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Book Review - Art and Design in Modern Custom Folding Knives

by Tim McCreight - © Metalsmith Magazine - 2004
Custom Folding Knives
By David Darom
Hardcover: 256 pages

This book is not only very good, it is important. In the introduction, author David Darom, who is a marine biologist, photographer and collector of knives, describes becoming aware of a gap between the exquisite work he saw in shows and a general perception of folding knives primarily as practical tools. As a successful author of 20 books on a wide range of subjects, Darom took what was for him a logical route to close this gap; he made a showcase book to exhibit what he calls a Hall of Fame of leading knifemakers.

The author's sense of mission permeates the book, and it bubbles with the energy of an enthusiastic and knowledgeable collector eager to share his discoveries. Darom features 22 artists, in each case showing the construction of a particular knife and offering a gallery of other pieces and a personal statement by the artist. This first tier of designers is augmented with nine additional knifemakers, each presenting a short biography and abbreviated gallery.

The fine collection of contemporary work is preceded by seven essays that set the stage for the examples that follow, covering topics as diverse as the art of collecting and technical notes on engraving, anodizing, and scrimshaw. Of particular value is the description of Mosaic Damascus by Steve Schwarzer. This relatively new process combines the tradition of canemaking used to create millefiori glass with high technology powdered steel metallurgy to create complex patterns in decorative forge welded steel.

Art and Design in Modern Custom Folding Knives

The book is lushly illustrated altogether there are nearly 300 photographs of knives and the techniques used to create them. Acknowledging the familiar dilemma of how to show several views of a three dimensional object (like both sides of a knife), Darom has used computer manipulation to create hybrid photographs that seamlessly blend several views of a single knife into one image. What appears at first glance to be a photograph of several similar knives lying side by side, turns out to be an image depicting the opened, closed, and detailed views of one knife. Although initially unsettling, the benefits of this surreal presentation are hard to deny, since seeing an entire knife and a close detail simultaneously is thrilling.

All this makes Custom Folding Knives a good book, but what makes it important? Handmade knives and the artists who make them have long labored under a Good Ole Boy stereotype that binds them to gun shows, paramilitary catalogs, and hobbycraft technology. This book does not argue against these bridling limitations it shatters them completely. From elegant engravings to Mardi Gras colors, to intricate Mosaic Damascus figures, these knives astound us. Who could have guessed that in studios around the world, talented men and women are making folding knives whose vitality, craftsmanship, and artistry are on a par with our finest jewelry and watchmaking? Well, David Darom knew, and lucky for us, he did something about it.

Art and Design in Modern Custom Folding Knives

Tim McCreight, a professor of metalsmithing and jewelry at Maine College of Art in Portland, is the author of 11 books on metalwork, and president of Brynmorgen Press.


In association with SNAG's

Metalsmith magazine, founded in 1980, is an award winning publication and the only magazine in America devoted to the metal arts.

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