I started making knives for the leather trade as the result of a happy accident. Donn Frederick, a friend and local saddle maker, had me make him a head knife nearly 20 years ago. I hadn't considered making another one until three years ago, when Donn had John Willemsma come up from Oklahoma to teach a class on saddle making. John's head knife was out of reach so he asked to borrow Donn's knife, the one that I made. After a full day's worth of cutting, he asked Donn where he got the knife, as it was still as sharp as when he started. Donn brought John and the rest of the class to my home, and John proceeded to tell me in no uncertain terms that I needed to start making head knives, as he felt I really had something special. John and the entire class all ordered knives that day!
Not too long after that, I met Bob Klenda, also at Donn's, and after discussing leather knives, Bob ordered a special shaped head knife from me. He has since stated that out of all his tools, that knife stands out as his favorite!
So, I got to work and started making head knives, experimenting, and trying different techniques until I was confident in the consistency and quality of my work. Thank you Donn, John and Bob for showing me the right road; the journey is just starting!
My leather knives are made from either ATS-34 or CPM154CM. Both of these steels are high carbon stainless steels, containing 1% or more carbon in their alloys. The blades are heat treated to a hardness of around RC-60. Both of these steels are designed to perform well and hold up at that hardness without chipping or rolling the edge. Being stainless, the knives will never dull due to rusting along the edge. Blades are full tang construction that runs the entire length of the knife; the blade will never 'twist out' or loosen from the handle.
I use cocobolo for the handles with a brass bolster, which I've always felt are an attractive combination. The combination also adds a satisfying 'heft' to the knife which aids in control.
I have worked hard to develop the right edge geometry for these knives; all the head knives have a tapered, convex, or 'apple seed' edge to them. The straight or trim knives are either flat or hollow ground but with a slight convex grind at the edge. All of my experimenting has proved to me that leather yields best to a convex edge.
One can maintain a very sharp edge on these knives for a long time if stropped or buffed with Brownell's 555 black buffing compound (never use the reds or browns as these are not intended for steel!). The time saved from having to hone frequently will be significant over the life of these tools.
The blade shapes shown are my current, standard models but most custom shapes are welcome and will be made to order.