Custom Folding Knives
By David Darom
Hardcover: 256 pages
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
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
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.
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.