Category Archive 'Custom Knives'

27 Oct 2019

15 Loveless Knives

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Blade Magazine has a feature illustrating 15 Bob Loveless knife designs that you and I will never own.

Loveless was, without doubt, the most brilliant and original custom knife maker of the last century. A decade or two ago, just about everybody making custom knives was doing copies of Bob Loveless’s Drop Point Hunter.

Success, however, went to Loveless’s head, to put it mildly. He hired an employee, who then actually made all the knives, and became an arrogant asshole. He did not even do a catalog. He sold you photos of his knives at so much a photo. He ran a three-to-five-year waiting list. And he gleefully charged (back in the 1980s) $100 an inch, plus an extra $100 for that rather vulgar naked lady stamping and that was $100 for each side of her.

I didn’t like his nude stamping and I did not like his “I can treat customers like dirt” attitude, so I did not even put in an order. And just as well. Goofy air-headed Loveless collectors have bid all his knives so far into the stratosphere that you’d feel crazy using one.

They are nice designs, but, alas! priced out of the world you and I live in.

RTWT

The Loveless book is also back in print at $45 here.

18 Feb 2016

WWII Randall Zacharias Fighter

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RandallZ5-375

RandallZ9-375

RandallZ11

RandallZ7-375

Mitchell Harrison on Facebook recently

The Zacharias Fighter is arguably the most iconic knife Randall ever made. It was the original DNA for the Model #1 All Purpose Fighting Knife and the military models that followed. Bo Randall’s WW2 fighting knives are what started the legend.

Bob Gaddis writes in his book that Army Lt. James H. Zacharias came to Bo in mid 1942 requesting a combat knife. Bo and the Lt. penciled out a knife designed to slash and thrust, yet be tough enough to open cans, ammo boxes and handle any other field duty required.

According to Gaddis on June 15, 1942, Bo logged his order book with “1 special made Jap sticker”, then in November 1942 and January 1943 he logged a total of 3 more for Lt. Zacharias (a total of 4). There is a picture of a Zacharias style fighter on page 67. No one knows if the pictured knife is one of the original 4, but it’s obviously a very early knife. There is a lot more detail in Bob’s book and I encourage you to get it. Well worth the money. …

[The original Zacharias Randall has these features:]

-It is a double pinned stag handle
-The finger grips are on the top for an edge up fighting grip
-The choil is a double step, very similar to the pre-war hunters
-The sheath is a Clarence Moore, but it has had additional lacing added to the edges
-The blade is “fullered” (some called it a blood groove)
-The hilt is asymmetrical with a teardrop shaped lower quillon
-Lt. Zacharias’ initials are carved in the butt and filled with some sort of red material

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Based on the people I have asked, this is the only known example of the original 4 knives…… Until now. …

This knife turned up in an obscure gun auction. All I know at this point is the man recently passed and the family auctioned his guns and this knife. The auction house would not give me his name, but did verify that he was a Marine and his Initials were J.R.C. I am fairly certain he was the original owner of the knife. The auction company has forwarded my contact info to the family, so there may be more forthcoming.

Things to note:

-It is a double pinned stag handle
-The finger grips are on the top for an edge up fighting grip
-The choil is a double step, very similar to the pre-war hunters
-The sheath is a Clarence Moore which was obviously custom made to match the hilt
-The hilt is asymmetrical with a teardrop shaped lower quillon
-Initials are carved in the butt and filled with some sort of red material

I can’t prove it, but I am convinced that this is one of the first 4 knives based on the matching initials in the butts. Could these [both] knives have been together in WW2 when two servicemen personalized them with identical red block initials? Perhaps I will hear from the family and be able to tie the owner’s record with that of Lt. Zacharias. We’ll see.

Obviously I am very proud and excited to add this knife to my collection.

06 Sep 2014

Tutenkhamun’s Knives

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TutenkhamunDaggers
Tutenkhamun’s daggers

The 1922 discovery of the tomb of the boy pharaoh Tutenkhamun dazzled the world with the precious artifacts and funeral goods found (which still regularly draw enormous numbers of visitors to exhibitions at museums around the world).

The deceased king was accompanied to the afterlife by two obviously personal favorite knives, both double-edged daggers in form, pretty close 3000-year-old equivalents of the Randall Model 2 Fighting Stiletto.

What is most interesting though is that King Tut’s personal daggers were made in the Bronze Age of other metals. One knife is made of gold, hardened with copper. The American custom knife-maker Buster Warenski (1942-2005) took it as a personal challenge and successfully completed in 1987 a replica. That project required five years of work and used 32 ounces of gold.

The second knife is made of iron, at a time in which the forging of primitive iron weapons was a new technology invented by the Hittites. Even in the future, when the Greeks would be besieging Troy, Achilles and the other heroes would still be armed with bronze swords and bronze-tipped spears. It’s good to be the king. Tutenkhamun possessed, and got to take with him into his tomb, the superb iron-bladed knife seen above. Modern analysis has determined that it was forged from meteoric iron, and though it lacked the complete rust-and-stain-resistance of the gold blade, it undoubtedly took a better edge and remained sharper longer. In 1300 B.C., iron would have been rarer and more expensive than gold. I think this knife may have been intentionally made with a ricasso, a flat, unsharpened area above the grip, which would allow the user to hold the blade farther forward for precision cutting.

Via Karen L. Myers’ HollowLands.

07 Aug 2012

“Robert Loveless — An American Legend” DVD Available

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Robert Loveless Wilderness Model with Amber stag scales.

Last April, a new documentary film, Robert Loveless — An American Legend was premiered in Los Angeles.

The DVD version is now available.

I bought a copy and watched it with enjoyment over the weekend.

The film does a fine job of telling the strange story of Bob Loveless, a poor boy from Ohio with an extraordinary talent for design, who began making custom knives on shipboard while working as a sailor on the Great Lakes, selling them at first through the old Abercrombie & Fitch. When the free-spending and quality-obsessed late 1960s arrived, Bob Loveless’s custom knives were quickly recognized as something quite extraordinary and became for many collectors an obsession.

Production came nowhere near meeting demand and the prices being paid for Loveless knives on the re-sale market went out of control. Loveless himself naturally resented the fact that his customers were commonly walking out the door and re-selling his work for a few thousands of dollars profit.

Loveless never significantly increased production, though he apparently essentially turned all the actual knife-making over to a friend named Jim Merrit. But he did jack his prices up in an ongoing, but ultimately unsuccessful, attempt to deter profiteering.

I talked to Bob Loveless about ordering a knife myself, back in the 1980s. He was surly and hostile, and spoke of 5-10 years wait on orders, and was asking, at that time, for $100-an-inch for a knife. It sounded as if both prices and delivery dates were completely arbitrary. Loveless was clearly intentionally discouraging ordering. He told me that nobody really needed a Loveless knife, and it was clear he was sick of the pressure from all the fame and fandom.

I thought that kind of pricing was ridiculous. The uncertain time interval was too great, and I didn’t like Loveless’s hostility toward customers so I gave up on the idea of placing an order. Watching the film, I see that he eventually started charging $5000 and up per knife and that still didn’t deter orders.

The movie made it clear that Bob Loveless lost interest in knife-making, and got well and truly fed up with fame, but like everybody else he enjoyed the money that poured in and indulged himself, buying guns, watches, cars, and planes.

As the years went by and Loveless grew old, his crankiness, eccentricity, and displays of arrogance increased, but he was also capable of great gestures of kindness and generosity.

I guess the Loveless story really demonstrates that success is a bitch goddess who has to ruin everything she touches. Once Bob Loveless became really famous, only filthy rich collectors (aka suckers) and friends already wired into his personal network would ever get their hands on a Loveless knife. Loveless became rich in a small-scale way, but the knife-making stopped being fun for him a long, long time ago.

But Bob Loveless was such a great designer that his style was adopted by half the custom knife makers working today, so practically identical imitations are everywhere.

Watching Jim Merrit making Loveless knives was fascinating. I couldn’t help noticing that the Loveless shop only made knives via stock removal and then sent the blades outside to be heat-treated. By contrast, other renowned makers like Moran, Randall, Dennehey, and Seguine forged all of their larger knives and did everything, including heat treatment, themselves.

Whatever one’s reservations, one is obliged to admit that Loveless’s knives are all absolutely beautiful. They are all essentially variations on the same design, but what a marvelous design, and what superb variations they are. There can be no doubt that Bob Loveless was unsurpassed as a custom knife maker. In the originality and intrinsic merit of his designs, the breadth of his influence, and in the level of admiration from customers and the prices his work has commanded, no one else has ever come even close.

06 Jun 2012

“Robert Loveless — An American Legend” Trailer

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The trailer for the Bob Loveless tribute documentary which premiered in Los Angeles on April 26th is now on-line. Presumably the filmmakers will eventually be offering it for sale on DVD.

“Among his peers, Robert ‘Bob’ Loveless achieved the title, ‘living legend.’ He was the superstar of the custom knife world and you would have to reach far and wide to find someone to say differently. He was respected and his knife designs are the most copied around the world. He was a modern times genius. He had the eye and the taste. When you get a Rolex right, a Ferrari right, a Porsche right, you don’t mess with it. Same with a Loveless knife. Bob was fearless, gentle, stubborn, loving, generous, witty and sometimes just outright mean. Bad or good, that was Bob. . . he lived life ‘his way.'”

04 Apr 2012

New Bob Loveless Documentary

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Robert Loveless, An America Legend Film Poster, top lines read: “A reputation can put a load on your shoulders that some men don’t want to bear.” –Jack London. Below: “A Documentary about the greatest custom knife maker in the World.”

Blade Magazine reports that a new documentary on the great Bob Loveless will premier on April 26th, as part of the Beverly Hill Film Festival, two days prior to the biannual Solvang Custom Knife Show.

Information and publicity are scarce. Hey! it’s twenty-odd days away. But we have that tiny (nearly unreadable) poster image above, and we know that there will be a pre-theater get-together at 4:00 p.m. at Mel’s Diner, 8585 Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood.

The actual screening will be at the Clarity Theater, 100 North Crescent Drive, Beverly Hills. Red Carpet reception at 5:30 p.m. The film is scheduled to run from 6:00 – 7:20 p.m.

Intended viewers are instructed to RSVP to Producer Ed Wormser at edw11@aol.com. Repeat after me: M.I.C.K.E.Y. M.O.U.S.E.

Still, if I were on the lower left coast, I would definitely want to see it.

17 Mar 2011

Dan Dennehy, January 15, 1923 – January 16, 2011

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Dan Dennehy at work

Another of the great men of the golden age of custom knife-making, Daniel John Dennehy, passed away earlier this year in Del Norte, Colorado.

Dan Dennehy began making knives while serving in the Navy in WWII.

Dennehy knives are characterized by original, simple, and practical designs tailored for specific functions. He produced a number of models specially for use by members of the armed forces, including the Pilot/Crewman, a 6″ rugged modern bowie designed to be capable of chopping an exit through a downed aircraft’s plexiglass canopy or aluminum skin; the 8″ Model 11 Green Beret, a large, double-hilted fighting knife; and the remarkable 6 1/2″, 1/4″ thick Model 13 Hoss, designed by a Navy SEAL as an indestructible knife-shaped pry bar and hammer made of surgical stainless steel which actually simultaneously manages to have a usable knife edge.

Dan Dennehy’s most popular productions, though, were simple and elegant hunting and fishing knives of slender and light easy-to-carry design, representative of the philosophy of the late 19th century outdoor writer George Washington Sears, better known as “Nessmuk,” who popularized the concept of ultra-light, minimal-sized sporting and camping equipment.

Dennehy forged all his larger knives, and a Dennehy forged knife exhibits a peculiar and unique glassy surface unlike any other knife.

Dan Dennehy was, along with Bob Loveless and Bill Moran, one of the founders of the Knifemaker’s Guild, and one of the most respected custom knife makers. Dennehy knives were favored by such celebrities as John Wayne, Lee Marvin, Clint Eastwood, Carlos Hathcock, Barry Goldwater, as well as by the controversial Watergate burglar and talk show host G. Gordon Liddy. Liddy’s own preferred model, a more ornate, stag-handled version of the 4 1/4″ Model 4 Pro Scout became a standard catalogued option, known as the “G. Gordon Liddy Special.”

Dan Dennehy stamped “Dan-D” and a shamrock on every knife as his personal trademark. He mentions in his catalogue that he was only able to produce roughly 100 knives per year. He was in business for a little more than 60 years, so his total production must have amounted to only something on the order of 6000 examples.

An obituary appeared on the Knifemaker’s Guild forum back in January.

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A couple of commemorative videos of Dan Dennehy’s assistants at work during the last few few years in the Dennehy shop in Del Norte, accompanied with Johnny Cash songs, have turned up on YouTube.

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Best viewed in full screen mode

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DanD 4″ Utility Knife, probably a variation of his Model 8, Personal Survival Knife

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Dan’s son, John Dennehy, has a custom leather operation in Loveland, Colorado, and makes some knives of his own design. He is currently offering for sale a small number of his father’s knives, and his web-site has more information on Dan Dennehy.

12 Sep 2010

Robert Waldorf Loveless (January 2, 1929 – September 2, 2010)

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Late period knives, featuring his optional Naked Lady stamp

America’s greatest custom knife maker and most influential designer, Bob Loveless, passed away recently at the age of 81 of lung cancer.

I’ve never owned a Loveless knife.

I called Bob Loveless once about 20 years ago and asked to purchase his catalogue. He offered to send me one, but assured me it was basically pointless. His waiting list was somewhere beyond 6 years. He charged (at that time) a cool $100 an inch for a knife, and there was an extra charge for a Naked Lady stamp. Both for the frontal and rear versions. I remember asking him if he charged extra not to put that on a knife, and he laughed.

“Most of my customers are rich, vulgar guys, who absolutely love it.” he assured me.

He proceeded to explain that he thought it was a pity that people who actually wanted to use them couldn’t afford to buy them and that the enormous wait made every knife a financial opportunity for the buyer. But he liked making that much money, he conceded.

It was kind of a shame that the excellence of Loveless’s designs propelled within his lifetime his products into a stratospheric world of high-end collecting, but admirers could at least console themselves that Loveless spawned a nearly infinite number of imitators and copies of Loveless patterns could be found by the score, some made by bladesmiths collectible in their own right as well as by mass market cutlery companies.

Like a lot of artists, Bob Loveless was an extremely smart guy and a colorful rascal. He will be missed.

Local LA Times obit

Wall Street Journal article

Wikipedia article

A Loveless dealer website


Bob Loveless, 1974

13 Feb 2006

William F. Moran Dead at Age 80

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William F. Moran, circa 1982
William F. Moran, circa 1982

William F. Moran, a legendary figure in the world of custom knives, died yesterday morning in the hospital at Frederick, Maryland of cancer at the age of 80.

Born in 1925, on a family farm near Lime Kiln, Maryland, Moran began making knives as a ten year old boy working in a smithy on his father’s farm, using discarded tools as his source of steel. By his teenage years, Moran had learned the skills of tempering and heat-treating blades, and his homemade knives had already developed a local reputation for holding an edge.

By WWII, he was dividing his time equally between knife-making and farming, working out of a small shop he built from material salvaged from a ruined silo. Over time, Moran decided that he enjoyed knife-making more than farming, and in 1958, with knife orders piling up, Moran decided to sell the farm, and devote his full time attention to the production of custom knives. Moran built a permanent shop, a one room concrete block building, near Middletown, Maryland. He built his own forge using stones taken from the stone fences on his family farm.

The first (of three) Moran catalogues appeared 1959-1960. 21 different models were offered, including a couple of historical replicas, two kitchen knives, and a carving set. By the mid 1960s, there was a four year waiting list for a Moran knife. By 1972, the waiting list was nine years long, and Moran had stopped accepting down payments. By the early 1980s, there was a twenty year backlog. With the growth of the collecting hobby, the demand for Moran knives grew and grew to the point where Moran recognized that existing orders exceeded the number of knives he could possibly produce in the remainder of his lifetime, and he stopped issuing catalogues or accepting knife orders not much later. Naturally, prices of Moran knives soared to stratospheric levels in the collecting marketplace.

Bill Moran was one of only a handful of custom knifemakers in business before the rise of the modern knife collecting hobby, and he played a key role in bringing about a vast increase in the number of custom knife makers, and the even greater growth of the audience of collectors and connoisseurs needed to support that industry’s expansion. Public awareness of the existence of custom knives really began with articles published in sporting and Gun magazines in the late 1960s. Moran cooperated with the pioneer journalists, granting interviews and supplying photographs. Moran co-founded the American Bladesmith Society in 1976, and served as its chairman for fifteen years. In later years, he devoted much of his time to teaching forging and knife-making to a younger generation of custom makers.

Moran was one of the most important innovators in knifemaking. He was the first modern knifemaker to revive the craft of making Damascus steel blades, circa 1972, and shared his knowledge widely. He emphasized quality, and moved very early to an emphasis on artistic work over utilitarian production. When most makers were resorting to stock removal and stainless steel, Moran stubbornly continued forging his blades of tool steel. It is generally thought the superior sharpness of Moran blades was attributable to his own style of “convex edge.”

In 1986, William F. Moran was inducted into the Knifemakers Hall of Fame.

KnifeForumMoran page at American Bladesmith Society

photo from first catalogue circa 1960
Some of the knives offered in the first Moran catalogue

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