For most, the second a knife or tool is deployed for the first time, its story begins. For us, however, it begins long before it gets put to work. Our legacy as a company is in the hands of the best designers and custom knifemakers the industry has ever seen. In a truly collaborative environment, we work with these men and women to make their designs accessible to a wide audience while still preserving the heart and soul that was forged into each and every one.

In this new series, we’re showcasing these impactful, passionate, and clever designers and hearing about their personal journeys that led to design. This week, we’re talking to TJ Schwarz.

Flashback: January 2000

In 2000, TJ was only five years old. So he couldn’t be bothered with anything that wasn’t the new RC car he had received for Christmas. But across the country in Detroit, Michigan, the infamous Pontiac Aztek was being unveiled, an event that would soon lead to its demise in the number one spot on Time’s and The Daily Telegraph’s 50 and 100 Ugliest Cars of All Time respectively.

“From my perspective, the Aztek is one of the clearest examples of an attempt at ‘design by committee,’ a phrase considered an expletive in creative circles. It certainly sounds effective—bringing together a group of designers to each contribute a piece of the final product—but the result is something that looks good in theory but ends up being a non-organic smattering of components, nothing short of a Mr. Potato Head.”

Years later, this disaster would end up inspiring TJ to love, appreciate, and be fascinated by car design, and ultimately choose a different career…in knifemaking.

A Growing Love of Cars

At the end of his high school years, TJ found himself engrossed in the car industry. He would spend hours sketching cars, perfecting his talent and catching the attention of his classmates for his uncanny skill. This led to his enrollment in college to pursue a mechanical engineering degree.

Car 1

“My time spent researching and drawing cars only increased, and it was around this time that I read about the Aztek debacle. As the proud owner of a Pontiac, the story caught my attention. I was an artist bent on becoming a car designer, but this story made me re-evaluate. Maybe my love for cars shouldn’t lead to a blind pursuit of car design. There was something about the industry that really bothered me. In a word: politics.”

Car and Horse

It was around this time that the notorious Bill Koenig of Koenig Knives made an appearance, and everything changed.

From Cars to Knives

Bill Koenig, a renowned knife designer and friend of TJ challenged him to design a knife for what was his brand new company at the time. The rest is history.

“Shortly after I designed that very first knife, the margins of my notebooks filled up with edged tools. I had found a healthy, enthusiast-based industry with a product that can be designed front to back by one artist with one vision, something not possible when the complexities of an automobile are involved.”

Just a few short months after the love of knife and tool design took hold, TJ dropped out of college to dive fully in. Now, TJ—through hard work and clear natural talent and inspiration—is earning serious attention as a respected designer. You can see the genius for yourself in his very first CRKT® production design, the Caligo™.

Caligo 1

Caligo 2

Caligo 3

Caligo 4

For more on TJ’s design and his story, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and swing back by our blog in the near future. As always, thanks for being here and thanks for carrying CRKT®.