Though the craft of knife making dates back centuries – even before recorded time – there is still a stigma associating these items with violence. And that’s a stigma we, as active members of the everyday carry community, actively disagree with. Knives are, first and foremost, tools whose usefulness has helped shape society as we know it. In fact, fossil evidence seems to support that the knife (or at least a bladed rock precursor) is mankind’s oldest tool and helped to separate our species from the animal kingdom.
In the modern era, technology has made knife making a much easier endeavor to embark upon, so it takes a good amount of creativity and vision to stand out nowadays. Thankfully, the community offers a good balance of both competition and collaboration, producing a number of designers that are as prolific in their own endeavors as they are supportive of one another. With the industry at its technological peak and the craft staying true to its historical roots whilst still moving forward by leaps and bounds, the following 18 knife designers are, in our humble opinion, the best in the world.
Working primarily out of a small shop in Denmark, Jens Anso is a knife maker and industrial designer behind a number of impressive everyday carry tools. And while he offers many of those items under his own brand, Anso Knives, he’s also collaborated with numerous big names in the industry – such as Zero Tolerance, Triple Aught Design, and he runs a collaboration with fellow knifemaker Jesper Voxnaes (called GiantMouse). All in all, Anso’s designs are straightforward and clean without being simplistic or boring. And everything he produces can be depended upon to be tough and functional, even through heavy use.
While you’d be hard-pressed to get your hands on any of his knives, as the ones already out there are so highly coveted and he’s not presently taking new orders, count yourself as extremely lucky if you do. This steel fabricator/welder/inspector turned knife maker has been making quality knives since 1997. In fact, in 2002, he won both “Best Amateur Knife” award and “Best Folding Blade” award at the Knife Expo in Southern California. Using advanced techniques – such as cryogenic treatments, press quenching, and triple tempering – his beautiful work is well worth the price.
Having passed in September of 2014, Kit Carson may no longer be with us, but his contributions to the knife making world still live on today. This Master Sergeant out of Vine Grove, Kentucky made knives for 30 years – going full time in 1993 and subsequently becoming a voting member of the Knifemakers’ Guild. His specialty was in creating tactical style folding knives, the most popular of which (the M16 series) is still sold by the Columbia River Knife & Tool company today. In fact, that very series was named one of the “Top 10 Factory Tactical Folders of the Decade” by Blade magazine. Though he will continue to be missed, Kit Carson and his designs will not be forgotten.
Ernest Emerson first gained notoriety as one of the most highly respected and sought-after hand-to-hand combat instructors. And it was that experience paired with his background in machine shop craftsmanship and working as a tool and die maker that led him to design and produce his first custom knife in 1979. He has since maintained a level of expertise in all these fields that puts him in an elite class nearly unmatched, even amongst his peers. And, one of the added benefits of picking up an Emerson knife, is that they’re all made in the USA.
Working with brands like Zero Tolerance, Spartan Knives, and Pro-Tech, Les George has an impressive variety to his catalog of knives. Marked by a peppering of tactical fixed blades amongst an array of folders, this craftsman’s exceptional array is a culmination and synthesis of his 10 years in the Marines – working as a heavy equipment mechanic, Senior Explosive Ordinance Disposal Technician, amongst others – and over two decades of knife making. And while he isn’t presently taking custom orders, you can still get your hands on his collaborations from their respective retailers.
While you may not know him by name, if you’re active in the world of EDC, you’re familiar with his brand. Spyderco is irrefutably one of the best knife making brands of all time and that is thanks, in large part, to the contributions of their show-runner and founder, Sal Glesser. So prolific in his work, this master craftsman was inducted into the Blade Magazine Cutlery Hall of Fame in 2000. And with designs like Spyderco’s Paramilitary, Grasshopper, Delica, and Ladybug and a number of knife design patents, it’s no wonder he is so hugely respected in the industry.
One of the most well-known names in the knife making business for a reason, Rick Hinderer got his start making knives out of a tiny turkey coop in the mid-1980s. And, like many of his elite peers, much of his inspiration comes from his real world experience. Though he started out crafting art knives, Hinderer shifted his style to more functional and tactical designs that would be useful for first responders – as he worked as both an EMT and Fire Fighter. While he has a number of excellent options under his own brand, he is also responsible for collaborating with Kershaw knives on several designs, including the much lauded Cryo series.
Though he credits much of his style and inspiration to Bob Loveless and the Randall family, Tom Mayo’s knives very much stand on their own. And not just visually, but in regards to quality of materials and construction as well. And he is so confident in his craftsmanship that he guarantees all of his work against defects – save for the behavior of natural materials that he cannot control. Working out of Waialua, Hawaii, Tom Mayo has been making knives since 1981 – now specializing in advanced materials like Crucible’s line of CPM steels – and has been featured in several of the top industry publications.
Another case where his designs are more well known than his name, Mel Pardue collaborated with Benchmade to create what some claim to be the best EDC pocket folder of all time, the Griptilian. And having a hand in the creation of that series of knives is reason enough to include his name on this list. But he also offers extremely high-end knives on his own site and specializes in pocket folders made with Damascus steel. Working out of Repton, Alabama, Mr. Pardue’s lineup is truly one of the greatest.
One of the most prolific knife makers to ever grace this Earth, Ken Onion holds the distinction of being the youngest inductee into the Blade Magazine Hall of Fame. And while you may be familiar with his work with both Kershaw – for whom he designed the exceptional Leek pocket folder – or Columbia River Knife & Tool – for whom he designed a proprietary “tool-less field-strippable” pocket folder amongst a slew of other worthwhile designs – you may not know that he also has a line of sharpeners and award-winning kitchen knives. Whichever way you slice it, Ken Onion has earned his place amongst the best of the best.
To illustrate why Warren Osborne deserves a spot at the top of the knife making industry, we think it’s important that you know that the Benchmade knife company offers 75 different versions of blades with the Osborne Designs name attached. And each and every one of them are worth carrying. But it isn’t just his contractual work that makes Mr. Osborne a contender, as he also makes beautiful high-end custom knives built with the inclusion of rare and precious materials. He also prides himself on the fact that he hand-finishes all of his custom knives, just as he always has. It is this uncompromising dedication to quality and design that makes Osborne’s knives so special.
Setting the bar for versatility, A.G. Russell likely has the most varied catalog of offerings of any other knife maker on this list. He, his wife Goldie (who is a knife expert in her own right), and their company offer everything from tactical folders, to multi-blade hunting knives, to military style fixed blades, to kitchen cutlery, and everything in-between. And they are proud of their work and the industry in which they are firmly rooted. In fact, A.G. himself still likes to man the showroom floor of their Arkansas facility and encourages any customers, fans, and aficionados alike to come by and have a chat with him whenever they can.
Getting a modest start out of a one car garage in Durban, South Africa, Chris Reeve is another knife designer who started out as a tool and die maker. Though the road was a rocky one, this knife maker persevered through difficult times – alongside his wife, Anne – to become one of the most highly respected designers of all time. In fact, his Sebenza knives are widely considered to be the utmost in both quality and character in the EDC knife world and top many a “best of” list. Now working out of Boise, Idaho, Chris Reeve was inducted into the Cutlery Hall of Fame in 2015 – a well-deserved honor.
With a distinctive style that leans toward curved-handled pocket folders made with high quality corrosion-resistant stainless steels, titanium, and modern laminates, Dmitry Sinkevich’s blades stand out as both refreshing and unique without being too bizarre or impractical to carry every day. In fact, he is responsible for collaborating on the design of the award-winning Zero Tolerance 0454 and the updated 0450 that’s one of our favorite EDC pocket folders right now. And his prowess isn’t strictly limited to his own work, as he has been known to custom modify blades from Spyderco, Fallkniven, and Benchmade – amongst others.
Though he classifies himself as “head shop monkey” at Southard Knives and Tools LLC, we have yet to see a primate with the kind of skills exemplified in Brad Southard’s work. In case you are not familiar, he collaborated with Spyderco on their superb C156, which was the brand’s first flipper knife. Knowing that the likes of Sal Glesser worked alongside Mr. Southard to produce a knife under his own brand should speak monuments to the quality of Brad’s designs and workmanship and absolutely ranks him amongst the upper echelon of knife designers.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, Mr. Terzuola started making knives in 1979 – just two years before an endorsement from Bob Loveless garnered his entry into the Knifemakers’ Guild. Observing a need in the industry for easily and discreetly carried knives, he both pioneered the style of and coined the term “tactical folder.” And he quite literally wrote the book on them. Bob Terzuola’s original designs are still referenced by modern knife makers and he’s still active as an authority in the industry.
A maven not just of knife making, but of industrial design as well, Jesper Voxnaes has been designing edged tools for over 20 years. And he has collaborated with a number of top industry names, such as Jens Anso (the pair have a knife produced by Spyderco and they also run GiantMouse together), Lucas Burnley, and Mike Bond. He has also designed a series of kitchen knives that are currently sold under the Boker brand name. And that’s really only the tip of the iceberg for this prolific craftsman, as his work continues to improve from project to project.
We would be remiss in our duty if we did not include Michael Walker on this list, as one of his creations helped shape the knife and everyday carry world as we know it. Mr. Walker is responsible for the creation, refinement, and popularization of the Linerlock – which he trademarked in 1990. And that’s just one of his many contributions to the knife making world. In fact, this Taos, New Mexico-based designer has patented and/or trademarked over 20 different knife mechanisms, is a voting member of the Knifemakers’ Guild, and was inducted into the Blade Magazine Cutlery Hall of Fame in 2004.
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