Blade August 2004 Article -
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Two years ago. Michael Donato made a business decision. He was introduced to handmade custom knives and found a career.

When the 28-year-old Donato and business partner Richard Mattei chose to invest in hand-made knives and earn their living as purveyors, it quickly became clear that their money was precious. In order to discern the best values and build inventory that would be attractive to buyers. Donato developed a “system” for making the right knife choices.

“In order to be successful in any venue, you really need a game plan,” Michael explained, “and as a purveyor we took money out of our own pockets and wanted to invest as wisely as possible. Since there are so many makers we wanted to differentiate between those who have extraordinary talent and those who don’t-- and who we wanted to showcase when we go to shows. It’s also important to be an educator to your clientele and show who a certain knifemaker is and why I choose to display his or her work. This is why I created the system.”

3 Basic Principles

Donato’s system rests on three basic principles:

  • The influence a knifemaker has on other makers
  • The maker’s design must meet the collectors demand
  • The fit and finish must be of the highest quality

“When I started in the knife industry I was looking at many knifemakers and the knives that caught my eye had common attributes,” “The knife has to be symmetrical, both open and closed,” Donato related. “It has to be well balanced and appealing to the eye. Every knife should have personality. It should be one of a kind. I will always handle the knife to experience the way it opens and closes, walks and talks”.

The fit and finish, Donato asserts, is the single most important factor in judging a knifemaker’s proficiency.”This will deter-mine the difference between a $700 and a $2,000 knife,” he said. “Fit and finish is considered the final presentation, which showcases the maker’s work ethic and skill. The knife will be perfect if the blade drops dead center on a folder, the grind lines are mirrored, presentation-grade matched scales are used in the handle, the seams are tight, the lines are nice, and the action is silky smooth.”

Joe Kious, Scott Sawby, Warren Osborne, and Jeff Harkins are in my opinion some of the finest knife makers today. When you examine their knives, they receive high grades in all of the above attributes. Other makers of this quality include, Stephen Olszewski, Steve Hill, Owen Wood, Don Hanson III and Tom Overeynder.

Efforts to educate and promote handmade knife collecting keep the industry fresh and alive. Borrowing from existing approaches and adding some of its creator’s own touches, Donato’s system is a positive addition and enhances the overall experience.

Perhaps the greatest benefit of Donato’s system is its ability to educate both those who are acquainted with handmade knives and those who may be new to the field.