Steve Shackleford Blog

Proper Knife Fit and Finish Defined

good and bad plunge cuts

Plunge cuts should reflect each other in terms of symmetry on each side of the knife blade. The plunge cuts at left do so and the ones at right do not. (B.R. Hughes image)

Satin-finish symmetry

Note the symmetry of the satin finish flowing from the plunge cut to the tip of the blade on John W. Smith’s SD-2 tactical knife. (SharpByCoop.com image)

blade centered in handle

The blade should be centered in the handle when the knife is closed, as on Brian Nadeau’s folder. (SharpByCoop.com image)

correspondence of shapes and sizes

There should be a correspondence in shape, size and lines between both sides of the knife’s blade and handle, as on these fighters made by Charles Vestal for members of the Custom Knife Collectors Association. (SharpByCoop.com photo)

Fit and finish is a term used to identify the earmarks of a quality made knife. In a nutshell, fit and finish is an arrangement of balanced proportions and symmetry in the entire piece.

With the dividing line being the knife’s spine, there should be a correspondence in shape, size and lines between both sides of the blade and handle. The blade tip must be centered, as should the grind as it moves along the blade toward the ricasso. The blade must have no warping, nor should it exhibit bends where there should be none. The entire run of the blade’s bevel lines, whether primary or secondary, must be even and straight. There should be no flaws, imperfections, wrinkles, creases or cracks in the blade’s surface, nor, in the case of a forged blade, can there be any bad welds. The blade’s finish, whether bead blast, satin, mirror polish, stonewash or what have you, must be consistent throughout the area of the blade to which it is applied.

There should be no gaps between the handle material and the bolster, nor the blade and the guard. The handle sides must have equal thickness and be contoured evenly and smoothly. All materials should be rich and vibrant. For example, if ironwood, it must have nice striations instead of just being a blank piece of wood.

In addition to the above, if the knife is a folder there should be no gaps or differences in elevation between the backspring and the blade when the knife is open. There must be smooth opening and closing of the blade, and the blade should snap both open and closed—known as “walk and talk” among old-time pocketknife collectors. The blade must exhibit little to no vertical or horizontal wiggle, ride dead center in the handle when the knife is closed, and, if a multi-blade, the blades should not rub against each other upon opening and closing.

HOW to LOOK for PROPER FIT and FINISH

guard and blade fit

There should be no gaps in the knife’s joints, such as between the guard and blade. Mark Knapp’s fixed hunter exhibits a nice guard-blade fit. (SharpByCoop.com photo)

•A loupe/magnifier is unnecessary. Average eyesight is fine. Check the knife in standard light conditions;

•Rotate the knife slowly and study it from all angles;

•Examine folders with them in both the open and closed positions. Feel how smoothly the blade opens, closes and locks into place;

•Remember, no knife is perfect. Each one will have at least one minor imperfection. Learning to recognize the differences between such a knife and one with poor fit and finish requires attending knife shows and handling and studying as many knives—with each individual maker’s permission, of course—as you can.

Finally, while checking for proper fit and finish is a great way to identify a well-made knife, the fact that a knife has proper fit and finish does not necessarily mean that it will cut, feel right in your hand or even be all that attractive to you. The latter three are things you must be determine for yourself.

Keep Reading:

COMMENT