Raleigh custom knife maker on a quest for perfection

CorrespondentAugust 14, 2013 

Calvin Nichols, a Raleigh custom knife maker, is on a quest to make the perfect knife. He doubts that goal will be reached.

“It’s hard to get everything perfect,” he said. “I can get close but I still find a flaw, some little detail the general person would never notice.”

During the past 24 years Nichols, 46, has created thousands of knives. They have landed around the world, including in Afghanistan and Japan.

“All my knives are functional,” he said. “I’ve made several for the special forces, which they carry in combat.”

He offers customers a wide range of knives, some elaborate and exotic, others plain, such as a $250 folding knife. Nichols’ priciest creations were two samurai swords which fetched $6,000.

“The swords went to Japan,” Nichols said. “The buyer flew over here to pick them up.”

From a shop in his backyard, Nichols practices his craft full time. He seldom draws a plan for a knife.

“I just start working with it and let it develop as I go,” he said. “How it turns out is how it turns out.”

Hunting knives for skinning game such as deer are Nichols’ most popular products. Materials include exotic handles of coral, diamond and ruby inlays, camel bone and high carbon and Damascus steels. He also makes sheaths from fine leather to protect his knives.

His work has not gone unnoticed. The Virginia Knifemakers Association recognized Nichols’ art and custom work in a show last year. He also has been featured in Blade Magazine.

Nichols was 18 when his passion for creating knives developed.

“My Uncle Harold got me started while I lived in San Antonio,” he said. “He was a wood carver and knife maker and poured his years of experience into me.”

Nichols’ occupation as a machinist also helped hone his skills. He’s worked on oil pipelines and made parts for helicopters and robotic arms for the space program. A job with Flowserve, a manufacturer of valves for nuclear power plants, brought Nichols to Raleigh in 2000.

Nichols displays his knives on the internet and Facebook and at gun and knife shows in the South. He said he either sells his knives or gives them away to charitable organizations. He does not own a knife.

“I’m just not a knife collector,” he said. “My passion is the creative process. Every knife I make is a part of me. When I see the look in a person’s face when he gets one of my knives – that makes it for me.”

Nichols usually has two or three knives in the works at the same time. He is in his shop often but has trimmed down his 10 and 12 hours of work per day.

“I’ve had to slow down,” he said. “This work is so tedious it has hurt my eyesight and all this metal dust has affected my breathing.”

Nichols believes his many years of crafting knives are paying off in recognition from his peers and praise from his customers.

“I don’t ever see getting rich doing this,” he said. “But I recognize that custom knife making is becoming a lost art. It’s hard to find a knife maker that does it all.”

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