The world of custom knives can be challenging to navigate. Deciding what role you want a custom knife to play in your life is essential. Do you want an heirloom place that can be handed down through generations, or are you looking to start a collection?Becoming familiar with custom knife makers is a great place to start either your quest for an heirloom piece or your collection of impressive pieces.
Custom knife makers create functional works of art. Beautiful, intimidating or outright cool, custom-made knives are unique and typically offer better performance than production knives — plus most knife makers will customize the knife to your specifications.
We’re looking at knife makers who are in the top of their field or climbing fast on the strength of great designs, high-quality materials and exacting work.
Anthony “Tony” Marfione (Microtech/Marfione Custom Knives)
Marfione started Microtech in 1994 with the intention of making the best knives possible. Since then, he has made his name by keeping to strict machining tolerances. He personally oversees the design, and many of his production knives have some features of his custom pieces.
Because the knives Microtech produces are of such high quality, it’s hard to limit yourself to just one. The OTF (out the front) automatic open that Microtech is renowned for is durable and lightning fast.
The Microtech Ultratech is arguably one of the most popular, and with good reason. Made from Bohler Elmax steel, it’s lightweight, robust and rarely needs to be sharpened. The Combat Troodon is another Microtech knife that’s not only cool but packs plenty of intimidation into an easy to carry bundle. The Troodon is made from M390 steel and, like the Ultratech, comes in a variety of blade styles.
A manually opened knife that is very popular is the Socom series: Elite, Delta and Bravo. These knives have the same attention to detail, variety of blade styles and high-level quality of material as the automatic opens. Microtech’s manual blades are slightly less well-known than the automatics, but that has nothing to do with the quality of the knives and everything to do with the “wow” factor.
Jake Hoback (Jake Hoback Knives)
Jake Hoback began by beating on chunks of steel in his backyard. Eventually, he moved on to work with a blacksmith in Nevada and began professionally selling knives in 2003. He has moved from strength to strength, making badass knives that are built like tanks. Jake favors finishes that are a little rougher, adding extra texture to the overall appearance.
The Kwaiback is Hoback’s most popular knife and is styled after the Japanese Kwaiken. The Kwaiback was made using CPM Cruwear steel, with all the features we’ve come to expect from a Hoback knife, such as hardened stainless-steel lock inserts, pivots and pivot bearings, as well as the sweat and blood that goes into every design.
A new knife that’s taking the cutlery world by storm is the A8 Slimline Folder. Designed to be more pocket-friendly than its older, larger brother — the A10 — the A8 is made with CPM-20CV steel, meaning strength and durability. As always, the knife has been built to work, for work.
Ernest Emerson (Emerson Knives)
Ernest Emerson started making knives in his garage in California in 1979. He drew on his experience as a combat instructor to create the first tactical folding knife, and the Emerson CQC-7 is still considered one of the best tactical knives in the world. His work has been exhibited at institutions like the Smithsonian and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, showing that these knives are not only functional but also beautiful in their own right. Known for consistency, honor and quality, Emerson Knives are a mainstay of the combat world.
The CQC-7 is made from 154 CM steel, a high-carbon stainless steel mixed with molybdenum. This means the blade has excellent edge retention and is designed for heavier cutting, hence its application as a tactical knife. This knife has decent corrosion resistance that is better than most military-grade fixed knives, which are straight carbon steel, making the CQC-7 better for damp environments.
Emerson has five different karambits available on the market, and four of them are folding knives. If you’re in a bad situation, you want an Emerson karambit in your pocket. Made from 154 CM steel for heavier cutting with a wickedly curved blade, Emerson has made the blades with his own Wave technology. This means that by the simple method of catching the flipper edge on your pocket, the blade is opened as you remove it from your pocket — perfect if you’re in a fight.
Mick Strider (Strider Custom Knives)
Strider Custom Knives was founded in the mid-1990s by Mick Strider and Duane Dwyer, and the designs draw heavily on Strider’s military background. Included in contracts with the U.S. military in the past, their knives are proven in quality and durability. Strider makes both folding and fixed-blade knives, and all have the Strider reputation for quality and durability.
The Mick Strider SnG Nightmare Grind is a bomb of a knife, garnering rave reviews — and rightly so. Based on the classic SnG, the Nightmare sports partial serrations with both blade and handle made of titanium. The most important feature of this knife is that it is made from SM-100.
Developed for NASA, SM-100 is a titanium alloy that has since come into the hands of custom knife makers. Completely corrosion proof as the definition is understood by NASA, this material has zero iron. It absolutely cannot rust. It also has all the other great points of titanium, being lighter than stainless steel and unaffected by hard shocks.
The truly unique nature of this titanium is that it can hold an edge, unlike standard titanium. A nickel-titanium alloy will do that for a blade.
Jason Brous (Brous Blades and Statement Defense)
Jason Brous is relatively new to the field, opening Brous Blades in 2010. He began with CNC like his father and grandfather before him, though Jason quickly developed an interest in knife making. Last January, Brous started Statement Defense, which offers custom Glocks with high-end modifications. His machining background is invaluable, as he can perform modifications himself to a finer degree than many others in the field.
His designs are heavily influenced by fantasy art, though he imbues them with functionality the artwork cannot match. His work can be described as bio-mechanical and, as Jason Brous, himself calls it, “functional fantasy.”
Brous Blades Caliber Flipper is a prime example of the bio-mechanical designs that Brous favors. Made from D2 steel, as many Brous Blades are, the Caliber has a sweet, dagger-style look to it, combined with the modernity of a carbon fiber handle. This knife is a perfect size, with a 3-inch blade and a 4-inch handle, and has a nice, open design that’s easier to maintain.
Another iconic blade is the Bionic 2.0, which again features D2 steel for the blade but has an aluminum handle to reduce its weight. Brous packed as much blade as possible into the handle, with another 3-inch blade inside a 4-inch handle. The blade alone is a thing of beauty any knife enthusiast would cry tears of joy over. The handle is ergonomically shaped, comfortable for larger hands and features an impressive scaled “Alien” look to it.
Robert Carter (Robert Carter Knives)
Robert Carter has knife making built into his genes. Son and grandson of prominent knife makers Joe and Mel Pardue, Robert has added his own spin to the family tradition. Strongly influenced by aircraft and the speed-of-sound look of jets, Robert’s designs are sleek, modern and solidly built.
The Robert Carter Jettison flipper is a collaboration with CRKT and showcases Carter’s strengths as a knife designer and maker. The Jettison has a modified sheepsfoot blade that gives it extra sharpness in the tip and is made from 8Cr13MoV stainless steel. This Chinese steel is similar to AUS-8 and has good wear resistance and edge retention, perfect for a knife at this price range.
The OKC Ontario Carter 2quared is a Carter design that is all hard work packed into a pocketable bundle. An ergonomic titanium handle comfortable for large hands combines well with the thick blade. Made of D2 steel, the blade is a sheepsfoot design with the unusual addition of a belly for better slicing.
Todd Begg (Begg Knives)
Begg Knives was started by Todd Begg, but none of the focus is on that. Rather, the company prefers to keep their work at center stage. Begg Knives prides itself on having highly skilled craftsmen who do fine precision work on all their knives. Whether it’s their small batches of custom knives meant as collectible art or their range of production knives, they’re designed and machined to exacting standards.
The Glimpse comes in a variety of styles, from expensive collector’s pieces to one for everyday carry. No matter which one you choose, they are truly works of art that leave you marveling at the craftsmanship that went into each one. Depending on the style, blades can be made from either M390 or CTS-204P steel and have a drop point. There are tiny inlays and finishes from the spine of the blade to the clip that make this knife a truly functional work of art.
Steelcraft is Begg’s range of production knives. In this case, the 3/4 Kwaiken comes in a few different styles, with CPM-S35VN steel used for the blade, titanium for the handle and carbon fiber inlays. Because it is a Kwaiken, it has a trailing point that is stonewashed, the primary differences being the colors used for the handles. Whether it’s black, silver or black gold, they are all stunning pieces.
Ramon Chaves (Chavez Knives)
Ramon Chaves started out making knives in his backyard as a hobby, using whatever materials he had at hand. In 2010, he made a knife for a friend, and after that, he began receiving custom orders. His focus is on high-quality, durable blades with sleek, classic lines. His clip is a custom design, with the intent that when people see it, they know it’s a Chaves knife.
The Ultramar Redencion is a sturdy, durable knife with a micarta handle. The blade is made from CPM-S35VN steel and comes as either a drop point or a tanto. Ultramar is the production knife line built after Ramon Chaves’ custom designs and made by Reate Knives. As you can see from the steel, Chaves uses the finest quality materials in his knives, backed by strong, clean lines in his blades.
The C.H.U.B. (Chaves Handy Utility Blade) is another knife worth mentioning. It’s not often you find a custom knife maker creating utility blades, but Chaves’ passion and desire for excellence know no bounds. The C.H.U.B. is machined from solid titanium, has an even and secure deployment and uses the standard utility blade. There is also the instantly recognizable Chaves Knives skull clip so that you can keep it comfortably to hand.
The popularity of Chaves’ knives is immediately apparent when you go online because most sites list them as “sold out,” a huge compliment to the maker and a testament to his skill.
Sergey Shirogorov is considered one of the most elaborate and highly regarded knife makers in Russia. His custom and midtech knives are highly sought after and it is extremely hard to get one of his knives. He will often be at custom knife shows in America such as Blade Show, USN Gathering in Las Vegas and the California Custom Knife show. His model the 111 is a staple in the Shirogorov line and his "Custom Division" pieces like the F3b and the Neon sell for thousands over table price at knife shows.