Topic: R.W. Loveless

iKnife Collector
Hosted by Gus Marsh
Topic: R.W. Loveless
March 6, 2013
Robert Waldorf Loveless – The Inventor with a thousand talents
Bob Loveless or R.W. Loveless, was an American knife maker who designed and
popularized the hollow ground drop point blade and the use of full tapered tangs
and screw type handle scale fasteners within the art of knifemaking.
Before Bob Loveless, a straight knife consisted of a blade on one side, a handle
on the other, and a guard in the middle, the whole ensemble carried in a leather
sheath. However well made it was, it was just a functional object, what some
would call a tool.
Loveless was born on 2 January 1929 in Warren, Ohio. When he was 14, he
altered his birth certificate and joined the Merchant Marine and later served as an
Air Corps control tower operator on Iowa Jima. He witnessed a number of knife
fights in the bars of foreign ports, which he attributed to giving him an interest in
In 1950 Loveless attended Chicagos Armour Institute of Technology (later
renamed Illinois Institute of Technology) and took a course taught by the architect
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. In 1951 he returned to Ohio and studied literature
and sociology at Kent State.
In December 1953, Loveless returned to the Merchant Marine on a tanker based
in New York. Loveless visited Abercrombie & Fitch in New York City in order to
purchase a Randall Made knife. After learning there was a nine-month wait for
the knife he wanted, he decided to make his own. He ground his first blade from
a 1937 Packard Automobile spring found in a Newark, New Jersey junkyard and
forged it on the oil-fired galley stove of the ship on which he was serving. After
showing this homemade knife to the head of the Abercrombie & Fitch cutlery
department he formed a relationship with the retailer to sell his knives.
The materials were traditional, with the shapes varying according to the use for
which it was intended, but there had been nothing new under the sun for many
along decade.
From 1954 to 1960 Loveless made over one thousand knives called “Delaware
Maids” and they became Abercrombie & Fitchs best selling handmade items, out
selling the Randall blades. Loveless admitted that these knives were copies of
Randalls designs, but by 1960 he began making his own innovations, which set
them apart. With Loveless, the humble knife was suddenly raised to the rank of art, and its
standing soared, heralding a new era. How on earth did this man, go about
revolutionizing a field that was an integral, almost institutionalize part of American
Loveless was a founding member of the Knifemakers Guild in 1970 and served
as the clubs first Secretary. Loveless would go on to serve two terms as the
Guilds president from 1973 to 1976.
A very active bladesmith, Loveless cut blades according to the orders he
received. His production, of the highest quality, was not really any different from
what other craftsmen were offering. The first idea he had was to develop a vast
catalog that would include all types of knife. His second idea consisted of
proposing sheaths that were not manufactured in advance, but designed
according to the morphology and habits of the user, so that the handle would be
immediately within reach.
A collector of pens, he had learned what made the difference between standard
quality and truly beautiful manufacture. So he turned toward highly quality
finishing, down to the tiniest details, setting prices that no longer bore and
relation to those of his competitors. But to get himself known he also needed an
individual style and unusual materials. He thus fathers new forms, including the
“drop point” and the “semi-skinner” which were soon copied, as one might have
Loveless also introduced surgical steels for the blades, 154CM and 440C, as well
a previously unknown materials for the handles, Micarta, originally intended for
the aeronautical industry. These steels are very hard and particularly tricky to
grind, but the cutting edge is long lasting. In addition, such hardness enables
very fine grinding, as well as a mirror polish previously impossible to obtain. As
for Micarta, it is robust, rot-proof, waterproof and available in different colors as
well as varying fineness of grain, enabling superb shimmer effects. Loveless
always considered himself a “Bench Maker” as apposed to a “Custom Maker” in
that he only made knives from patterns that he designed instead of ideas that
came from his customers. The only input Loveless would receive from a
customer would be regarding the type of handle material used in the knifes
Loveless produced relatively few, proposed special numbered series and got
himself known all over the world, where his creations are vigorously sought after
for high prices. He even went as far as perfecting different logos to add a touch of
spice and entice collectors. Loveless marked his blades by acid etching his logo
on the blade as “R.W. Loveless, Maker, Riverside, California”. Some of his knives
carried the image of a reclining nude woman. Most of his contemporaries
stamped their logo on their knives using a power hammer or other device. Loveless believed this stamping could compromise the strength of the knife by
causing stress fractures in the steel.
Loveless made fighting knives and is considered to be the first maker to produce
what is known as a “Tactical Knife”. However, Loveless refused to sell a
customer one of his fighting knives unless the buyer could provide either police or
military identification and could require a knife as a weapon. Loveless made
knives for use by US Army Special Forces and the CIA. One such knife was the
size and shape of a pocket comb and fit inside a passport case. When the case
was thrown, the blade cut through the case and sliced into whatever it hit.
Loveless designed the Gerber Guardian knife model for Gerber Knives and for a
time was Gerbers lead designer. Loveless went on to design knives for other
factories such as Lone Wolf, Beretta, Schrade Cutlery and others. Cold Steel
makes a reproduction of his “Big Bear Classic” fighting knife. Loveless had been
a participating maker from 1993 to 2006 at the Art Knife Invitational Show, which
is a closed association of the 25 most collectible knifemakers.
Before Loveless, the profession was in no way structured, with cutlers displaying
their creations at arms shows. Loveless breathed a dynamism into the trade,
resulting in the craftsmen forming their own guild, which enabled a charter to be
drawn up and shows to be organized that focused exclusively on handmade
knives. These shows were a godsend, not only for collectors, but also for the
bladesmiths themselves who, apart from being able to get to know their clientele,
were able to see what their fellows were doing, get advice and exchange ideas.
Loveless authored several books on making knives such as the 1977 “How to
Make Knives” with coauthor Richard Barney. For his many influences in custom
knife design and promoting the art of handmade knives, Loveless was inducted
into the Blade Magazine Cutlery Hall of Fame at the 1985 Blade Show in
Knoxville, Tennessee.
Loveless died 2 September 2010, aged 81, of lung cancer at his longtime home
in Riverside, California.
Yes, Bob Loveless certainly ushered in a new are for American handmade
knives. That is how this man with the colorful cap was immediately copied, in
both form and material, but it is he who has become a legend, and he is

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