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Custom Vs Production Knives – What’s the difference?

From all the people that we speak to about custom and production knives. There seems to be two main schools of thought . . .

The first school says that custom knives are pointless and expensive and you are simply better off buying a production knife that’s of good quality instead. This argument seems to be for those though who view knives purely as a tool and not necessarily a piece or art (this is a generalisation, but you get the idea). On the flip side you have those who believe customs are a much purer form of knives, where an individual maker has pour hours and hours of care and delicacy into every single detail from design to end product. That care in itself is an experience, knowing that each element of the knife has been meticulously examined and considered by the eye of its creator.

One of the biggest problems people often see and associate with custom knives is the price. The average custom knife is an awful lot more than production knife, for a number of reasons. Firstly look at the economics. The more you buy, the cheaper the unit price is. This is a basic law of business. It’s known as economies of scale (or bulk buying in plain English). With mass production knives, the manufacturer buys larger quantities of steel for example, and gets a cheaper unit price. This doesn’t account for the huge difference alone though.

Heinnie Haynes Willumsen Urban Tactical 1

Heinnie Haynes Willumsen Urban Tactical 1

The next thing to consider is time. Time is money, and time costs money. It takes so much longer to produce a custom knife. A custom knife also receives a lot more one-on-one time with the designer. This costs money, but for the outcome, the quality, and the finish, is it worth that money?

Another consideration is material selection. Often with production knives, materials are selected to make a knife for a certain price point, or because they haven’t got enough knives with G10 handles for example. With a custom knife, the materials are selected for quality, for aesthetics, for whatever the designer envisioned. There are no barriers, and often custom designer will select the highest quality materials available that will fit with their design style, or knife style.

The final thing you may not have considered about custom knives is that they are unique. No two are exactly the same. You do pay for the scarcity of them. It’s like anything, let’s take gems as an example. They are expensive because they aren’t abundant.

With custom knives it’s quite common that you would deal directly with the dealer for any issues or problems which you may have. Occasionally this means support and after sales service isn’t as prompt as some manufacturers who have the man-power and resources specifically for after sales support. This doesn’t mean that all manufacturers are good and all designers are bad or visa versa. It’s simply a case of time, man power and resources available at the time you need support.

There are knives though, which don’t quite fit into either of these categories known as mid-tech knives (some companies will call them sprint run or batch editions). Ok, so next question is what are those? Essentially they aren’t individual and unique they are a batch or small run of a specific knife. An example or two of these are our own collaboration knife with Quartermaster Knives the ‘Barney McGrew’. Also Spyderco often do sprint runs of some of their popular and classic knives.

HH Quartermaster – Barney McGrew Flagged

HH Quartermaster – Barney McGrew Flagged

These knives are more expensive than general production, but cheaper than standard custom knives. They are usually upgrades from the production version and only a limited number are made.

There is one other thing we want to draw your attention to, which is that custom knives have the potential to become production knives. Some of you will be familiar with knife maker and designer Serge Panchenko. Well in 2014 he did a custom knife which was shaped like Dog Tag. Safe to say this sold incredibly well, and subsequently one of the biggest knife companies around called Spyderco took on the production of this knife and turned it into a production knife. This again has sold phenomenally well across the globe.

Now next time you ask why is a custom knife so expensive you will begin to see why. Sure a knife is a tool and meant to be used, and for the mass market there are so many to choose from. There are those of you though who will appreciate everything that goes into one of these custom knives. Maybe think of it a bit like a car. Its purpose is to get you from A to B. So why do some cost hundreds of pounds and others cost more than a house? Because of the time, effort, craftsmanship, details etc. The car will still get you from A to B, but it’s a completely different experience.


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