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Aside from the obvious difference in cost, what is the difference in a manufactured knife and a custom?

Recently I watched someone pick up a custom knife in a particular pattern and at the table next to them they picked up the same pattern as the custom.  I watched this person open and close them both the same, look at the spring, feel the half stop, check for sharpness…the same things we all do.  Then I heard them say to their companion, this is a better knife.

So before I tell you which one he liked best, what is your take? I invite our makers and manufactures to answer also.  What IS the difference in a custom and a manufactured?

Tags: custom, knives, manufactured

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Aside from the fact that you've posed this question, and the assumption that the knives were not priced, I'd say the buyer chose the manufactured one.

I don't know much about customs but I am looking forward to hearing the answer.

I would have to say the custom. I believe more care is taken in making a custom. Most custom makers, know that the quality of the product they are selling is what is going to pay their bills. If their knife is the same quality as the manufactured knives, they would not sell as many. There has to be something special about a custom to separate it from the mass produced version of a similar knife. There is generally more attention to details in a custom. If the chosen knife was the one that the person picked, the custom knife maker had better find a different occupation or work on improving the quality before trying to compete with manufactured knives.   

Allright. I actually put some thought into this a while back. As a custom maker I have to differentiate myself from factory knives and in some way compete with this (much cheaper) market. So here's my take on the difference. Copied and pasted from my website.

Quality

Since the knives are generally made one at a time. A lot more care is put into them than when they're made hundreds per batch. A custom knife maker inspects each and every piece he works with. Personally when polishing a blade I spend about 30% of my time checking closely to see if all the scratches are out. And if I missed one....back again to work.

Custom/Personal/Unique

When you get a custom knife, you know that the maker spent hours on hours on it. Not even just working on it, but thinking about how to work out your wishes in the best way. This is true for each and every knife. My knives are my children. I have a hard time sending each and every one of them to their new owners. Try finding that in a knife of which 3000 were made.

Besides that with a custom maker he'll transfer YOUR ideas into a workable knife. YOU tell ME what you'd like and I make it for you. And if you don't like the look of the pictures I send you as it's coming into being...we change it.

Handmade vs Factory made

There are some things they're just not going to do in a factory.

Special shapes, sized to your specs, little changes to a model you like but not quite the way it was. All personalisations like that.

 

Then there are the things that they won't do because of the production processes.

 

Did you know most factory knives are nowhere near hardened to the optimal hardness for the steel? This is because when you do that in large batches there's a higher risk of losing blades to warping or cracking. So they take the lower risk road and you end up with a less functional blade.

 

The same thing goes for factory blade grinds. Did you know most custom knifemakers grind knives much thinner than any factory blade ever will be ground? There's a reason mr. Tom Krein was so popular with his blade regrinds. This is for the same reason as the hardness issue.

Now the way I see it. Factory knives have only a few advantages:

  1. Price. Because of the "economy of scale" they get to buy materials in the thousands of pounds and simply put this saves money. The same goes for the heat treatment and the actual production. Making many of the same one...makes each one cheaper.
  2. Consistancy, each knife is virtually the same. With a factory knife if you've held one, you've pretty much held them all of the same model. Some lemons slip through every now and then. But mostly they're the same.

Other than that....no real advantage over a well done custom knife. Mind you I'm comparing the GOOD examples from both. I've seen grinds from custom makers that look more like axe grinds then knife grinds. (sooo sad) and both factories and custom makers can be either good or bad at everything.

But a well made custom knife will:

  • Cut better
  • Keep it's edge longer
  • have more attention spent on details

then comparable factory knives.....at the same time the handmade versions are usually twice or more the price of it's factory cousins.

As for which of the knives he liked better would depend entirely on

  • Which maker/manufacturer
  • The style of knives the man normally looked at.
  • Whether he was a user or a collector

and a lot of other factors. I could not venture a guess without more information.

  I have several custom fixed blades and I find that they excel in quality of materials and design. But the one quality that really stands out in the custom knives I have is "holding a sharp edge and the ability to resharpen easily". There are a lot of factory knives out there with harder new super steels but I find the customs stay sharp just as long and resharpen fast, while the super steel is a real sharpening adventure. Usually while cleaning game and fish, I won't use a fixed blade unless it's a custom.

Robert, I'm currently thinking about getting a supersteel and making something with that. If you thought carbon steel worked well....

 

A custom (thin) grind in combination with a supersteel should hold it's edge virtually forever and STILL be able to be sharpened easily. The main reason supersteels are so hard to sharpen in factory knives is because the grinds are so thick which means a LOT of material needs to be removed when sharpened.

  Yea, if the blade is not going to be thin, then there's no need for a much harder blade. That's why you see people making these super steel knives with a hollow grind. With a hollow ground blade you are limiting the amount of jobs you can do with your knife. I have a couple of hollow ground blades but they are in my collection, I don't use them. I like flat ground with a false edge or sabre ground with a false edge and there's one more but I forget the name of it. They work better for the jobs I do.

All other things being equal (but they never are) I would  expect the fit and finish on the custom knife to be better and more precise.  Another difference is personalization.  The custom knife can be made to your specifications making it a one of a kind.  For instance I just had a custom knife made.  The handles are antler from one of my deer kills.  The makers standard pattern that I chose to have the knife based on has a straight handle.  But on mine he had to curve the handle to match the curve on my antlers.  So I have a true one of a kind knife that no one else will ever have one exactly like it.  I will probably never have another custom knife made.  I have two now but one of them was given to me.

Not knowing how much if any price difference, I am just guessing that he picked the manufactured.  That is what I think most people would do if the custom is higher priced.

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