Custom Knifemaker David Curtiss Is A
One Man Show, Edging Out His Competition!

By Pat Covert

As custom knifemakers go, David Curtiss bucks the trend. He’s a one-man show. An iron man who works in steel. And he likes it this way. Much has been made of just how many custom knifemakers actually make their knives versus jobbing out many of the processes which go into a custom knife. Some have even been called knife designers who “assemble” their knives. David Curtiss will have none of this.

From his own website he states, “I am the only one in our shop. No magic mini shop monkeys or anything. Just me.” David’s shop, however, is no ordinary one. He is a CNC machining genius surrounded by state-of-the-art equipment which allows him to create his exquisite work. Curtiss’ entry into custom knifemaking is no ordinary tale, either. Not your common “I fell in love with the first knife my granddaddy gave me” story.

His first job as a kid in Tennessee was working at a full-service gas station doing full-service things like pumping gas, checking oil and cleaning windshields. He learned a strong work ethic early on, which he practices to this day. Throughout his early career, David’s jobs were every bit as challenging. “I was in the U.S. Navy for 12 years and had many other jobs over the years from railroad worker to plant manager,” Curtiss tells Handgunner.

A decade ago, life found Curtiss married with three kids living in Granger, Indiana. He and his wife owned a waterjet business and making — here’s the twist — parts for hundreds of knifemakers all over the world. “So, I thought it might be a good idea to learn how to make knives,” David informs. “I have had a lot of help from many custom knifemakers. Tony Bose, Steve Shiffer, and Todd Begg are just a few. The list would be pages long.” His endeavor paid off as Curtiss Knives products today are treasured by both users and collectors alike.

The Limiteds

Top: Medium F3 Folder
Bottom: The Compact

Medium F3 Wharncliffe Blade Folders

Master Of Precision

The battle over whether custom knifemakers should machine parts or make them by hand was fought two decades ago when tactical folders had virtually taken over the cutlery market in sales. The master machinists won because the CNC machines were better in holding tighter tolerances in all aspects, but particularly in locking mechanisms. Davis Curtiss excels in such precision and all his equipment to do so is in-house. He does, however, do some important functions by hand such as blade grinding, which is done on belt sanders. All of his final finishing is done by hand as well — and he does some wicked anodizing on his titanium frames.

For blade steel, Curtiss goes upscale. “I mostly make frame-lock flippers with the occasional slipjoint. I currently use Carpenter CTS-XHP as my standard,” David notes. “It is very corrosion resistant, has great edge-holding properties and sharpens easily. I do use several other steels, and Damascus too.” His frames are made of superior grade titanium.

Curtiss’ knives are tough and durable, traits he stands behind because he knows his stuff. He also adds one other element to the equation. “My customer is the person who wants a knife that will last them a lifetime and something they will carry and use,” David states firmly. “They expect the best in the product — and the customer service that comes with it. I think we have the best customer service in the knife industry.”

Top: Medium F3 Folder
Bottom: Large F3 Folder

The Limiteds

Fluid Yet Beefy

The Curtiss line-up is not extensive in the number of models offered, as he typically adds a new model each year. Rather, the knifemaker focuses more on giving each its own personality using the many finishing techniques in his arsenal and offering his models in different sizes and blade configurations. “The F3 series is our most popular model. It comes in three sizes and two different blade grinds. Full titanium frames and CTS-XHP blade steel are standard. Other notable features are the S.P.O.T. pivot system with the blade running on caged bearings, a D-2 lock bar insert, and shouldered standoffs and stop pin.”

One look at the Curtiss F3 sums up David’s design nicely. His knives have a combination of fluid styling with brute strength. His oversized S.P.O.T. pivot system, which resides on all his folders large and small, adds to the equation. His small, yet burly, Nano model is also a customer favorite, and a collaboration of this small folder has been in the Böker Knives line for six years running — no small feat since manufacturers turn over designs much quicker than custom knifemakers. The Nano only sports a 2″ blade but is built like a tank, capable of much heavier cutting largesse than typical knives its size.

The ODT Flipper model is yet smaller, but here again defies its size in spades. A small knife and tool, the ODT Flipper has a 1″ blade chiseled on two sides (the lead edge and tip), rolling out of a short 2″ rectangular frame via a flipper mechanism. A full 1/2″ thick, the ODT Flipper employs the same S.P.O.T. pivot system as David’s big F3 folders and can be worn around the neck (by chain or cord) or carried loose in the pocket.

Top: ODT Flipper
Bottom: Nano Flipper

Iron Man Rules

David Curtiss plays by his own rules and makes no bones about it. But his reasons are sound. “I get to work at home and be with my family, and I have great customers of which many become friends,” David explains. “And I am also most appreciative of my wife, who is the president of our companies. Without her support, none of this would be possible. She is a huge part of the business behind the scenes.” In keeping his circle small, the knifemaker has been able to enjoy being with the most important people in his life. Curtiss’ prices are much in line with custom folder fare: The ODT Flipper starts at $295.00, Nano Flipper at $395.00 and the largest of the F3 models at $675.00.

From service station attendant to 12 years in the Navy and onward to railroad worker, plant manager and being the custom knifemaker he is today, David Curtiss has never taken the easy path. His knives are a reflection of his hardy work ethic, and you get a piece of this in every knife this iron man makes. Given the popularity of his knives among serious users, they’re worth every penny!

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