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About TriStar Knives

Matt Marken, Owner and Operator of TriStar Knives

Matt Marken

Owner & Operator, TriStar Knives

I’m a knife maker based out of the Tri-Cities area in Northeast Tennessee. I provide truly high quality knives that will last you a lifetime. My work is crafted with an owner in mind who can appreciate handmade items to add to their collection and can proudly pass them down through their families for generations to come. If you’ve got an idea that you’d like incorporated into your next everyday carry, or you’re interested in my latest production run, email me at matt@tristarknives.com and let me make your dream a reality.

To view my work on EDC knives and other fixed blade knives, be sure to check out the TriStar Knives Gallery.

Frequently Asked Questions

WHAT KIND OF METAL DO YOU USE TO MAKE A CUSTOM KNIFE?

The Rockwell scale, or HRC, is the hardness of the final blade. Different steels are capable of holding an edge and performing well at a particular hardness. Most steels range anywhere from 58-63 HRC.

Is 1084 steel good for knives?

1084 steel is on the lower end of the Rockwell scale and makes for a very tough edge, but lacking in retention and sharpness. As a result, knives made from 1084 steel are ideal for chopping tasks. They typically have a matte brushed finish that can be etched, or etched and stonewashed. 

Pros
  • This type of steel is great for knives that will see regular abuse
  • Can be finished in many different ways – from a natural steel finish, to a dark etch.
Cons
  • It is more prone to light rust if not cleaned and oiled promptly after use, although rust may be removed with oil and steel wool.
Where can I buy 1084 steel?
Is 52100 steel good for knives?

Moving up the Rockwell scale, we have 52100 Steel. It’s a simple grade steel that was first created in 1905 to produce ball bearings. It’s known for its wear resistance and strength. Does 52100 steel rust? All metals rust in the right environment, but 52100 steel offers a high corrosion resistance that makes the oxidation process (rusting) less likely to occur.

Pros
  • Can be tempered to the high side of the scale and not suffer from brittleness; cracks and edge chips. 
  • It offers a higher corrosion resistance than 1084 Steel.
  • Because of its sharp edge and relative rust resistance it makes for a great skinning knife.
Cons
  • The initial cost of the knife is slightly more than 1084 steel due to the cost of the steel itself.
Where can I buy 52100 steel?
Is W2 steel good for knives?

W2 is saved for my most expensive knives. It’s a costly steel that has great edge retention and superior sharpness. It is further unique due to it’s ability to be differentially heat treated. This means, the edge of the blade will be as hard as possible while a good portion of the spine will be softer. The two “hardness zones” will have a unique pattern called a “Hamon”. What is a Hamon pattern, you ask? Well, it’s formed by a “clay” insulation technique I use during the heat treating process. It takes several hours of hand sanding the blade to reveal the Hamon. You can see an example of a Hamon pattern in a custom knife. In fact, I incorporate them in several TriStar Knives blades.

Pros
  • This type of steel is great for edge retention and razor-like sharpness.
  • It offers a higher corrosion resistance than 1084 Steel.
  • The random Hamon pattern on the blade, which occurs during the heat treat and shows during the finish work of the steel, guarantees a unique blade that can never be duplicated.
  • Can have a dark etch but looks best with a fine, hand sanded, finish.
  • Can be tempered to the high side of the scale and not suffer from brittleness; cracks and edge chips.
  • Like 52100 steel, because of its sharp edge and relative rust resistance it makes for a great skinning knife.
Cons
  • The initial cost of the knife is significantly more than 1084 steel due to the cost of the steel itself and the many hours it takes to hand sand the blade to reveal the Hamon.
Where can I buy W2 steel?

WHAT DO YOU USE TO MAKE CUSTOM KNIFE HANDLES OUT OF?

I use a variety of high end stabilized wood, firehose, and fabric, burlap, or canvas micarta. Wood options are more costly, due to the cost of the material, but are popular due to the aesthetics. Firehose and micarta options trade the aesthetics of wood for a better knife grip. 

WHAT KIND OF KILN DO YOU USE TO MAKE A CUSTOM KNIFE?

I use the Evenheat Heat Treat Oven – LB 22.5 from KilnFrog. I opted for the digital temperature controller in order to accurately recall any heat treat “recipe” I have optimized for any particular steel and HRC I’m targeting. That way, I know my custom knives will come out exactly as expected every time.

EvenHeat Heat Treat Oven LB22.5

WHAT DOES THE TRISTAR KNIVES SHOP LOOK LIKE?

I converted an old out building on my property into a designated knife shop for TriStar Knives.

The building I was previously working out of to make custom knives was just a general storage building for everything that doesn’t belong in the house. It was one long open room, which was hard to contain the dust from the grinder. The new building has the machine room separate from the layout and finishing room.

I believe this building was built in the same time period as the house, which is well over 100 years old. The progress in converting it was steady, but filled with challenges. Luckily, it was small enough to somewhat quickly tear down entire walls and have them completely reframed in a single day. I ran into a few foundation issues that slowed me down a little more than expected but was able to complete it as you can see below. Making custom knives in a shop that is setup for making the process more efficient was well worth the investment and sweat equity.

HOW MUCH DO YOUR KNIVES COST?

Prices vary with each custom knife and the options chosen, but here are the approximate prices.

Carry Sized Knives (EDC Blades)

These knives have an overall length of 7″ – 8.5″ and come with a Kydex sheath. Knives fitted with fabric micarta handles start at $275 and wooden handles start at $325.

Large Sized Knives

These knives have an overall length of 9″ or more and also come with a Kydex sheath. Knives fitted with fabric micarta handles start at $425 and wooden handles start at $475.

HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO MAKE A KNIFE?

Made to order knives can take anywhere from 4-12 weeks. Or sooner depending on the build list.