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 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 90-100 different bladesmiths throughout the country each year. The results of the survey for 2022 can be found below.
Overall, the survey indicated that the industry appears to be in relatively good financial health. Over half (54%) of all knife makers indicated that their sales have increased this year compared to last year. Interestingly, 51% of makers haven't increased their knife prices in the last two years despite the rising costs in materials. The Consumer Price Index has increased 8.5% from March of 2021 to March of 2022. The price of steel alone has risen over 200% since 2020. Now is likely as good a time as ever for makers to consider increasing their prices.
Knife sales were largely driven by digital platforms in 2020, but that landscape has shifted. A majority of knife makers (58%) indicated that most of their sales have come from referrals this year. Digital platforms followed with 19% of knife makers crediting social media for a majority of their sales and 3% 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 two 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 38% 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 84% of knife makers expect the knife making industry to grow in 2023. This is an increase of 6% from the 78% of makers that expected the industry to grow in 2021.
While stainless steel may be the most common blade material for average consumers, makers overwhelming prefer high carbon steel. 72% 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.
Wood isn't going anywhere anytime soon. Wood is a classic handle material and the most popular with knife makers. 64% of knife makers selected wood as their favorite handle material. G-10 was the second most popular material at 8% with micarta in third at 7%.
Spear point was the most popular shape for blade makers in 2020, but that preference has changed. 44% of makers identified drop point as their favorite blade shape in 2022. 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 13% of the vote followed by bowie with 11% 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. The opinion on lanyards has flopped in 2022. 40% of knife makers reported using a lanyard on their EDC sometimes in 2020. 44% of knife makers now report never using a lanyard on their EDC in 2022.
Utility knives were the most popular knives to produce in 2020 with 50% of respondents indicating that they produced them. It would appear more makers are now producing hunting knives in 2022. The largest portion of knife makers (37%) indicated that hunting knives are their most popular knives to produce followed by culinary (20%) and EDC (16%).
Knife makers may have switched up their grinders in the past two years, because grinder preferences have changed as well. For the purposes of the survey, grinders were broken down into two categories: brand and belt size. When it comes to brand preference, Grizzly was the leading brand in 2020 with 22% of knife makers surveyed using a Grizzly grinder. Ameribrade has risen from second to first in 2022 with 18% of makers using an Ameribrade grinder. Non-branded home-built grinders came in second in 2022 with 14% of makers using a home-built grinder.
Belt size preference was less evenly dispersed. 73% of knife makers reported using a 2" x 72" grinder, which makes sense. 2 x 72 belts are widely considered the most popular option for professional knife making. 2 x 42 inch belt grinders were the second most popular size with 9% of knife makers using them.
It should come as no surprise that bladesmiths are both producers and consumers of knives. The majority of knife makers (54%) didn't think buying knives was addictive, but 54% of knife makers own 20 knives or more and 17% own 50 or more knives.
The price of knives can vary greatly. 32% of knife makers reported that the most they’ve ever spent on a knife is somewhere in the range of $101-250. Another 30% of knive makers reported spending a max of $251-500. 9% have spent $501-1,000 and 8% of knife makers have spent $1,000 or more on a knife.
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 (54%) use YouTube to learn new skills and improve their craft. Other popular resources included in-person classes (10%), word of mouth advice (9%), and information from the American Bladesmith Society (8%).
Answers varied greatly when asked what the future would bring for the knife making industry. Many knife makers believed damascus steel blades would become the most popular blade trend. Other knife makers thought upcycled and recycled materials could be where the the industry is headed with growing consumer interest in sustainable products.
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.
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.