Known For His High-Quality Custom Knives, RJ Martin Has Earned A Spot As One Of America’s Most Creative Knifemakers.
Between his exquisite custom knives and numerous collaborations with factory cutlery companies, RJ Martin has become a legacy name in the knife industry. As a teenager he was inspired by a Sports Afield article on knifemaker Bob Dozier and decided to try his hand at knifemaking, which he did with very satisfactory results. The seed was planted for what would become a lifelong passion of working with steel, the results of which are his incredible knives today.
To get there he studied at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, graduating in 1984 with a degree in materials engineering. From there he spent 17 years working in the aircraft industry designing parts and mechanisms for hi-tech helicopters. This exposed him to a wide range of materials including carbon fiber and titanium and, just as important, CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machining. You couldn’t ask for a better prelude to becoming a custom knifemaker.
When Martin retired in 2001, he rediscovered his love for knifemaking and set up shop. At the time the modern tactical knife era was in full swing, so RJ jumped on board and hasn’t gotten off the train since. His tactical folders are his mainstay and if you look at his body of work, his designs flow like a river.
RJ came right out of the chute with a surprise when tendering his most important shop tool.
“My two favorite tools, bar none, are my own hands,” he begins. “Without them, I could not use any hand or machine tools. More importantly, I’d miss out on the incredible satisfaction working with my hands brings me. It’s important to take good care of your hands and eyes, and your lungs, because knifemaking will take its toll over time. I have had multiple hand and finger surgeries over the years to correct wear and tear—and a couple of my digits have suffered substantial injuries from knifemaking—so they’ve got character! Knifemaking is a contact sport and, banged up as they are, I wouldn’t trade them for anything. Lynyrd Skynyrd had it exactly right in their song Red White & Blue when they sang, ‘If you want to know where I’ve been, just look at my hands.’
“My favorite grinder is my Burr King BBA20, 2×72-inch belt model. It’s super smooth, runs incredibly true, and the 20-inch-diameter 60 durometer wheel lets me grind my bevels high while keeping my blades very strong. I re-grind almost all my blades after heat treating using this machine. The slow speed range is critical for steels like CPM S110V, S125V and MagnaCut, as they must be ground slowly with coolant and light pressure after the heat treat because they are so incredibly wear resistant. I got the adjustable-height pedestal stand because I’m tall, plus the super fancy ergonomic work rest option because it’s just too cool. This machine is also very quiet!”
“And then there’s Sophia, my alter-ego and companion,” RJ continues. “Sophia is an Ares Seiki R5030, three-axis CNC mill built in 2021, and she’s, well, a badass! With 14 tools in her carousel and a 20,000 RPM dual-contact spindle running high-precision Big Kaiser 30-taper toolholders, she is my girl with a short skirt and a long jacket! With properly designed tooling, good [numerical control] programs and quality carbide tools, her precision is incredible. I named her Sophia because her name literally means ‘Wisdom,’ and she is indeed wise! I gave her some awesome LED lights made by OC White to illuminate her beautiful work, and I keep her super clean. She is, after all, a woman of class and distinction! Sophia wears my mom’s American flag, which I pass by every morning when I enter my shop.
“Finally, my Sears 6×48-inch belt sander and the stand it’s sitting on belonged to my father, Richard, who was a gifted artist, a great parent and—most of all—a decent and caring man. He never made a knife in his life but he encouraged me to make them.
“Those hands I wrote about earlier? They came from my father. Of this, I am certain. He passed before I really hit my stride as a knifemaker and I miss him dearly,” RJ notes. “So, I keep this machine in my row of grinders to remind me every day where I came from and how grateful I am to be able to work hard at a job that I love and am successful at.”
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