Canadian Knifemaker Aaron Gough of Gough Custom Knives — The Knife Junkie Podcast (Episode 98)

Custom knife maker Aaron Gough of Gough Custom Knives is this week’s featured guest on The Knife Junkie Podcast (episode #98). Gough Custom makes high performance knives, billed as the “only knife you’ll ever need.”

Sculpted with CNC and finished by hand is the motto of Gough Custom. Aaron’s Resolute MkIII is designed as the ultimate outdoor utility knife to handle your hunting and camping tasks with ease. He has refined the Resolute MkIII over the course of several years as a high-quality knife with purpose.

Find Aaron on his website as well as on Instagram.

Custom knife maker Aaron Gough of Gough Custom is this week's featured guest on The Knife Junkie Podcast. Sculpted with CNC and finished by hand is the motto of Gough Custom Knives. Click To Tweet

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Show Notes

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* Transcription is generated by artificial intelligence (ai) and is not edited. There may be some errors. Thanks for understanding.

Aaron Gough 0:00
I think it's really important to get your hands on the knife to feel every edge and make sure that things are fitting up the way that they're supposed to and to give the final finishing touches, but there's a ton of value for me at least in having the machines do all of the things that are really repetitive and that's that's where a lot of stuff can go right and save you time and it's also where a lot of stuff can go wrong and cost you a lot of time. So you know i as i said i want to cost in stern all of my best days

Announcer 0:34
Welcome to the knife junkie podcast your weekly dose of knife news and information about knives and knife collecting. Here's your hosts Jim Person and Bob The Knife Junkie DeMarco.

Jim Person 0:48
Well, hello Knife Junkie and welcome to episode number 98 of the knife

Jim Person 0:52
junkie podcast. I'm Jim Person.

Bob DeMarco 0:54
And I'm Bob DeMarco. Welcome to the podcast.

Jim Person 0:56
The Knife Junkie podcast is the place for knife newbies. like myself and Knife Junkie is like you gonna learn all about knives and knife collecting and hear from knife designers, makers, manufacturers, reviewers, anyone who loves knives and Baba interesting interview today with a Canadian knife maker.

Bob DeMarco 1:14
Yes, we're talking to Aaron golf. He's someone who got on my radar from Alex to so he told me all about him. Alex is a folder collector but veered into fixed blades to get one of these Aaron golf mark two knives, these amazing outdoor knives. Aaron takes a lot of time and is very meticulous in the creation of these things. And that was what really interested me in him. And we had a very interesting conversation. He's a, he's a an enterprising designer.

Jim Person 1:46
Well, let's get into that interview and hear from Aaron right now.

Announcer 1:49
You know, you're a night junkie. If you love your knives more than your spouse.

Bob DeMarco 1:54
I'm here with Aaron Goff, a Toronto knife maker who friend of the show Alex too. So hit me too. He is making some incredible outdoor fixed blade knives. And his process is quite interesting to sort of watch unfold on social media. Aaron, welcome to the show.

Aaron Gough 2:14
Thanks for having me bow. Appreciate. It's my pleasure.

Bob DeMarco 2:17
So right before we started rolling, we were talking about the model, the single model of fixed blade knife that you're making right now. Tell me about that. That knife.

Unknown Speaker 2:27
Well, you were asking me which one Alex had and I said that it was very easy to tell you which one because I only make one. Right. And yeah, that that makes life a bit simpler. Yeah, so the the knife that he bought, it's called the resolute and the current version of that is the mark three. So as I said, like I only really do one version at a time, which is you know, the best it can be. And it's just designed as a general purpose outdoors knife and is, you know, I'm trying to make the best version of that, that knife that I can

Bob DeMarco 3:00
But it also strikes me as a general purpose general purpose knife, not just an outdoors knife because there's a subtle touch at the at the butt of the knife. It seems everything seems to come to appear a middle point. It looks great for breaking glass, say for instance, that is exactly

Unknown Speaker 3:15
what it's for. Yeah, yeah. And I mean, I have a lot of military costs to customers and like law enforcement, fire personnel that buy my knives. And I think of it a little bit as like a survival knife, but I didn't want to be gimmicky about it. You know, I've had some survival knives where like the window breaker on the back is, is so sharp that you can't hold the knife in like a reverse hammer grip, you know. So I didn't want to do that I but all you really need is just a tiny contact point, and that'll let you break a Windows. So yeah, I try to try to fit as much utility into the knife as I can without being gimmicky without, you know, taking away from other aspects of its use.

Bob DeMarco 3:58
It's an elegant way to integrate it in To the full tank to I just like the way though Yeah, absolutely so so I mentioned earlier you seem to have a love of technology. Yeah that so when I look at the resolute It is such an amazingly refined and cleaned up design. Like it's it's it is so you're welcome it is it is so without, without fat. Mm hmm. And then when I observe your process, at least how its curated on Instagram, your process seems to reflect those clean lines. Everything seems so incredibly orderly in your shop. I thought you're gonna say it was the opposite. I thought you're gonna say all the factors in the process negative. I mean, I look at him like this is a very orderly individual. You know, sometimes you see someone shop, and it looks like, you know, something like the knives are born out of chaos, right? You look at your shop and it looks like you're building robots or something. You know. Tell me a little bit about your process and your evolution. As a knife maker

Unknown Speaker 5:02
it's actually interesting so the guy that I when I was a kid I for a while did in quotation fingers apprenticeship with an Australian knife making a named charity who made some really amazing they were mainly locked back folders with like beautiful inlays and all this kind of stuff. And his shop was exactly like what you were saying like knives appearing out of chaos. It was like, every single tool in his shop had like a sand dune of dust that led up to it. And the only places where you could even like almost see the floor were like his parkways around the shop. It was it was crazy. Um, yeah, so like, my process is, I don't know, I guess it's an external representation of me of what I would like my brain to be like, I don't think my brains really like that. But yeah, it drives me crazy. if something isn't right, if something isn't like clean and functioning correctly. It drives me crazy, so much that sometimes it's actually an impediment to getting work done. Like, if I have a process that isn't working correctly, it'll bug me so much that I'll need to, like stop and fix that process, despite the fact that I just like have to get shit done now, you know, so a lot of my day to days kind of finding balance, you know, trying to find time to work on process, trying to find time to get stuff done. And I think I'm getting better at striking that compromise.

Bob DeMarco 6:33
Well, you mentioned process a number of times there. You make sort of machine made knives that are hand handmade as well. They're like hand finished machine. Tell me about your process. It sounds like there are a lot of different ways of, of writing to the end.

Unknown Speaker 6:53
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I described my process as I want to be able to kind of cast in stone Every one of my best days if that makes sense because when I'm when I say I've made knives fully by hand in the past and when you have a bad day, the knife that you make isn't as good as what you are capable. But with my process because so I'm combining CNC machinery so like computer controlled milling machines and cutting machines and stuff, along with hand assembly, hand finishing, you know, like, I think it's really important to get your hands on the knife to feel every edge and make sure that things are fitting up the way that they're supposed to, and to give the final finishing touches, but there's a ton of value for me at least in having the machines do all of the things that are really repetitive and that's that's where a lot of stuff can go right and save you time and it's also where a lot of stuff can go wrong and cost you a lot of time. So, you know i as i said i want to cost in stern all of my best days. So every Anytime I have an idea to improve the process, I get to go and sit down and change the programming for the CNC mill so that it does that better idea every single time. You know, so I'm currently at version 451 of the program that machines mine I plays. Wow. Yeah. And and that's the third version of that program, like the third time that I started from scratch with new fixtures and new everything. So, okay, this is part of the process I don't quite understand. So you're, you're saying this is the 400 and some odd iteration of programming the machine to make the knife? Yeah, yeah. So basically, I have a CNC machine, which I'm not sure if you're familiar with those, but basically, it's a computer controlled machine that can move a cutting tool in three dimensions. And it you know, I don't just give it an image of the knife and then it comes it out that unfortunately it doesn't work like that I you actually have to go through and program every move like there is software to help you but you know, as, as I get better at what I'm doing and as I learn more I find little improvements. So you have to go through and program those in and hopefully each time I get a slightly better knife.

Bob DeMarco 9:20
So is that like a new line of code like, Oh, I need to move the switch touch and, and I think I know how to do that quicker. So you just go in and you and you go into the switch line of code so to speak, and you just tweak that they have to rewrite the whole darn thing.

Unknown Speaker 9:35
No, no, you just tweak a bit. Yeah, so I use a CAD product called fusion 360. Okay, and sorry, it lets you do it in more of a visual way rather than having to manually tweak it but I kind of wish that every part of my process could be like that, like I sometimes feel like I'm the weak link, you know, as I said, when I have a bad day, um, so yeah,

Bob DeMarco 9:56
well, what this that the advantage of this, it reminds me of you You know, I, I trained in Visual Arts drawing and painting, and I could never do comic books. You know, I always wanted to draw comic books and I could, because I could never, across a bunch of pages make a recognizable character over and over, I could make the clothes and everything but the face was always different. And I could see how if you if you sort of hone in on a design that is a representation of all your best design days in one knife, and you get it in a piece of steel to try and get that again, totally freehand might be a maddening thing. And if you can get that same thing every time and then focus on making making the sweetest thing you got with fit and finish and materials and stuff. That's where the that's where the satisfaction lies.

Unknown Speaker 10:49
Yeah, well said, man. Absolutely. And yeah, like I try to, you know, there's some parts that the machine just can't do as well like that. The hand finishing of the bubbles, I try to do all of that. Just It gives you a last opportunity to make sure that everything's right. You know, I think the hands on time with the knife is still really important.

Bob DeMarco 11:09
So were you always designing with the aid of a computer? Or are you draftsman? Also, how does? How does your design process work?

Unknown Speaker 11:18
So I actually can't design in a computer. Funnily enough, like not for a knife for everything else. I make it in the computer. But for knife, I find that if I do a design on the computer, it's it's dead. It doesn't flow well. So yeah, like my mom was actually a drops woman for a mining company. And so I learned old school paper and pen drafting growing up. But in my process of making a knife, I usually don't even go to that extreme. It's usually you know, a pencil and a big bit of paper and freehand strokes to start off with and then you know, French curves and a nice pen to go over. So usually that'll be my first step, I'll draw it down on paper, I'll get something that I think looks pretty good. And then I'll actually go straight to making it. And I generally tend to finesse the design quite a bit once I'm making the first version by hand. Okay, so that is actually an important thing. I personally wouldn't go from a paper design to a CAD drawing to machine blade. I have always had the best success doing the first versions by hand. Just because when it's when it's in your hand, and you're holding it as you're shaping it for the first time, you can, you know, hold on to it for a second and then tweak a bit on the grinder and see how it fits your hand. And then, after you've got something you really like, it's actually really challenging to reproduce that in pad. I bet I mean, I bet it's hard to reproduce the experience of Oh, I just took a little bit off the end and now it feels great in my hands. But how do I draw this? Exactly? How do I get exactly this? Yeah, and one of the really important things for me was Sir, I don't know if you've followed, like, my journey through knife making, but I started off completely with hand tools, just like literally a file and a hacksaw or wow, you know. And one of the things that I promised myself when I started doing the CNC stuff was that I would never ever make a change to the design just to make it easier to make.

Bob DeMarco 13:29
So how would that you mean in terms of just like, it would make the whole thing easier in terms of programming or what do you mean?

Unknown Speaker 13:36
Yeah, so if I did, like a saber grind, for instance, rather than a full flat grind, that would make my life so much easier. Because I have more I have more material to hang on to it the back of the knife, and that's actually one of the reasons why most production knives tend to be saber grinds is because that way they can put them in a machine that's called a burger grinder and they can just rip through the blades, grind them in, you know, 30 seconds flat, and it doesn't matter if the angle of the bevel is a little bit off or something because then the grind line just appears higher or lower. Whereas with my knives doing a full flat, if the bevel angle is off, or if the stock thicknesses offer something by just a thousandth of an inch, it'll produce a step at the top of the punch line where you're transitioning through the Bible to the coil and the whole thing's trashed, like, Huh, you know, there's no point trying to finish that out. It's just wrong

Bob DeMarco 14:28
God I bet that's happened a couple of times.

Aaron Gough 14:31
Sure has.

Bob DeMarco 14:32
That's got to be a maddening so so you get all of your bevels ground in on the on the CNC also.

Unknown Speaker 14:39
Yeah, that's correct. So I have it I have a program now so that it, it actually makes a tiny little flat island on the coil in between the start of the handle scale of the punch line. So that way I can always get that flat area perfectly matched up with the top of the punch line, so that the devil is always like that that little sweep at the top of the plunger. Dinosaurs perfect. Yeah.

Bob DeMarco 15:02
Wow. So that's just tons of that's 460 some trial and error to kind of come up with that. So, how big are your batches? How do you decide about production? And, you know, how do you? How do you kind of economize, you have this machine that helps you, you still have to buy materials and everything. How do you figure out how big to make a batch that kind of thing?

Unknown Speaker 15:26
Well, ideally, my batch size would be one. Because if something goes wrong when you're working in a batch, more often than not, you won't realize until your significant way through the batch. And I have had that happen to me in the past where I was working on 100 blades and I accidentally scrapped 17

Unknown Speaker 15:46

Aaron Gough 15:47
yeah. And that was a really shitty day. I can tell you that.

Unknown Speaker 15:52
So yeah, ideally, the batch size is one because then you get to inspect every blade as it comes out. So on the machine when I'm when I'm machining blades I am I have several blades in process, but only one step is happening at a time and I inspect them in between every single step and then they they come off the machine. But yeah, you're right there are some things that are just simply not economical to do in a batch size. And he treatment is one of those things. For instance, do you heat treat everything in your shop? Or do you send them out? I used to, I used to heat, heat treat everything in shop, but then I found a heat treating place that's kind of local for me. And I tried them out. And I just realized that their results were way better than what I can achieve with my little oven.

Bob DeMarco 16:40
Well, you know what, if you're if you're actually if you're going for perfection with your needs, you may as well have make it a collaborative process and have the people who are best at heat treating take care of that you don't have to sweat it.

Unknown Speaker 16:54
It was actually an interesting process because when I first went to them, and said like, this is what I want to do. They actually said like, we can't do that it can't be done. So my steel is a tool steel, which is, in a lot of people's minds. It's a fairly simple steel. And I actually had one guy the other day saying, like, Hey, why are you using a tool? That's insane. But the performance that I get out of it, I'm really, really happy with it. It's a really good combination of toughness and edge retention. And the toughness lets me go really thin in the Bible, like my blades are only 16 thousandths of an inch behind the level before they're before they're shopping. Right. And that aids the, the cutting performance a lot. So yeah, but when I took the, you know, my blades and my specs to these guys, for the first time, they were like, you can't get that hardness with that tempo. And they were right in with their equipment, we couldn't get that result to begin with. And what actually ended up happening was that now they have to run all of my blades completely separately from anybody else's stuff because If if they so they have these big vacuum furnaces that you could like park a small car in, right? But normally they'll load them up with, you know, hundreds or thousands of pounds worth of material. And with that much steel in there, they actually can't. So One really cool thing about these furnaces is that they quench inside the furnace. Hmm. So they, they pull a vacuum and then they have the big heating elements in there that actually heat the steel through like infrared radiation rather than convective heating, like a normal one. And then when they when it's time to quench them, they actually inject cold nitrogen into the chamber at high pressure and they rotate it through a heat exchanger to cool the material in oven down. Wow. Yeah, so the blades come out of heat treat with like no scale, no oxides, no, nothing that they're they're perfectly clean. There's no way for oxygen to get. But the problem was that if if they ran my blades in a heavily loaded furnace, they couldn't quench them fast enough. Take Get the hardness that I require. So now every time I send them a batch regardless of batch size, they run this entire giant thing. Oh my gosh, with just my little stack of knives in the middle, which is a little bit crazy.

Bob DeMarco 19:13
You will it's superpowers them I think, yeah, it kind of does.

Unknown Speaker 19:18
And yeah, they're they're great. Like, you know I have I have a good relationship with the owner of that company. And you know, anytime something doesn't come out just right, he personally takes over and makes it right. And that's exactly the kind of, that's the only kind of person I'll deal with outside of my shop.

Bob DeMarco 19:34
Well, and especially because you're a small businessman and you're, you're running a small business, it's good to have that sort of person to person contact, especially with someone who's doing something as important as as treating your high performance knives. So you mentioned how thinly grounded they are and their full background. So what are the kind of purposes these are put to what what are the uses for men? Do you test them?

Unknown Speaker 19:57
Oh, yeah, yeah. I mean, I And I mean it's in my knives than anybody else should ever be. I have broken many many knives to get to this point I actually have a drawer that's just full of broken blades at some point I'm gonna turn it into a an artwork like a wall hanging it's just the price of progress. My customers are typically outdoors people so they using them for butchering and skinning game they using them for you know, splitting firewood into kindling stuff fires striking Ferro rods to satisfy prepping food at the campsite. You know, lots lots and lots of different uses. I also have a number of military customers so I've had knives that have done like multiple tours of Afghanistan and Iraq. The you know, the window breaker has been used to pop open windows to rescue people, that kind of stuff. There's a lot of different uses and that actually poses a really big challenge because, you know, making a blade that has the right sweet at the tip so that someone can you know, cake Hatred an animal or a skin an animal with it without piercing the hide but then it's also good for all the other tasks that you want to use it for. You know that it's it's tough enough that you can split firewood with it but that it has enough cutting performance that it's good for everything else is a difficult challenge and if it's being used for hunting but also being carried by military you know, it's got to be just stabby enough but not too stabby to to hit Oregon's when you're skinning an animal, that kind of thing? Not that I'm talking about. Do you? Are you a Huntsman or a hunter? outdoorsman? I wish I could claim to be more of a hunter than I am. No, I'm I'm planning on getting my firearms license here at some point soon. I really like long distance marksmanship. But I don't know that that will really translate into hunting. Right?

Bob DeMarco 21:50
We'll see sniping you can snipe some deer.

Unknown Speaker 21:53
I actually had a really awesome experience. One of those experiences you only get when you're dealing with you know these incredible People. So there's a Special Operations Group here in Canada called JTF. To and they're basically hostage rescue is their mandate. So you know if Canadian Embassy was taken hostage, or taken over in some other country, they would be the guys that would go in Windows and all that. Yeah, yeah. So these are really hard codes. And one of these guys came for a shop tour and I got chatting with him and said that I wanted, I'd always really wanted to try really long distance shooting, and he said, Oh, actually a buddy of mine in JTF is the leader of the like long distance marksmanship training program. And so I ended up making them a couple of knives and they took my girlfriend and I and the guy that works for me, Mike, we all went to their private range. And we find like 250 rounds each.

Bob DeMarco 22:54
Oh my good day. That's Yeah, cool. It was amazing. And you got tips from from the best.

Unknown Speaker 23:00
Then these guys are are absolutely amazing like the the main guy so we're shooting at targets out to 750 meters away. And the main guy was like, he could tell which way the wind was blowing and how fast it was blowing just by looking through the spotting scope and seeing the shimmer in the air. That's insane man. Yeah, it's it was it was really cool that

Bob DeMarco 23:22
next year that's the next evolution right there you know?

Unknown Speaker 23:26
Dude is so cool. So yeah, like you don't get I don't think I would have had that opportunity if I wasn't you know making knives for these guys.

Bob DeMarco 23:33
So what's what what kind of designs are you thinking of next time I saw that you you have a folder design that I saw actually a really nice drawn, you know, hand drawn picture. It was sort of a tanto and but but what other designs let's just say fixed blades for right now because it seems like folders are a whole nother bag of worms. But if you were to if you were to make another fixation Maybe for some of these military guys What? What are you thinking of?

Unknown Speaker 24:04
So the answer is actually a little interesting because the answer is that I want um, basically the the idea with the resolute is that so I eventually I want to be making exactly three nights and if we were to give them knives they would be outdoors kitchen and see. So the outdoors knife is the resolute the kitchen knife is an eight inch santoku that I'm already kind of working on. That's the one that you've been using and abusing in your own kitchen. Yeah, exactly. Okay, that's a beautiful looking knife, man. Thanks, man. I love the look of that handle. It's got an attitude thing, you know, and funnily enough, that's one of those things where I have the original drawings and it looks nothing like that. looks it looks super boring on paper. Now when I look back at it, when you were standing at the grinder it started speaking to you like like yappers often say their characters speak to them. Yeah, exactly. Which I don't know. I find that really weird. thing to relate to because I think of myself as like a logical person that should be able to put stuff down on on paper and your but it just didn't happen and then I've been working on various kind of boring kitchen designs for a while and then it was just like, you know what, I'm gonna just make this one and it changed as I was making it quite a lot. I like it a lot more now. It evolved in your hand. That's cool. So yeah, so city I'm assuming now is the folder.

Bob DeMarco 25:31
Exactly. Yeah, what do you what do you what is the purpose of that knife? Is it is it a little bit of urban survival a little bit of cutting your sandwich at lunch?

Unknown Speaker 25:42
Yeah, see that's the interesting thing is like the resolute it's very kind of a hardcore knife but I don't think that people that are using the knives in the city you know myself being one of them. I don't think that we're you know, prying open ammo crates and and surviving the zombie apocalypse. I think were opening packages. So You know, so I think that one's going to be more like a gentleman's folder as opposed to, you know, a hard use knife. So I think that'll be interesting that like I'll have kind of a range of different philosophies in the different knives because they are meant for very different uses. I don't want to just have you know, one I don't want to do a folding resolute if that makes

Bob DeMarco 26:22
gotcha I got all right so I so you say the most refined incarnation of your idea of Aaron golf custom knives is to have three different knives. Yeah, it's in the outdoor and, and and each one of those would be kind of refined over and over like you did the resolute until it was perfect. And then and then that's it.

Aaron Gough 26:47
Yep. Pretty much.

Bob DeMarco 26:48
That's, that's cool. So are you do you design other stuff? Are you a maker of other things. knives, carry knives, or stop? Oh, not a stopover. But knives are just a A slice of your interest.

Unknown Speaker 27:01
Yeah, absolutely. Um, so one of the one of the things that really interests me is actually the process for making the knives like. So my background outside of knife making is that I'm going to say quotation thing is I'm a software engineer quotation things, because I don't actually have any education past high school, which I barely managed to pass. But I've been writing software for a long time, and I've done it professionally for a long time as well. So that background really influences how I think about the process, you know, and I want things to be very repeatable and as perfect as I can make them and wanting that makes me want to build machinery to make the process better, you know, and hopefully, there'll be a lot more of that coming soon.

Bob DeMarco 27:50
So you're kind of an inventor. You have an inventing streak.

Aaron Gough 27:55
Yeah, I guess, so. Um, I yeah, I don't know. I wouldn't call myself More

Bob DeMarco 28:00
Well, I mean but but you're talking about building machines to build other things to me. Yeah, yeah, that's like that's a meta creator so so I saw you have maybe maybe one of the thorns in your side in the process sheath making, it might be I've made a few cut exceeds from my knives or you know because I tinker around but also for knives that I buy that I you know, she's I want to switch out and and for me it's it's a it's like stabbing blindly in the dark sometimes they come out awesome. And other times they're you know, they come close to ruining the knives, right? But I saw you were 3d printing a sheath, how much which is a seems like a brilliant idea. How much is 3d printing, playing into your prototyping for say the kitchen knife but definitely for the folder. Funnily enough, like Not at all

Unknown Speaker 28:58
Not even a tiny bit. Yeah. That's surprised me. I think 3d printing is awesome. And I've been really interested in it for a really long time. But I've only owned a 3d printer for about six months. It's additive.

Bob DeMarco 29:11
And yeah, and milling is reductive. It's like two different kinds of sculpture in a way.

Unknown Speaker 29:17
Yeah. And they both have their strengths for sure. Like, so one of the machines that I'm looking at building to help me make knives is actually a robotic sandblasting cabinet to help with my finishes for the DLC. And I've been prototyping parts of that and 3d printing them. And you know, I thought, oh, there's no way this is gonna be like durable enough to hold up for real use that just, you know, prototype cars, but I threw a couple in the sandblasting cabinet and just left them there and they're fine. I'm going to be able to make like finished parts of this machine on the 3d printer, which is amazing. Wow, that's amazing. So so you will have the one and only of those

Unknown Speaker 29:58
of that process.

Unknown Speaker 30:00
Well, actually, so that's one of the things that I want to do this year is. So coming from the software world, we have this thing called Open Source, which means that, you know, if I write a little utility a bit of code that helps me achieve some task back in open source that other people can use it, and it can help them, they can improve it, I can get the benefit for their improvements. And that exposure to that from a fairly young age has really shaped the way that I think about business and industry. I tend to give away all of my process, like if anyone ever emails me saying like, Hey, can you give me the like feeds and speeds and what tooling you're using to do your bevel? I'm like, Yeah, sure. I'll send you a screenshot. Everything like, that's fine. I understand exactly how much work it takes to replicate that stuff. Right, right. So one of the things I'm planning on doing is this thing called the open hardware initiative. And sorry, And machinery initiative, you can tell it's new, because I'm not even remembering myself.

Bob DeMarco 31:04
But stuff like the automated sandblasting cabinet, I want to open source that design so that other people can build it if they want other knife makers, other product makers, whatever. So basically, you would make the code available, or the whatever. Now, this is showing my age and lack of tech, but you would give me the technological recipe for people to make that whatever it is code. And they could just put that into their maker put the right kind of their 3d printer, put the right kind of material in there and get it.

Unknown Speaker 31:35
Yeah, it'd be a little bit more involved in that because there's going to be like a sheet metal enclosure that you'd have to have laser cut and then weld together. Some some, you know, like an Arduino that's programmed to control the motion, and some electronics and Yeah, but you know, all of that stuff would be open. But the point is, yeah, you're offering them the blueprint to put this thing together. Yeah, and I want to do way more of that, you know, like I want to bring my history back in house for instance, but Buying. I actually went to a company out a couple of companies and said like, How much is it for a small vacuum furnace? And the answer was like 500 grand? Wow. Yeah. So I could either like go and buy one on eBay, that's like 30 years old, for 10 grand and hope that it works and it probably won't, or I can look at building on myself, you know, so that's the route that I'm going to take is design one, build it myself open source it and hopefully other people will help me make it better. I mean, that if if you can do it, which obviously you can I say that's the way to go because it seems like a very expensive

Bob DeMarco 32:40
venture knife making all of the tools especially if, if you are if part of your main goal is to reproduce the same design, over and over high fidelity. reproductions of the original. All of that machinery cost so much money. You were talking about, you've been in a number of different businesses across a number of different industries. The knife business, what are some of the challenges? Is it a Is it a seems like a difficult venture?

Unknown Speaker 33:15
Yeah. And I mean, I think the most difficult thing is just getting things right the first time, you know, like, if you have to make 30 knives, and 10% of them need, you know, twice as much work because they're not quite right. That will kill your business really, really fast. And I have firsthand experience with that, unfortunately. Because so I am a full time knife maker right now. And I've been a full time knife maker for the last year. But before that, for the previous two years, I was almost a full time knife maker and also a full time software developer, because I was literally working my day job to pay to keep the business afloat. Yeah, I Like in that situation, too, you know, in Pirates of the Caribbean with Johnny Depp kind of rides the ship. off onto the dock. Yeah, yeah, that was what I what I was trying to do at that point, make sure that I didn't go down with the ship. Yeah, so I think that like, just, if, if you're reworking too much stuff, if you're, you're rejecting too many blades. And that that's kind of a cat and mouse problem. Because if your standards are really, really high, you're gonna reject stuff. You're gonna you're gonna have things that don't meet your standard. But if the amount of stuff that you reject this is too high, because you've got a process problem, then it's going to drive you out of business. And that was basically what happened. I, you know, I had people that wanted my knives, but I was having so many problems with the process. I couldn't make them fast enough. And my fixed costs, intervention, insurance and all that stuff. Just just killed me. I was going backwards.

Bob DeMarco 35:03
So do you have someone that you that? Well, you said that you have a young man that works with you? Is it is it hard to find? First of all? Is he the only guy who works for you? Is it? Uh,

Unknown Speaker 35:15
yeah, Mike. So interestingly, there are a lot of changes happening at the moment, I'm actually going back to being solo. And that's so Mike has been fantastic. He's actually a fantastic knife maker in his own regard. And that was one of the reasons why he and I stopped working together is because I'd seen his work. And the problem was for me in that situation, just that, you know, so if you're going to bed on a Sunday night, and then you suddenly realize like, Oh, shit, I forgot to do that thing that Mike needs for tomorrow morning. And if I don't do that thing, then he's not gonna have any work to do tomorrow, and I'm just gonna have to, you know, pay him to sit around that all of a sudden that kind of thinking just invaded my entire life. It, every single waking moment became about the business, which is, you know, I'm kind of going to gravitate there anyway because I'm really passionate about what I do. But it becomes a stress, it really kills your creativity when you're constantly stressed out about the business. So I found that bringing someone else on to help me rather than being a productive thing became a stressor and counterproductive thing.

Bob DeMarco 36:24
Was it difficult to find someone who could adhere to your sense of order and process?

Unknown Speaker 36:34
Yes and No, like Mike actually adapted to that pretty quickly. It was more more than some, my I think at times I'm a bit of a difficult boss. I'm trying to be nice about it, but my my standards are so high that you know, I'll see stuff that other people won't and that makes things really difficult you're trying to communicate like nor when you move the knife like this. I can see this tiny inconsistency in the bevel Yes. So you have to train someone else to have your eyes and and that's super hot. Yeah, because it's not their name that's literally etched in the side of the blade. You know, it's not even like it says Spyderco it says Aaron golf. Yeah, exactly. Very, you know. Yeah, I'm never selling that business unless it's to like a family member or they have to change their name.

Bob DeMarco 37:22
Right. Change it to Aaron golf.

Aaron Gough 37:25

Bob DeMarco 37:26
So, this this brings up a question I've been, you know, I think a lot about the OEMs in China and how they've changed things. And I've been wondering lately about whether OEMs here in the United States will catch on. I spoke with a small company called dauntless manufacturing that makes some really cool knives and they're all outfit. They're there. They're headed up, you know, there's millet. And so is this something you would ever consider? doing? It seems like you're set up in the in the room. way?

Unknown Speaker 38:01
Um, I think the answer is no, unfortunately, I'm just every time I deal with an outside vendor, I find myself having at least a little bit of a battle, you know, so my my deals the guys that do my deal. See, for instance, I just had two batches in a row with 70% rejects. Whoa, yeah.

Bob DeMarco 38:22
And what is I'm sorry, I don't want to stop you right there. What does that look like? And how do you fix it?

Unknown Speaker 38:30
Well, again, because, you know, I can't ship a knife to a customer that has, you know, like a different sheen across the blade or, you know, a shiny patch here or, you know, and to them. They're just like, well, what are we talking about? It's black.

Bob DeMarco 38:46
In our like, it's black and it's protecting the blade. What's

Unknown Speaker 38:49
Yeah, and I'm like, but like, look at this thing here. You know? Yeah. So there was there's been lots of little issues. One One of the issues that we had recently was that apparently there They had a process before the coding called plasma cleaning, which basically they they ignite a plasma inside the vacuum chamber and actually use that to etch off an outside layer of the steel in order to pry it up perfectly clean surface for the coating to warm. And apparently that process isn't computerized. So the guy like put it in the chamber and then he was working a second shift on the side. And so he went home and left the blades in there for like, three hours or something. And it actually changed it. So the The knife is sandblasted to a matte finish and it actually changed the texture along the edges of the blade. So it looked like holographic It was kind of cool. But it's not what I'm selling my customers right but yeah, sorry. You know, I had I have to explain to them they're like, What are you talking about? We don't see anything wrong. It's it's black. Yeah. Yeah. So yeah, like all of those blades had to be sandblasted again, really carefully. And then recoated Yeah.

Bob DeMarco 39:56
So so the model the model is for you. To, to kind of like a you know, an an old school painter in his Italia. Like you're gonna, you're gonna work on your work. And yeah, having someone else come to you with their design to say you have you have the process. Here's my design just wouldn't work for you.

Aaron Gough 40:19
I don't think so.

Bob DeMarco 40:20
All right, well, I won't send that email to you then. No.

Unknown Speaker 40:24
It's one of those things. I'm always I'm always really tempted like, I think I am actually going to be doing an outside job shortly, but it's not nice at all right? So I have some friends, Tim and Nick, who are awesome. You should look them up if you'd like to tell us a little Oh, and I actually started in a shed workshop in a dank, moldy basement with these guys. And they were working on their guitar stuff and I was working at my knife stuff and we became pretty good friends over a lot of boxes of really cheap one and they have gone on to become Just absolutely amazing guitar makers,

Bob DeMarco 41:02
what's the name of their guitars?

Unknown Speaker 41:05
It's Frank brothers guitar company, Frank brothers. And so I've been a guitarist for a really long time, I used to work for the Gibson distributor in Australia. And you know, there. So I've helped a lot of really, really expensive really nice gift to us and they're way, way up there. And they're having problems with getting one part of the guitar which is custom made for them, which is the the bridge Oh, sorry, not the bridge that tail Telly so they have a floating tail piece. So I'm actually looking at making most of them because they know that they can hand it over to me, I'm going to be like, as anal as they are about every tiny little detail. And because I'm a guitarist, and I've worked on setting up 1000 stuff. I know what's important in the desert,

Bob DeMarco 41:48
right? Oh my gosh, that sounds like such a cool project.

Unknown Speaker 41:51
Yeah, I that that stuff like that excites me. That's gonna be super fun.

Bob DeMarco 41:55
See, I think creatively it's always good to have a couple of things going. Yeah. You know, in periods where I've been painting or drawing, I've always had a ton of paintings and drawings going at once. So I can move from one to the other when when times are getting tough with one. So like making these guitar bridges or tail pieces, so wanting to sort of, maybe focus on your knives even more or in a different, you know, in a different way.

Unknown Speaker 42:21
Sometimes you have to get out of your head to get a fresh look at things. You know, there's definitely been a couple of times where someone will say something to me and I'm like, that's so obvious what happened I've been doing

Bob DeMarco 42:33
well, what about what about knife shows and marketing and social media? What how do you how do you let people know about your work?

Unknown Speaker 42:40
Um, yeah, that's when it's really difficult because I think that marketing as a general thing is insincere. So well, like there are 1000 companies out there that want to sell you their sneakers, you know, and they're not telling you that their sneakers are better. Really what they're telling you is like Put them on and then attractive women are going to throw themselves at you in our like, that seems to be it's all aspirational marketing for the most part. So in terms of getting the word out about what I do, I try to do what I call process documentaries instead. So my, my YouTube videos, that sounds like you've seen, yeah, just showing, like literally just showing exactly how much care and thought I put into the knives. And I think at that point, it communicates the value very well, as opposed to just being like, yeah, look at this cool knife. Buy it.

Bob DeMarco 43:38
Yes, yes. I mean, that reminds me of snacks. I don't know. Yeah. But you know, I'm telling you watch his process. And, and, and you understand why at the end of it all, he can only make 10 of them and they cost a million bucks, you know? Yeah, they should because of all of that work.

Unknown Speaker 43:56
Yeah, he's, he's more nuts than I am. I love him. He's awesome. He and I talk on Instagram fairly regularly. He's He's a very cool dude.

Bob DeMarco 44:04
Yeah, yeah. And make some very cool and, and unique kind of knives. Yeah, it seems like it seems like social media these days especially like Instagram because it's all pictures and and guys are the preponderance of knife collectors are our men and men are visual and you go to Instagram you can see and then buy and that's how I well I learned about you through through Alex but you know, but now I just keep up with you because of it. Thanks I see you on Yeah. So what's next for you? What's next for you? Is it is it the kitchen knife? Is it the folder? What can we what can we see from Aaron golf custom knives in the next five years?

Unknown Speaker 44:46
next five years. I'm sorry, that sounds like I'm your high school. No, yeah, high school yearbook or whatever. Yeah. Honestly, right now my head is all in the next five days. The next one Five weeks, I'm in the middle of moving to a new workshop, oh my doing the downsize. And yeah, that's kind of eating up 130% of my time a bit longer out, like, I have a couple of processes that I'm processes again, a couple of processes that I'm working on that have the potential to revolutionize the way that I make knives and give me a lot more freedom. And one of the things that I want to get out of that freedom is the ability to experiment with design more easily, so that I can chase something like a folder, because making a folder is gonna require a lot of design iterations to get it right, right. And right now with my current process, you know, each time I make a new set of fixtures, it takes me like three weeks. So if I have to do that every time I want to make a tiny tweak to the folder to make it better than that's gonna get in the way of me making the best nightclub that I can and that's a real problem. Right? So Yeah, I'm working on basically a new generation of my process that will open the doors for me a bit. And one of the things I actually want to do is I said before that I'm not going to make any other different knives. What I'm going to do is cheat a little bit. So I'm not going to make any other knives as regular models. But what I want to do is do limited editions where I just make like 20 of the knife design, just because I think it's like super fun or cool or whatever. It's not meant to be like a super practical knife and just get to have fun with it, you know, so I think that's gonna be really cool. I'm looking forward to that I have I have a pair of matched daggers that I want to do. Oh, yeah,

Bob DeMarco 46:44
that's totally up my alley right though. Yeah, that's daggers

Unknown Speaker 46:47
Yeah. I want to call them Seiler entered this, so you're just choosing between the two sides of the realistics. You know, my daughters would love that. Right. Sorry. Yeah, like stuff like that. And I want to Kind of pay homage to some of the knives that inspired me when I was younger. Yeah, like some classic ones so like the the Randell knives from World War Two and Fairbairn sex fighting knife that kind of thing, right

Bob DeMarco 47:16
yeah just lots there's lots of really cool knives out there it'd be really fun to do a modern kind of take on and in the process of doing those small batches you would also create a small and robust market for for your collectibles and that would be you know add a cool Mystique to the to the rest of your endeavors.

Unknown Speaker 47:37
Yeah, I guess sorry. It's it's funny man. Like I never really like I know a lot of collectors have my knives. But it's it's really not the market that I think about a lot which is maybe to my detriment. I don't. I don't know. I just I kind of in my mind, it's like if a knife isn't getting used, it's it's an ornament then stuff Making them so damn pretty sir.

Bob DeMarco 48:02
Look like you I would if I had one and I'm, I'm quite sure Alex is not taking his out and beating on it. I would. I would I would leave it just to appreciate and to you know,

Aaron Gough 48:11
he told me he was taking his to a survival course that was yeah so I that's I don't know maybe I'm maybe I'm getting in hot water here

Bob DeMarco 48:20
hey no no I'm sure he is because he he carries all of his knives and and he's got some doozies So,

Unknown Speaker 48:26
right. So anyway, where should people look for you Aaron golf Where should people look for you find your work? Um, I own Instagram or I prefer Instagram or Facebook. So I'm Aaron Aaron cough on Instagram, and golf custom calm if you want my store, you can just go there and buy as many knives as you want. That's totally cool.

Bob DeMarco 48:49
I can imagine well, Aaron golf. Thank you so much for coming on The Knife Junkie podcast been a pleasure meeting you and talking about your spectacular knives. That

Aaron Gough 48:58
Thanks for having me Bob. All right. Well it's a lot of fun man.

Aaron Gough 49:00
my pleasure, my pleasure.

Bob DeMarco 49:02
Take care.

Announcer 49:02
You're listening to the Knife Junkie podcast. If you've got questions or comments call the 24. Seven Knife Junkie listener line at 724-466-4487.

Jim Person 49:13
Back on episode number 98 of the Knife Junkie, podcast bob, good interview with Aaron, thoughts, takeaways.

Bob DeMarco 49:19
Well, he really stresses process. I mean, he really is always refining his process. And to me that's a that's what makes him a very interesting knife maker to observe like on Instagram, like I mentioned in the in the podcast, he reminds me of snacks. He just sort of shows every step of him dialing in and perfecting each part of the process. And you know, when you perfect the process, the product is going to come out, you know, great and you you see these knives, and it's true. They're just clean, efficient looking designs and the beauty is really in their execution. And it's not like he's got, you know, 500 different designs that he's got to try to work with his process is really, really defined since he has a limited number. Yeah, actually, that is a very, very interesting part of his identity as a knife maker. He's interested in perfecting three different designs, and then staying with that. And I think that that's really cool because so many different knife makers and knife companies are always striving to get out a new model, a new model. This is sort of kind of in the Chris Reeve knives line of thinking,

Jim Person 50:30
keep working on something, get it right, make it better get it writer or more right, as they say, and yeah, just turn out a perfect near perfect product if you can.

Bob DeMarco 50:41
Exactly. Yeah. All right.

Jim Person 50:43
Well, that is gonna wrap it up for Episode Number 98 of the knife junkie podcast remind you to join us this Wednesday for our midweek supplemental episode of the Knife Junkie podcast and then join Bob on Thursday on YouTube for a live video show Thursday night knives. So a lot of knife talk That you can get caught up with Bob The Knife Junkie DeMarco so for Mr. DeMarco I'm Jim Person saying thank you for joining us on the Knife Junkie podcast

Announcer 51:08
thanks for listening to the Knife Junkie podcast If you enjoyed the show please rate and review it review the podcast comm for show notes for today's episode additional resources and to listen to past episodes visit our website The Knife Junkie calm you can also watch our latest videos on YouTube at The Knife Junkie comm slash YouTube check out some great night photos on The Knife Junkie calm slash Instagram and join our Facebook group but The Knife Junkie comm slash Facebook and if you have a question or comment email them to Bob at The Knife Junkie comm or call our 24 seven listener line at 724-466-4487 and you may hear your comment or question answered on an upcoming episode of The Knife Junkie podcast


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