Knife Maker Spotlight: Tony Bose

In the world of knife making, how do you know when you’re doing well? You could use the price your knives bring as a sign of success. You might measure by the number of knives you sell. But if you’re a true craftsman and artist, the best measure is the quality of your product. Longtime knife maker Tony Bose is at the legendary level by any criteria.

A folder by custom knife maker Tony Bose

This Tony Bose stag-handled saddlehorn brought more than $5,000 at auction three years ago. It would likely bring even more today. Photo by J. Bruce Voyles

What sets Tony apart from the hobbyist knife maker is a combination of passion and attention to detail, qualities that are obvious from his knife making technique.

“When you do something [to a knife] make it obvious you meant to do it,” Tony says. “Be purposeful and consistent in your actions and have a style with a purpose.” Tony practices what he preaches; his knives feature trademark crisp lines, solid construction and clean presentation.

Tony’s knife making process is painstakingly detailed — you can’t rush perfection, as the most skilled knife makers know. It takes him three days to finish one slip joint, and he obsessively cleans out each pivot hole and pin hole after performing an operation. He doesn’t trust the cleanliness of his own bench, so as he works on each piece, he places it on a clean paper towel to avoid any chance of dirt scratching the parts.

Tony’s construction is traditional. He pins all his pins, rather than counting on glues and epoxies to hold them together.

On the handle material, he follows a step-by-step process. First, he drills all his holes, and then reams them to the full depth with a 2-degree reamer, after which he reams them again at the top. On the second reaming he uses a 10-degree reamer to ensure the pin is able to physically hold the scales in place and the body together.

At 10 degrees, there’s enough swell to hold the knife tightly together and yet not put too much pressure on the frame or incur a cracked circumference on the pin head. The body of the pin swells to fill the rest of the hole, making it impossible for the parts to separate even if something were to compromise part of the pin head.
Tony uses a jeweler’s loupe at every step to inspect the swelling of the pin, his hand rubbing, grinding and the joints on his handle material.

Knife Maker Tony Bose in his workshop

Using a straight edge wrapped in micro-fiber paper, Tony slowly and methodically runs the handle of each folder using peanut oil to create a slur. Photo by Abe Elias

Achieving a crisp grind line is not something Tony leaves to chance. He hand rubs the finish on the entire knife, and hand sands even the scales with a micro-fiber polishing cloth lubricated with peanut oil.

An example of this knife maker’s attention to detail: While shaping the ivory handle on a knife he was making, he periodically put the pieces of ivory to his lips. “Ivory is very sensitive, so you don’t want to overheat it. I touch it to my lips so I can accurately gauge the temperature,” he said. His care for that ivory was the same as a mother checking her child for a fever.

It’s because of this level of care in his process that Tony produces such outstanding knives, and he rightfully takes great pride in his work. “You’re not just putting a product out there,” he says, “you’re presenting something that represents you.”

Story by Abe Elias