Excerpt from article by Chris Zaccara
Dylan Farnham was a hard man to find in 2007. I had come across a design collaboration by Noah Walt and James A. Keating called the JAK Dao that really grabbed my attention. I managed to get my hands on one and found something curious. The knife itself was absolutely beautiful. It was very well made, with a distinct organic flow to it, but there was absolutely no outward indication of who made it. I checked Noah’s website and discovered that he had several different designs up for sale, all of which looked fantastic. There was no mention of who was making these knives for him. After admiring the JAK Dao for months, I finally broke down and called him to ask who was doing the work. Noah advised me that it was a local (to him) maker named Dylan Farnham and essentially left it at that.
In 2007, the internet was pretty well populated with information on just about any knife maker you wanted to know about. Knife related forums were readily available, and all you had to do was type anyone’s name into Google to get at least some information. Dylan, however, had absolutely no internet signature. I spent a solid month trying to find more information on him and came up empty. Eventually the search for this unknown knife maker slipped from my attention and I let it go. A year later, in ’08, the opportunity to acquire a group of the knives Noah had been selling came up, and I leapt at it. I suddenly found myself with four knives now from the same unknown maker. It was too much for me at that point. I had to know who this guy was and why I couldn’t find him.
It took me three different phone calls and a few emails to get a name out of Noah, an email address and phone number for the elusive Dylan Farnham. I was left with the distinct impression that Dylan was a guy who didn’t want to be found. Noah had indicated that Dylan might be thinking about retiring, maybe didn’t want to make knives anymore, probably just wanted to be left alone. This steered me away from making that call. I tabled the idea of contacting Dylan for a few weeks, but after looking at some of the designs that I wanted to have done and the examples of his work that I already had, I had to call this guy.
So with a mental image of a middle-aged, bitter, reclusive hermit who made great knives in mind, I called Dylan – bound and determined to have him execute one of my own designs. As it turned out, I had no difficulty reaching him. Dylan was nothing like I’d pictured and perfectly willing to take on a new project, and so it began.
Dylan says he’s just about always been into knives. He remembers, as a kid, turning butter knives into throwing knives and using only a file to carve out a samurai sword. Later on in life, Dylan’s interest in metallurgy and tool making led him into a career as a machinist. Several years later, he put together a workshop at his home, and began making knives. Dylan tells me he is entirely self-taught, learning what works through trial and error, and drawing on his experience working with metal as a machinist.
Some time later, Dylan became acquainted with Noah Walt, who immediately recognized the potential in the new knife maker. Noah was publishing an edged weapons magazine at the time and looking to release a line of knives he had designed. This partnership led Dylan to collaborate not only with Noah, but also two high profile names in the defensive knife training world; James Keating and Jerry VanCook, both of whom have nothing but praise for Dylan’s work to this day. Dylan spent about four years collaborating with Noah, but eventually the business tapered off, and Dylan transitioned into the house renovation business.
In 2007, the housing market crashed and Dylan lost almost everything he had. It took him almost two years to extricate himself from that situation. When he did, he stopped, took stock of his life, and decided he needed a break. He scraped together what funds he could and in his own words, “took off, to go wander the world aimlessly.” I mentioned that Dylan could be a hard man to track down when I began this article and if you were trying to find him between late 2009 and late 2010, you would have had a rough go of it.
For 14 months, Dylan wandered south from his home in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada down through the US, Mexico, Central America, and South America until the land ran out at the southern tip, then headed North again all the way to Salvador, Brazil. Having no particular time frame, no job and no obligations other than his own survival, Dylan traveled south, by “chicken bus”, boat, and on foot. Upon reaching Colombia, he purchased a small, 125cc motorcycle and covered 15000 miles of South America on it. With only himself and his equipment to rely on, Dylan lived each day as it came. A trip like that tests both the man and the equipment he carries. Dylan carried three different knives on that trip, a razor, a camp knife, and a larger, kukri-like chopper. All three were made by his own hand, all three returned and are still in service. To me, this speaks volumes about the quality of his craftsmanship and his understanding of what constitutes a reliable working knife.
Working with a custom knife maker can be challenging for both you and the knife maker. First, you have to effectively communicate your design intentions, along with all the little subtleties and nuances of what you want in a knife. Often this must be done without meeting the knife maker in person. One of the things I enjoy about working with Dylan is that he is fairly tech-savvy and we have been able to trade scanned-in sketches by email, phone and even Skype (video chat) to work out a design. Secondly, the knife maker must be open to this information. As with any artist, the knife maker must be willing to paint the picture you want to see, not necessarily what he thinks you want to see. He must be open to your vision of the perfect knife. At the same time, he must be willing to help guide you along the process and help you to execute the design in the best possible manner. A good custom maker will help you find balance.
This is an area in which Dylan excels. I have collaborated with Dylan on a number of different knives now, and each time Dylan has demonstrated an uncanny ability to grasp the intent of what I’ve drawn, and the reasons behind each design.
In all honesty, I draw about as well as a 4-year-old with the traditional hammer-fist/crayon technique. It has been challenging to express exactly what is in my head to a knife maker who’s looking at one of my latest sketches. Dylan has been both willing and able to take what I’ve sent him, and then re-draw the knife in a way that preserves exactly what I was trying to draw – but he un-kinks it in a clean and defined way. Dylan has never hesitated to trade emails and sketches back and forth repeatedly until the design is right. To me, this part of the process is the most important step. Both parties must understand exactly what is agreed upon before manufacture begins. All the little details must be worked out at this point: everything from steel type, handle material, grind, sheathing, blade finishes and an honest time frame needs to be understood and agreed upon. (There are makers out there with a four-year waiting list, which is fine as long as the customer understands this and agrees to it. Dylan isn’t one of them.)
I have been fortunate enough to own several different examples of Dylan’s work that span a wide range of design and execution from the last 5 years or so. The knives that Dylan produces are the product of an intense attention to detail and a commitment to excellence. Each of his knives that I have been able to handle has its own distinct personality and “flow”. Something that I have always appreciated in Dylan’s work is the fluidity of each piece; the knives seem to have flowed into their present configurations rather than being carved out of steel. When asked about it Dylan replied, “It actually happens on its own. Ninety percent of what I strive for is functionality; I make multiple sketches of each knife and refine it over time until it feels right.” He describes it as something that just happens naturally when you get the form and functionality right. “Like thoughts taking form in steel, it just looks natural and organic.”
Dylan is a true artist with well-earned ability and talent. He has never disappointed in delivering a quality blade in a timely manner at a fair price. I have found him very easy to work with, and genuinely interested in understanding what you are looking for in a knife. He can make you the best possible blade that fits your design and needs. He has never hesitated to take the time to re-draw a design, or make a correction when asked. Dylan is totally dedicated to putting out the best possible product he can. During our interview, he expressed to me; “We live in a disposable society where things are made to break and be replaced. I want my knives to have their own legacy, to make something that really will last forever so that you don’t need to buy another one.”
Dylan has chosen to work under the name Sage Blades and can be found at www.sageblades.com. He is easy to get in touch with by phone or email, and works through Skype as well. Dylan is a true craftsman who puts every effort into producing the best product he can to suit your needs. I do not hesitate to recommend him to my friends and family. If you are looking for a reliable custom maker to work with you on your ideal knife for a fair price with a fast turnaround, Dylan is a great choice. In his own words, Dylan seeks to make a knife that is; “as reliable, resilient, tough and long-lasting as a cutting tool can be.” In my experience he has, and continues to accomplish this with every knife he makes.