This is the first in what I hope will become a series of interviews with those who are making incredible gear for Regular Guys and Regular Guy pursuits. It is important to support these small business and it is important to know who is behind them. If you can trust the gear maker, you can trust the gear.
Ray Laconico is a good friend of mine and an excellent knife maker. He has been featured in Tactical Knives magazine and is getting to be very well known for his straight forward, modern designs. His knives are not exercises in design only; they are meant to be used. I am honored to have him as my first guest on Jerking The Trigger.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I was born on January 25, 1974 on the island of Cebu in the Philippines. My family moved to the U.S. in 1982. I’ve been married to my wife for 11 years and I have a 21 year old stepdaughter. We live in Visalia, CA along with our dog “Bear”. I’m a full time knife maker and I work out of my home garage. I have a very minimal shop with no more than about $3,000 worth in equipment.
What did you do before you started making knives?
I’ve been an artist all my life. I used to draw and paint landscapes, portraits, people, wildlife and just about everything else. I was always good at it but I could never fit in with the “artist” crowd. My first real job after high school was at a big law firm in downtown Los Angeles. The job was so “not for me” that we moved to Visalia in 2001 to escape with no real plans and ended up starting a cleaning business. Meanwhile, I’ve always been interested in making knives so I made them as a hobby in my free time.
Why did you start making knives?
I’ve been interested in knives ever since I can remember as a kid. When I was old enough to buy knives, I started collecting them. As we all know, it can get pretty expensive. Then I thought, why not try to make knives instead? I’ve always been good at making things. I made my first knife around 2001. I made about 3 or 4 knives per year just to give them away. I continued to get better skills and better equipment and by 2005, I started selling them. By the summer of 2006, I was a full time maker.
Many knife makers are also knife users. I know you really enjoy the outdoors. What or who are your influences as a knife maker?
I have to admit, as a kid, I got interested in knives after the Rambo movies! Later it was Crocodile Dundee! As an adult and in knife making, my first influence is probably seeing the works of some of the ABS makers and their big bowies. In the last 2 or 3 years, my influences have been the wilderness and survival guys who have turned my style into the simple and practical user knives that I’ve done. In the past couple of months however, I’ve been really influenced by my first and only real teacher and mentor, ABS Mastersmith Mike Vagnino. He has turned me yet into another new direction; slipjoint folders and hopefully liner locks next!
How much influence do your customers/users have on your work?
During the last 3 years or so, almost everything I’ve done is because of my customers. If I’m not doing a custom order, I’m doing what I think my customers would want to buy. Once in a while, I’ll do a customer’s design that turns out to be a hit and end up doing a whole bunch of orders of that knife. The HWK was my all time biggest seller. I made so many of that knife that I got sick of it! My target crowd was always the outdoorsmen who want a nice usable and practical cutting tool – a tool that will cut well and still look and feel good. Once in a while, I’ll do something different like a bowie or fighter but it’s not very often.
Your designs are always so crisp and modern. The designs seem so simple, but I know that the simplest designs often take the most work to perfect. Can you talk us through how you design a knife?
I usually just keep in mind what I think will cut well and be nice to hold. If you get those two things you’ll always end up with a simple, yet good looking design. I truly believe that simple designs are the ones that work the best as a tool. Edge geometry is also VERY important.
You are known for your incredible precision, fit, and finish. What drives you to achieve that level of quality and are you actually a knife making robot?
As a former knife collector, I would always look at the fit and finish of the knives that I buy. I always sought after knives that were well crafted. Even if it’s just a user I still wanted it to be close to perfect (a perfect knife does not exist). I guess I just want to make a knife that I would be happy to receive if I was the one buying it. I also price my knives accordingly. I ask myself, “Would I be happy if I paid this much for this knife?” As for being a robot, the answer is no. I am not a robot. I am actually a cyborg. I am living and breathing flesh but some parts of me are mechanical where they are needed for precision work.
Do you take more pride when your knives are used or when they are collected?
Definitely when they are used. However, many of my customers are collectors who also use their knives. I don’t think very many of my knives are sitting on display. Maybe some of my earlier works are but I think most of my knives are going to collectors who use their knives.
You are typically known for your fixed blades. Lately, you have been making several slip joint folding knives. What sort of folders can we expect to see coming from you in the future?
Yes, I’ve been known pretty much solely for my fixed blades but I think I’m going in the direction of folders from this point of my career. I’m going to be making a liner lock hopefully later this year. I want to take myself to the next level. I want to be a better knife maker by gaining more skills and knowledge.
If you could have a knife from any knife maker throughout history, who would it be?
This is something that I probably have to spend more time thinking about but right now, the knives that come to mind are an original Jimmy Lile “First Blood” knife or maybe the big knife that was carried by Jim Bowie.
What is the best way for someone who is interested in owning one of your knives to get their hands on one?
Because I want to develop my skills in making folders, I’m not taking orders for now but I’m sure I will in the near future. Meanwhile, I should have some knives for sale every now and then in the for sale forum on Bladeforums. Also, my knives often pop up for sale second hand on Bladeforums.