Immediately we noticed how busy many of the knives were. They were constructed by layering materials and attaching the two sides around a blade using screws and pins. The blade and handle were connected with all sorts of geometries designed to guide and stop the blade as it opened. And there were a variety of locking and fastening methods to keep the knives open and closed.
“The knives we brought in were all very complicated in form. I couldn’t help but think of cleaning up the lines.”
“Getting help and learning from others is a core part of our process at Grovemade.”
Was this sandwich construction method the best way to create a knife? Or simply the easiest? At Grovemade we pursue the best with equal parts fresh-eyes and naivety. We were fully prepared to buck conventional norms. Kevin and Sean began sketching and pinning up ideas, quickly moving between drawings and paper prototypes.
Simultaneously, we dug deep into the purpose of our first knife. How does it contribute to the world? What problem does it solve? First, we looked inward.
“I love the remarkable simplicity of the Higonokami knife. It’s a true design classic still relevant over a century after its creation.”
Of course, there is a logical reason that most knives are built in the sandwich style. Designing this monobody to be practically machinable was challenging and we had to draw from our experience in CNC machining to push the limits of what could actually be done with the tools at our disposal. We moved to the computer, continuing the exploration in 3D design software Rhino, and then making dozens of physical models out of crude materials.
Now we needed to find someone to make our knife blade, but for Portland being a city unofficially dubbed “Knife Town” we were unable to find a vendor who would work with us. We began looking outside of Portland and eventually outside of Oregon before settling on a manufacturer on the East Coast. After a couple months of back and forth communication, our first batch of sample blades arrived... and they were terrible. After some digging, we discovered that they had outsourced the blades to another country. Feeling deceived and not getting the quality we desired, we decided to fire the vendor and start over.
On the upside, we now had some blades that resembled the shape of our design. We invited Dave back in for a critique, and his feedback about blade length and other details opened our eyes to what was reasonable within the limitations of the tools and processes used by big blade manufacturers.
“What we had seen on the screen and in our models just didn’t work in real life. The blade was way too short and stubby, and didn’t flow with the handle form. Coupled with our disappointment with our vendor, it made us determined to find a better way.”
Lastly, we made final refinements to our details to best match our existing products. Our process has evolved over the years as we have built up a distinct design language and material pallet. With so many existing products, we tie new ones together with cues from the past. In particular, with our Everyday Carry Collection, we wanted the key ring, wallet, and watch to have strong visual continuity with the pocket knife; little cues like the wood and stainless steel combination with our signature “jog”; the rectilinear lines and radiused corners; and the angle of the body which it shares with our key ring.
In the end, our design constraints led us to making the knife close to home, 100% in the Pacific Northwest. But that’s another story...