The New York Custom Knife Show is where I first met Mace Vitale. To say he was enthusiastic about his work is like saying a 3-year-old is kind of excited about Christmas. I have always found it interesting how much makers can be influenced by the makers around them.
This is especially true of the forged blade. Regional styles emerge, and makers in those regions adopt and/or adapt to most, if not all, of those regional elements. Vitale lives in Connecticut, and the style found in his knives has elements of East Coast ABS makers, the most notable element being the silver-wire inlay in his many of his handles.
But there was something else that got my attention about his knives. I found out he went to Bill Moran School of Bladesmithing in Arkansas. The Bill Moran influence is unmistakable. In 2006, Mace received his Journeyman Smith rating from the ABS.
The instructors at the school do an excellent job, however, the style of the knives produced by their graduates have a tendency to have very similar looking elements—initially. I figured out what caught my eye; Vitale had incorporated elements of the East Coast and the Arkansas styles.
Vitale’s knives show a straightforward utility-looking knife. But looking closer, you see where the blacksmith becomes the bladesmith. His knives have a flow to them that gives the knives subtle grace and style. The knives are lightweight and quick in the hand. The ergonomics of the handle feature a rounded handle that makes them very comfortable. Vitale never ceases his blade education. He routinely participates in hammer-ins both in New England and Arkansas.
Vitale offers a wide variety of knife styles: Bowies, fighters, hunters, cutters and, on occasion, a folder inspired by the traditional Scagel-style slip joints and lockbacks. To complete the package, Vitale makes his own leather sheaths that can incorporate inlays to include “saustrich” (pig skin textured like ostrich).
Like many professional forge knifemakers, Vitale works with a wide variety of steels. He uses O-1, 1075, 1084, 1085, W-1 and W-2. He prefers utilizing 1084 and 15n20 for his Damascus. About the steels, Vitale says, “These are proven steels, and you make just about any kind of knife from these.”
The first time I saw one of his knives, I had no idea what the handle was. It was a very striking handle material and he informed me it was maple. He said, “There is just something about it that draws me in. Once it’s all sanded, the right stain is applied and then the oil finish is added to make it pop.” Every knife I have bought from Vitale has a maple handle. He uses other handle material, but prefers natural materials to synthetics.
The price range for his work starts at $325 and goes up to a $1,000 for a nice Damascus Bowie. Demand for his work has steadily increased. While he takes orders, he is now quoting a two-year delivery time. If you don’t want to wait, or just want to check out his work, Vitale attends the Blade Show in Atlanta, the Chesapeake Knife Show in Timonium, Maryland, and the Northeast Cutlery Collectors Association Show in Mystic, Connecticut. You can also see Vitale’s work on his website at www.laurelrock forge.com. Email him firstname.lastname@example.org or call 203.457.5591.
Text by Les Robertson