Business Practices in the Custom Knife World

In my dealings in the custom world I have experienced transactions ranging from excellent to abysmal. Regular visitors to some of the online knife forums as well as some custom knife collectors probably know exactly what I am talking about. Many of those that have ordered custom knives have no doubt experienced the same things that I have.

Today I am going to ignore the better transactions that I have had and focus on the poor ones. Before you grouse about that being negative, it is still a valid and interesting topic to me and in later posts I will write of the great transactions I have had with fine and honest makers that kept their word. If you don’t want to hear some negative things about some un-named makers of custom knives don’t read further.

I have seen makers who did excellent work and that got plenty of publicity disappear from the knife making scene entirely. I am not referring here to makers that are forced to leave the business because of health issues or other legitimate reasons, or those that lost interest and chose to move on to other pursuits. I speak here of makers whose business practices were so bad for whatever reason that they put themselves out of the custom knife business. I suppose the worst offenders are the ones that took payment and never delivered the promised work or returned the money. I suppose that many, if not most of that group should be considered thieves. Although it has never happened to me I have heard of makers selling materials that belonged to customers. I would say that most of us would probably consider that stealing.

The problems that I personally have experienced have not amounted to outright theft of funds but certainly loss of my time as I worked to turn bad transactions into something less bad. Because of makers poor practices I have had to devote phone time calling in order to get knives already paid for actually completed and into my hands. Sorry but stealing my time is still stealing as far as I am concerned. Another thing that I have experienced is makers that promise a delivery date and then don’t make it and don’t have enough respect for the customer to notify them of the delay. This happens so often in the custom knife world that it would be funny if it were not such a sad comment.

Maker’s excuses for why they haven’t made or delivered your knife are varied and so often used that it must be a struggle to find original ones. Below are excuses I’ve heard when the promised delivery date had passed and not having heard from the maker I checked to find out the status of my order.
1. Sickness or injury. I’ve got to consider that legitimate most of the time but there are limits.
2. Been making knives for our servicemen. Well that is a good thing for sure but did you take that into account when you took my order and gave me a delivery date, or is that something that you started doing since you took my order.
3. Moving or building new shop or house.
4. Been very busy, having problems with the wife, ex-wife, significant other, etc. I’m sorry but we all have problems of some sort and many of us are busy. Those things have nothing to do with me or our deal.
5. “Your knife is not back from the sheath maker”. I called the sheath maker and he said he did not have the knife……..I can only assume that there may have been some prevarication involved.
6. “I dropped the ball on that one.” My favorite since it was a surprisingly honest and accurate statement. This was said to me by a very skilled maker who was at that time a highly touted ABS Mastersmith. As far as I know, he is now completely out of the custom knife business.

I have received knives that I ordered with different materials used than were specified and agreed to, knives with obvious flaws, and unbelievably enough a new custom knife directly from the maker that was rusty. The maker of the rusty knife went on to become a well-known ABS mastersmith but soon he succeeded in putting himself out of the business entirely.

Certainly not to cast aspersions at all ABS Mastersmiths, but sadly I have experienced poor business practices and broken promises just as often with ABS Mastersmiths as with other knife makers. Apparently these makers can sell all the knives they want for the prices they want and therefore are able to do business the way they want. I personally know of buyers that as of today are still waiting for long overdue and paid for or partially paid for orders from an ABS Mastersmith.

Some years ago I had a hunting knife on order with a maker who was an ABS Mastersmith. In a few months the maker said that the knife was completed but that it was several hundred dollars more than the agreed upon price. There was no clear explanation for the price increase, but I suppose that for some reason he foolishly thought I would go along with it. I have watched his status in the knife world diminish over the years and I am not surprised.

Most makers who have achieved ABS Mastersmith status seem proud of the fact and I see no reason they should not be. These makers passed tests that included the ABS standards for performance and craftsmanship that the organization has set for obtaining a Mastersmith ranking. But, there is no guarantee that all knives offered by those makers will be of the same quality that their test knives were. In some cases the makers work will continue to evolve and improve and in other cases makers seem to me to rely on their name or Mastersmith rating to sell lesser quality, rapidly produced work. Recently I saw a well-known ABS Mastersmith offer for sale a knife that was visibly crooked and crudely finished. In the long run I think instances such as this will hurt not only the maker in question, but the ABS and custom knife collecting in general.

I believe that makers, collectors, and the custom knife world as a whole would all be so much better off if more makers adhered to good business practices. That would include such things as actually making the knife that they agreed to make and if unable to deliver it in the agreed upon time frame the maker would be courteous enough to notify the customer.

copyright Bill North 2013