Milling Custom Knives and Titanium Handles

Although only twenty-two years old, Will Moon has been working with metal, tools, and CNC for nearly his entire life. Over the past few years, Moon focused his efforts into Will Moon Custom Knives, where he uses a Tormach PCNC 1100 to create high-end custom knives and scales.

[Not a valid template]Will’s interest in metalworking came to him from his father, Billy, and his family’s involvement in combat robotics (learn more about Team Moon Robotics in a previous Owner Showcase Story on Tormach.com). “I grew up around metal fabrication and working with tools for all of my childhood. My dad taught me how to weld, use a drill press, and how to use the Tormach mill. We traveled all over the country to compete in robotics tournaments, and I’ve been working with metal for as long as I can remember,” Moon recalled.

“My experience in robotics was a huge stepping stone for learning how to do metal fabrication and I’ve really loved having the Tormach mill. Learning to use the PCNC 1100 has given me more so much more creativity and flexibility in what I can do now; it’s brought me up to being a true professional-level knifemaker,” Moon added. “For me, knifemaking is an expression of that artistic creativity. It grew from a hobby and just expanded. By the time I’m done with school, I’ll have enough money saved up to pick up my own Tormach mill and open my own shop.”

“It was a natural evolution for me to start working on knives. I had an interest in knives and one day decided to go out in the garage and grind a piece of metal and that’s how Will Moon Custom Knives started,” Moon recalled. He quickly progressed from customizing existing knives, to making scales and eventually to his own brand of custom knives.

“I had my own designs and wanted to see them come to life. From the scales I progressed into doing custom fixed blades and then over the past year or so, I designed the Orion Butterfly Knife,” Moon said. “The Orion is a pretty unique product as far as butterfly knives go. It’s a really big knife. The handles are all titanium and it’s got a really thick blade.”

“Now I’m doing the Mark XII integral frame locks, which are all 100% made on the PCNC 1100. I do all the blades in house, all the profiling, surfacing, even things like the lock bar faces, which are cut on the Tormach mill instead of grinding them. The Mark XII’s are integral knives, which means the handle isn’t put together with separate parts, but rather is milled out of a single large billet of titanium. Apart from the pivot and stop pin, there are only two screws on the knife, and they hold the pocket clip on. Integrals are considered the pinnacle of frame lock knife design, they’re very difficult to manufacture, but the PCNC affords me the precision I need to get the job done.”

Moon has been already been featured designer on the Blade HQ website, and the knife making community is taking notice. “That was really huge for me and really got people interested in my brand and in my knives,” he said. “It’s really nice to get some support from an established retailer who’s going to stand behind you and support your product.”

As part of a new generation of knifemakers, Moon’s background using CNC puts him in a rapidly expanding group of artisans mixing old craftsmanship with new technologies. “I think that hand-craftsmanship is absolutely one of those skills that you need to have as a knifemaker, but there are real advantages to being able to layout your designs on a computer,” he said. “I think it’s huge to be able see how parts are going to function and how things are going to work. And, moreover, I think you can make products more accurately and consistently with a CNC. I still do all sorts of things by hand, like the blade grinding, embellishment and the fit and finish. But if I needed to manually mill the integral frame locks, I’d be there for a week just milling one frame. It’s something I really think the CNC is meant for. It’s a very complicated design and there are a lot of little subtleties that need to be done precisely. This allows me to make my frames correctly and consistently, it’s highly repeatable.”

“Operating a CNC takes as much skill as all the other hand-craftsmanship, it’s a job you need a lot of skill and practice to do. You don’t just put a block of metal into a CNC mill and ‘boom’ out pops a knife. That’s not the way it works. It can be challenging at times, but fun.  I don’t think one is more or less valid. I think that being able to make things on a CNC is great compliment to hand craftsmanship, and both are integral to the way I make my knives.”

Learn more about Will and Will Moon Custom Knives on his blog and in this this You Tube video featuring Will’s knives, fixturing, and the PCNC 1100 in action.

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