What do you consider "proprietary"?

Discussion in 'Knife Maker Shop Talk' started by Smallshop, Feb 16, 2017.

  1. Smallshop

    Smallshop KNIFE MAKER

    What information in your shop is proprietary?

    If you put much time into a method that sets your work far apart from others, do you share it?

    I know on this site there is MUCHO free information. But at what point do you keep something private that you have spent great personal cost to develop. Some of the knives I see on this forum seem to be a cut above the norm. And by looking at them I think there are some amazing techniques that, while I would never ask, had quite a development process. We would most likely call that "craftsmanship" but it goes deeper than that. There is an inventiveness that goes along with any high degree of craftsmanship.

    When I worked in product development we had to sign non disclosure agreements for EVERYTHING...from products them selves to mechanisms, materials used in a new way, fabrication processes, etc. They would not even tell me the flagship product they were developing until I signed on....:what!:

    I think some of the ingenious guys here must sit on some techniques? It's one thing to share good solid info in general....but what about the stuff that gives your product its personality?

    The guilds of old Europe kept a lid on the local knowledge...and we all know about how tightly held the recipe for Damascus steel was in good old Syria....

    I'm thinking that as a guy's skill level gets into Artiste territory he most likely has a few trade secrets?
  2. Doug Lester

    Doug Lester Well-Known Member

    I think that it's kind of hard to claim any "proprietary" methods in knifemaking, though there are those who try. I can think of one person out there whom I won't name because first I can't remember it and second he's very litigious who claims all sorts of things that have been practiced for centuries and/or run contrary to the science of metallurgy. Of course there is no rule that if I used 52100 to make blades with or how I heat treated this somewhat tricky steel that I have to say so.

    There was one maker who developed a method of producing a blade with a bainite spine and a martensite edge. In a post he explained that he wasn't going to post the method on a web site because he had spent many hours perfecting the method. He wasn't opposed to other people using it, or spending the time to research and develop the method for themselves, he just felt if someone wanted the technique from him they could do him the courtesy of making arrangements to come to his shop and and letting him show them the method. Other than that there is not much about knife making that's new under the sun.

  3. EdCaffreyMS

    EdCaffreyMS Forum Owner - Moderator

    I saw this thread yesterday, and took some time to consider it before responding.

    I started my knifemaking career during what I call "The Dark Years"... when EVERYTHING was a "secret". Knifemakers did not communicate with each other, and it was considered offensive to ask any accomplished knifemaker anything. I can't count the number of times I was told "That's a secret!" or "I can't tell you that!"

    One instance that shaped me was.... when I first started, I called a well known Bladesmith with a simple question of "What type of solder should I use?" His response was... "You'll have to come to my shop to get that information." and after a brief pause stated... "But it will cost you $500 per day to come to my shop." At that time I was still rolling up pennies to buy milk for my baby girl.... it might as well have been a million dollars a day! Many years later, that same individual walked up to me when I achieved my MS rating, and whispered in my ear "We've been waiting for you." Obviously he had forgotten his past, but I had not. That incident, along with many similar ones, made me who I am, and gave me the feelings/attitude I have towards sharing information.....that being, I have no secrets!

    I'm likely gona make some hackles raise with this thread! :) NOTHING is proprietary! My personal view is... There are no "Secrets". My feelings are.... if a knifemaker ever says something such as "That's a Secret", or "I can't tell you that", just tell them to have a nice day, and walk away. Those are the people who.... 1. Are afraid of you. 2. Don't have anything on the "back burner", and are concerned that you are going to take something from them. It all boils down to an ego thing, and the one thing that I refuse to tolerate, or deal with, is ego.

    In every single Bladesmithing/Knifemaking situation where I teach. Whether I'm typing here on the forums, talking on the phone, teaching a student in my own shop, or teaching/demonstrating at a hammer-in/gathering, nothing is held back. Bladesmithing/Knifemaking is an exercise in learning, no matter how long you've been doing it.

    What I have come to realize is that no matter how much information I present, I am incapable of relating all the nuances that go along with any given method or technique. What this means is.... no matter what I teach/show an individual, or how many times I do it, there are "little" things that I can try to vocalize and show, but until the individual(s) experiences it for themselves ( often a number of times), it doesn't "click". And when it does "click"...it's going to be a variant of what I specifically do. Two examples are grinding and hand finishing. With grinding I can vocalize and demonstrate till the cows come home, but until an individual actually does it, feels it, hears it, and sees it first hand, most simply cannot grasp all the nuances....it takes time and practice to build the skill. With hand finishing the example is what I call "shadow scratches".... when an individual thinks they are done, but then I look at what they've done is various angles of light, and see tiny/underlying scratches that were missed. Again, it takes time and practice for the individual to develop/understand the nuances. This also applies to any number of methodologies/procedures within knifemaking.

    That situation often exists in modern custom knifemaking too..... but tends to be when a custom maker is dealing with a production entity, such as a factory deal, or other "production" type situations. I'm sure there are similar things that go on in the custom knifemaker realm too, but unless an individual is really insecure, I can't imagine a custom maker requiring anything like a non-disclosure agreement with another maker.

    I'm sure some do, and others THINK they do. (back to the ego thing) Personally I believe I can share anything and everything about what I do, and how I do it. What gives a Knifemaker's product(s) it's personality is the individual maker....not the methods or techniques. I could have 3 different individuals sit over my shoulder on any given project from start to finish, then those individuals could ATTEMPT to replicate what I did, and there will be 3 different/distinct outcomes. There are going to be some slight variances in each, but it's those variances that make one maker's knife readily identifiable from another's.

    And they still do! The first time I ever taught in Europe was a little spooky to me. It was in a shop located about an hour outside of Bitburg, Germay. I was there with a friend/interpreter, and was conducting a weekend "hammer-in" on Mosaic Damascus. The shop was located in the center of the village, and once everyone was inside (about 50 people), all the doors were locked, and all the shutters on the windows were closed. I started wondering if I was in a Criminal Minds episode. :) I had heard they would be somewhat secretive about things, but never realized the depth of it, until I was there. :) Every other teaching experience I've had in Europe has been similar.
    A stark contrast to my experiences in Europe, have been teaching in Canada. Where as in Europe it's all a secret, and the U.S. there is always someone taunting... "That's not the way to do it!", Canadians are wonderful! They are open, genuinely interested in learning, and just a great bunch of people. I've never had a single individual in Canada ever shout out or murmur "That's not the way to do it!" Where as, I've never not had that happen when teaching at any event in the U.S. Coming from a guy who's job for much of his adult life was to kill people and break things (my military career).... I always find it an interesting diversion to see/experience how different countries/cultures act/react in similar situations.

    I think it's just the opposite...at least for me.... I think by the time an individual has had enough time doing it, to obtain a given skill level, he/she realizes just how much more there is to learn, and also realizes that because of the artistry involved, it doesn't matter what's shared.... others simply will be unable to copy the nuances. :) I suppose that, in itself, could be consider arrogance, but for me, when I realized I could do this for a half dozen lifetimes, and still not know it all, it gave me the attitude that if I were to die tomorrow, with an idea in my head, what good was the idea in the first place? In the U.S., we are a culture of competition and ego..... we often times let those things define us, both personally, and in what we do. I've been down that road, and found that I am a much happier, healthier individual when I can minimize the impacts on my life of either. In the end, it's just making a knife. It's what I do, not who I am. :3:
    Last edited: Feb 17, 2017
  4. Sleestack

    Sleestack Well-Known Member

    It's an interesting question.

    I think knifemakers very willing to share information and techniques. At least that's what I've found be the case. Maybe it's true of most craftsman. I can tell you it's certainly true here.

    There are even some patented ideas that they are willing to share. The Hinderer LBS for example or IKBS. Although I think Rick charges a tiny fee for the use of his LBS. Couple cents per knife. And now that I think of it, IKBS may not patented but they do ask that you mark your knife with their logo. But still, anyone can use them.

    Although there are exceptions. Ernie Emerson's wave feature. I believe he was recently granted the patent and no one is allowed to use it.

    BTW, if anyone is interested my technique of stumbling around with fits and starts, making catastrophic mistakes and scraping lots of expensive materials, just let me know. I'll be happy to share.
  5. Mark Behnke

    Mark Behnke Well-Known Member

    Helping others be the best they can be by sharing your knowledge, if they are better at some aspect of the process
    then you have the opportunity to learn from them and we all are better people.

    I am overwhelmed and at a loss for words.

    By far the best outlook I've ever encountered.

    Thank you
  6. EdCaffreyMS

    EdCaffreyMS Forum Owner - Moderator

    That's VERY well said! It reminded me of something else I tell folks who ask me why I'm so willing to share what little I know...... If I teach someone, and they surpass what I'm capable of doing.... then I've accomplished my mission! :)
  7. KenH

    KenH Well-Known Member

    Ed's philosophy is a big reason I hold Ed in such high regard and Ed's statement:
    is so very true. Ed and other great knife makers on this and other forums are not just craftsmen, but true artists.

    I don't post near so often as I read because I'm well aware my store of knowledge of knifemaking is so small compared to the giants of the field here it's normally best for me to read rather than post. There are just too many folks with real knowledge who freely share their knowledge there is no way for me to name Calvin, Ed, Bruce, Frank, Darin, and so many other find folks.

    While it seems creating more knifemakers would make it harder to sell knives, it seems the more knifemakers the more the market opens up and actually creates more business.

    Thank you all for sharing, and Thank Tracy for having such a great forum ya'll can share info, and I can learn.

    Ken H>
  8. CMS3900

    CMS3900 Well-Known Member

    While I might be coming at this from some different angles I find this topic refreshing and interesting.

    My family owns a machine shop, one of the few left in our area that accepts one offs and walk-ins, along with production and prototyping work. The idea of Proprietary information, and to a extent intellectual property, in our shop occasionally comes up. Usually this is when working on prototype work or reverse-engineering parts. It usually involves what was actually purchased, and by extension who has the rights to the drawings that were used to make said part. A lot of people don’t realize that a CAD file used to generate code to CNC a part looks nothing like a fancy civil or mechanical drawing.

    As far as proprietary information outside of that, I find 99% of it totally counterproductive. In more than a few of my hobbies over the years I have run across the “that’s a secret” crowd. Like Ed’s story I have had more than a few of them be willing to sell me their “secret” for a price. Very rarely have I ever come across someone who genuinely had a secret; and usually it’s just acquired wisdom about a particular thing that if you went about figuring it out on your own would be very costly or very difficult due to lack of available information. I find this line of thinking is most often coupled to people that espouse they are doing something they consider a “lost art”. One would think that if they have passion for that “art” they would want it to be continued in future generations. These folks drive me to do the research, put the work in, figure it out, and then give it away to anyone who asks.

    I strongly believe in the ”teach a man to fish” line of thinking. In anything I do, if someone wants to take the time to learn what I know I am more than happy to share. Teaching someone what you know isn’t taking from you. If you teach them everything you know and they take from you then you have stopped learning or striving for a better product yourself. Over the years we have mentored many folks who ended up using what we taught them to earn a living and that’s something my father and I are proud of. None of those folks we would consider “took” something from us.

    I also believe in the “everything under the sun has already been done” line of thinking. Since it was earlier mentioned in this thread, a example to me is a year or so ago I was in bed after looking at folding knives on here and was wondering about frame locks over extending, and basically came up with the Hinderer LBS in my head. The next day I look online for something similar and find it. Everything’s been done, it’s up to the individual doing it to provide uniqueness.

    On a side note I’d like to add one more thing. To expand my personal knowledge of moving hot metal I started visiting another forum, and this forum has very odd rules concerning off site links. They basically operate within the proprietary information of their forums and outside links are considered “driving business to other people”. I find this totally silly, and often not answer posts because I know the BEST information to point the person too is off site. Any quest for knowledge is enhanced when people can freely collaborate, which in turn enhances the community that backs it. KD’s is hands down the best forum I have ever been a part of. I just wish I made more knives to post on here more often.
  9. Smallshop

    Smallshop KNIFE MAKER

    Wow...Just WOW!! Thank you all...and Ed in particular for the thoughtful well articulated advise here!

    As a tool and gage guy, then a production lead man for many years and then manager of a product development design studio I can tell my personal experiences need to be re-examined.

    I will say that Ed has pointed out a division between production and custom makers...."....tends to be when a custom maker is dealing with a production entity, such as a factory deal, or other "production" type situations." reading this I realize many of my questions are more production minded than custom building...though I do not state that....It does feel arrogant for me to say...I want to build thousands of knives that people love and can afford...just writing this makes my ears hot...lol.:eek: But this is more where I want to/should head than becoming a recognized Knife Artist. (that would be neato also!)

    Why is this pertinent to me? I am striving to create methods for building limited-production knives that allow me to survive in a highly competitive arena. So the custom learning I receive here is visionary to me...not how I anticipate making knives for income but definitely something I want to learn for enjoyment...the art side of making. So I would probably tend to not share production techniques that I stumble upon...yet any one off or custom things that I discover (which may never happen ....Lol) I would always be willing to share. There will always be overlap though....I am just thinking out loud here guys...my opinions are subject to change because of the input I get here...bear with me here though. I think I will have to read this thread a bunch to sift the gold...and it is there!

    Many years ago I was foreman in a CNC production shop. My tool and Gage background allowed me to do most of the tooling design in my department (Mill dept). A buyer came in one time to bust us on lousy parts....It was a small housing used on commercial jets to sense changes in angle, altitude, speed, etc. A pretty fussy part. Well, the plant manager called me to his office and asked the buyer to repeat his statement...I answered, "Those are not our parts..." this I knew from how they were fabbed. We showed him my tooling and explained how it worked etc,etc... The job never returned the two other parts that went with it kept coming though. My super was angry as he felt the guy stole the idea (buyers can tend to be souless individuals...'nuff said.) Almost a year later he stomps up to me with a trade magazine in hand and shows me this terrific write up on the shop 8 miles from us (that would place them in this buyers vendor pool....). The article showcased this shops "clever" way of tooling and programming this job and WHY it was done that way...it looked exactly like my tooling/programming and the explanation of why was almost verbatim what I had told the buyer....

    That was the day this shop made new rules for visitors....myself and the super had cost the company MANY thousands of dollars...and peer accolades that DEFINITELY drive business your way. The owners were not at all angry with us but the rules did change...SO 25 years or so ago I had my first experience with IP theft...lol.

    I have trained a number of guys in the trade....two of which have more successful businesses than I....I do love it when you can plant a football in someones hands and watch them run farther and faster than you could...I do indeed understand the joy of multiplying knowledge.

    I also know that development dollars are a huge expense for any company...if your reputation will be based on your particular style, artistry and craftsmanship alone...the nuances spoken about by Ed....then sharing will never be a concern.

    Ed shared a story recently about a small collective of Montana bladesmiths that were developing a method for steel making that was at that time advanced...one fellow shared with a southern maker who claimed the technology and received recognition in a knife magazine....thus robbing talented people of their right to be the ones to share that particular discovery. Had they sat on that info until they were ready to release it to the trade it would have most assuredly added business to their individual companies....rather than causing a rift between Montana and some Southern makers. And still a benefit for the entire community. I'm tossing out thoughts as they occur here so I am not making a valuation of decisions made but just considerations that may weigh in on the collective philosophy...

    The thing to consider is...TIME...you only have so much of it. It is not a moral failure to keep the value of time spent developing something for your companies profit. (this is production talk...mind you. Assisting a legacy craft in growth/advancement is another topic really)

    I don't think anything I'll ever do will be earth shattering in the knife arena.Lol... I have had ideas stolen in the workplace more than once though and had others take credit where perhaps I might have gotten the financial reward...raise/bonus.
    :49: Ever been on a "work team" with a couple guys and one is a slacker...? Yeah...the world is not always fair...lol.:3:

    I agree with about 90% of what has been shared here...but encouraging a shark bite victim to plunge in 'cause.."the water's fine!!" will probably take a while...even though the water IS fine...lol. and once again, trying to produce a production knife is a whole nuther thing than custom....I'm have a blast making some custom stuff with my son....the production end just feels like work...interesting...but work.

    I am very blessed to be able to communicate with so many talented people of high integrity. The talent displayed here on this forum is simply amazing....

    Thank you guys for ALL you do on here...now I'm going back to read your posts again...

    Last edited: Feb 17, 2017
  10. John Wilson

    John Wilson Well-Known Member

    I've been on both side of this issue, too. *not on knives.

    In my career I've solved problems for people only to turn around and find my idea patented by the customer I helped, or seen the sketch I made and faxed to a struggling customer turned into a technical drawing and plastered in a two page article in a trade publication about my customer and his genius solution for yadda yadda yadda. Things like that burn. I don't even care if they had done those things if they had even mentioned me on the patent or in the article they published about themselves. Seriously, you can play the hero but throw me a bone. In my career I've had to sign countless non disclosure agreements, and in all but a handful of cases I was greatly underwhelmed. Then again, I'm the guy who lost out on patents and industry accolades because I thought my solutions were nothing more than a keen grasp of the obvious.

    When it comes to helping people, I truly enjoy it. I like helping people avoid needless pain and suffering. When it comes to knifemaking, the vast majority of what I've learned came from this forum and YouTube, so my feeling on it is "freely gotten, freely give." The rest, as Ed says, is knowledge paid for in sweat equity. I feel like I'm at the point where I am beginning to develop some rudimentary form of my own "style" and that is nothing more that making things look the way I like them to look. That's hardly anything anyone else would want to copy. Aesthetic is personal. Maybe one day I'll be a famous knife maker and people will want to rip me off. I'll still be the guy thinking everything I do is the obvious solution, so count me as one of the guys who will be easy to sneak up on. Until then I'll gladly share everything I know, which basically amounts to "now sand it until it's pretty."
    Last edited: Feb 17, 2017
  11. Smallshop

    Smallshop KNIFE MAKER


    "Then again, I'm the guy who lost out on patents and industry accolades because I thought my solutions were nothing more than a keen grasp of the obvious."

    Very well said....
  12. ARCustomKnives

    ARCustomKnives Well-Known Member

    The only things I really keep to myself are a select few of my own designs that I've spent considerable time, effort, and/or money to develop. A good example is my 2x72 grinder that I recently built. A lot of guys have asked for detailed plans or at the very least the CAD files, but I hesitate to share them as I may decide to make and sell some grinders in the distant future, and honestly, I'm still proofing the design.

    However, if someone asks about a certain feature of my tools, or needs help designing or building their own, I have no problems giving some advice. 99% of everything I know about knife making, tool making, and any other part of this hobby has been given to me (or dug out through research) for free, so why not help others along?
  13. EdCaffreyMS

    EdCaffreyMS Forum Owner - Moderator

    Being "burned" is an ever present possibility, in just about any craft or trade. It's happened to me before, both from those I considered friends, and from former students..... and I suspect it will again at some point. The trick is, don't let it define you, or what you do. Sure, it hurts when it happens, but to quote an old Garth Brooks song...... "I could have missed the pain, but I'd have had to miss the dance.":yes:
  14. John Wilson

    John Wilson Well-Known Member

    Exactly. The two best ways to destroy any amount of enjoyment are to live in fear of being taken advantage of, and to believe that you can/should monetize every breath you take.
  15. ARCustomKnives

    ARCustomKnives Well-Known Member

    I find myself quoting his song "I'm much to young to feel this old" a little more often these days. :biggrin:
  16. EdCaffreyMS

    EdCaffreyMS Forum Owner - Moderator


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
  17. ostrick

    ostrick Member

    I am fortunate to have known two world class knife makers (both deceased). Neither ever hesitated to answer any questions about their craft. Why? Because they didn't feel threatened by a fledgling knife maker, maybe, but I wasn't the only one seeking and receiving their advise. I think it was because these artiest were "comfortable in their own skin". The confidence they had in their abilities surpassed any thought of withholding information that might help a novice advance.
    World class knife makers, you bet! World class individuals, absolutely!
  18. Wayne Bensinger

    Wayne Bensinger Well-Known Member

    Hey guys, lm definitely one who wants to share and agree with what's been said buy guys like Ed. I just started helping a 14 yr old learn to make his first knife and can tell you it's very rewarding to see his eyes light up at the thought of shaping the blade or heat treating, pretty amazing. Wondering if that's what I looked and acted like the first time. It's really a great feeling to share and think that if everyone was on board with the idea of sharing, we'd have a much better time of it here on Earth, right. Besides, no one will ever convince me that they are the sole inventor of something having to do with knives and should keep that secret, knives have been around far to long for that argument.

  19. Smallshop

    Smallshop KNIFE MAKER

    "BTW, if anyone is interested my technique of stumbling around with fits and starts, making catastrophic mistakes and scraping lots of expensive materials, just let me know. I'll be happy to share."

    Apparently Sleestack and I are on the same schedule...lol.

    As I read through all these posts I realize that there is really not much in any trade anymore that cannot be learned due to the miracle of the internet. Of course that is also hard work at times....

    The idea of "nothing new under the sun..." I would disagree with. We are in a technological explosion as far as materials, abrasives, finishes,equipment, etc. As the materials change so do the processes. Not just knife making but most manufacturing fields. So while the concept of a knife is very basic the materials change which drives methodology which is also evolving...

    Many discoveries in any manufacturing field come about by intentional misapplication of a material or a method under the notion of "research and development". Some of which give a company an edge for a while.

    In a high artistry/ high skill industry such as custom knife making that edge is not really an issue...in fact you can make the argument that by increasing the skill and artistry of a trade you actually drive up the interest of said trade and thus the economic possibilities for the individual artists. So techniques that allow each artist to bump his game up a bit are shared as that boosts the trade as a whole.

    Ed's first post on this thread was an ah-HAH for me...I realized that the dividing line was more along the production vs custom making as to what would probably induce more of a propriety mind-set..... rather than just personal philosophy. Since the custom maker is akin to a painter...they are using the same materials in a very different manner and obtaining a distinct style...the notion of propriety is almost foolish. Styles being distinct...technique matters less except when a specific technique is perhaps a cornerstone of a specific style.

    In production manufacturing (not just knife making) technique is more closely guarded as that is the basis of distinction rather pure craftsmanship. Thus you get people patenting designs and methods, etc. The issues attending both situations have little to do with who is willing to share or not. Case in point...Young Steve Jobs being allowed to walk into IBM who was all about mainframes at the time...and being allowed to see what the research team was working on...over the objection of the research lead person. Their years of research only needed a cursory glance from a brilliant mind (who had signed NO non-disclosures...lol) and well....that graphical user interface and mouse left that building and cost IBM millions in revenue...and left them scrambling for market share in a totally new environment...that they invented.

    My point is to note the distinction between two very different avenues. Which I was not even sensing till Ed pointed it out..... It's not really about who is being mother Theresa and who is being the Grinch who stole knifemaking because of his tight fearful lil heart....which is what some of the vibe seems to have drifted towards.:31: Ed C, John Doyle, kevin Cashen, et al. could share every technique they have ever developed with any of us and it would take some of us years to implement at their level of quality and still not trample their distinct style. So really no worries about sharing....though it still takes very gracious people to invest their time on all of our behalf and for the trade as a whole.

    I realize that most of my business oriented questions on this forum are from a production standpoint. This forum is peopled predominately by very talented artisans...while I think along the lines of production as that has been much of my career. I think about how to make 100 or 500 knives in a way that would be fine and beautiful and desirable....but lets face it...it will never match a Daniel Rhode work of art. But a good production knife has a different kind of beauty and when I bought my first Spyderco I marveled over how well they had attended to production issues...and how well it held up (30yrs and counting I think...) a production knife is still a wonderful tool.

    Perhaps in my ignorance I am , at times, asking Claude Monet how to make art on an ink jet printer....lol.:eek: I would expect a less gracious reply than what I have gotten on this forum. If so, my apologies....please bear with me. I am indebted to many here.

    If I come up with anything nifty I'll be sure to share....:3:
  20. J. Doyle

    J. Doyle Dealer - Purveyor

    Reading the above statement, I can't help but think of the Sesame Street bit..."One of these things just doesn't belong here, one of these things just isn't the same" LOL. :D :)

    It feels a little odd to be included in that group in that context as I feel I'm a pretty young maker (in terms of experience) and more on par with some of you other guys who are just starting to find and develop our styles and tastes. Still learning the execution part of knifemaking. Ed and Kevin were and are still mentors to me, teaching me things all the time. They've been immensely important in developing my skills, sometimes they knew it and sometimes they didn't.

    Most days I feel like I'm still stumbling around in the dark, the only thing I'm really learning continually is how much I don't know.

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