RU Titley of RU Titley Custom Knives is a supreme knifemaking artisan. Today our only Minion with a subscription to Thrasher magazine talks to him.
This article originally ran 12-31-15.
RU Titley Custom Knives – a talk with The Man
We all occasionally get stuck in that proverbial black hole of clicking hashtags related to gun porn or knife porn. Then suddenly we stumble upon something that hits the right nerve. RU Titley’s blog was one of those things that hit a nerve for me. His blog showcases custom blades or customization of existing works along with various explorations of gear hacks and creations. I’ve been looking for a specific type of blade for some time and decided to get it from RU. After speaking with the UK Army brat/forest ranger/artist-turned-full-time-knife-maker I thought it would be interesting to showcase some of his work and talk about knife making and inspiration that informs his craft.
1) How did you get started in knife and tool making?
September 11, 2001, I was traveling for six months in Southeast Asia with my wife, following the route my Grandfather took as a Japanese POW during WW2. On that fateful 9/11 morning, we were in a guest house in Siem Reap, Cambodia and watched horrified as the 2nd plane flew into the Twin towers. One of the guys there was a US Marine vet who we then took with us as a distraction to spend the day exploring Angkor Wat temple complex. He and I talked about knives as he was interested in the CRKT folder I carried at the time, and he suggested I look into custom made-knives when I got the chance. Back in Bangkok I found a copy of Tactical Knife Magazine and was hooked. I did some preliminary doodles of knives out there, planning to start making them when I got back to the UK.
Back in the UK, I had to have a foot operation which left me unable to bear weight for five months, so my Dad brought me a cheap belt grinder from a hardware shop and I got a copy of David Boye’s ‘ Step-by-Step Knifemaking‘ and just started making knives. From the start, I always liked those knife makers who stood out as unique and had somehow managed to create their own visual language and transform a cutting tool into something beyond a knife. The works of legends like Loveless and Moran always appealed, but mavericks like Jens Anso, Todd Begg, Anders Hogstrum, Kiku Mastsuda, and Serge Panchenko really get my creative juices flowing.
2) You seem to use a lot recycled or repurposed metals (ie: old saw blades). What prompted you to use these metals?
Yeah, it’s true, I do like to recycle a lot of old materials where possible and love to collect and refurbish old axes and cutting tools to make them live again. Old steel has a lived-in feel that comes from hard use, it has a history and memory to it that can’t be felt in production steel billets. These obviously have their place in specific tool steel or stainless custom orders that I get, but for my own knives, I like to use old recycled high carbon saw blade steel where possible, especially in the more fantasy/ post-apocalyptic-type builds. I live near the world famous Jurassic coast and spend time collecting sandblasted driftwood, iron and steel from shipwrecks and of course flotsam & jetsam when the high tides permit, which I love to turn into objet d’art as well as practical and impractical cutting tools
3) Where do you draw most of your inspiration from in terms of knife and/or tool design?
My design themes generally come from the drawings I make and the natural influences around me from, say the curve of a fallen leaf to insect anatomy. I’m also happy pimping up production knives for customers to their specs. I like to mess things up and try to create a hybrid of styles where possible, a fusion of tactical-yet-old-school, or post-apocalyptic mountain man rather than just plain old tactical or bushcraft survival knife. I really enjoy exploring the rustic style with lots of character to the blade and using materials like hammered copper deep grained wood or bone. Knife users are always looking for that one Grail knife that will fulfill their cutting needs, but the reality of it is that we need an EDC folder, a medium/large locking folder, a small compact fixed blade, large sheath knife, kitchen knife, craft knife, machete, khukri, parang, cleaver, etc and as a maker I try and produce as many different types of knives as possible. Locking folders are something I’ve not yet tried but hope to soon.
4) Do you prefer one style over the others?
When talking about the custom side of my work rather than my own interests I try to work with my clients to discover the true needs of either their knives or their gear. I work closely with Search &Rescue guys here in the UK as well as many serving and retired military and law enforcement guys to make them what they need, from knives to the ever-growing Cyflect Glint & Glow personal marker product range I have created alongside SAR professional Andrew Isherwood, a former UK Vet who served in Afghanistan. He blogs under the name valleydeepmountainhigh.
6) What’s your favorite projects to work on?
Generally, I like to make one-off knives for my customers but can do repeats if requested. That way they feel they are receiving a unique one of a kind knife, but I’m open to doing small production runs of laser or water jet cut designs. The other gear I make is all repeatable but still all made by hand by me. I tend not to stock items, preferring to make to order for clients as needed. But I always have something new in the pipeline as my work always evolves, and I have prototypes out on test with a select group of outdoor professionals who I trust implicitly to give me honest feedback from field testing.
If there is a custom knifemaker you are a fan of, leave us a link in the comments so we and others can check it out and get our knifeporn fix on. Don’t cut yourself!
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