Jay Fisher - World Class Knifemaker

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Maker's Mark:
Knife Maker's Mark for Jay Fisher Knives

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Knife Maker's Marks

Knife maker's mark for Jay Fisher

The Mark of the Handmade Knife

This page is about knife maker's marks, stamps, logos, signatures and emblems in general, and my maker's mark in particular. There isn't a great deal of information about knife maker's marks on the internet, and I hope that this will answer some of the many questions people have about the mark. This is not a catalog of maker's marks, and I have no interest in creating one, but I do know that some interests are moving in that direction, which is a good thing. I look forward to a day when maker's marks are registered in some international database, but today, I know of no such thing. What a great project this would be for a knife aficionado, as he would be able to look at just about every kind of knife made!

The most important thing to remember on this page is:

The unmarked knife is the valueless knife.

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What is a Knife Maker's Mark?

A knife maker's mark is the individual logo, emblem, signature, design, or text that he puts on the blade to signify its origin. In factory knives it is often a tang stamp to identify the manufacturer. Traditionally, it is placed only on the blade, usually near or on the ricasso, on the obverse side of the blade, but there are some variations of placement. See the Knife Anatomy page for specific details about knife location and parts.

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Knife maker's mark of Jay Fisher diamond engraved on mirror finished blued O-1 tungsten-vanadium tool steel blade

Why is the Knife Maker's Mark Important?

A mark signifies the origin of the knife, and thus its source, origin, and ultimately value in the knife world. Like a brand name, a maker's mark identifies and individualizes a knife. A knife may have many owners in its lifetime, but only one original maker, and (hopefully) one original maker's mark. An unmarked knife is essentially worthless, as it is an assemblage of miscellaneous parts, of unknown origin by an unknown craftsman. The knife has no history, no key to the materials it is made of, no idea of the span of time that it was made. Imagine a handmade firearm or work of art that does not have a signature or identifying stamp and you can easily see why a knife without a maker's mark is only a piece of steel. Even a decent screwdriver has a brand name!

If a maker doesn't have a long established reputation in knife making, and doesn't have some type of reference, source, or authentication of his maker's mark, his knives will be lost to history, and the knife deemed essentially valueless. I've seen many knives over the years that have simple initials as a makers mark, and, sadly, that is a hopeless and valueless identification method. One might argue that the original owner knows who's initials they are, but once that information stops being passed along, the knife becomes valueless. Unless the knife is accompanied by extensive information (and on these types of knives, there is usually none), no one knows who made it, what it's made of, where the knife came from, generally when it was made, and how much work on the knife was done by the maker, or how much was done by other craftsmen. They can't find out if it's a kit knife, or even from what country the knife originated.

As a serious knife maker produces knives, his name, his logo, his identification gathers interest and notoriety, and all of his maker's marks from the beginning of his knife making career or knife making endeavors can become more valuable.

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Fine Chef's Knife: "Hestia" 440c high chromium stainless steel blade, 304 stainless steel bolsters, Amethyst gemstone handle, walnut, Amethyst, black galaxy granite base

How are Maker's Marks Different?

Factories often standardize the text component of their mark, and individual knife makers tend to do the same. Makers may design a custom mark or use simple text; their mark may contain graphics and text, dates, locations, and other information that the maker deems important. Some are stylized, some are simple. Every successful modern knifemaker usually creates an original mark to identify his work.

The knife maker's mark is usually placed on the obverse side of the blade. The obverse is the usually observed side of the knife, and I detail this location on my Knife Anatomy page. Some makers deviate from the fairly standardized practices in placing their mark in unusual places on the knife or blade. Some apply it to the tang flat, some engrave it on the fittings, and some mark it on the reverse side instead of the obverse. There is no rule here, just common practices.

For myself, I usually place my mark in the grind (not on the flat) for several reasons. One, the depth and area of the grind offers enough space to place the mark. I've known of makers who purposefully leave grinds small so they have a place on the spine for their mark. Two, I'm very proud of my grinds, and want the mark to sit in this predominate location. Third, it's challenging to place most maker's marks in the concave cut of the hollow grind, as most marking methods are designed for flat surfaces. I like to be a bit different.

There are many differences in knife makers' marks, and I encourage you to look around the internet and see how each individual maker puts his mark on his knives; it is an interesting subject.

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Maker's mark in nicely hollow ground Persian dagger with stainless engraved bolsters and jade gemstone handle

More Information Than the Maker's Mark

I believe that In addition to the maker's mark, the knife maker should include essential information with the knife purchase, in as durable a form as possible. This information should include the name or number of the pattern, the steel type, the hardness or temper, the fitting materials, handle material, and the accoutrement materials. The information should include who embellished the knife if the original embellishment was not accomplished by the maker.

The information provided with the knife is the record of origin. This information is essential in establishing an investment value for the knife. Some knife organizations suggest a "Certificate of Origin" to be given with each knife to provide some of these details. Other makers include the information on the back of a laminated business card, others simply include the information on paper form.

Unfortunately, a piece of paper can be easily defaced or discarded, and it is up to the knife owner to maintain his own records if he desires to realize any investment appreciation for his knives. For some clients, this is simply not in their interest.

For my own knives, I include an engraved co-extruded acrylic nameplate with the information cut into the plastic accompanying each knife, which should last indefinitely. It has all my contact information, the pattern design, steel type, hardness, fitting material, handle material(s), sheath, stand, or case materials and other relative information.

A new source of custom and handmade knife information is available and will become more predominant in the future, and you're looking at it. The knife maker's own website can be a source of valuable data on the knife if the maker chooses to include that data. Currently, there are no restrictions that prevent large, inexpensive data banks of past knives (including photographs and specifications) being maintained and available to the public through the internet. I offer just such a service on my Featured Knives pages with links to individual and noteworthy knives.

Additionally, I offer CD ROM catalogs of my previous works. I continue to update them in very high resolution photographs. The digital information age has given us several substantial and reasonable ways to maintain a library of our works.

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Maker's mark on "Patriot" Tactical knife, obverse side view: ATS-34 high molybdenum stainless steel blade, 304 stainless steel bolsters, Australian Tiger Iron gemstone handle, locking kydex, aluminum, stainless steel sheath

How are Knife Maker's Marks Applied?

There are several common practices that are currently used in putting a maker's mark on to the knife. Most of the marks are placed on the steel blade, as this is usually the most durable location on the knife. Older methods are still being used, and some interesting modern methods are available to the individual maker.

  • Tang Stamps: Older and historic marks were usually stamped into the ricasso, and some modern makers still use this method to mark their knives. They purchase or have made a custom stamping tool, and before the knife is heat treated it is stamped deeply with the tool. I believe this is not a good practice for several reasons. The mark looks crude, simple, and rough, and though it may fit primitive-looking knives, modern knives are not well-served with this archaic-looking tang stamp. The mark also resembles a factory knife tang stamp, and that does not set the knife apart as being handmade or custom. Stamping may also increase stresses in the blade because it is an impact method, deforming the metal, and causing areas for stress risers during heat treat. If stamped after heat treat, the blade temper and hardness at the stamp area will definitely be affected in an adverse way. I personally think that stamps look amateur and unprofessional, but some makers disagree and still use this method. It may be because letter and number stamps are easily accessible, cheap, fast, and take no special skills to apply.
  • Rotary and Vibrating Engravers: Once in a while, you'll see a knife that has been engraved with either a high speed rotary engraving cutter (like a Dremel® tool), or a vibrating carbide-tipped marker that is usually sold as a theft deterrent for marking hand tools. These are simply awful ways to mark knives, particularly hand-made custom or high quality art knives. The marks are rough, jagged, and ill-defined as the tool ultimately skips and crawls across the blade or tang. They work by ripping and scarring the surface. This also can create peening impact stresses in the blade, and no matter the dexterity of the person holding the marking tool, they leave a distinctive, irregular and ghastly mark. Definitely a sign of poor workmanship and haste, and possibly an indicator of how the rest of the work on the knife was done.
  • Hand Pantographic Scribing: A pantograph is a mechanical linkage device that translates motion of a stylus to reproduce motion that is larger or smaller, depending on the arrangement of the linkages. It is a very old device used in reproduction work, though modern applications are many. In marking knives, this is done with the knife blade clamped in the pantograph's vise, and a hardened steel, tungsten carbide, or diamond-tipped point dragged across the finished surface of the blade, scribing it. The marks can be well-defined, clean, and regular, with no stresses created in the blade, since there is no impact. The limitations of the scribed mark are that it is typically only text, since only letter set patterns are readily available. These are brass letter inserts that are held in the hand-operated follower of the pantograph. Sometimes, graphic patterns can be created. The other limitation is that the scribed cut is only as wide as the cutter point, which is usually incredibly small, and the mark has limited line thickness and visual punch. It is, however, a long-lived permanent marking method and it has its applications.
  • Hand Engraving: Accomplished typically by a pneumatically-powered hand-guided graver, this method is sometimes used today on knives where it is not practical or possible to have a traditional makers mark. Some makers use this exclusively for their marking method, often on high end knives as it adds extra labor and cost to the piece. The mark is limited in resolution by the graver cut, but it is a chance to demonstrate the engraver's skill. I only hope that the person engraving the maker's mark is the maker himself, but often it is a separate custom engraver. If the knife was engraved by anyone other than the maker, I believe he should also sign the knife. Mechanical stresses of engraving must be considered, and if done by a professional engraver, they are sure to be. Hand engraving is a very fine permanent way to mark a knife, if executed well.
  • Machine Engraving: This is, of course, a modern method, utilizing the X-Y (and sometimes Z) axis locating and positioning capabilities of a computer and servo-motor-driven positioners. The knife is clamped rigidly in a specialized vise, and a rotary or static diamond or carbide stylus cutter is moved against the knife blade under computer control at a fixed pressure. The designs are limited only by the computer operator's skill, the area to be engraved, and the mechanical relationship of the stylus to the design. It takes knowledge and practice to adequately align the mechanical components, set the spatial relationship, and arrange the design motif to fit this type of engraving onto a knife blade. It can be a scary process, because once the cutter starts carving into the surface of the steel or other material, there is no stopping, no turning back, and no buffing it out and it all happens very fast. You'll rarely see this marking method used on custom knives, but some factories use it because they can mark thousands of knives without changing the design. I use this method on knives where etching would not show a mark clearly, like on blued blades which are already dark, on heavily-patterned steels like damascus, where a makers mark would not show clearly if etched. I also use this method to mark my bead blasted surfaces, as the crisp, clear line of the engraver shows up well and is permanent. An evolution of this process is the laser engraver, which scorches the surface of the steel in high resolution to create the design. The laser engraving method is shallow, and not as deep and permanent as the stylus or rotary method, but is much faster and less expensive to apply, so manufacturers use it a lot. Unfortunately, it uses heat which is never a good idea on a tempered knife blade, and can create a heat zone around the etching.
  • Electrolytic Etching: Also called electro-chemical etching, this is the most common modern method to mark handmade knives, and is also used to mark many factory knives. The maker designs his mark on paper and submits it to a company who creates a thin plastic pattern stencil. The stencil is held against the blade, and a dauber, damp with a mild acid, is held against the blade. The blade and the dauber are connected to an electric power supply, and electrically assisted etching occurs, cutting away the metal in the exposed area of the stencil and darkening it. Sometimes this takes several steps. The problems with this method are that because electricity travels under the dauber, the edges of the final mark are foggy and not crisp-lined. A simple close look without magnification can tell exactly how this blade is marked. Also, because of the stencil limitations in design (no unsupported or thin areas in the stencil plastic), the designs and artwork are limited. Since the maker usually has to go to a stencil company for his stencils, his own creativity is somewhat limited. The good news is that this marking method is not harmful to the blade in any way, and is permanent and fast. I marked my earliest knives, made between 1979 and 1989 this way. I hand cut my own stencils, and built my power supply myself. The mark is pretty rough-looking compared to the next method!
  • Photoresistive Etching or Electroforming: Also called photochemical milling, I believe this to be the highest quality knife makers mark and the one I've used since 1988. Hundreds and hundreds of my knives were marked with this method, and it creates the finest, clearest line with deep dark gray or black etching that is permanent. The etching has extremely fine, photographic line detail to 1/100,000th of an inch or smaller. A line can be etched thick or thin, so there are no design limitations. The actual cut is done with acids, so no mechanical stresses are imposed on the blades. No electricity is used, so there is no over-etching or fuzzy borders. I developed my own proprietary process, and have been offered substantial sums of money for the particular details. I know of no other maker who regularly uses this exact process, and that's probably because it is complicated and very time consuming for each knife. It took me six years to develop, and I've got the finest high-resolution etching and electroforming in the business and that is how I mark each knife with my own maker's mark. The exceptions are knives with a bead-basted, full blade etch surface, or damascus, which require different methods for contrast and visibility. The drawbacks to this marking method are that it is expensive, time consuming, complicated, and sensitive, and requires a chemistry background and dangerous chemicals.

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Machine Engraved makers mark on bead blasted stainless steel combat search and rescue knife by Jay Fisher

Other Knife Maker's Mark Considerations

A maker's mark may or may not have a location (city, state, or country) as part of the mark. I know that some makers consider this important as an indicator of generally when the knife was made, as they have moved around during their career.

A maker's mark may be generalized to a company, and I think this is a bad idea. It hints that the knife is not made by an individual but by a group, manufacturer, or some faceless entity.

Sometimes questionable graphics are included in the makers mark. The maker should be certain that he and his clients are comfortable with the images presented, as they can say a lot without actual text.

Decades ago, an old and successful knife maker told me, "In this business, name is everything." While this is exaggerated somewhat, personally and professionally, I believe that the name itself is the most important thing that any maker can put on his knife. Though the knives you create, your clients, your level of craftsmanship, and your longevity are just as important, he meant that all of these attributes are identified with your name.

I believe in using either a full name, or as close to it as possible. Knives marked Fisher are actually fairly common in the knife world, and I get asked about them frequently. The last name alone is not enough of an identifier, and your work can be easily confused with the work of another. Even the moniker J. Fisher can encompass a significant list of other makers, so I believe it's best to use as much of the name as possible or to stylize it so it is distinctive. This is important not only to the maker, but also to his clients as the long term value of the knife is directly linked to the maker's mark.

If work was done on the knife by an embellisher (engraver, scrimshander, or carver) their name is seldom included with the knife maker's mark, but is often on accompanying information that goes with the knife. This practice is common in this industry, and there are a wide range of opinions about it. Should credit be given to the person who engraves the knife in a permanent fashion marked on the knife? What about someone who scrimshaws the handle? What about a carver who shaped the handle? This can be a heated topic, but thankfully, one I don't have to address. I accept no other artists on my work; my engraving, etching, carving, and embellishment is all my own. If you see it on my site, and it has only my name on the blade, all the work done on the knife is done by me.

If other knife makers have worked on the knife, I believe it's important to include their names as well. I have several collaborations on the site, and I will always include their distinctive names on the maker's mark as well as my own.

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Collaborative work by James Beauchamp and Jay Fisher on combat tactical knife, maker's marks

Collaborative Knife Makers' Marks

Collaborate means literally: to labor together. Collaborative knives are works that are made together with another knife maker. These are different than the works listed in the previous topic above, where specific portions like engraving or etching are farmed out to other artists; these are two knife makers working together on one knife. When a collaborative is made, both makers have their marks put on the knife. When you see a knife with two maker's names or marks on the blade, this is a collaboration.

If a knife is made by several makers and only one maker's name appears on the completed work, this is a misrepresentation of the authorship of the piece. I've seen this done before, where a singular knife maker has others working in his shop, making the knives, and then has only his name on the blade. This is typical of the small boutique shop that uses a maker's name on their knives. There are some substantial knife factories that use the original maker's name, though the guy whose name appears on the blade is long dead. The knives may be made by the descendants of the original maker or a complete stranger; it does not matter. When knives become manufactured; when more than one person works in a shop that claims an original name, the value of the knife drops considerably. The name becomes a logo, then a trademark, as the knife making becomes less and less specific and is completed partially or entirely by workers whose names do not appear on the product.

In my own collaboratives, if another maker works in any way on the knife, his name also appears at the maker's mark. If I work on someone else's knife in any way, my name appears also at the maker's mark. When you see or own a knife with only my maker's mark on the blade, you have my assurance and guarantee that I have done all the work on the knife, every single bit, including sweeping up its metal swarf from the shop floor.

When a knife is made in collaboration and both maker's marks appear on the blade, it does not devalue the piece, and in some cases, can actually increase the value of the knife. It depends on whose names are on the blade and what this signifies in the progression of both of the artist's and craftsman's work. For instance, when I've made collaborative knives with James Beauchamp and Rusty Russom, both of our maker's marks signify that these are works by an established maker (me) and new makers. Eventually, these new makers may create knives with only their own maker's mark. These transitional knives serve as a record of the new maker's journey and career in this field. Depending on the direction and scope of those new makers (and this old one!), the knives may serve as valuable, unique milestones in the progression. Owning one of them means owning an early work of the new maker, while exhibiting the quality an cooperation of the established maker. This translates to long-term value, and establishes a place in the history and tradition of the works.

In my own work, I actually only rarely collaborate. Along with the two new makers listed, I've done a few collaborative works with Gerry Hurst, just before he died. And in those works, yes, both of our names appear on the blade. The most important thing is honestly representing what and who has created the piece.

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"PJLT" Custom made tactical combat knife in bead blasted 440c high chromium stainless steel blade, custom engraved, 304 stainless steel bolsters, micarta phenolic handle, locking kydex, aluminum, stainless steel sheath, engraved brass flashplate

How My Maker's Mark Has Evolved

Artistic growth, reputation, and momentum has caused my own maker's mark to evolve. My first maker's mark was an artistic design similar to a butterfly, made of my first name and last name initial. I took the letters Ja and combined them with f in lowercase to make a Jaf that resembles a butterfly or wings. I thought that my mark ought to be unique, and the y in my first name was silent anyway, so it worked out well.

After a while, I decided to progress to photo resistive etching, and my mark incorporated the same butterfly motif. I added the rest of my last name, and to demonstrate clearly the extreme resolution and fine detail possible with my new marking method, I added the words Quality Custom Knives in a triangular fashion around the signature, which was also the name on my first storefront studio in Magdalena, New Mexico. I added two identical matching flourishes to fill out the design into a more rectangular shape, and to add an artistic component. The entire mark was less than 0.3" x 0.5" in size, and I've even used a smaller mark that is one third that size! It may take a magnifying glass to read the mark, but you can make out every line.

My third design, which I started using exclusively in 2007, is simply my butterfly signature, hand-drawn and reduced. After nearly 30 years and 18 of them full-time as a professional knife maker, literally thousands of knives, and rational direction from my wife, it seemed that the words Quality Custom Knives were redundant. The new mark is clean, clear and simple, and my knives can not be mistaken for knives made by others. Who knows, in another fifteen years of so, I may change my mark again. The added benefit of this is that my particular mark will identify roughly when the knife was made, for future generations, long after I (and maybe you!) are gone.

Jaf Jay Fisher, first maker's mark, butterfly, wings, stylized letters
My First Maker's Mark

This is my first maker's mark, and exists on knives I made from 1979 to 1989. It was a bit rough, made from hand-cut materials for a mask, and done with the electric etching technique, it is clearly original, and easily identifiable. Not a lot of information, though, about who JaF was! If you have a knife with this logo only on it, you have a very early Jay Fisher knife indeed!

Jafisher Quality Custom Knives with flourishes : my second maker's mark on knife blades
My Second Maker's Mark

This is my second maker's mark, used from 1988 to the end of 2006. The fine lines etched in the blades are certain indicators of the high detail. The neat thing is you can take a magnifying glass and see the tiny partial cross on the t of the word Custom on the steel. This component is about 1/10,000 of an inch wide!

Jafisher Jay Fisher makers mark for custom knives, knife blade mark from 2007
My Third Maker's Mark

This is my third evolution of my maker's mark, a hand-inked design that is simply my artistic signature and long standing reputation. It's clear, concise, and neat, and anyone looking up the name: Jafisher on the internet will end up here! The feedback for my new mark has been great.

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