The knife industry isn’t just surviving - it’s thriving. The industry has a market value of over $12 billion and shows likeForged In Firehave given bladesmiths the spotlight in front of a national audience. Despite the size and growing popularity of the industry, we noticed one thing seemed to be missing that many other global industries have: an industry survey.
The team atRed Label Abrasives set out to create an industry survey in 2020 that would shed light on the health of the market, the obstacles involved with production, the current preferences of both knife makers and consumers, and what the future of the industry may hold. We're now committing to updating our survey annually where we survey over 100 different bladesmiths throughout the country each year. The results of the survey for 2023 can be found below.
2023 has been a slower year for knife sales compared to 2022. In 2022 54% of makers indicated their sales increased in 2022 compared to 2021. This year, only 43% of makers indicated that their sales have increased this year compared to last year.
Despite rising costs for materials due to inflation, a majority of makers also haven't increased the prices of their knives in the last two years. The survey found that 54% of knife makers haven't raised their prices in the last two years. The Consumer Price Index rose 6.5% for all items from December of 2021 to December of 2022.Now is likely as good a time as ever for makers to consider increasing their prices.
When polled about prices, the largest percentage of makers (40%) list their knives for sale in the range of $101-250. Another 30% of makers list their knives for $251-500. Only 11% of makers charge $500 or more.
A majority of knife makers (54%) indicated that most of their sales have come from referrals this year. Digital platforms followed with 16% of knife makers crediting social media for a majority of their sales and 6% of makers crediting online marketplaces like Ebay and Etsy. Digital still remains one of the top mediums for knife sales, but it would appear that many makers have spent the last three years building up a strong referral network. New makers who don't have a network built to earn work from will likely want to start with social media.
The most prohibitive obstacle for growth in the industry was identified as the cost of materials and equipment, with 43% of knife makers citing material and equipment costs as a major issue. Equipment can be very expensive for makers trying to produce at scale. A 2x72 grinder alone can cost anywhere in the range of $1,000 to $6,000.
Getting knives in front of the right audience also appears to be a larger issue this year. Marketing effectively rose to become the second biggest hurdle makers face with 24% of makers naming marketing their biggest obstacle.
Overall, the outlook for the knife making industry is a positive one despite inflation and global market issues. An overwhelming 73% of knife makers expect the knife making industry to grow in 2024. Makers aren't as optimistic as they were in 2022 when 84% of makers expected the market to grow in 2023, but there is still a strong optimism for the coming year.
Preferences Of The Professionals
Favorite Blade Material
While stainless steel may be the most common blade material for average consumers, makers overwhelming prefer high carbon steel. 64% of knife makers selected high carbon steel as their favorite blade material. This makes sense considering high carbon blades are generally more wear resistant and can be honed to an even sharper edge.
Favorite Handle Material
Wood isn't going anywhere anytime soon. Wood is a classic handle material and the most popular with knife makers. 67% of knife makers selected wood as their favorite handle material. Micarta rose in preference this year to become the second most popular material at 15% with G-10 in third at 5%.
Favorite Blade Shape
Spear point was the most popular shape for blade makers in 2020, but drop point has held the top position for the last 3 years. 42% of makers identified drop point as their favorite blade shape in 2023. Drop point is revered for its long cutting edge and ability to perform precision work. Drop point is great for hunting, which also coincides with the increase in hunting knife production we saw in this year's survey. Clip point was the second most popular with 15% of the vote followed by bowie with 12% popularity.
Most Popular Knife To Produce
The largest portion of knife makers (40%) indicated that hunting knives are their most popular knives to produce followed by EDC (219%) and culinary (15%). Culinary was actually the second most popular type in 2022 and dropped a rank this year. The trend could indicate a growing demand for EDC knives or a shrinking demand for culinary knives.
For the purposes of the survey, grinders were broken down into two categories: brand and belt size. When it comes to brand preference, Ameribrade has been the preferred brand for the last two years with 14% of makers using an Ameribrade grinder. Non-branded home-built grinders came in second in 2022 with 13% of makers using a home-built grinder.
It should come as no surprise that bladesmiths are both producers and consumers of knives. The majority of knife makers (55%) didn't think buying knives was addictive, but 52% of knife makers own 20 knives or more and 23% own 50 or more knives.
The price of knives can vary greatly. 28% of knife makers reported that the most they’ve ever spent on a knife is somewhere in the range of $101-250. Another 24% of knive makers reported spending a max of $251-500. 12% have spent $501-1,000 and 6% of knife makers have spent $1,000 or more on a knife.
Where Do The Pros Go To Learn?
Knife making is a craft that has historically been taught through mentorships and apprenticeships. However, the rise of digital content has made knife making lessons even more accessible.
Over half of all knife makers (60%) use YouTube to learn new skills and improve their craft. Other popular resources included in-person classes (11%), word of mouth advice (10%), and forums (5%).
What Will Be The Next Big Trend For The Knife Making Industry?
Answers varied greatly when asked what the future would bring for the knife making industry. Many knife makers believed damascus, MagnaCut, and higher-end steel blades would become the most popular blade trend. Other knife makers thought custom knives with laser-etched patterns or 3D printed patterns would rise in popularity. Only time will tell, but these trends are certainly worth exploring with your own knives if you haven't yet.
About Red Label Abrasives
Red Label Abrasives is a family-owned abrasive manufacturer that has been producing custom-made abrasives for over 35 years. Red Label Abrasives specializes in producing sanding belts for the knife community. In fact, we sellknife making belt kits that include an assortment of belts for the production of knives. Our team takes great pride in offering exceptional customer service and unrivaled technical support. You can speak with an abrasive specialist on our team by filling out acontact form or calling (844) 824-1956.
David Kranker is a writer and creative maker who has been covering the abrasive and knife-making industries on the Red Label Abrasives Blog since 2020. David spends his time continually researching sanding and bladesmithing to provide readers with the latest and greatest information. In his free time, David utilizes abrasives for many different home and auto projects at his home in Delton, MI.