The Current State Of The Knife Making Industry
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 at Red Label Abrasives set out to create an industry survey 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 surveyed 100 different bladesmiths throughout the country. The results of the survey can be found below.
Overall, the survey indicated that the industry appears to be in good financial health. 73% of knife makers have raised their knife prices in the last two years and 71% of knife makers have indicated that their sales have increased this year when compared to last year.
Knife sales largely come from digital platforms. 32% of knife makers indicated that a majority of their sales come from their own personal website. Another 22% of knife makers cited online marketplaces like Etsy and Ebay for being major sales drivers. 19% of knife makers also identified social media as a good platform for sales. Referral sales and sales at physical retail stores were not as popular at 16% and 11% respectively.
The most prohibitive obstacle for growth in the industry was identified as the cost of materials and equipment, with 40% 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.
Competition in the industry also appears to be growing with another 24% of knife makers identifying rising competition as a large obstacle to overcome. The rise in competition makes sense when considering that demand also seems to be on the rise.
Overall, the outlook for the knife making industry is a positive one, even despite the global pandemic. An overwhelming 78% of knife makers expect the knife making industry to grow in 2021.
You can’t beat stainless steel. The tried and true blade material is still the most popular among knife makers with 53% selecting the material as their favorite blade material. High carbon steel was the second most popular material with 27% of the vote.
Wood isn't going anywhere anytime soon. Wood is a classic handle material and the most popular with knife makers. 24% of knife makers selected wood as their favorite handle material. Carbon fiber was the second most popular material at 20% with titanium in third at 18%.
When it comes to the shape of the blade, knife makers seem to prefer piercing performance over other blade qualities. 34% of knife makers identified a spear point as their favorite blade shape. Bowie/clip point was the second most popular with 24% of the vote followed by drop point with 12% popularity.
The use of a lanyard on an everyday carry knife can be a point of contention in the knife community. Some feel that lanyards give you more to hold onto and make retrieving a knife from your pocket easier while others argue that lanyards can get in the way and often snag on things you brush up against. It would appear that knifemakers see both the pros and the cons and recognize there are occasions for both setups. 40% of knife makers reported using a lanyard on their EDC sometimes while 28% of knife makers said that they usually do. Only 9% of respondents said that they rarely or never use a lanyard.
Production likely has more to do with market demand than maker preference. Utility knives have been found to be the most popular knives to produce with 50% of respondents indicating that they produce them. Swords and hunting knives tailed closely behind with 49% of knife makers producing them. Tactical knives were the third most popular type of knife to produce at 46%.
For the purposes of the survey, grinders were broken down into two categories: brand and belt size. When it comes to brand preference, there was a fairly even spread in the popularity of various brands. The most popular brand of grinder among knife makers is Grizzly with 22% of knife makers surveyed using a Grizzly grinder. Ameribrade and Brodbeck Ironworks tied for second most popular brand at 14%.
Belt size preference was less evenly dispersed. Interestingly enough, 2x72 belts are widely considered the most popular option for professional knife making, but our survey of knife makers tells a different story. 2x42 belt grinders actually ranked as the most popular grinder size with 38% of knife makers surveyed using a 2x42 grinder. 2x36 followed closely behind with 35% of knife makers using a 2x36 grinder. 2x72 was the third most popular size with 14% of respondents indicating that they use a 2x72 grinder.
It should come as no surprise that bladesmiths are both producers and consumers of knives. In fact, 87% of knife makers agree that buying knives is an addictive hobby. Approximately 35% of knife makers own 11-20 knives. Another 21% own 21-30 knives and 19% own 40 or more knives.
The price of knives can vary greatly. 27% of knife makers reported that the most they’ve ever spent on a knife is somewhere in the range of $251-500. 17% have spent $501-1,000 and 15% of knife makers have spent $1,001 or more on a knife.
Knife making is a craft that has historically been taught through mentorships and apprenticeships. While apprenticeships are still a very popular way to learn and improve craft (41% of knife makers identified apprenticeships as an important educational resource), the rise of digital content has made knife making lessons even more accessible.
Over half of all knife makers (54%) use YouTube to learn new skills and improve their craft. Other popular resources included in-person classes (44%), information from the American Bladesmith Society (33%), and paid instructional videos (30%).
Answers varied greatly when asked what the future would bring for the knife making industry. Some knife makers believed the sale of cooking knives would increase as more people cook at home with the new recipes they learned during the pandemic stay-at-home orders. Other knife makers thought knives could become more popular than guns as a means of defense due to their affordability, compact size, and utility.
One trend that emerged as a common theme was increasing customizability. Many knife makers thought the next big trend would be unique features like custom designs on the blades and custom images printed on the handles. As knife makers push the boundaries of their craft further and demand for knives increases, more customizability makes sense.
You can download and view the full survey by pressing the button below.
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 sell knife 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 a contact form or calling (844) 824-1956.