Info on us, our pricing, business practices, etc.
Info on our knives, knife materials, and knife making in general.
Info on "resins". (this could go under the above section but I went more indepth than I meant to so I gave it its own category)
I first started making them at age 14, which was in 1991. At the time of writing this I have been making them for 18yrs.
Knives can be made with anything from very basic tools like hammers and metal files, to cnc laser cutters and mills. Some people prefer low tech, some prefer high tech. Personally I am in between the two, but lean towards low tech. Currently I use a drill press, belt sander, buffer, rotary tool, and forge along with various hand tools. (in the past I've used more equipment such as vacuum pumps, and air compressors but at the time of writing this I am not using that equipment at this shop location). Personally I choose not to use CNC equipment or jigs because I enjoy doing the work myself, as opposed to the machine/jig doing it for me.
(actually I've never been asked that but thought I would include it here for those not familiar with the custom knife market and wonder about the prices but are too polite to ask) Actually as far as custom knives go Ecos Knives prices are quite low. Extreme high end custom knives can go for tens of thousands of dollars, and even higher from time to time. Even many knives made for everyday use from custom makers can range in the hundreds of dollars...or even thousands. So why are custom knives so pricey? To sum it up....they are functional art. In most cases they are thought up, designed, and usually made by hand by a skilled craftsman. Hand crafted goods typically sell for higher prices than their factory made counterparts. For example a mass produced dresser sold at Art Van will be a fraction of the price of a hand carved piece done by a craftsman.
(now this question I have been asked several times) In short....our knives are designed to be inexpensive. We created Ecos Knives with the intention of making affordable knives for actual use. All of our knives are designed to be affordable. We never sacrifice performance for price. Some ways we keep cost down are using "user grade" finishes. Doing high grit hand rubbed satin finishes and immaculate mirror polishes take a lot of time, and time after all is money. While fine finishes are beautiful, they rapidly get messed up when using the knife. Stains, and scratches appear quite fast and really stand out on an otherwise flawless finish. So you paid more for a nice finish that will soon be ruined. We choose to do finishes that are fast to do, but yet still look good. Saving time on the finish helps reduce cost.
Another big factor in pricing is the materials cost. Some materials can cost a small fortune... gold, ivory, gems, etc will rapidly raise the price. While these are beautiful materials, we choose to use simple but very functional materials to keep the price down while still performing very well (many of the expensive materials don't perform as well as the cheaper ones; for example ivory cracks, composite doesn't).
What that means is I have drafted up literally hundreds, if not thousands, of designs....some almost identical, some very different. Some of these are very time consuming designs to make....therefor we typically don't make them since with Ecos Knives our goal has been to concentrate on affordable using knives. I pick designs that are functional and straight forward. I pick materials that are functional and straight forward. Does that mean they are inferior? Absolutely not! What I mean by "straight forward" is the bare bones models typically don't have options that increase the price and have little, or no effect on performance. For example lets look at a simple tanto. A small tanto with a cord wrapped handle, 1095 steel blade, Kydex sheath might cost $75. Now lets start adding options....adding a guard raises the price $30ish. Adding a polished wood handle raises the price $15ish. If we make that wood something fancy like Snakewood then the price of the wood itself is $40-50. Lets add a polished exotic wood sheath with magnetic blade retention...price increases $30ish. Make that sheath Snakewood...theres another $40. Make the blade damascus instead of 1095...price increases $25-100 (depending on the damascus). So a knife that started out with a base price of $75 is now up to costing $250+. Does it perform any better in daily use? Nope. Those changes might have made the knife much better to look at (but beauty is in the eye of the beholder)...but the functionality is still about the same as it was when it cost 4 times less. And since knives get scratched, stained, and dinged up with use it is a lot less painful messing up a $75 knife compared to a $300 one.
Yes I do do occasional higher priced pieces. Actually in my earlier years I concentrated on pricier pieces before I started getting requests from my customers for inexpensive designs they can use without worrying about scratching them up. Basically you will have to contact me with your design idea and I will let you know if its something I'm interested in doing.
Ecos Knives primary goal has been to provide very affordable using / EDC knives, but variety is the spice of life, and like most artists/craftsmen my tastes change from time to time and I need to make side projects to keep things interesting. I think in the near future you will start seeing some higher cost knives in addition to our low-priced using knives.
There is no "best steel". If there were, then everyone would be using it. All you can do is try to match the steel to the knife's intended use. For more info on steel see our steel FAQ.
I find that 1095 is a good match for many of our designs. There are various other steels that work just as well but I like 1095 a lot because my knives tend to have an organic/tribal, or Japanese feel to them and 1095 works well for both. Being high carbon it patinas well so I can do effects like forge scale and acid etching on it. It also develops a very nice hamon line. 1095 also has a good balance between edge retention, strength, ease of sharpening, and price.
I've been known to use a variety of steels through the years. When I first started making knives I used primarily ATS-34, 440C, and 154CM. I later moved on to moderately alloyed steels such as 52100, A2, D2. Then I started using low alloy carbon steels such as 1080, 1095, O1. There are so many good steels out there I don't restrict myself to just one....I pick the steels based on the designs I am currently in the mood to make. If I'm in a phase where I'm making a lot of hamon line knives I typically use 1080, 1095, or O1. If I am making a knife that needs durability I will use something like 5160. If I need extreme wear resistance I will pick a high alloy steel.
First off keep in mind it is always a balancing act when picking a steel. When you get higher abrasion resistance, you'll typically get lower strength....and vice versa.
Secondly keep the knifes intended use in mind. A steel that might make a good sword, might make for a horrible dive knife and vice-versa. Also keep in mind that choosing the steel is only one part of making a good knife. You also have to heat treat the steel properly, choose the right knife design, choose the proper blade geometry, etc. You can have a superb steel, with a crappy heat treatment and end up with a junk knife. You can have a superb steel with a superb heat treatment and a bad geometry and end up with a junk knife.
I'm going to keep this pretty basic...I am not going to go into phase structures and comparing martensite, ferrite, bainite, ausentite, etc. It's fairly indepth stuff and the average person gets bored reading it before they comprehend whats going on. If after reading this you would like more indepth info I suggest going to the library and getting a good metallurgy book (don't trust everything you read online...many people conveniently leave facts out to promote their own agenda, or increase their sales...and some people flat out lie or don't know what they are talking about.) or better yet take a metallurgy class at your local college. I've both read several metallurgy books and taken a few courses on metallurgy and industrial materials and in my opinion the info you learn doesn't help you much more in picking a knife steel than the following info will. But if you find this type of thing interesting by all means learn more. The more educated the knife community is, the less BS
Lastly even though I've read a few books and taken several college courses I do not fancy myself a metallurgist. I am a knifemaker. There is a huge difference between the two. A good knifemaker hopefully knows enough about steel to pick a decent steel and process it correctly but there is way more to being a metallurgist than that. And the same applies in reverse. A decent metallurgist can pick out a good steel and process it for a blade but probably can't make a decent knife. They are two different fields...some people tend to overlook that.
First off lets define steel. Steel is iron with carbon added to it. The most basic steel will just have carbon and iron but you can add other elements to make alloys, which can change the characteristics of the steel. Here is a list of some of the most common alloys for blade steels.
Carbon ( C )
People in the knife industry often classify steels with less than .4% carbon as "low carbon", steels with .4%-.6% steel as medium/mild carbon, and steels with .6+ % as high carbon steel. (although other industries use these terms differently)
2. It forms chromium carbides which increase wear resistance.
3. Probably the best known feature is it increases stain resistance, meaning the knife will rust slower. At around 13-15% chromium content a knife is considered "stainless". But keep in mind even stainless steel can rust/stain....it just does so slower.
While this tidbit of info can be greatly expanded on (whole collections of books have been written on the subject of steel alloys) this is what the alloys do in a nutshell. Keep in mind there is always a point of diminishing return. Adding an alloy might increase performance...but only up to a point. Add too much alloy and it can have a negative effect.
Now that you have an idea what the alloying elements do to the steel you can look at a steel chart to see what percentages of each element the steel has. Keep in mind that steel alloy content will fluctuate slightly from steel mill to steel mill (and sometimes from batch to batch). Thats why if you look at a few steel charts one might say 1095 has .95% carbon and another says it has .87% carbon, etc. The alloys will vary slightly.
People have different meanings of "strong". I've had people looking for a "strong" handle that doesn't scratch....I've had others looking for a "strong" handle that won't chip when dropped, etc. In the first instance a hard stone would be good for them because its very scratch resistant...but can crack when dropped. In the second situation a rubber handle would work well because no way will you chip it when dropping it. This is a good example of thinking of how your knife will be used and letting me know so I can advise you for your specific scenario.
Now that we have that unspecific answer covered, my favorite handle materials for longetivity are composites. I prefer cotton/canvas based, fiberglass based, and carbon fiber based fabrics. Carbon fiber is the strongest of them, with fiberglass being the second strongest, and cotton being the third.....but even a cotton composite is very good stuff. Moisture doesn't effect them, they are structurally stable (meaning they don't crack, shrink, or warp much at all), they are fairly hard to scratch, and they can take very high lateral loads. Typically I use cotton based because breathing fiberglass/carbon fiberglass is very, very bad for you so I have to take extra precautions when working it...which raises the price. Also the cotton based is available in a wider variety of colors. If I had to make one knife for myself to last me in an end-of-the-world situation...it would have a composite handle.
I also like stabilized wood. While often not as strong as composite it can be very strong, and very nice to look at.
Yes and no. A differentially heat treated blade provides a fully hardened edge that will stay sharp for a long time and a softer back of the blade that helps absorb shock. That much is true.
Now the problem is that hamon lines were obviously made famous from Japanese blades and the whole Samurai culture has created a ton of myths surrounding blades. Myths such as “Samurai swords are unbreakable”, “We still can't figure out how Samurai sword makers made their blades”, “Samurai blades are far superior (performance-wise) to anything being made in modern times” etc, etc. In short all this is BS. I enjoy a good Ninja movie as much as the next person but you have to realize that what you see is not always true. Yes genuine katanas can of course be broken....they are only steel after all. Yes we know how they made their blades (some Japanese smiths still make them the same way). And yes with modern materials/methods not only can we make blades that are as good (performance-wise) but we can make blades that easily outperform the older ones.
In actuality knives with hamon lines are tougher. But they are certainaly breakable. In fact if the spine is soft enough the blade may bend too easily for some people. I've seen a lot of people trying to get into practicing cuts with katanas and hit the target off-center then realize the impact bent their blade slightly. This is fairly common. There are ways to do differential hardening that don't form a strong hamon and make even stronger blades.
Because I like them. Something about them is just inherently beuatiful in my eyes....and they do offer some performance gains. Just don't go thinking you have some unbreakable vorpal blade of the ancients.
Typically no. Damascus is simply two different alloys of steel that are forge welded together to create beautiful patterns. How well it cuts will depend on the alloy of the steel chosen. For example if a knife is made from O1 and 15n20 damascus the knife will only hold an edge as good as the alloys do. If you choose a damascus made from both high and low carbon steels the edge holding will actually decrease since low carbon steel does not harden therefor 50% of your blade will be of unhardened steel.
Now for the exception... Some patterns will form lines going perpendicular to the blade....such as maiden hair or ladder pattern damascus. With these patterns you are exposing many small layers of alternating steel alloy along the edge. Rubbing your fingernail down the edge you will encounter layers like this...O1...nickel...O1...nickel...O1...nickel...O1... nickel...O1...nickel...O1... Now O1 is a thoroughly hardenable steel that will hold a good edge but nickel doesn't. That means the nickel will wear away faster than the O1 when using the knife which will create many tiny serrations on the edge. Almost like a tiny saw blade. In this case cutting ability may actually be enhanced some.
First off let me say I use both stock removal and forging in my knives so I am not biased. This is one of the most argued topics in the custom knife industry and many people get very passionate (and easily insulted/angered) about it so I will try to keep this short.
In most cases I don't believe forging enhances performance. In some instances it can....for example if your steel has flaws, inclusions, etc in it then forging will most definitely help spread those out which can greatly affect the steel. For example if you are casting your own steel in a crucible then I would highly recommend you forge it afterwards. If not the blade may end up fragile.
Now the modern day steel we buy from steel warehouses have already been forged. Thats not to say they have burly men beating them between hammers and anvil, but during the process of the steel manufacturing it is forged. First think of what forging is...it is applying heat and pressure. Custom knifemakers often use a hammer and anvil for this....some makers use rolling mills and/or presses. The steel mills use the same methods but on a much larger scale. After casting steels into billets they then either use industrial hammers, presses or rolling mills to spread the steel out into usable form and hopefully get rid of inclusions (which still occur sometimes).
In some cases, CPM steels being a good example, forging at home can actually potentially decrease performance. If you don't keep your temperatures/times correct then you can risk overheating the steel and burning carbon out, alloy pooling, etc.
The word resin is a generic term that can cover a wide range of adhesives/sealants. Epoxy resin, polyester resin, vinyl ester resin are all included in the resin category along with other resins that can range from pheonelics, to animal and plant resins....such as “pearl glue” made from rendered animal hooves/connective tissue, and resins made from tree sap, rice, etc.
So what type of “resin” they use can vary widely.
The next question is probably “which resin is best?”
.... In short the answer is “there is no best.” If there was a best option for every usage then everyone would be using it.
Lets first divide them into 2 categories....synthetic (epoxy, polyester, vinyl ester, pheonelic, etc) and natural (anything made from plant/animal like tree sap or pearl glue). In general the synthetics are superior in performance so they are by far the most widely used. The natural products do have their uses though....for example they are a nice touch to use in a rustic, period, or Neo-Tribal piece. And don't think just because they are natural they are weak. I use pearl glue to adhere emery powder to my buffing wheels...which spin at a few thousand rpm and the pearl glue holds up fine. Pearl glue has also been used in furniture making for centuries and some of the original joints are still tight after all these years.
As I said earlier synthetic resins are in general higher performance, thus more widely used in todays society. Thats why race cars are made with epoxy, and not tree sap.
Again, “resin” can cover a wide variety of substances which can fill entire books, so for this short article we will limit it to the most widely used in the knife industry.
Epoxy. This is probably the most mentioned resin used in knifemaking....even though often people are actually using other resins and calling it epoxy, either because they may not know what they really have, or because they might think their customers will know what epoxy is but not other substances such as vinyl ester. Epoxy is one of the strongest resins out there and is widely used for structural uses such as fabricating race car bodies, and bonding parts of airplanes together (nice feeling knowing many of our airplanes are glued and riveted together isn't it?....just try not to think of that fact at 30,000ft) Epoxy provides a strong bond that has good tensile strength. What this means in knifemaking terms is it holds the handle scales on with good force and it takes impact pretty good. So if the scales themselves are made from epoxy and fabric you won't have to worry about them shattering/chipping/cracking if you drop them. Epoxy also has good gap filling properties (unlike some adhesives like Pearl Glue or Superglue) so if there is a slight gap in items being glued that is not a problem. The downside to epoxy is the high price and from articles I've read and my own personal experience epoxy can have a somewhat low UV resistance. Which means it will break down and/or discolor when exposed to prolonged sunlight. While this usually isn't a problem with gluing two pieces together since the bond is hidden between the pieces, it can become an issue if a piece is made from epoxy and is not top coated. In automotive uses, the body panels/frame often have a paint coating over them which protects them...or they have expensive UV inhibitors. If you have some handle scales made from epoxy/fabric you typically won't be painting over them and your average epoxy does not have much in the way (if any) UV blockers so if left in direct sunlight over time, your handles will yellow and perhaps even turn brown..and may become brittle.
Polyester Resin. Very similar to epoxy resin but with lower strength and higher UV resistance. In general polyester resins will not bond as well and be more brittle than epoxy, but age slower in sunlight. This is a generalization though, in fact you can buy polyester resins that are flexible when cured and in my personal experience I have found some polyester resins that have a much stronger hold than some of the most widely available epoxies. For example the polyester resin I have in my shop now holds much stronger than the Devcon/Loctite brands you see sold in most hardware stores. Polyester resin just might be the most widely used resin out there. It's been used for years for anything from bonding joints, to laminating wood, making surfboards, etc. The vast majority of fiberglass products you see are made from polyester resin. It also has an advantage over epoxy in the price department...usually selling for 50-75% less. In the knife world this means handles scales made from polyester resin will typically age (yellow) slower than the average epoxy scales, but the bonding power can be less than a good epoxy (but then again it might bond stronger than a cheaper epoxy).
Vinyl Ester. In short vinyl ester falls between polyester and epoxy resins. The strength is supposed to be better than polyester but not as good as epoxy, and the UV resistance is supposed to be between the two. The price also falls between the two. I have very little personal experience with this material so I can't offer my opinion.
Pheonelic Resin. I know very little about this material and have never used it myself, I am only mentioning it because it is the bonding agent used in making Micarta....and I think possibly Dymondwood.
Please keep in mind these are generalities. You can find epoxy resins with UV additives that resist UV better than polyester resin. You can find polyester resins that bond stronger than some epoxies. You can find epoxies that are more fragile than polyesters. Etc, etc. A lot depends on the manufacturer and formulation of the resin. Thats why one resin manufacturer may offer a dozen different formulas of resin....each one may excel for its intended purpose but come up lacking in other areas. Basically you will have to choose based on your personal experience. If you are a maker looking for a good resin, research but then experiment....don't entirely trust the performance claims of the manufacturer or what others say. Manufacturers are trying to sell their products and other users may have limited experience with resins so they might stand behind one product 110% just because they haven't had the opportunity to use another product that may work even better for them. If you are a customer you will have to trust that your knifemaker has done their research/experimentation on the subject (This is the advantage to chooosing a fulltime/longterm knifemaker. Often hobbyist/part-time makers only make a few pieces a year and haven't spent the same amount of time into research/experimenting and only have a surface knowledge....sometimes they only make a few pieces and leave the knife field completely.)
Liquid Glass is a name brand epoxy resin formulated for coating commercial countertops. It seems to be a good choice for this application because of the high strength (less chipping when impacted) and they include UV stabilizers to keep it from yellowing under UV exposure (probably why the price is twice as much as standard epoxy resin). I have also seen other resins referred to as “liquid glass” and some were epoxy, some were polyester.
The vast majority of the time polyester resin is used for making fiberglass. Occasionally a manufacturer will use epoxy for added impact strength....which is the case of G10 which is a fiberglass/epoxy blend. In addition to the resin, fiberglass is made of sheets of thin strands of glass which are quite strong. They can either be straight strands, chopped strands, or woven strands. Chopped strands are the cheapest and weakest, straight strands only offer strength in one direction so their uses are limited (for example they make excellent fishing poles since poles are always flexed sideways and you're not trying to pull the pole apart, but would make very poor car body panels) Woven is the most expensive, and the strongest. It is what is used in most fiberglass handle materials....such as G10.
To be honest handle scales typically see very little lateral stress so thats not a concern most the time. What usually damages handle scales is either impact (chipping) or yellowing with age. And even with polyester resin handle scales can hold up quite well (see the pics/video of me beating a knife handle with an axe...those scales were made with polyester resin).
If you are making a folding knife without liners then lateral stress becomes an issue, so you may want to seek out a high performance epoxy. Make sure it offers good stiffness too...epoxies tend to be more flexible than polyester resins.
Depends on the application. Either a good performing epoxy or polyester resin will work the vast majority of the time. At the highest level, an epoxy will outperform polyester resin in bonding strength but please keep in mind that most people usually use what is readily available to them...and what's readily available to them typically is what is most profitable for the stores to sell, not what works the best. So you may buy some epoxy resin at Home Depot thinking its the best choice but then it may form a bond that is weaker than many of the polyester resins.
What is readily available in the typical hardware store (such as Devcon/Loctite epoxy) typically doesn't work as well as the high performance epoxies/polyesters. But they can still work fine! In fact I used those two brands for years for sealing my cord wrapped handles with no problems at all. While the bond might not be as strong as with the highest performing resins it is typically strong enough. Also keep in mind Loctite (and perhaps Devcon) make multiple grades of epoxy, and the hardware stores typically only carry the cheap stuff. With knife handles the resin should be there primarily to keep moisture out and you should have some type of mechanical feature holding the scales on...such as rivets, pins, screws, etc. You shouldn't trust just the bond of the resin....with a good resin and good preparation the bond may hold up fine....but why count on that when you can use pins/screws/rivets?
Yes you can. Should you? Usually not. Resin is added to hold the fabric together and add stiffness. It's the fabric itself that provides strength. Most resins when cured are somewhat fragile...one good sharp blow (especially in lower temps) and it can chip, crack, and even shatter. I found this out the first time I did stress testing on plain Micarta with no fabric. I was 15, made a knife from plain black Micarta and meant to stress test it. My first test was holding the blade and rapping the handle against the cement floor. I think I got 2, maybe 3 good smacks before it flew apart in multiple pieces. On the other hand I did stress testing with composite made from linen fabric and polyester resin and even beating the heck out of it with a 10pound steel mallet, it didn't crack or chip. So if your piece is more intended to be looked at than serious use, colored resin can be a nice touch. Just don't drop it. Also you can use colored resin sheets for spacers between guards and handles, etc to add a splash of color. These spacers are typically thin and sandwiched between tougher materials so they can be used there with little chance they will be damaged.