The following interview is with craftsman Adam LaFon, owner of LaFon Handmade:
Are you from Buffalo? If not what brought you here?
I’m actually a pretty recent transplant. I moved to Buffalo from Baltimore, MD in April of this year. I came here shortly after my partner, Becca did. She came to pursue a master’s degree in art conservation at Buffalo State, and I sort of used our move as an opportunity to start really devoting time to making things.
How did you end up in the knife making business?
My background is mostly in the fine art world. I’ve felt a need to draw and to make things since before I can remember. I had a pretty art-centric education in middle and high school, and in 2014 I got a Bachelor’s of Fine Art from the Maryland Institute College of Art. Most of my skills come from that training.
After graduation, I shared an apartment with 2 other guys. We each set our bedrooms up to suit our work. One was for woodworking, one was for indoor & urban farming, and mine was for painting and knife making. Gradually, the three of us found ways to move our work to dedicated spaces. At the time, I was also working for a small restoration & renovation company that specialized in Baltimore’s historic houses. Almost all of us were artists, and some of us would use the company shop after hours to work on our own projects. So before I moved to Buffalo, I was running back and forth between my bedroom shop and the shop at work. I cut & ground steel at the shop and did handle work at home.
I also owe a huge thank-you to the Station North Tool Library back in Baltimore. Among so many other things, they teach an intro kitchen knife-making class, and they have a dedicated knife shop that’s open to the public. I can’t say enough about how great a resource that place is for the city.
Who are these knives for?
I make knives for anyone who enjoys using quality tools, whether they’re for use in the kitchen, in the studio, in the field, or just around the house. I like to imagine them given as gifts or kept as heirlooms.
What separates you from the rest?
There are a lot of differences between a factory-made tool and a tool made by a single pair of hands. Some are pretty concrete, and some are more intangible. The materials used, the design, the weight and feel in the hand. The amount of time and attention I can dedicate to a single handmade knife just wouldn’t be practical on a production scale. A big priority in production-style knife making is that the product is the same every time. I don’t have that priority. I can make decisions based on what I think is best for each individual knife, so even the most basic knives I make aren’t quite like any of the others. I think when one person is responsible for every step in the process of making something, their personality starts to come through. And since I use reclaimed & salvaged hardwoods and metals, the materials themselves have personalities, too.
Is there a larger knife making community that you belong to?
My in-person knife making community is fairly small. I started out with my good friend Michael, who now runs Charm City Knives out of Baltimore. He and I traded tips as we learned them, and we shared tools until we each built out our own shops. We still collaborate occasionally, and we follow each other’s work closely.
That said, the knife-making community at large is really close-knit and supportive, especially online. Makers across the U.S. and abroad are always talking to each other, critiquing each other’s work, giving each other advice, and really getting to know each other. There’s a real culture of support on knife making forums that’s especially good for new makers. I’m a relatively new member of some of these groups myself, but already they’re some of the most inclusive communities I’ve come across.
Where do you sell your knives?
I currently sell knives made-to-order through my website. I’m also building up an inventory that I plan on selling at Buffalo ShopCraft (719 Elmwood Avenue), and hopefully several other places around Buffalo and Western NY.
What is the price range?
My biggest sellers are kitchen knives. Their base prices range from $85.00 to $200.00, but I offer more custom features for a little more per knife. I also make smaller knives and other edged tools for artists and everyday users that start around $50.
Where are you located in Buffalo?
I live just outside Elmwood village, but my workshop is on the East side, near the Milk-Bone factory. I have a small space at The Guild @ 980, above the ReUse Action store.
What sort of materials do you use?
The blades on my knives are all made of high-carbon steel. It takes and holds a superb edge, and it’s easy to re-sharpen if need be. Carbon steel has been around a lot longer than stainless steel, and unlike stainless it will take on a rich patina with age & repeated use. Knives made of carbon steel take a little extra care to maintain, but as long as they’re kept clean and dry they’ll age beautifully and last a long, long time.
Wherever possible, I use reclaimed and surplus materials. I collect scrap hardwoods and metals from old houses, discarded tools, broken furniture, and scraps and offcuts from other artists and makers. Having a shop just above ReUse Action is really, really helpful.
There are tons of quality materials out there that would otherwise end up disused or in landfills. They’ve already stood the test of time and held up under years of use, and they come preloaded with their own histories and personalities. I can get a lot of use out of a pretty small amount of material, so I rarely have any reason to consume new materials.
Do you make anything other than knives?
I left the name, LaFon Handmade, pretty vague because I wanted to leave room to make all kinds of things. I’m always slowly working on a lot of personal projects, like handmade books, eyeglasses, and other kind of hand tools. If there turns out to be an interest, I’d love to be able to offer some of these things for sale, too.
Do you make custom knives for customers?
Since I’m committed to working with repurposed & reclaimed materials, some of what I offer is based on availability. That said, I work with customers on designs and materials, and I do everything I can to meet their needs. I’m always excited to make things I haven’t before, so I encourage people to contact me if they’re looking for something they don’t see on the website.
Do you retail or strictly wholesale?
Currently, I retail exclusively. I’d love to come up with a line of knives that I can make efficiently enough to sell them in larger numbers, but that’s probably a long way off. It’s also just really satisfying to deal directly with the person who’ll be using the knife.
What’s your favorite knife?
My favorite knives to use are good, solid chef knives. I’m still using some of the very first ones I made. It’s really rewarding to watch them age, and they’re still some of the hardest-working knives I own.
My favorite knives to make are smaller field & utility knives. There’s just enough room to play with the design, and I really like the idea of packing a lot of use into a small package. They also just feel great in the hand.