26 Jul

What’s in a knife? Or, figuring out the cost of a hand forged blade.

The past two weeks I’ve been rather busy, working on getting our booth back up to shape for the opening weekend of the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire, spending time with my kids, tidying up my demo area, getting it ready for a few new additions sometime in August, weeding, painting and all that other fun stuff. I also took another custom order and figured I should do it now, before the hustle and bustle influx of orders comes in from the opening weekends. While doing this order I was emailing the client frequently with updates and pictures as I typically do, but it got me thinking about what really goes into one of my knives and how I arrive at price. So here’s a little insight into my process:

  • Steel: $12.50
  • Brass: $3.00
  • Wood: $6
  • Abrasives: $16
  • Adhesives: $2
  • Miscellaneous Materials/ Consumables: $2
  • Fuels (Propane and Coal): $6
  • Leather: $10
  • Total Materials Cost: $57.50

So there’s a rough estimated breakdown of my basic materials bill for this knife. I don’t keep complete track of everything used on each knife, but I’ve made more than my fair share over the years so I feel as though my estimating is just about on. So $57.50 was my total expense, basic retail wisdom would say take it to 300% and you’ve got the price – $172.50, close, but what about my hours?

  • Making the billet: 1 hr
  • Forging to shape: 0.5 hr
  • Profiling and rough grind: 1 hr
  • Heat treating: 5.5 hrs
  • Initial sanding: 2 hrs
  • Final polish and etching: 2 hrs
  • Buffing and sharpening: 0.5 hr
  • Assembly: 2 hrs
  • Leather work: 1 hr

So that’s 15.5 hours. Now, just in case there was some doubt, I’m not located in Pakistan or China, so I can’t live off $0.20 an hour. I’ve been doing this 20 years, and the first few years I’d take a rough estimate of my materials and double the cost to arrive at my price, it was good for making my bones, but $3.70 an hour is not exactly a way to support a family, but for the first few years as you’re establishing yourself and your skills, it’s faire. As I wrote earlier, most retail markup is 300%, but that markup only comes to around $7.42 an hour; decent for a teenagers summer job or a weekend hobbyist, but again, not for supporting a family. $15 an hour would seem fair for a skilled artist hand making a unique one of a kind blade, but the truth is, I actually come in a little lower than that at $12. I’m not out to make a killing on my knives, I’m out to make a living. Sure, I could charge $15 an hour and sell this knife for $290, but instead I’m selling it for $244. Why? Well, I know my skills, I know where they’re going to improve. In the future my materials will go up, as will my cost for labor, in 15 years even $20 an hour probably wont cut it, that’s just inflation. As of this moment however, the way I look at it is that if I want to make more an hour then I need to become more efficient and better at what I do, or even make more than one knife at a time which I often do. When estimating, I can also use this to arrive at a general price for a custom piece, provided I’m using similar materials or nothing too exotic – to do this, I simply take the length of the piece and divide it by my price to arrive at $25.70 an inch and while not perfect, and probably more in the customers favor than my own, it’s a good way to arrive at a price when giving a quote to a customer.  There’s a lot of little variables that can come into play, but I hope this helps to understand a little more of what goes into making a custom knife and how I arrive at my prices.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *