Sunday, August 28, 2016

Custom Knife Makers Produce Blades Beyond The Norm

A look at two knives in Larry Rosi's Bridgeville shop,
the one at bottom finished, the one at top in the
process of completion.
Bruce Godlseky is sure of at least one thing: Everyone needs a knife.
“If you think you can go through a day without some kind of cutting tool, you're wrong,” he said. “We're always using knives, scissors, something.
“The last 15 years, I don't think there's been one day I've left the house without a knife, at least one.”
His, though, are a little different. Owner of Birdog Forge in Kiski Township, Armstrong County, Godlesky makes his own.
That makes him one of a handful of custom knife makers in the region. But just how many exist is hard to pin down.
There are a couple of national and international organizations that represent these artisans, such as The Knifemakers' Guild and the American Bladesmith Society. None are particularly large.
The Guild, for example, has only about 150 members around the world, said secretary Charlie Mathews of Twin Blades in Statesboro, Ga. That is because becoming a member takes years of being judged by peers, among other criteria.
“It's not something for everybody,” Mathews said.
Pennsylvania doesn't have its own organization like some other states.
Those in the craft often know of one another, though, said Larry Rosi of L.J. Rosi Custom Knives in Bridgeville. Tinkerers by nature and often with a stubborn streak — Rosi won't allow a knife to leave his shop until he is satisfied with it, no matter what the customer thinks — custom knife makers are a tight-knit group willing to share information.
That's because they have one thing in common, he said. They're “knife junkies.”
“It's an addiction. It's a love. It's a passion,” Rosi said. “I don't know of one knife maker who ever quit until he just got to the point where he physically couldn't do it anymore.”
Why should customers like hunters and anglers want their products, though?
That's something many people ask, Rosi said. After all, a custom knife will be more expensive — perhaps significantly so — than a factory blade.
Makers cite two reasons: performance and looks.
Every type of steel has a limit to how hard it can be, Rosi said. Make it too hard, and it will chip.
“Factory knife makers lean toward keeping theirs on the soft side because they know you're going to use it for everything you're not supposed to,” he said. “It's not just going to be a knife. It's going to be a screwdriver, a pry bar and who knows what else.”
He takes his blades to their limits, which gives them better edge retention — meaning they stay sharp — longer and better.
“My thinking is, if you buy a Ferrari, why drive it at 50 mph? Run the heck out of it. It's the same thing,” Rosi said. “If you're buying a piece of high-performance steel, heat treat it to get all out of it you can.”
Custom knives are unique, too, Godlesky said. The blade can be made of Damascus steel with any one of several patterns in the metal, for example. It can be made longer or shorter, thicker or thinner and in various shapes. Handles can be anything from bone to antler to wood, like the chunk of apricot one customer wanted used because it came from a tree planted on the family farm by relatives a century earlier.
“They wanted a touch of home, I guess,” he said. “I do a bunch of stuff like that. Whatever you imagine you can do.”
Large-scale manufacturers can't offer that level of quality and craftsmanship, nor do they really try, Mathews said.
“They're in it to spit out knives by the thousands. We produce a different product,” he said.
That takes time. It can take five hours or more to create a single knife, “and if that's if everything goes right,” Rosi said. That's why most custom makers count the knives made in a year in the hundreds, he said.
There's a satisfaction in crafting each one, though, especially if they get used, Godlesky said. Some don't.
Some custom knife makers build pieces that, while theoretically functional, are made with every intention of being put on a shelf.
“People say what are you going to do with that $10,000 piece of art? Well, the answer is you're going to hang it on the wall and look at it,” Mathews said.
“Sometimes people ask you to build a knife like that just to display it. To me, using the knife, that's part of it. But some people just want to look at them.”
Neither Rosi nor Godlesky cater to that market. They make working knives intended for hunters, anglers, trappers, campers and other outdoorsmen.
Seeing one at work in the field is the ultimate reward, Godlesky said.
“There's nothing better than getting a photo someone's sent me of them with a deer or a bear or an elk and they're holding one of my knives,” Godlesky said. “That makes me smile.
“No matter how pretty a knife is, I don't want it sitting in a safe. I want to see blood on it.”

Anyone interested in learning more about custom knives or seeing the work of local makers, Bruce Godlesky's Birdog Forge can be found at, and Larry Rosi's work can be found
Information on The Knifemakers' Guild can be found The American Bladesmith Society is
Bob Frye is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at or via@bobfryeoutdoors.

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