Making a Knife: Ken Onion
In the knife world, some designers specialize in custom art pieces, while others refine existing designs for purpose-built applications. Then there’s Ken Onion.
Few designers have the capability to actually shift the definition of a common pocket knife. Ken is that designer. He’s not content simply reinventing what a knife can do, but what it can be. There’s a huge difference there and here’s proof: He invented assisted-opening back in 1996, and with it, an entirely new category of knives. But he didn’t just stop there. Just last year he revealed his ground-breaking Field Strip innovation, allowing a user to easily disassemble their knife anywhere for cleaning, without tools. It’s a true game changing innovation for those who rely on a properly functioning blade regardless of the dirt or grease that’s dished up.
We’re proud to have a history with Ken Onion—he’s been a cornerstone of the CRKT foundation and has not only been an incredible asset to CRKT for over a decade, but more so he’s been a great friend to many of us here. In the spirit of nostalgia and excitement for all that’s yet to come, we approached Ken, his friends, and his family several months ago about filming in his hometown of Kaneohe, Hawaii. The Onion family, as always, welcomed us to his incredible shop with open arms. It’s always a surreal experience hanging out with this legendary craftsman on his own turf.
After planning and organization with the video crew, we headed to Ken’s shop on the west side of Oahu. It’s exactly how you picture it—resembling something between a mad scientist’s lab and open air nature preserve. The sounds of chirping tropical birds and insects combine with the smell of grinding steel to conjure what can be explained in one simple phrase: Uniquely badass.
We’re lucky to have gotten to know Ken and his personal story over the years. He’s an incredibly welcoming, warm guy with one hell of a sense of humor. The day we showed up to shoot, he was wearing a large hand-made skull medallion around his neck with a bright orange smiley face button on his shirt. The juxtaposition is pure Onion.
Over the next three days we got to know Ken, his family and friends—hell, even the dog well. Without hesitation, he’s a guy that makes everyone feel welcome. In the end, this is what passion for a craft looks like. Between the stories of success and failure, the ever constant concept of hard work hung around Ken like a halo. If I could summarize the man in a short phrase: He’s the American dream.
We’re incredibly proud of our partnership and how this video turned out. It’s a true reflection of all that we love about this legend (really, all that everyone loves about him).