Custom Knife Design - Basic Concepts

Custom Knife Design - Basic Concepts

Custom Knife Design

In this Blog we talk about the basic concepts of custom knife design.  We discuss the design “norms” that Dan L. Peterson, Master Smith describes in a presentation to the American Bladesmith Society.  He starts by saying there are no rules but rather norms and general agreement on design.  He talks about line, parallelism, convergence, divergence, symmetry, proportion, patterns, and contrast.  We also looked up Walter Sorrells to see what he said about design.  He takes a practical approach and considers function, price point, category, size, materials, features, and manufacturing the knife.  We then looked into online resources that assist with design and identified Knifeprint. Here is a discussion of each of these. 

Dan L. Peterson starts by stating the difference between a knife as a functioning tool versus a piece of art is the intention of the maker.  Over the centuries there appears to be a set of norms that have dominated knifemaking but, he stresses there are no rules only guidelines.  Here is a synopsis of the “norms”.  See this link for photo examples

Line - A line is what connects two points but a line can be straight or curved. How the line changes affects our emotional reactions to the object. Curves often are more pleasing to the eye than straight lines. Abrupt changes in a line draw the individual’s attention to that place on the line. Many knifemakers and collectors may describe a blade as having “nice lines”.

Parallelism - Parallel lines are often more pleasing to the eye than those that converge or diverge. Most knives have parallel features. The ricasso is usually parallel to the spine. Butt caps are usually parallel to the guard or hilt. The edge and spine are often parallel to each other for some portion of the blade’s length.

Convergence - Lines that come together are more pleasing than lines that diverge. Most knives end in a tip where the lines of the blade converge. A pattern in Damascus that appears to get smaller as it moves towards the tip is common and provides a pleasing effect.

Divergence - From any reference point blade lines can either diverge or converge. Lines that diverge are more difficult to use successfully and achieve a pleasing-to-the-eye effect. 

Symmetry - Symmetry is a combined effect and usually encompasses multiple lines or sections. Often symmetry relates to the parallel aspects of two halves or sections of an object. At its simplest, it helps us see an object with its parts. For example, a handle can be symmetrical with the blade or not. A good way to think about symmetry is to think of the concept of balance.

Proportion – Proportion can be described as an aspect of symmetry. In knives, think of proportion in relationship to the size of the blade versus the size of the handle or the size of the guard with the size of the blade.

Patterns - Patterns that repeat are often more pleasing to the eye than those that are random. Patterns that change in organized discernible ways are more acceptable than those that do not. The visual repetition of the pattern is more pleasing than random cuts.

Contrast - Certain features of a knife can be used to accentuate and strengthen a piece. The maker can use texture, color, a reflection of light, and other features to make a statement. For example, an ivory handle set between a deep-blued guard and buttcap uses contrast to accentuate a dynamic relationship in those parts of the knife.

Dan concludes by advising – “Understand these norms and then manipulate them or deviate from them. That is the first step in creating intentional art.”

In his video “Thoughts on Knife Design,” Walter Sorrells describes the process he went through to design his custom Luna Neck Knife.  He wanted a functional knife, he could sell at a reasonable price and was not hard to make. Therefore, the design needed to fulfill these requirements. He does all of his designs on his computer.

He discusses the category, function, price point, size, materials, features, and manufacturing of the knife

Category  – Determine the broad type of knife for example will it be a chef, hunting, tactical, bush, skinning, fillet knife, etc.?   

Function – Identify the intended use of the knife it is for everyday carry, kitchen use, hunting, and/or wilderness.  The function will help determine the size and materials.

Price Point – how much will it cost to make and how much is the price?  How much will the customer pay for it?

Size – the size will determine the price point, materials, and how it will be used.  He describes the Luna and keeping it a specific size for function as a Neck Knife and also customer affordability.

Materials – The Luna does not use a handle material rather it has an attractive design on the tang.  As a result, the material cost is lower and the price is lower.  Walter emphasizes that there is a balance between aesthetics and function.  The use of materials is an important consideration and affects size, function, and price point.

Features – Such as drop point, clip point, bolster, guard, etc. all have implications for function, style, and cost. It is also important to consider the type of sheath (leather or Kydex) and how the knife is used.

Manufacturing – When designing a knife consider how it will be made and if the intention is to scale up. The Luna, for example,  is a relatively simple design that is not difficult to scale. The more complex the design the more difficult it will be to make and scale. 

Walter concludes by advising that design is an iterative process and it will need to be worked through several times to be refined and keep getting better.

Walter Sorrells – Thoughts on Knife Design

Finally, let’s talk about Knifeprint. It is an online resource that provides the tools and resources to help automate knife design.  It is a CAD-like Editor, designed specifically for knife making. It allows you to start from scratch or a predesigned template as a starting point.  Revisions can be easily done and saved automatically. Check it out at:

Photo Credit: Ernest Skaar -

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