If you’re an avid Instagram user and you follow a good amount of knife-related accounts (guilty as charged) then chances are you probably follow USA Made Blade or at least have seen posts from them at some point. Their feed is filled with well-shot pictures of high end knives, a lot of them with slick custom anodization jobs. I was excited to find out that USA Made Blade wasn’t too far from where I live, located in Salisbury, North Carolina. When I heard they were going to have an open house with a handful of well-known makers and brands in attendance I thought the time was right to make the trip from Raleigh and see the store.
I spoke with Scott Whittington at USA Made Blade about the business and about his custom anodization work to get a better feel for what they’re doing. Scott and the crew at USA Made Blade were very gracious in holding this event for the community and taking the time to talk with me.
Knife Informer: How did you get into anodization and etching work?
Scott Whittington: I watched a Youtube video about anodizing and decided to try it. It was not hard to learn and everything kind of snowballed from there.
KI: How many ano/etching jobs do you typically do a week/month? What’s your equipment like?
SW: The number of jobs really varies. We rarely charge any extra for the work we do on the knives we sell so I do it when I have free time. I would say anywhere from 10-40 depending on the week. My equipment is a standard power source and for the laser work we have a fiber mark laser.
KI: What do you like doing ano/etching on? What don’t you?
SW: I love doing work on any full Ti knife made in the USA. I hate working on knives not made in the USA and have stopped doing it. Just a big difference in fit and finish on a lot of Non-USA made Knives, which makes getting them back together much more difficult.
KI: What is operating a brick and mortar like in 2017? What percentage is online versus in person?
SW: We are in Salisbury, NC which is a very small town. If we relied on local customers to keep us in business we would be out of business pretty quick. We do about 90% of our sales online. That has been changing lately as folks from Raleigh, Durham, Greensboro, Charlotte and other surrounding areas find out about us. The retail store is a challenge but totally worth it. We goof off a lot in the shop and it makes it fun.
KI: How’d you come up with the idea for a US-only sales model?
SW: I have always made sure the knife in my pocket is made in the USA. I just felt like every morning I woke up and got dressed and there was nothing I owned or wore each day that was American Made. Clothes, Watches, Shoes, Phones are almost never made in the USA. So you are darn straight when I am getting done getting dressed, the knife going in my pocket will be! When I decided to start my company the choice of American Made Only was a pretty easy one to make.
KI: What’s in your pocket today?
SW: It varies day to day but everyone who knows me knows at least one knife in my pockets is a Hinderer Half Track. It is the best ‘Every Day and Everywhere’ overbuilt pocket knife I have seen to date. Besides that I always have a knife in my lower cargo pocket. That knife changes often. The latest rotation has been a ZT0456, Southern Grind Penguin, Hinderer Jurassics, Chris Reeve Inkosi or ZT 0801Ti.
Also in attendance at the show was Southern Grind, a knife company based in Georgia that is the brainchild of Zac Brown, one of the most well-known names in modern country music (with the Zac Brown Band.)
The Southern Grind makes an interesting variety of high-quality knives ranging from small folders to throwing axes(!) and proceeds from the brand benefit Camp Southern Ground, an inclusive camp that brings together typically developing children, children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), learning and attention issues such as ADHD, and Dyslexia, social or emotional challenges and those with family members serving in the military. I had an opportunity to handle a number of their products and to speak with some folks from Southern Grind and ask a couple questions about the brand and its products.
Knife Informer: I’ve been dying to know: how involved is Zac Brown with the brand? Does he carry a knife on a regular basis? What does he carry? How did he decide to get into this market?
Southern Grind: Zac is definitely involved and has input on all knife designs and materials. Nothing is made in Grind without Zac signing off. He does carry a knife daily and I think he has a different knife in his pocket every time I see him. His go to knife is a black Bad Monkey Emerson tanto with serration.
Zac has always been a big knife enthusiast since a very young age. He is creating businesses to support and sustain camp southern ground. What better way than with businesses he can be passionate about.
KI: You guys make some crazy stuff – one could almost say the Bad Monkey is normal compared with the Gran-Daddy, Jackal, and Rhino. Is Southern Grind aiming for a specific market, or more of a widespread lineup?
SG: I’d say a wide spread market. We like to build items where Zac feels there is a need or just something that he really likes and knows it will contribute to the industry and our fans.
KI: The Penguin is very cool, high-end materials and an interesting look to it. It’s a fantastic flipper and fit and finish is top notch. Is it being made in-house? Who designed it?
SG: Obviously Zac has a ton of influence on all designs, but the work was done by Mike Trull. Mike has been with Grind for years and has always been a great asset around designing and spec’ing all Grind Knives. We make 80% – 90% percent of the Penguin in house. We have used outside vendors for things like handles and hardware, but do make some of them here as well. More of a capacity decision at different times. Have recently brought bevel grinding in-house which has really helped with lead times and prototypes.
KI: Are you planning to do any maker collaborations in the future?
SG: We always have things up our sleeve. Look for future projects with the likes of W.R. Case and Sons, Diamond Back Firearms, Kimber and DPX Gear.
KI: Some of Southern Grind’s washer pivot knives are smoother than some bearing pivot knives I’ve handled. What’s the trick? How are these so smooth? What is the brand’s take on washers versus bearings?
SG: Not sure we can provide and tricks for you, but we really like phosphorus bronze washers and have used them almost exclusively until the penguin. Mike designed a patent pending multi track bearing that is in the Penguin and it seems to work pretty well. I’d say we will use both in the future. It just depends on the application and knife design.
KI: What’s in your pockets today?
SG: Bad Monkey Custom with Black Tanto Serrated Blade and Desert Tan Handles. One of my favorite color combinations.
Hinderer Knives was also in attendance and had a huge quantity of knives on hand to demo. The new Half-Track is quite an impressive little knife in hand, smooth titanium handles and a lot of interesting curves. A strong flipper action is a change for Hinderer, whose flippers tend to run on the softer side. There were a number of the limited run Slipjoint XM-18’s there as well, which have a great backspring and very positive engagement. The Jurassic is another neat design, with a 3.25” S35 blade and a framelock with some more organic lines – and the Gears variant with sets of intertwined gears on the scales and pocket clip that turn is a visual treat. The Maximus dagger is a refreshing addition to the lineup, too.
Getting to handle some Spartan Blades was eye opening as their market penetration has been pretty small. This is a brand to keep an eye on. Mark Carey of Spartan was carrying the new Kranos folder in anodized blue and black G-10 and oh man is this knife the business. A subframe lock is smoothly integrated into the design, the G10 inlay forming the outline of a Spartan helmet (ah ha!) and superb flipping action making this one of the unsung “must have” knives of the year. The Pallas button lock folder is also a joy to use. These are top notch knives that need more exposure.
The show was a great event to attend. Beyond the hospitality of USA Made Blade, I also had the pleasure of meeting Rick Hinderer and Ethan Becker, as well as Mark Carey of Spartan Blades. The store was packed from counter to counter with knife enthusiasts of all types. If you’re in the area for this open house next year, I highly recommend attending – and if you are looking for a new knife or anodization work, check out USA Made Blade’s website here.
Story by James Mackintosh.