This isn’t really a review of a knife or knives, so much as a review of the commissioning process. Although I’ve bought plenty of handmade knives, I’ve never fully commissioned a knife before. I always had in mind to commission something, but never really felt I had enough knowledge. In the past few years I feel like I’ve learned a bit about what works and doesn’t (for me and my needs). Possible more importantly I’ve developed a bit of honesty with myself about what I use a knife for. In doing that I found that not many people make the knife I need and that custom is definitely the way to go.
I’m fortunate that I’ve met Guy Stainthorp a few times, so this all started with a conversation around a campfire. I was explaining what my perfect camp knife would look like and eventually asked if he would be interested in making it. After a couple more conversations I distilled the spec into and incredibly long email (see below). Guy also asked for photos of other knives I liked (which I went a bit overboard on).
Here’s the important bits of the mail:
“I want to give you some freedom to design something which is distinctly yours but will fit what I like and want, so I've pulled together some bullet points of likes and dislikes. I'm gathering some photos of knives I like too, which I'll send later.
- Heavy Kitchen/ Light Camp knife (may end up with a bit of a trade knife vibe). Light enough to be capable in the kitchen, but heavy enough to split kindling etc. without worrying. I'm not expecting to cut through car bonnets or chop down an oak tree.
- Full flat grind (or high Sabre) as thin as you dare at the edge. A distal taper would be lovely. I guess the stock would need to thick enough to be sturdy, but thin right down to the edge.
- 5-8 inches blade length.
- Comfortable in hammer or sabre grip and comfortable in a pinch grip just in front of the handle.
- Edge starts pretty close to forefinger in hammer grip.
- Enough clearance to cut on a chopping board.
- Not so much clearance/depth that feathering kindling becomes annoying with the handle twisting and torqueing in your hand.
- Tough steel with some corrosion resistance e.g. 14c28n, AEBL, CPM 3v, A8mod, SF100, 12c27, Niolox, Nitrobe77.
- Probably a manmade handle material like Micarta- stable enough to be used in the kitchen.
- Simple Kydex pancake sheath.
Likes, but not essentials:
- Tapered tangs, but I also like sturdy stick tangs (think Busse Basic range). If it balances well, a full tang would be fine.
- Sculpted grips
- More than one colour in the handle
- No preference either way on bolsters, but I don't think a guard would suit.
- I want to avoid too much belly, for me, it makes rocking cuts on a board harder to control
- High carbide steels, I definitely don't want s30v, Elmax, D2, s90v, zdp189, m390, VG10 type steels for this sort of knife
- I probably wouldn't want a low alloy carbon steel because of very low corrosion resistance, so I was thinking of avoiding O1, 52100 etc although I might be convinced by a stainless clad laminate if you thought it was suitable.
I hope that is enough to get your creative side going. I'll get some photos with some commentary through to you later today. After that, let me know when I'm getting near the top of the list.”
Guy was very patient and came up with 4 options which he sketched out. These 3 were my favourites.
I got the impression the bottom one was Guy’s favourite, but whilst I agreed it was the most striking design, we thought it was probably too much belly for what I wanted. I went for the top design; I think it looks ‘very Guy Stainthorp’, but still hits the spec perfectly. We also discussed steel options and although CPM-3v might have been better for a heavier duty camp knife we settled on 14c28n. Guy ordered in some thicker 14c28n (4mm stock) and then come the difficult bit; for Guy the hard work and for me the waiting.
If we zoom forward in time a few months (do your own special effects)...
I was sat reading EM and Platinum posted some pictures from Guy’s Instagram page of the 3v camp knife, which looked strikingly familiar from the sketches. After a bit of dithering, I dropped Guy a line and asked if it was still available and fortunately it was. You’ll probably remember my joy at Knives UK when I picked it up. Although it looks very similar, it is a very different beast. A combination of 6mm stock, a convex grind and 3v makes it a bit of brute. I have used it in the kitchen to good effect, but it is far more suited to heavier camp duties such as wood processing.
Now for another zoom forward in time... Dig out the flux capacitor
I got the message and pictures from Guy showing progress and confirming handle finish (I decided to match the micarta on the 3v camp knife) and then last week, the package arrived.
The knife is fast, well balanced and lively, great for the few kitchen tasks I have tried so far and I can’t wait to put it through it’s paces over the coming weeks. I’m hoping I wasn’t the worst customer ever, but Guy has hit the extensive spec perfectly and was a pleasure to deal with. If you are thinking of ordering a custom, go for it! The chance to get just what you want is rare in this life.