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Old 03-26-2002, 05:21 PM
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What exactly is mokume????

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Old 03-26-2002, 08:44 PM
Les Robertson
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It is a Japanese word that literally means "Something that should never be put on a knife".
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Old 03-27-2002, 10:17 AM
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Take a look at this:

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Old 03-27-2002, 12:40 PM
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In Japanese, it means "wood burl". We typically use the word mokume for what the japanese call "mokume gane", which is like damascus with non-ferrous (typically copper based) metals. Check for info and for exemples.

I really like it when it's well done, personally, but, like mosaic damascus, it can get really gaudy...

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Old 03-27-2002, 02:08 PM
J Loose
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That's an excellent site, Joss-

I think it is great to see techniques that we use in the knife community from -outside- that community. There are many artisans who focus exclusively on techniques tangential to the bladesmith. Some see these techniques as the end themselves; much as we see bladesmithing. Mokume is a great example of a technique understood one way within the knife world and entirely another outside of it.

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Old 03-27-2002, 04:14 PM
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Jonathan Loose is too gentlemanly to toot his own horn and say, "Hey, I've got a great tutorial on Mokume Gane", so I'll say it for him.

Jonathan has a great tutorial on Mokume Gane. Go to his website at, then go to the "Studio" section, and read the "Making Mokume" article/tutorial.
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Old 03-28-2002, 01:10 AM
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Do you have a scientific reason that you know of why Mokume should not be used in a knife application, or is your opinion purely artistic dislike of the material's looks, based on the way you've seen it applied personally?

I want you to clear that up, because a lot of collectors and makers listen to your opinion, however if you're not referring to material science, they need to understand that something they may own is not inferior or dangerous in some way because Les says it shouldn't be on your knife.

Assuming the material science is there in the way makers use and apply their componants, I personally like to see an artist stretch the boundaries of their creativity with the materials they incorporate in a knife design, especially high level customs.

Because the materials available in this industry are so finite, like basic colors to a painter, it seems to me that taking even one off the pallet would be really costly in the end, from an expressionist's standpoint.

I say, "let the painters paint, and let the looker's look" ... what say ye?

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Old 03-28-2002, 08:44 AM
Les Robertson
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Hi Alex,

My disdain for mokume is based on several things. My clients rely on me to provide them with the best information I can regarding the ability of a knife to hold it's value and possibly gain in value.

It is a fact (I don't know if it is scienti fic or not) that most knives with mokume do not hold their value in the aftermarket.

Then there is the "patina" nice word for rust.
Most of what is used on custom knives is brass, which tarnishes very quickly.

The "tarnishing" is what caused most makers to go from nickel silver to stainless steel. As collectors got tired of the guards on the their custom knives turning brown and then if not cleaned turning green.

As someone who works primarily in the aftermarket, unlike makers who work in the primary market. I am the one who people come to and want to trade their

I have had people swear at me because I wouldn't take their knife in trade (note I did not sell them the knife). No matter I am the SOB trying to work
them down to get a better price.

I did have one person contact me about why I dislike Mokume so much. I explained why, but I also told him to contact John Loose. As John provided me with quite an edcuation on Mokume here.

After I answered his email he asked me where he could get some mokume and I sent him to Mike Sakmar. So much for my ability to influence

Alex, materials for knives (as they are for most forms of art) are finite. Although few makers use stone for handle materials. Not because it is not available. But because it is difficult to work, very unforgiving and may require some extra lapidary equipment.

Mokume is used because it is different, but also because of it's composition. As such it is easy to work and very forgiving.

My point of view always has been and always will be from the eye of the collector.

As such I feel compelled to advise anyone who asks about any aspect of custom knives. What the reality of that Maker, Style of Knife or Materials used ability to maintain their/it's value in the aftermarket.

I currently have a running battle going in another forum about knives as investments. 90% of the people say custom knives should not be looked at as investments. However, when I ask them which knives they have invested in, they never answer that question. Which can only lead me to belive that they have never invested in custom knives.

I am the oddball here. I maintain they can be investments. However, not every knife or every maker can be looked at as "investment grade".

People maintain the only reason I say custom knives can be an investment is because I sell them. Fair enough. That of course is similar to someone saying a knife maker says their knife is made from what they consider to be the best materials, that they did the best they can and they feel the knife is fairly priced....only because they are trying to sell the knife!

The reality of custom knives is that money is a finite resource. Makers have to sell their knives to continue to make more knives. Alex you have to continue to sell more band with in order to keep an ISP up and running. I have to sell knives in order to pay my salary, maintain inventory and pay all the other expenses incured when running a busines..

As such, I feel it is imperative that customers ......who are the heart and soul of custom knives. Receive the very best information they can to help them at the time of their purchase.

Alex, I am the only custom knife dealer I know of that will take a knife back in trade and give you 100% of what you paid for it in trade towards another knife.

I won't go into the reasons why other dealers don't, as it is fairly obvious.

I don't meerly expound for or against a knife, maker or material because I just picked up three at a show or had 4 delivered. The makers I work with stays fairly consistent. I try to find 2 or 3 a year that meet my clients criteria for making knives.

Just as customers should buy what they like. Makers should make what they want to make. As you say "Let the painters paint".

I make the statements I do, so that when it comes time for the collector to sell or trade in his "painting". I am only brought the masterpieces.

I know what it's like to have:

Bought a "dog" (several of the actually). Finding out several months later that I am the only person in the world that likes this dog. So in order to get rid of it I have to basically "give it away"

Overpaid for a knife. Becasuse I didn't do my homework I bought a knife that I thought was one model from a maker and it turned out to be another.

Overpaid for a knife because of the level (or lack their of) in regards to quality.

Bought a knife because it was trendy, a fad, etc. Only to find out that 6 months later the fad was over. Why didn't the person selling that knife tell me the fad would be over soon.

I acutally did run into someone like that...Paul Basch.

Paul took the time to explain the good and bad of every knife I looked at. Once he gave me all the information he could, then I made the decision. Good, bad or indifferent I was ok with my purchase as I felt I understood all aspects of the knife.

It was his understanding of the "totality of the market" that helped shape me both as a collector and a dealer.

Again, nothing wrong with "letting them paint" but if you are going to paint, why not use the best materials you can. At the same time understand that some paintings will be better than others. Some will hold up better in the aftermarket better than others.

The better we take care of the collectors, the more information we provide them, the better the decision they can make.

Can you imagine what would happen to the custom knife market if it was found out that most of the knives sold hold their value with a large percentage of them going up in price! WOW.

More people would start buying custom knives. Makers would be able to get more money. This would lead to makers being able to buy better equipment, buy new equpiment (such as lapidary) equipment. There by increasing their ability to enter into and compete in other markets...thereby making more money. Well you see the pattern.

You know the reason this will never happen?? Because my view of knives as investment is only shared by very few.

So guys buy what you like. But when you buy from a dealer or maker who won't take back that incredible painting they sold you. Don't come to me and expect me to take it.

After all, if they won't stand behind their work or the makers they represent.....why should I.

Maybe that is the main problem. Over the years I have just grown tired of people getting upset with me when I won't take their knives in trade.

Remember when I was telling everyone that Chris Reeve knives were not custom knives. I got burned all over the Internet......until the Sebenza won "Best Manufacture Knife of the Year" at the Blade Show in 2000. Then I was did you know?

Then there was the battle of the Randall. This to now seems to have been put to rest.

Alex, this is what you, collectors and makers don't see. The thousands of people every year who make a "mistake" and then expect the dealers to make it right.

Alex, I do understand that people do take to heart many of the things I say and write. This is why I take my market research very seriously. This is why I offer the trade in policy I do. This is why I take in very few consignment knives. I buy well over 95% of the knives I sell each year.

I know a lot of people have taken to heart my telling them how to check if a makers is right handed, left handed or ambidextrous. I also know that collectors with this knowledge have passed on buying some knives they would have bought, had they not known this.

By expressing my views here, at knife shows, during seminars and in my book. I have made custom knives a much more enjoyable place for me and probably a few other dealers to work in. As no one (unless they are joking) brings me a knife with Mokume, Jigged Bone, Giraffe Bone or Wild Wood.

Alex, I do agree with you 100% that makes should stretch their artistic wings. They should look at the utilization of every material and technique that is available.

It is just as important that there are those customers who buy purely for the thrill or artistic demeanor of a particular knife and pay no attention to what I say.

However, for over 80% of the collectors out there who collect custom knives for 5 or more years. There will come a time when they want to "move" a piece or two to fund a new knife. It is at that precise moment they have shifted from being a collector only to a collector/investor.

As now they are interested/concerned as to just how much money they will get for that knife they swore they would never sell! Most expect a 20-25% loss. However, can you imagine the irritiation when you are offered only 30-50% of the knife original value.
The majority of collectors generally do not blame themselves for this purchase.....instead they like to "project" their feelings of ill will to the person who is offering to buy the knife.

As usual that was way more than anyone was looking for.

Hope this explains my point of view Alex.

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Old 03-28-2002, 12:10 PM
J Loose
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I completely understand that you are reflecting and responding to market perceptions in the context of the knife dealer- and that your decision is based on market perceptions. My response is in no way personal or meant to be inflammatory!

I just want to reiterate that there are many types of Mokume Gane. Some of these will 'patina,' unintentionally and some are patinated completely intentionally; either by application of chemicals and / or heat or by exposure over time to the natural elements. Some will not patina at all. The differences lie in the alloys used to make the material.

Much as one polishes silver or maintains a rifle, one oils a blade. I find it strange that the same market perceives the need to maintain the blade but not to maintain any of the fittings... should they require it.

If the knife market devalues Mokume Gane as a whole due to the physical reasons you've presented then it is due to the market misunderstanding the capabilities and traditions of the material. If it is due to changing market aesthetics or fashion then that is another matter entirely...

Coming from the academically educated art-jeweler's realm I find some of the knife community's preferences odd: Mokume Gane on a $2000.00 piece of jewelry does not lose any inherent value if it patinates- this is seen as a natural process intended by the artist and dictated by the medium or simply something that requires maintenance. But then customers of high end art-jewelry tend to be very educated about non-ferrous metalsmithing techniques and traditions- much as knife enthusiasts know volumes about the fine points of steels.

I was recently in the Smithsonian's Renwick Gallery of American Craft in Washington D.C. Imagine my surprise to find not a single knife in the collection... what could be a more quintessential item of American craft than the Bowie? Why are we overlooked by so many of the academic and artistic realms ( and markets ) we touch bases with?

From my perspective the knife world is an enigma; obviously high-craft but operating in great isolation from the realms of sculpture, jewelry and blacksmithing. It is refreshing and irksome at the same time. The artist metalsmiths' community often dismisses knives as '...too utilitarian,' to be considered fine craft ( explain to me how architecture fails to fit this category...) and the knife world often dismisses it's relevance to the forefront of art, design and technique.

A mere two years ago I embarked on a full-time, life-long dedication to the craft of the blade... although a metalsmith / jeweler for over ten years much of that time has been spent working for others... I have only just begun -my- artistic career. I fully plan on making it a point to further the education of the knife audience in the broader materials and techniques that have historically been used in conjunction with the blade... and possibly some that are new.

It can only increase the recognition and the market for all of us...

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Old 03-28-2002, 12:43 PM
Don Cowles
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I would comment that the much-discussed patina is often considered desirable, rather than something to be removed or polished.

I am waiting (somewhat impatiently) for the patina to develop on the mokume bolsters of a recently completed knife so the pattern will show up well enough to allow me to photograph it. In this instance, the more "tarnish" the better.

Despite Les' experience with the aftermarket value of mokume, I have many, many customers who absolutely insist on it. Since these folks are *my* market, I am happy to oblige them.
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Old 03-28-2002, 01:49 PM
Les Robertson
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Hi John,

I know you are the Mokume Man that is why I gave the individual your name!

Hi Don,

You are exactly right, make what your customers want....that is why they are called custom knives.

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Old 03-28-2002, 02:30 PM
J Loose
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Well, I'm not quite -the- Mokume Man...

I'm still admiring the work on

...But there's a whole career ahead of me and a myriad of interesting techniques out there. Mokume is one I will certainly pursue.

Thanks for the reference though, Les; I appreciate it.

Don- you are absolutely right that traditionally speaking, Mokume Gane is left with a fine pumiced finish to induce patination.

Les- I wish I could see the offending patina you refer to in order to see if it is the 'right,' kind or the result of too many low-grade non-ferrous alloys and poor care. Impure brass / copper / nickel silver and / or poor maintenance could really be the culprits here...

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Old 03-28-2002, 07:21 PM
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Steve Midgett is one of the best mokume specialists in the US. His book - Mokume Gane - is an absolute must have for any craftman interested in making mokume. You can get it off his site or off Amazon:


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Old 03-28-2002, 08:01 PM
J Loose
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I just revently came across Steve Midgett's Mokume kiln. He makes this with two soft ceramic bricks and a C-clamp to put the Mokume under pressure. You can use a large size torch to heat things up with it. I couldn't find it on his site, but discovered it in a new Hoover & Strong catalog. ( Very excellent precious metal suppliers, btw ) I had been meaning to look him up since I saw that kiln set up but hadn't done so 'till you posted the link.

You can bet I'm getting the book and possibly the video as well...

( Hey, thanks for that bid the other day as well )
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Old 03-28-2002, 10:01 PM
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I dread and fear the day that knives become ART INVESTMENTS. It would mean the total death of the knife as a tool and implement.

If for some unimaginable reason, someone wants to INVEST in a knife, great, go for it. I, on the otherhand, will continue to love the tool caled knife.
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