Jon E. Silks
Field Evaluation - LJ Rosi Custom Knives
By Jon E. Silks - Senior Field Evaluator
Dec 1, 2009 - 5:39:19 AM

There are a few things on my hunting list that I can never have enough of. Things like hunting clothes, tree stands, and my personal favorite - knives. Over the years I have purchased my fair share of knives, however, all of them have been "factory" models. Recently I had the pleasure of being introduced to Larry Rosi from the Pittsburgh Pennsylvania area. Larry opened my eyes to the custom knife arena. (Check out Larry's work at :LJ Rosi Custom Knives)

Larry has the same draw to knives that I do - X10! He is "ate up" with his obsession and has been buying knives since he was a youngster. Over the years Larry purchased 25 factory knives before discovering custom knives. Larry noticed that his factory knives would not hold an edge for long when used repeatedly and started to look into other options. With edge retention as a target Larry started to purchase custom knives from a few local knife makers. Just as he had expected the custom knives outperformed any factory knife he had ever owned. Larry says, "In my opinion, when you are buying a custom knife, you are purchasing a knife with edge retention." He also liked the fact that he could customize his knife including shape, length, and style. With three custom knives to his name Larry got the idea that he could actually make knives - he had the passion and knew he had what it would take to learn the craft.

His first step was to purchase a video that walked him through the steps to his first custom knife, which he forged with a homemade forge, anvil and hammer! Makes me want to do the Tim the Tool Man Taylor grunt!!  Larry said, "I was surprised that it didn't look half bad." He showed his creation to an experienced fellow knife maker who affirmed that Larry definitely had the potential. Again, he reached out to a couple of fellow knife makers and asked if they would be willing to teach him the trade. They were not only willing but they were down right excited about the prospect.

The cool thing about Larry's time as an apprentice is that it didn't cost him a penny. He explains that there is an unwritten "Knife Makers Code". An apprentice learns the trade from an expert at no cost with the understanding that they in turn will pass the knowledge on in the future in the same way - at no cost. Larry says, "This expands the industry and promotes a sense of camaraderie."

Knowing that he wanted to take his efforts to the next level he set out to find his own equipment. Larry found a knife maker that was getting out of the craft and purchased his entire shop. He began making knives and taking them to his mentor for tips and suggestions from which he continued to hone his skills and refine his creations. Sometime later Larry got a call from a knife maker that he had purchased a knife from at one time. He offered to teach Larry the aspects of knife making that he excelled at - Larry agreed. He gained valuable knowledge and skill from the experience taking his knife making to the next level. Both of Larry's mentors make their living from the craft and each has many years of experience - 40 years and 20 years.

Knife Making Process:
Naturally I wanted to know what went into making a quality knife so I posed the question to Larry. In Larry's words:

There are two major types of knife making - forging and stock removal. Larry does both, however, he mostly does stock removal.

Forging: Taking a bar of steel, heating it and then hammering it to the rough shape of a knife blade.

Stock Removal: Taking a flat bar of steel close to the thickness of the desired width of the blade then cutting it into the shape of a blade.

For both processes it is necessary to do the following: First, grind the blade to a hollow ground or flat ground edge. After the knife has been completely ground to shape the next step is to heat-treat the blade to make it hard. Following this step the blade must be tempered so it can hold an edge. Larry also deep-freezes the blades (Cryo) between tempering cycles for better edge retention. After that it is on to handle installation.

The handle process is extremely important as well, as it is the user's connection to the knife. This interface gives an immediate impression about the knife and its quality. Is it comfortable; is it weighted well; does it handle well; etc. Larry works to shape, attach and blend the handle in a way that projects quality.

Larry uses only the best steels and handle materials for his knives.

Steel materials include:

  •     ATS-34
  •     D-2
  •     440-C
  •     1095
  •     1084
  •     5160
  •     Customer requested

The steel is chosen based on the application - how the customer plans on using it. A knife used primarily to fillet fish should be made of very rust resistant steel.

Handle materials are completely customizable based on the customer's preferences. Larry guides his customers in the right direction with his knowledge of the materials - some look great but are not durable while others look more manufactured but last much longer.

Handle materials include:
  •     Bullet proof handle material
  •     Micarta
  •     Desert iron wood
  •     Cocobolo
  •     Bocote wood
  •     Dymondwood
  •     Zebra wood

I received two knives to test:

Knife #1 - Bird & Trout Knife
The Bird & Trout knife makes the delicate cutting job easier to manage.

  • Bird and Trout
  • ATS-34 steel
  • Black Micarta handle
  • Minimal care needed
  • Care: car wax on handle, clean blade and wipe with WD-40 before storage
  • Rockwell C 61
  • Price: $150.00

Knife #2 - Skinning Knife
Comfortable Skinner makes a tedious job a pleasure.

  • Skinning knife
  • Dyed Camel Bone handle
  • D-2 steel (semi-stainless) - will rust a little
  • Moderate care needed
  • Care: car wax on handle, keep WD-40 or oil on steel
  • Rockwell C 61
  • Price: $175.00

Larry told me to "work these knives hard" and that is exactly what I did. The Bird and Trout got a dose of both - bird and fish. My son downed two pheasants during our youth season and we had the privilege of processing some very large King Salmon.

The skinning knife also got a workout on three deer that we have taken since the Pennsylvania archery opener.

Testing a knife is very simple - you use it! What are the questions that you would ask me about these knives?

  •     Were they sharp? YES
  •     Did they handle well? YES
  •     Did they rust? NO
  •     Were they easy to clean? YES
  •     And most importantly did they retain their edge? YES
  •     Did you sharpen the blades at all? YES
  •     Was it hard to sharpen? NOT AT ALL - JUST A LITTLE TOUCH UP
  •     The edge retention was far beyond anything I have used before. You just don't know what you are missing until you experience it. I did not realize just how quickly my other blades lost their edge until I used these. No more sharpening every 10 minutes just to keep your blade somewhat sharp.
  •     The handles on both knives were well formed and functional. I personally like the look of the more natural looking camel bone handle, however, both handled well. The materials were blended well with the steel and the pins were almost undetectable to the touch. This seamless finish makes cleaning easy as well.

Final Thoughts:
I asked Larry if he had a favorite knife. His answer:

"Let me start by saying I love all knives. This has been the driving force behind my desire to move forward with my knife making. For hunting purposes, I like my knives to be 4 inches or less in length because blades longer than 4 inches become difficult to control. Many hunters use blades that are far longer than needed. With a shorter blade you get increased precision and control, something a large blade can't offer. For hunting and fishing I don't particularly favor folding knives over straight knives because they frequently collect blood, fat and miscellaneous debris, which requires constant cleaning."

He ends with, "My favorite knife is a knife I don' have to sharpen very often (remember - edge retention is #1 in purchasing a custom knife and the main reason to buy a custom knife)."

Larry also commented on another reason to purchase a custom knife, "You get some element of self expression in your knife when designing it yourself. Factory knives are mass-produced and anyone can have one that is identical. When you buy a custom made knife you will own a one-of-a-kind work - solely yours."

You know when you have found a quality product by the way it feels, handles, performs, lasts, etc. I remember the first time I sat in a high dollar luxury car - when I shut the door it had a solid thump and blocked out all the outside noise. Another example was the first pair of top-end binoculars that I used. A friend and me were in North Dakota hunting whitetail and were glassing some high grass when he said he saw a buck's tines in the grass. I looked exactly where he told me to look and nothing. After several tries to locate the buck I gave up and used his binoculars - the tines showed up out of nowhere, what a difference!

Handling Larry's knives gave me that same experience. They handle well and the edge lasts far beyond the typical factory knife that I have used. There is really no comparison.

Get one if you can - call Larry, explain your application (how you plan to use the knife), discuss handle material and he will do the rest. Now is the time - put one on your Christmas list!!

Check out Larry's work at :LJ Rosi Custom Knives


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