This time I invited an incredibly interesting and brave knife designer, Fernando, for a chat. Be prepared, as this is going to be the talk that goes far beyond the knives. You’ll get to know about the tragedy that led to the knowledge. About the roots of Fernando’s passion and resilience. He’ll guide us behind the stage of the knife-designing process explaining what tools he uses in his everyday job. How do the lacking points conjure up the creativity? Why it’s so difficult to become a professional knife models creator and if we can guess the one’s origin based on the knife he/she carries? Welcome to the interview with Fernando, an indispensable hero that stands between the customers and the 3D blacksmiths!By Emilia Kharie Popiela
Kharie: I wouldn’t be myself if I didn’t start with a question that puts everything at the edge of… Knives. What are all the fuss and the best thing about them?
Fernando: The best thing about knives is that they can have an infinite number of designs, while still managing to do the same tasks. It is one of those objects that every civilization created in some sort of convergent evolution. Knives allow its creators to infuse them with their particular culture and history as well as to pass, in a way, the story of their creators. Of where they live and what are their common chores in daily life. Do they live in the jungle or near the beach? You can tell a lot of things of this kind when you see the tools someone uses.
K: Do you have your favourite type of knives? If so – why these?
F: Yes I have two favourite types of knives, both fixed blades. Firstly, the hunting knives, because I consider them very personal possessions. As almost ritual objects, if you wish. They are the conduits between hunter and prey together, and the act of skinning and quartering prey is a moment of introspection, the harvest of life. My second favourite types are the fighting knives because self-defense is one of the main reasons knives were invented apart from hunting. They were thought to protect their owner from a beast or a rival. What amazes me also is that it takes a lot of studies to come up with a design that has just the necessity to be efficient in combat. Handling a fighting knife gives some sense of adventure and in a way connects you with all the past generations that have used these tools to protect them.
K: Are you a hunter yourself? I’m curious if you had attended huntings before you got interested in knives?
F: Yes I’m a hunter and a fisherman myself, I started fishing when I was very young. For some reason, I have always felt attracted to animals. My parents used to hold me while we visited our local lagoon as I got quite excited when I saw fish and they thought I might try to jump and catch them! [laughs] I started fishing with a soda bottle tied with a rope and some bread inside. Later I found out about archery and have hunted a couple of times. Here in Mexico there is a big stigma about hunting and hunters and it’s very expensive as well, you can only do it in high fence private ranches.
K: Oh! Then, from my point of view, it looks like the knives were your destiny! In a way, your current life is just a continuation of your childhood hobbies! [laughs] On the other hand, maybe it’s not so unusual. I believe as children we all have this intuition about the things that we like. It’s great if we’re able to recognise and follow it later on!
F: Almost seem like it, right? I used to take out the fine cutlery of my grandmother to go sharpen them on the rocks in the garden! [laughs]
K: [laughs] Yes, I can picture it!
F: My interest in survival was almost always there, my family used to go on weekend excursions to the forest. I would invite my cousins to come and we were playing with sticks and making makeshift spears. The adventure thing came from my mother’s side as she is an anthropologist so she knows what it’s like being in the wild for long periods.
K: I understand it, as I was living and working in deep mountains myself. I remember that the knives were one of the most important things that we always needed to keep close in case of… Anything, really. Before I started to work there I asked about the essential equipment I need to prepare myself for the job. I got a simple answer: a knife. A good, reliable knife is enough. Do you agree? What makes a knife good and reliable?
F: I would agree that a good knife or a machete is truly invaluable while in the wilderness but there is also a ton of other stuff you need. Simple things like water, fire, shelter are more important. But the most valuable thing out there is knowledge. You can come up with many solutions if you lack some equipment but you are lost if you don’t know how to survive. Glad to hear you are an outdoors enthusiast yourself!
K: I defo am. I wouldn’t survive (even having water, food, and warmth!) locked up.
F: [laughs] I think a knife is reliable as long as it is solidly constructed, no matter which type (hidden tang, partial or full tang) it is. It’s good as long as it can do what it needs to do properly and comfortably!
K: So, now we know that you’ve always been interested in survival and hunting and that it called you. But when your fascination with the knives specifically set off?
F: I started getting interested in knives because of my younger brother. We used to go to shopping malls just so he could look at sporting knives when we were very young. He made my parents buy him quite a good assortment of knives and he still has a good collection. After some time I also got into survival and camping, just like my brother, and thus I started to look at knives. I realised how many different types and designs there were and how much history some knives had. I just got sucked into researching and learning everything I could on the topic. I watched lots and lots of videos before making my first purchases because most of the brands that were interesting to me could only be obtained through international shipping so reviews helped me get a better idea of what to look for in a good knife. My first purchases were these types of blades but as soon as I got them I became very disappointed, as most of them lacked comfortable handles and were too heavy for quick and nimble movements.
K: Yes, I think it’s quite often the case that the lacking prompts us to make something better or in a different way than usual. Did it work like this in your case? Were these missing points made you create your first knife project?
F: Yes, that’s when I decided to start designing my own knives. I had no prior experience in drawing so a couple of years went by while I was still trying to improve my drawing skills. Apart from that, I tried to get to know knifemakers who were willing to make my designs. I actually had my first knife done by a local blacksmith. I did give him all the specks it should have but the blade shape was most of his creations. Both of these things, drawing and bringing the projects into life, proved quite challenging as there are basically no resources to learn how to draw knives, and getting the custom designs done is quite expensive. And then, after I got my first knife made, a disaster stroke.
K: A disaster…?
F: I got very sick, so much that I had to stop going to college for a year. Those were hard times when I was bound to the bed. I couldn’t leave my home for more than a year and I spent every single day in bed. Luckily I had an iPad with me during this time and as soon as I got a little better I asked for a Notebook and pens, and I started drawing every day. For all days, no joke. I was spending roughly eight hours per day on that notebook. At first, I just put the paper over the iPad screen and copied the designs but as the months went by I started getting a “feel” of the forms, curves, and dimensions of the blades, started venturing again on making sketches of my own. Surprisingly these new drawings were far off from all the previous things I had done, they finally looked good! Once I got better and life began to follow its course again, I hadn’t stopped drawing. I was better and better at it. I hadn’t known any rules when I learned to draw, so as I realised later on, contrary to most knife designers I draw everything freehand, just with a pencil and paper.
K: I’m… I’m just speechless. Really. I’m so sorry that you had to come through it all. At the same time though, I want to say that the story you’ve described above is incredible. It takes quite a spirit to don’t collapse when something terrible happens. Moreover, in your case, it wasn’t just about survival (which would be incredible by itself!). You’ve turned the disaster, as you called it, into gold. You not only didn’t give up but also used it to your advantage. Like a superhero, who discovered his superpower while being pushed to his very limits. Thank you for sharing this story with us.
F: Thank you very much for your kind words. I do believe it was a very fortunate thing to have been able to focus on something sort of productive. It helps a lot to have something to vent when you are struggling.
K: Could you say what was next? How does the drawing skill that you’ve honed during this tough period came into selling the knife models?
F: I gifted my first knife to my brother. At the beginning of 2018 I started to do some business selling camping supplies online, mostly knives, folding knives, and crossbows. A bit later I started getting interested in 3D designing and that same year I started working on Fiverr. I had the opportunity of getting some other knives made. One of them turned out pretty good even with the craftmanship limitations it had, and coincidently it was the first design I sold. By 2019 I was already printing stuff and was somewhat proficient in the CAD. I haven’t stopped since then. I started learning CAD to come out with my own brand but in the end, it was clients looking for knives who forced me to get better modeling.
K: What is the model you’re particularly proud of and why? Do you have your own brand for your knives projects?
F: My brand is called Santos Knives. I think I am most proud of the first knife I got a manufacturer to make. It was made with two sun knives and I call it “Alchemist”. It’s still available in the market I think.
K: The Hunting Knife you’ve made for the December Prop-Drop release is awesome! I appreciate its solid, wild look and the fact that even after a first glimpse my first thought is “I bet it fits well in hand”! [laughs] Could you say something about this model’s “making of” process?
F: I have like 600 different drawings already, so sometimes I just remember something I have already drawn, something that seems like it would fit, and just make the necessary adjustments. That was the case with the hunting knife but I was drawing Rambo style Bowies at the time I came up with that! I have the original drawings lying around but it was only the blade and half the handle so I finished it with a pommel that fitted the overall look. I was asked to do something with fantasy style so it seemed alright to use some Indian/ Arab fullers and grinds on the blade.
K: Also, I saw the models you’ve made for the Dagger Customizer! Now everyone can create the knife they like setting the parts of your designs together! Is this the first project of this kind that you were working on?
F: Yes! I loved the project as soon as I got to know the details of it and I hope everybody that sees them finds at least a thing or two that they like. It was very exciting to see the customizable app all put together, you guys made awesome work! I have been a fan of videogames, movies, and overall fantasy-inspired weapons for as long as I can remember but I have noted over and over again that most of the time the knives used prioritize looks over function and some of the blades are terribly unrealistic. So I set myself to come up with designs that could have some fantasy elements to them but still would be feasible for real use. The most challenging aspect was to make everything fit together while still looking good. Some of the blades are bigger and wider so it was a process of trial and error. I as well tried to make some of the designs with varying degrees of ornamentation and fantasy elements. Overall I tried to stay a little bit conservative with the designs, especially with the blades.
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K: I have one last question! What’s the most important thing when it comes to the knife’s design?
F: The most important thing while designing is to know what purpose the knife is gonna serve, that’s the main thing, the rest is just creativity which of course has a lot to do with prior designs you have seen and like but occasionally something just comes out almost on its own. Maybe a twisted line on the other side of the paper matches unexpectedly or a bad stroke with the pencil just happens to look good.
K: How did Bob Ross put it? ‘We don’t make mistakes. We have happy accidents!’
F: Exactly! Once you have figured out the flow knives have you can let yourself experiment. I do look a lot to historical knives and swords to get inspired and I’m almost certain I know all the models being currently manufactured by the biggest brands.
K: Thanks a lot for the interview, Fernando! I’m honoured that I’ve met you and that you decided to share your story with us!
F: Thank you very much for the interview, I really appreciate this. Whatever you guys need just let me know, love to work with you!