The fine folks at Massdrop asked us to tell the story of Ferrum Forge Knife Works... little did they know what they were asking. This is a transcript of what we said, cleaned up of course.
Elliot: Well hey there, I’m Elliot Williamson, CEO and lead designer here at Ferrum Forge Knife Works. This is my brother Chris.
Chris: Hey everyone, I’m Chris Williamson, CFO and what I like to call the Conscience. He’s a creative guy, but some of his ideas can be a bit “out there”. Every artist needs an editor.
Elliot: That is actually true! But that’s not the whole story of what we do around here. Since there are only two of us here, we do everything and we mean - everything. We might be the only executives that still have to clean the bathroom. While I do the heavy lifting of the designing, engineering, and planning for our knife runs, Chris evaluates and approves what I come up with - since we both build our knives. Plus Chris is in charge of writing the checks so he has to keep me grounded in the real world.
Chris: The struggle is real, but the balance of Elliot’s creativity and imagination and my logistical awareness have created something greater than just the two of us making knives together.
Elliot: To give you an idea of what Chris means we should probably tell you a little bit about our story, because you kind of have to know where we came from in order see where we’re going as a company and how this partnership with Massdrop and WE Knife Co. came to be and why it’s pretty special. This all starts years ago in the days of our youth with our Grandfather. Like most men from his generation, he carried and used a knife everyday. At the age of 4 he made sure that Chris and I had our very own knives, but taught us how to respect a tool and use it safely. Years later, with my knife addiction at full power, my tastes in knives started getting more and more expensive. This got me wondering about why knives cost what they do and I did what I do best and started researching why some knives can get up over $1000. And that’s when I found out about custom knives and my eyes were opened. I consider myself a crafty fella and figured if people have been making edged tool for thousands of years, I can make one in my garage. Over the years I got pretty good at building and fixing things, partially because I break everything and partially due to the influence of our father, who was actually a professional baseball player, but was going to college to get an Engineering degree before he was drafted by the San Diego Padres. After baseball he took his mechanical engineering background and applied it to crafting custom furniture and cabinets.
Chris: He actually took one of the drops from waterjet and built a coffee table to fit the piece of steel as the table top, it’s in my apartment and everyone that sees it marvels at it.
Oh yeah and here's the Falcon people are talking about out in the wild with me on a hike.
Elliot: In 2009 I did it. I started making knives in my garage, well, formerly my grandparents garage that I spent many childhood hours playing around in with power tools. Looking back, they must have been a little crazy to let a child near power tools. But hey, I still have all of my fingers (and so does Chris) so it worked out. It was only natural that adult me, full of vigor for making knives, built a gerry rigged forge, found some random railroad track for an anvil and started heating up and hammering out whatever steel I could find including files and salvaged leaf springs.
Chris: Yeah he tried… they were, um, rustic looking knives. Some might even say prison shank-ish.
Elliot: Now don’t get me wrong, pounding a hot piece of steel into shape has a certain joy to it, but it was very time consuming, very loud (especially in a residential neighborhood), very hot, and did i mention very time consuming? Ferrum Forge was named during my early forging days and is still a reminder of where we came from and how much we’ve grown. It took about 6 months of forging steel to realize it is far from the best method of making a knife. Around that time I had my first large paradigm shift. I started collecting more grinding equipment and moved to stock removal rather than forging. Along the way i was devouring every bit of info about knives, metallurgy, material science and engineering from books and our favorite source of information, the internet. By 2012, I made my first folder and things started to change for my little hobby business.
And here is my favorite studio shot of the Falcon... such class
Chris: I was starting to stop by on the weekends back in 2011 after I graduated from college, learning and helping out. We used to talk about how to take what we were doing in the garage and turn it into a real business since we both liked making knives and, let’s face it, it’s pretty cool to be able to make a knife, really anything, and then to have other people give you money for it.
Elliot: By the end of 2012 I had significant wait list for folders and back then I was doing something that was pretty unique even in the custom knife world. I would make whatever people wanted. I would often get a picture through email of a drawing on a napkin of something that looked kinda like a knife, and I would redraw it and eventually make it a real knife. This was a very educational process and I have made some things that were a little out there, but it was also a very long process and I certainly wasn’t able to sustain knife making with what I was charging for knives, and my prices were right around what we charge for a knife these days. In the beginning of 2013 the opportunity arose to move into this shop and I could not pass it up. So I started what I think of as the modern era of Ferrum Forge.
Chris: You can actually see all of this on our youtube channel. Elliot started making videos in early 2012. There are over 120 videos so it will take you some time to watch them all, but you can actually watch the evolution of Ferrum Forge over the years.
Elliot: I do have to warn you, they are not high quality videos, in fact, some are real bad, but it was what we had to work with. It was in 2013 that we went all in on a more modern mode of knife making and bought a CNC mill, I taught myself Computer Aided Design and Computer Aided Manufacturing software, we started having parts cut from sheets of steel and titanium by waterjet, and I taught myself how to run a CNC mill. It was huge learning experience and if I’m being really honest, it wasn’t a hugely successful endeavor. But it did lay the foundation for how we make knives now by teaching me, in very specific ways how to design knives to be machined with modern manufacturing methods and how to keep the machining cost low so we could offer knives at the prices we offer them at now. But even at as low a price as we can offer knives with level build quality and materials we do now, we have always know that our prices are still out of reach for most people.
Chris: The goal of that run was to offer a knife with the quality of a custom knife but at an attainable price. We’ve spent the last 4 years refining our process and attempting to minimize the cost of our knives and have been fairly successful, dropping the price from an average of $800 down to $500. Unfortunately to bring the price lower we had to look outside of our manufacturing avenues.
Here's some shots of the CAD render of the Falcon:
Elliot: I was impressed by several of the high-end knife manufactures that were popping up and so I started email them to learn more about them and what their capabilities looked like. I already had the Falcon design in mind as the first design to have manufactured, but I needed to find a company that would be able to make my design with the same level of precision and attention to detail in the fit and finish that we do here. I found that in WE Knife Co and began design discussions. There was just one big problem. In order to see significant cost reduction, we have to increase the number of units produced and as a 2 man operation we are limited in our ability to present the knives properly to the right audience. This is where Massdrop stepped in and the idea of this collaboration was born. The more we discussed the possibilities, the more exciting the project became and has taken over 7 month of dedicated work between Ferrum Forge, Massdrop, and WE Knife Co., but we finally have the first model in our (hopefully) long collaborative line of knives ready to make its debut: The Falcon!
Elliot: The Falcon is the latest refinement of this design motif and it is also the least expensive. The BAK, which we only made 25 of in 2014, was $1200. The AFY was $800, the Fortis was $500 and when we make the AFY v2 it will be $500. We are actually pretty proud of the fact the Falcon can have all of the features of one of our knives, and then some, and be a fraction of the price. And believe me people this was no easy feat to pull off. The Falcon has been years in the making.