shape, but change the materials and it’s a completely different knife, not just in looks, but also in function.
Do you find it’s quite hard exporting your knives to countries like the UK with strict knife laws?
Only twice have my knives ever been stopped at customs, of which I only ever got one back. Generally though, I don’t really have any problems with countries with strict law as I work closely with companies who are in those countries, as they know the laws best.
What sort of innovations have you brought to the market then?
Guilloché. It’s a lost art of mechanical engraving. It’s really found in the watch and jewellery industry. When I first started making watches I wanted to fancy up the dial. So I eventually found one of these machines, not knowing how it worked. It tools me about a month to refurbish it and get it working.
This technique was used on things like the Faberge Eggs, but I was the first to start using this technique on my knives.
I also used e-lock. this locker has 3 different modes, it’s very complex, works great.
I’ve also done some stop pin modifications which has allowed for loads of other really cool improvements.
Unlike other designers I only put together my knives once. I design them so precise that I shouldn’t have to take them apart, unless I’m unhappy with how it’s come out.
(In this section it’s well worth just listening the podcast, Allen really comes out with some really interesting information).
What sort of things are you working on at the moment then?
I have some new custom collaborations with other designers. I also have the black dolphin coming out, which i’m really looking forward to. I’m also making a really cool composite hawk bow, which is really unique and interesting.
To make this I need to make fish glue (explained in the podcast), and something I didn’t realise is that you can make glue out of almost anything.
It’s a fascinating and it takes so much time, like almost a year to make one bow.
Talk us a little bit about your designs and how do you choose which go to work with companies, and other you keep as customs?
I’ve worked with about 13 different companies and have about 40 different knives in production. Most hire me in just for specific jobs, or to fill a place in their lines.
I’m currently working with Hogue Knives, as head designer. So , there i’m working on having a really mixed line of knives. Trying to blend aesthetics with usability.
I’m actually in a really privileged position in Hogue and integrated so much that my name is actually on the box. Most designers that have their knives produced, don’t actually get their name on the box. But, that means i have an even stronger interest in the lines of knives and tools from that company.
I sat on a panel in the Blade Show one year, and got a really direct question, asking specifically “how do I get a knife into a company?” My reply was, whats actually special about your knife. It’s got to be different from anything else out there. It’s got to stand out.
How can the guys at home out more about you and what you do?
Hogue Knives: http://www.hogueinc.com