A KnifeCenter Exclusive
By Dexter Ewing, KnifeCenter Product Reviewer
Chris Reeve is one of knifemaking's most in demand custom makers. He is widely known for his well engineered field-grade fixed blades and the Sebenza, a side lock folder that sports a unique locking mechanism, that round out what is known as the complete line of Chris Reeve one-piece knives. This native of Durban, South Africa, has been making knives since 1975. In 1984, Reeve became a full time knifemaker. Five years later, he made a decision that had a profound impact on his chosen career as a full time maker. Reeve packed everything he owned and left his homeland for the United States, where the technology and information there could lend him a considerable "edge" to his knifemaking skills. Prior to leaving South Africa, he gained 13 years of experience under his belt working as a tool and die maker. It is no doubt that the various skills and assorted tidbits of knowledge he learned through this experience has helped him to produce knives that are a pure joy to own and use.
Today, Chris Reeve Knives is a small operation with specially trained people working diligently to breathe life into his designs. Reeve guarantees each and every knife that leaves his Boise, Idaho shop to be free of defects. Reeve's dedication to his craft does not end with the final sale of his knives. For the original owners of his knives, Reeve will regrind and sharpen the blades as well as re-apply a fresh coating of Kalgard (r) to the fixed blades. Each of these services are performed for a nominal fee. Reeve's customers can subject their knives to hard use, and at the same time keep them in a like-new condition. This way, the knives can retain their full collector's value.
A great deal of people who purchase custom knives say that personal dealings with the maker are equally important as the quality of the products he produces. Reeve is truly a gentleman in his own right. I was able to catch up with him at the Southeastern Custom Knife Show (September 6 and 7, 1997) in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where he invited me to sit with him for a while at his table. It was during this time that I was a witness to Reeve's easy going , cordial manner. Greeting all who stopped by with a warm smile, he answered each and every question asked of him thoroughly. Combine his friendly ways with the exceptional knives he produces, and you truly have the "Superman of knifemaking".
KCI: What were the reasons for relocating your knifemaking operation to the United States?
CR: The United States is the Land of opportunity, the greatest in the world. Also, the ease of shipment of my products from the States to anywhere in the world, for not a lot of money.
KCI: How many people do you have working for you?
CR: Seven. I taught the guys to grind blades, making them to my specs. I take care of the business end.
KCI: What served as your inspiration for designing integral fixed blades and folders?
CR: The inspiration came from my time in South West Africa, now called Namibia, back in 1976. I made a wooden handled, stick tang knife. The handle shrunk. I wanted a knife that would serve infantrymen in the field. For the inspiration for the Sebenzas, that came from developing a reputations for super-strong fixed blades. I had to uphold the theme [of integral knives]. After seeing my first liner lock (r), I liked the principle. The Sebenzas worked out to be more successful than I dreamed of.
KCI: When you were learning to make knives, which makers greatly influenced you?
CR: Ted Dowell, Jimmy Lile, and George Herron. The reason for Ted Dowell and Jimmy Lile is the way they made integrals impressed me. The reason for George Herron is the simplicity and cleanliness of the design of his knives.
KCI: What is a typical day like in your shop?
CR: (Smiles) Hectic. The phone is constantly going off, I'm basically "putting out fires". I'm kind of like a general manager - make sure the guys have the right tools and make the right knives at the right time.
KCI: You are now using BG-42 for the Sebenza's blade. What advantages does BG-42 have over ATS-34?
CR: There are two advantages. 1) It has 1.2% Vanadium. That refines the grain structure a lot and increases toughness which means higher readings on the Rockwell scale of 60-61. ATS-34 has 58-60 hardness. 2) [BG-42] is a VIM-VAR (Vacuum Induction Melted and Vacuum Arc Remelt) steel. This is done in order to make the material as clean as possible because [BG-42] is sold to the aerospace industry as bearings. BG-42 has been around for a long time, Ted Dowell used it for years. It was available in round bar at first, but now is available in flat bar.
KCI: Was the recent price increase of the Sebenza reflective of the use of the new blade steel?
CR: No. It reflects the demand of the knife [by the consumers]. Right now, we are eight to nine months back ordered.
KCI: With the Decorated Sebenzas, I once read that no two handle design patterns are the same. Where do you get inspiration for the patterns?
CR: (Throws hands up in the air and smiles) It comes! It's hard to say where it comes from. I get an idea and make a cut [into the handle], then I will get another idea and make another cut. It's spontaneous. Makes it interesting for the customer and us. We change [the patterns] all one way or another.
KCI: Are there any new designs planned for your line of fixed blades?
CR: There is a knife that RFG sells called the Hog Stick (a knife exclusively made for RFG Safe and Knife - KCI.). There is also a similar knife to that with a 5 1/2" blade towards the end of the year. The knife will have an oriental influence to it - blade shape is tanto-style.
KCI: What aspects do you particularly enjoy about being a knifemaker?
CR: I make a good product that somebody buys because they like the product, not that they have to. They buy [the knives] because they really like the instrument. Knifemakers themselves are a first class bunch of people. I am able to use my imagination and design ability to produce what I want to produce, not that I have to produce. I'm a very independent person, I like to do my own thing.
KCI: What advice can you share with aspiring makers?
CR: Go to the local hardware store and buy the biggest pot of elbow grease, because you are going to need it the rest of your life! Be original - don't copy other people.
The KnifeCenter thanks Mr. Reeve and Mr.Ewing for this interview.