Sharp Minds: 5 Knife Designers & Their Favorite Knives

Knives and bladed tools are some of our favorite pieces of everyday carry gear. And, in the EDC world, knife fans usually range on the more fanatical side of the spectrum – impulsively collecting dozens, if not hundreds of blades from their favorite designers and brands. What’s even cooler about the industry is that some of its most prolific creators are also its biggest devotees and hobbyists.

Who better to consult about the best blades – both in form and function – than the people who are out there making them for all of us to enjoy? So, we took it upon ourselves to reach out to a handful of the world’s best everyday carry knife makers to discuss with them how they got involved in this centuries-old craft, what knife inspired them to start making blades, and their personal favorite designs on which they’ve ever worked.

Pictured: Chris Reeve Large Sebenza

Chris Reeve

Ask any knife fanatic their top list of everyday carry blades and, 9 times out of 10, you’re going to hear a design that was created by Mr. Chris Reeve. The man, frankly speaking, is a living legend. Having began his journey in a one-car garage in Durban, South Africa, Chris Reeve and his then-wife Anne put everything they had into their business – and it shows. They even uprooted and moved to Boise, Idaho in 1989 to better serve their fans and customers. Now, anyone who owns a Chris Reeve designed knife can count themselves amongst a lucky few, as they are some of the most coveted and high-quality out there.

Note: As Chris Reeve has retired and stepped away from the knife-making industry, these responses were dictated to us via Anne Reeve – Chris Reeve’s ex-wife and current show-runner at Chris Reeve Knives.

What got you into knife making/designing in the first place?

Chris did an apprenticeship at a Tool and Die Maker in his native South Africa.  All young South African men were required to do periods of military service and he knew a knife would be a useful part of his kit.  However, on his apprentice salary, the Puma White Hunter the he admired was beyond his pocket book.  So he made his version of one.  This was in the early 1970’s and custom knives were gaining momentum in the USA.  He was particularly taken by the work of Jimmy Lisle and Ted Dowell and their integral fixed blades were very influential in his designs.

What is your all-time favorite knife and/or the knife that first got you interested in the craft?

Really difficult to answer an all-time favorite – as mentioned, Jimmy Lisle and Ted Dowell were important influences and he admired all their work, not just the integrals.  He also loved the work of Bob Lum and has worked closely with Bill Harsey.  Chris’s enjoyment of knives spans from complex art pieces to simple, elegant shapes like the Sebenza and Mnandi.  For his own knives, he continually pushed his designs to bring more efficient manufacturing and higher performance, evidenced in the Inkosi.

What is your personal favorite design on which you’ve ever worked?

I don’t believe Chris has one.  I think during the design phase of any knife he ever made, he loved it and hated it according to how it was challenging his ability.

Carry: Chris Reeve Knives

Pictured: Zero Tolerance 0920

Les George

Though he credits much of his brilliance in knife-making to having learned from Stan Fujisaka of Kaneohe, Hawaii, we’re pretty sure that Les George has plenty of creativity and innovation to offer, himself. In fact, it’s evident in his work. This humble smith has been crafting killer blades since 1992, during which time he also spend over a decade United States Marine Corps – working as a heavy equipment mechanic, an Embassy Guard in foreign lands, and a Senior Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician. And he brings much of his unique experience and point of view into his craft – as evidenced in both his fixed-blade and folder-style knives.

What got you into knife making/designing in the first place?

I started making knives as a 12 year old kid, when my parents would not let me extend my knife collection to include the Buck 119 fixed blade.  To be fair, I already had dozens of knives…

I saw a book about making knives in the library and asked my parents if I could make my own knives.  They didn’t think anything would come of it, so they gave me the go ahead.

What is your all-time favorite knife and/or the knife that first got you interested in the craft?

I love daggers most of all.  My favorite dagger is the M1918 Trench knife from the tail end of WW1.  It’s not good but for one thing, and you pick it up and it just feels right.  Makes you want to punch and stab stuff!

What is your personal favorite design on which you’ve ever worked?

As a designer working with other companies, my favorite fixed blade is the V14 Dagger that I designed for Spartan Blades.  As much as I love my dagger, folding knives are where I make my living and they are a far more useful thing in these days. My favorite folder design is the Zero Tolerance 0920.  Currently in my custom line up, the Sicario is my favorite.

Carry: George Knives

Pictured: Zero Tolerance 0220

Jens Anso

Based out of the windswept no-mans-land that is rural Denmark, industrial designer and knife maker Jens Anso is a renaissance man in just about every sense of the word. He has collaborated with a number of the world’s top knife brands – including Zero Tolerance, Spyderco, Boker, and even works alongside fellow maker, Jesper Voxnaes, at GiantMouse – and his designs hinge on the creation of simple, purpose-driven products. From keychain carabiners, to card carriers and wallets, to knives (of course) – this master craftsman can do it all.

What got you into knife making/designing in the first place?

I started making knives in 1989 and have been full time maker since 2001. Before that I studied Industrial Design and now hold a Masters Degree in same.

As a kid maybe 6-years old I received a big box of Popular Mechanics magazines from my dad. They were from 1949-1953 when my dad was a young boy… In one of them an article about knife making by Bo Randall spiked my interest. It wasn’t until I was 16 I made the first, though.

What is your all-time favorite knife and/or the knife that first got you interested in the craft?

The Bo Randall model 1-7 was the one knife that inspired me to begin making.

What is your personal favorite design on which you’ve ever worked?

My favorite design is usually the one I am working on right now. I try to push myself with every design I make and the NEO that I am currently making is a good example of that. With this design I really pushed myself into trying new technics and methods while designing and making.

Carry: Anso of Denmark

Pictured: CRKT Pilar

Jesper Voxnaes

Another master knife designer out of Denmark, Jesper Voxnaes has a distinct, minimalist, Nordic-inspired style that lends itself especially well to everyday carry knives. And while he’s an active solo designer and collaborates with major brands – such as CRKT, Boker, and Fox – he’s also one of the show-runners over at GiantMouse. There, he gets to collaborate with fellow Dane, Jens Anso, where together they have complete creative control over the products they craft. And that’s a very good thing, as all of their creations are superb.

What got you into knife making/designing in the first place?

Knives have always been part of my life and I was gifted my first fixed-blade at the age 5. I never went without a blade since then and I quickly started making my own. I think some of us makers/designers do not have a choice; this is who we are, simple as that. I have made knives for real since I was about 13 and it was never to get paid; I simply had to create these tools! Working with the production companies came later and has in many ways changed my path from knife-maker to knife-designer.

What is your all-time favorite knife and/or the knife that first got you interested in the craft?

Being Scandinavian, I started out with the more traditional Nordic knife designs but pretty fast started mixing the American “style” into my designs. I really do not have a special knife that got me hooked.

What is your personal favorite design on which you’ve ever worked?

My favorite design is almost always the one I’m working on at the moment. When I work on a custom design for my own line or the GiantMouse company, I make it just the way I want and that makes that knife my current favorite. Then the next idea pops up and its on to the next “favorite.”

Carry: Vox Knives

Pictured: The Chapter Ti + Stainless Serrated

Ryan Coulter

For those who are unaware, The James Brand is an emerging everyday carry brand you should definitely be keeping your eyes upon. This group of adventurers and designers set off with the goal of creating slick minimal pieces of gear without compromising quality in any way, shape, or form. And, in many ways, that starts with the designs of Ryan Coulter. Visionary in his creations, he and his brand offer an entire catalog of superior everyday carry folders that range from the slick and modern to the nostalgic and simple – all of which are exemplary in both their form and function.

What got you into knife making/designing in the first place?

I had always carried knives since I was a kid. I still remember my Dad giving me a 3-bladed Case that was a gift to him from his job.  He worked in the coal mines of Southern Illinois.  Getting that from him was a big deal.  I was also a Boy Scout and always used knives in that experience, so I have always been into knives.  More recently, I was having a hard time finding EDC knives that I really liked.  I felt like everything was big, overbuilt, and not very refined from a design perspective.  I’m a designer and creative director, so design and the entire brand and product experience is very important to me.  Basically, I couldn’t find the knife, or the knife brand, that really spoke to me, so I decided to gather up some friends and start making what I was looking for.  The hope was that there would be other people out there like me who felt the same way.

What is your all-time favorite knife and/or the knife that first got you interested in the craft?

It’s hard to argue with the Victorinox Swiss Army Tinker.  It’s such a nice blend between being a pocket knife (in form and size) and being a tool.  It’s really handy to have a flat-head and Phillips screwdriver around.  It’s also got some questionable stuff, like an awl and that pen-knife blade, that you could do without, but it’s a very handy knife to have around and it’s so approachable and available.  It’s not scary or tactical.  It’s just something you can slip in your pocket, leave in your purse (like my Mom does), or keep in your car and you end up using it all the time.  To me, it’s a really nice example of true EDC functionality and form.

What is your personal favorite design on which you’ve ever worked?

The Chapter is still my favorite.  It was based on something that I used to carry that wasn’t quite right.  I love Titanium and I love the simplicity of the form of frame-lock designs.  We were trying to reduce the part count to the bare minimum and make the form as simple as it could be.  It’s small and I like that about it.  There are about 10 things that I’d like to do with it now that I’ve been carrying it for the last couple of years.  That was truly the knife I wanted to carry every day.

Carry: The James Brand

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