Interview time again folks and this time I caught up with Colter O’Dell who runs the O’Dell Studios Craft & Design website. I stumbled on this site recently and discovered some really great content associated with EDC gear, knives and tools with a unique perspective and focus on design. In reaching out to Colter he kindly agreed to do this interview and share his story with us.
Hey Colter, thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview. To start off, please tell us a little about yourself and what O’Dell Studios is all about?
What is O’Dell Studios all about? Sometimes I’m not even sure, but the whole story of O’Dell Studios is my story as well. I wanted to get into the business of designing custom cars and O’Dell Studios was born, probably in the late 90’s early 2000’s, but I found over time, that business isn’t for me. I will continue to design and draw custom cars, but I have since realized it will have to be on my terms and at my pace.
I was born and raised in the woods, metaphorically speaking, always enjoyed creating, always enjoyed writing, and eventually it all sort of merged into one thing and one blog. I think that to really catch on in the world of the interwebs there needs to be some consistency in what you do, but today O’Dell Studios is essentially a documenting of the various projects that are a constant part of my life and consistent isn’t really a word one could use to describe it.
When did you decide to start reviewing EDC gear? What inspired you to do this?
I began to review the gear I use because I quickly discovered the value of reviews in my own shopping and wanted to be able to give a little something back. I also wanted to give my honest opinion of things I didn’t like and we’ve all probably purchased some of those items along the way.
Give us a few examples of EDC stuff you’ve reviewed lately. Any products in particular that have impressed you recently?
The Kershaw Link is the latest knife I’ve really reviewed. Since I saw videos of it from Shot Show 2015 I liked the way it looked but I wasn’t excited about the 420HC steel, and I put off getting one. As with anything I review, I typically talk about things I would change and the Link is no exception, but what I have found is that it really wants to cut. I can only presume it is a combination of the blade shape, the grind, and the angles Kershaw choose for the edge, but it cuts extremely well. I wasn’t expecting any surprises to be honest, and a knife that cuts shouldn’t be a surprise, but it really feels like Kershaw nailed the geometry.
We really love the photography incorporated into your blog. Tell us how you got into photography. Is this a hobby of yours?
I envy people who are willing and able to make YouTube videos. I think video is a more popular medium for conveying information in the world we live in today, but I just haven’t found the inspiration to take that step myself. However, I like to provide my readers with the best visual content that I can. I enjoy photography, and I enjoy sharing images of things people like looking at. It is something of a hobby of mine and my blog gives me a chance to pursue it when I might not find time otherwise.
How many knives do you own? What are the key features you look for in a good knife?
I own probably very few knives, relatively speaking, and I can only estimate around 25 or 30 including fixed blades. Over the past few years I have collected more vintage axes than knives and after selling a number of my folders recently, I only have a handful left. I have to admit that what I look for in a good knife has evolved, like many knife enthusiasts I suppose, but I have to also admit that I am very difficult to please. I tweak almost everything and if I could (and I will someday, I’m sure) I would make my own folding knife in order to get the perfect one.
At this point I cannot find the perfect combination of features for an EDC blade in the production market. I know it sounds vague but to me a knife has to be a complete design. What I mean is, very frequently knives are made that try too hard to be too many things to too many consumers. They are made up of features that just don’t work well together. So my bias stems from my own ideas of and background in design. But, I think modern folders for EDC in particular, are frequently an extension of the owner’s tastes and style, so design, functionally and visually, is very important in my opinion.
Which are your favorite knife brands? Do you always buy American made knives or are you open to knives produced overseas in places like China?
Oh boy, brand loyalty and overseas production are like the quick sand of the knife world. I’ll try to tread lightly. I’m not brand loyal and I think every major brand today is making a misstep here or there in one way or another – I think they are all doing great work as well. The two are somewhat intertwined though. In the world of manufacturing, overseas production has long been accepted and so while I appreciate the US made products from virtually all of the major US brands, they all (or nearly all) also use overseas production.
My opinion is long winded, but the basis for it is this; a lot of overseas manufacturing facilities and companies are made up of regular hard working people who need jobs just like the rest of us. I buy a lot of US made stuff and these days I spend a lot of time on all US made websites for clothing and gear and anything else I can, but I have nothing specifically against overseas production. I have a number of overseas made knives that were made wherever they were to reduce costs. I also have a number of products made in various places around the globe because the people there know what they are doing. I have parangs from Bidor Malaysia because the people there know exactly how a parang should be made.
Unfortunately, I think there is a trend where very expensive production knives are being manufactured overseas for US brands with premium components when products like that could be made here and should be. It’s not a knife trend, it is a manufacturing trend across the country and often the premium components are either unnecessary, or not really all that impressive. So to me it’s a multifaceted issue that often gets glossed over with blanket opinions.
Tell us about some of your favorite knives you’re carrying at the moment.
I am carrying the Link right now as my primary user knife, but I have many more traditional style slip-joints than modern folders and one of them is usually in my watch pocket. I lost interest in traditional slip-joints for a long time, returning to them off an on, and now I find them overall more enjoyable than modern folders. If I had more disposable income I can tell you that I would spend it collecting vintage slip-joints, but as you know, I must modify everything, so I have a bunch of Rough Riders as well. They are just fun and I recently broke down a multi-blade pocket knife and converted it to a single blade, discovering yet another avenue for customization. I would not be willing to do that with a vintage US made knife. I still love the Buck Spitfire and with just a few tweaks I think it could get really close to a perfect US made and affordable EDC blade.
Tell us about some of your custom scales projects? What materials do you like to work with?
Custom scales are a wonderful thing because I think just about anyone can get into making them on the cheap, and come out with something really nice, and more importantly, unique. I like to make what I call garage micarta. Colorful canvas and construction paper is easy to come by, making the possibilities just about endless for a set of custom knife scales. One major component missing in the knife world is color, and if I could extend that idea, factory customization. I know what the arguments will be, so in the mean time custom scales and pillars and back-spacers are the way to go. I don’t like the idea that a knife has to be expensive or made from expensive materials to be unique. Cheap knives are a great way to learn the tricks of the trade, and that’s what I did. Now it’s a matter of finding THE knife.
What’s up next for O’Dell Studios? Any exciting new projects to tell us about?
Right now kydex mag carriers are occupying most of my time in the shop. We are trying to come up with something that basically isn’t another version of the same thing everyone else is doing, and we’re getting close. I don’t know what the final result will be, but I think we are going to spend some time at local trade shows testing the water. There will undoubtedly be more axe projects, but I now look for only specific projects and so it depends on old heads being discovered and finding their way to my bench. I have recently been given an opportunity to learn some blacksmithing and I hope to be able to share the results of that endeavor over time.
Thanks for the interview Colter. All the best for the future!
You can check out Colter’s blog at www.odellstudios.com.