Randall Knives, A Reference Book
By Sheldon and Edna Wickersham
Hardcover, 251 pages, $64.95
P.O. Box 841, Dept. TK
Bigfoot, MT 59911
(406) 257-2228

The hottest field of custom knife collecting (and I, for one, still consider Randalls the definitive custom knife) in recent years has been the endless number of variations turned out by Randall Knives of Orlando, Florida. As a result, there have also been a number of books published on the subject, with Randall Knives, A Reference Book being the latest.

The Wickershams’ book starts in 1937 when Bo Randall first began experimenting with making custom knives and works its way right up to the present. You have to admire a knifemaker who thought he could sell expensive handmades during the Depression, but it was WWII and the demand for combat knives that gave Randall worldwide fame. Peacetime and the more limited market for custom hunters often created difficult periods for the company. Vietnam and a general increase in collecting custom knives as a hobby eventually gave the knife shop more stability.

Randall collectors tend to obsess about small details that the rest of us might not even notice. The book covers these points in infinite detail. If you need to know what type of sharpening stone, snap, rivet, stitching or maker’s sheath is correct for a particular knife, this is the reference for you. Probably the one main area the book is weak in is actual stories of the famous knives being carried and used. As the most famous custom knife of all time, you would think these stories would be mandatory in any book on the company.

I’m sure the Wickershams’ book is going to find a place on the shelf of every serious Randall collector in the country.
imgp2380.jpgKnives 2008
Edited By Joe Kertzman
Soft Cover, 312 pages, $27.99
Krause Publications, 700 East State St., Dept. TK, Iola, WI 54990; (888) 457-2873

This is the 28th edition of what has become the classic custom knife reference for everyone involved with the cutlery industry. A couple of years ago the book was upgraded to a slick, coated paper with all-color photos. This was probably made mandatory by the fact that more and more of the custom knives featured were highly ornate “art blades” rather than working tools.

As in the past, the book starts out with a series of articles on various cutlery related subjects. My pick this year of the features is “People of the Mist, The Knifemakers of La Hu Si (Myanmar)” by Leslie J. Clary. Other subjects covered include “Dissecting the Handmade Knife” by Allen Elishewitz, “Practicing Steel Manipulation,” an essay on Damascus by Mike Haskew, “Butterfly Knives Take Wing” by Michael Burch, and “Blades Bookend the Roman Empire” by Greg Bean.

Along with roughly 113 pages of custom knife photos, the real heart of Knives 2008 is its index of knifemakers. That now covers 85 pages of names and addresses. There are also breakdowns of makers by state, Guild membership, PKA membership and ABS Mastersmith rating. The full list of ABS members seems to have been dropped for some reason.

All in all, the Knives 2008 annual is a must read for cutlery fans of any field.
imgp2385.jpgArt of the Knife: Custom Creations from the World’s Top Knife Makers
By Joe Kertzman
Hardcover, 254 pages, $35
Krause Publications
700 East State St., Dept. TK
Iola, WI 54990; (888) 457-2873

Given I’m not a big fan of custom “art knives,” I have to admit I had a certain amount of negative feelings about this book long before I opened its covers. My problem with many art knives is that they are completely nonfunctional. Even light use will destroy some part of their original finish and/or materials. And the slightest mar on either will wipe out their value to collectors. In my mind, that turns them entirely into metal sculpture rather than cutting tools. To each his own, but simply making a common item fancy doesn’t create art that will last the ages.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that Art of The Knife was much more than a collection of metal sculpture. While there are a number of pure art blades illustrated, there are an equal number of totally functional cutting tools turned out by masters of the craft. A well-made tool has a beauty all its own that something simply highly ornate can never equal. The book is divided into 13 chapters covering such subjects as “Jeweled and Inlaid Art Knives,” “The Most Dashing of Daggers,” “The Wood Handlers,” “In the Best of Bowie Traditions,” and “Hunters Can Be Art Knives.” The last chapter gives a complete address list for the makers featured and includes websites for most.

Along with the maker’s name, each knife is given a brief description and, usually, a photo credit. Obviously, Art of the Knife is primarily a “coffee table” book but it makes an ideal way to introduce the newcomer to what custom knives are all about.

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Randall Knives, A Reference Book By Sheldon and Edna Wickersham Hardcover, 251 pages, $64.95…