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Jon Stormm

Pricing Questions

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Say I am making a recurve fighting knife style blade and I have sunk 15 hours into it already and I estimate I will spend another 6 hours on it I can't really charge by the hour. With the material cost coming in at 70 dollars Aus, around 55 US dollars. I will double that which will come out to 140 Aus or 110 USdollars. Now If I work for 7 dollars Aus an hour or 5.50 dollars US an hour that would come to a total of 290 Aus dollars or 226 US dollars is this a reasonable price or should I lower it. You can but your absolute honest opinion here. It is made from O1 tool steel

here is a photo of it so far without a handle.

 

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I have an opinion about work and pricing when one is starting out that comes from my youth in another trade. My boss told me " the reason you are doing simple things to start is because I factor your wages for doing them into the price. If you were doing complex things right now nobody could afford the work because it would take you so long to do them. You'll learn the complex stuff a bit at a time and when you become proficient enough you can do the complex things profitably."

So it often goes with knifemaking. Some things take time to develop proficiency AND efficiency at. Too often people start out trying to throw everything but the kitchen sink into every knife they make despite having not yet mastered any of the individual steps to a level of proficient efficiency. They end up either overpriced or underpaid. Either they have to find someone willing to pay them to learn or they have to pay themselves very little for their inexperience. Even if they have done something, like spine jimping for instance, once or twice they don't really START to know "how to" until they can do it in less than half the time their second effort took. 

I think many folks would be better off including a bit of one special feature in each blade until the become good at it, then pick another feature and do likewise. In that way build a catalog of skills without finding themselves making $1.00 per hour.

Just an observation to think about. 

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Thanks a bunch Vern the reason that it takes so long to make is just because my belt grinder is 2/36 and I can only go up to 120 grit on the belts so I have to do 7 hours on hand sanding alone that's the only time consuming part.

Edited by Dan Breen

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On 1/1/2018 at 7:05 AM, Vern Wimmer said:

I have an opinion about work and pricing when one is starting out that comes from my youth in another trade. My boss told me " the reason you are doing simple things to start is because I factor your wages for doing them into the price. If you were doing complex things right now nobody could afford the work because it would take you so long to do them. You'll learn the complex stuff a bit at a time and when you become proficient enough you can do the complex things profitably."

So it often goes with knifemaking. Some things take time to develop proficiency AND efficiency at. Too often people start out trying to throw everything but the kitchen sink into every knife they make despite having not yet mastered any of the individual steps to a level of proficient efficiency. They end up either overpriced or underpaid. Either they have to find someone willing to pay them to learn or they have to pay themselves very little for their inexperience. Even if they have done something, like spine jimping for instance, once or twice they don't really START to know "how to" until they can do it in less than half the time their second effort took. 

I think many folks would be better off including a bit of one special feature in each blade until the become good at it, then pick another feature and do likewise. In that way build a catalog of skills without finding themselves making $1.00 per hour.

Just an observation to think about. 

Hi Vern

At long last I have about 4 knives "in stock" as it were, the days of cheap knives for friends & family have ended (had to), so pricing is more than ever an issue.

I had this conversation with my mentor, he's Swiss and stubbornly prices his knives in Euro, meaning only tourists and rich locals buy his knives.  He does however price his targeted hourly income in our currency, and I was surprised to hear he struggles to achieve it despite the exchange rate (14.5:1) and the fact that he grinds an Elmax blade in 15 minutes.

I fully understand the concept, and a large part of my pricing is determined by trying to guess how long it should've taken me.

I do however feel that I'm dealing with two factors that most my "competition"   do not, and I would like your opinion on that.

Firstly, as mentioned elsewhere (grinder build), just about everything we use is imported from South Africa.  They also often have local availability and very little transport costs - simply everything is cheaper for them. They can have blanks cut cheap, grind in the bevel, outsource the heat treat, put on a nice handle, make a sheath by the time I'm at step two.  They also sell for a price I wouldn't get out of bed for, nevermind doing hand sanding.

Am I justified in asking more due to difficult operating conditions, or is that my problem?

Secondly, all things being equal, let's say 5160 blade and micarta handle, am I justified in charging more for a once-off choose your micarta colours knife vs. a standard model of a custom knife maker.

 

I think about this a lot since knife-making is the closest thing I have to a retirement plan, and so far the "hobby" is a money pit.  I'm also 100% sure I would rather emulate the fiery beards here rather than churning out N690 cookie cutters, which would be more likely to support me.

I'm living proof that a good IQ does not make you smart or successful :P

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IMO you touched very close to what I would think is a compatible plan.  Follow my thinking here,

Yourd difficulty is not the customer's problem.

"They" make their knives "cookie cutter" fashion and under price you.

You want to eventually move to high end blades that can't be cookie cuttered.

Why not get familiar with the techniques the Fiery Beards use on their multilayer blades, that make them stand out as far as fit and furniture and style since those are hand done and you have more time than money anyway? Work to develop those skills and incorporate them into your own style of working knives at the moment and Don't settle for less from yourself "just because it's only reclaimed spring steel". Don't you think  the FB's can make fine knives from spring steel?

You would be doing several things,

Setting yourself apart from the cookie cutters in "features" they can't take the time to do. Justifying a higher price per unit.

Creating your own unique style. Good for market placement and desirability. 

Practicing for the day you move to "fancier" materials.

Treat every blade as an extension of your experience using knives and a reflection of your skill hand crafting them. Strive to make each one better no matter the material. Show what you can do with any material and why you work is better than someone else's and that is why it costs more.

You have to analyze "their" weaknesses and your strengths and move towards your goals with every knife you make. You can't expect buyers to be impressed with "just a spring steel knife" if you make it like it is "just spring steel"

 

(Sermon over).

 

 

Edited by Vern Wimmer
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Preach it Vern! I was reading this while listening to "indestructable" by "Disturbed" and it was down right inspirational! You are a seriouse Anvilgelical with sermons like that. 

 

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Thank you Vern.....more questions.

I feel I was ignorant of a large part of the bladesmithing world before I joined here, more the swords since they're completely outside my abilities at this stage, but in general forging and forge welding at a whole new level.

Assuming the internet makes the world my marketplace, assuming my work is worth it - is there a market?

The most I ever paid for a knife was $360 (N$4500), and not many people I know would spend that much.

I think I've drawn one knife on paper, I have, make or use no templates, and I don't intend to ever make the same knife twice.

With my mentality I'll need to become very good at this to get anywhere 

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If we were making a product that people needed, really NEEDED, that would be one thing.   We are not, we are making a hand crafted luxury item.  People who buy from us are spending discretionary income on it.  They already have all of the necessities, we are at the very end of the income stream.

In some sense, even at the highest ends of the craft, we are making a tool.  As just a tool, none of us can compete with Walmart (to use an example of a US, low price purveyor of low to mid quality goods).  Walmart can sell a knife  for $10 and there is no way for us (as hand makers) to compete in that arena.  If a customer is looking for a $10 knife they won't come to us, or when they do (this is the customer who wants a using sword, in some brand new super-wazoo steel, for $200) we have to disappoint them and send them down the road.  So we have to find a way to convince the customer that a $500 version of a $10 Walmart knife is a good idea.

Most of the makers I know are not getting enough for their work to really call it a business.  They have other sources of income and knife making (or painting or whatever they do) is a side line.  If we can make it pay for itself, that is a good result.  We end up giving our work away, even if the give away price is $1000.  We are often barely making prison wages, and the boss is a jerk.

Geoff

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Geoff is so right. I remember the first request I turned down. Way back, in the late 80's I had no interest in making a sword. My wife, at that time, worked with a couple of women who, with their husbands, we're members of the SCA. ( medieval recreators). One of the husbands got all excited when he found out I had made a couple of knives. He insisted on coming over to talk about his "project" he wanted. This guy was making about minimum wage but he wanted a sword. I had the Museum Replicas catalog and told him to show me what kind he wanted. He pawed throughout it and came up with a design. I asked him what he wanted that was different than the one in the catalog? "Nothing really, I just thought you could make it cheaper". The one he wanted was $120. I was still young enough to be a tad insulted. My response was. " So, you think that I can compete with the labor costs of a whole company that has its work done in India, by a group of people who each get paid less per day than you or I spend on lunch?"......... It went downhill from there.

The fact was that, at knifemaking, I was greener than spring grass but I did have a smidgeon of business sense. I loved approval for my work whether knifemaking or remodeling houses but I had taken the time to think about what it would take and had decided that around $400 ( circa 1989) was going to be the starting point for "negotiations". I never regretted not taking that on despite the wife's later advice that it would be "A foot in the door" with that whole group. If I did the best I could for so cheap they would all expect me to keep working that cheap. A "door...to...hell" is what I told her it was.

10 hours ago, Gerhard said:

 

With my mentality I'll need to become very good at this to get anywhere 

Uhm, yes, that is the real point that drives most of us....being good at it and getting better constantly.  There is little point to doing it otherwise. I wouldn't want to do anything if I didn't feel I was good and getting better at it.

Despite your best business efforts there are times when all you walk away with is lunch money and a warm fuzzy feeling. 

We all dream about the day we are "discovered" like teenagers with a garage band, but until that day we had better be doing it because we love it and we are improving our "chops" every time. I still have a Fender Strat and A Gibson SG along with a Crate tube amp. Never made a dime with them. 

Yes there are people who make pretty good money making swords, from time to time, on this forum but for everyone who manages to just break even there are lots who want to start out at that level and end up with a lot more "want" than cash to show.

It reminds me of an old story I heard in business circles about a guy during the great depression. He was on the side walk with a small box of apples and a sign that read " apples, $50 ea." Someone ask him " do you sell many apples at that price?" The guy replied "At that price I don't have to".

Not a Sterling business model though.

Reality in knifemaking is somewhere around selling enough apples to recoup expenses and trying to make more than a McDonald's burger flipper. 

Just something to think about. A member here was nice enough to post pictures of a knife he owns. The work of that maker was one of the biggest incentives for me. That 'Smith didn't have much more in equipment back then than a lot of weekend hobbiests have today yet I am willing to bet if someone would do this kind of work they could sell knives well above the price of flat stock removal knives. 

All they would need is the will to develop the skill.

Edited by Vern Wimmer
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I'd like to add a couple of things that have come to mind.

Myself, I wouldn't mind at all making the same knife twice. For one thing it gives me the chance to do it better and/or become more efficient in my method. Every skill I get better at is another few minutes I shave off another knife that uses that skill. The other upside to making it again is that it must be selling to make it again. If that's the case experience makes it easier/faster to repeat hence an improvement in the time vs profit battle. I grant that making the same knife over and over again would get old but that is a far cry from making another one because someone asked. Still, you seem to be concerned about competing with people that are more successful because they do the same thing from batch cut blades. 

Think about that when it comes to swords if that is something you think is in the future. Windlass cutlery in India has the budget end of the market and our "Firey Beards" Don't get their sales just because the moosh together some disparate steels to create "A look" it is their skill and craftsmanship that earns them a reputation. Ironically the same basic skills and craftsmanship that is developed making knives. Pricing and selling is also a skill that gets better with practice. 

 

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Thanks again for sharing your thoughts and opinions.

I have a South African friend who's a rep for a major knife brand, utter knife freek and collector.  We were discussing a certain South African knife maker who he's known and bought from for years, I'll never forget his words...."Mr X stopped making knives and started making money"

I have huge respect for the maker in question, his abilities are beyond doubt (ABS journeyman) and he shares his knowledge freely, his custom work is incredible. The comment about his change in strategy was not derogatory, absolutely nothing wrong with his standardized line.

Just not something I ever want to do!  I don't want people, even if they are few and good people, working for me.

Asked and answered, my next goal will be break-even then. 

My main concern is I think my day-job is killing me...... :blink:

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11 minutes ago, Vern Wimmer said:

 

Myself, I wouldn't mind at all making the same knife twice. For one thing it gives me the chance to do it better and/or become more efficient in my method. Every skill I get better at is another few minutes I shave off another knife that uses that skill. The other upside to making it again is that it must be selling to make it again. If that's the case experience makes it easier/faster to repeat hence an improvement in the time vs profit battle. I grant that making the same knife over and over again would get old but that is a far cry from making another one because someone asked. Still, you seem to be concerned about competing with people that are more successful because they do the same thing from batch cut blades. 

 

I think I've tried all the common types of handle constructions by now, I've made 4 Kukris, 2nd tanto'ish knife done. 

So what I mean by no making the same knife twice, none of them have the exact same shape, size or profile.  The last Kukri was my best to date because I tried draw filing for the first time and gave it a monster FFG.....different and better each time.

My mentor works in modern stainless steels and uses a white-out pen to mark his outlines......freehand. I have huge respect for this, and like sculpture where you need to take away what doesn't belong, I feel with hammer, file and grinders the blade needs to come out of the steel :)

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When you quote a price for your blade if you do not hear a sharp intake of breath you know the price you quoted was too low.  I have a minimum starting price for my knives and I don't go below that.  I don't maintain a big stock of blades on hand.  I do custom orders and I require a 50% non refundable deposit.  I have been stung a few times by guys who were all yippie skippy about the knife until it was finished and then they walked away.  Now if they do that, I have half the price in my pocket and if I have to sell the blade at a discount to get rid of it I have some wiggle room to negotiate. 

A few years ago I made a set of Damascus spurs for Jackie.  She took them with us to the South Dakota Walleye Classic and Art Festival where I was doing blacksmith demonstrations to show them off.  Some cowboy fell in love with them and kept bugging her to sell them.  She asked me what should she do and I said "Scare him off, tell him $200."  She did and he nearly ripped the rear end out of his Wranglers getting his wallet out.  I have always told her I would make her another set, tomorrow I am starting on them.  She has a large and growing collection of my work.

 

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