Grit City Custom Knives: Hilltop Tested, Tacoma Approved

Joel Green started making knives around 2012 after falling down a Youtube rabbit hole of bushcraft videos. He found he had most of the necessary tools in his garage so he got some steel and tried making a knife based on a video he saw. It turned out terrible. It caught the attention of a friend of his though so he made another one. That one turned out better. Five years and many knives later, he now makes some of the finest blades you’ll ever get your hands on.

“The future belongs to the few of us still willing to get our hands dirty” proclaims a poster tacked to the wall of his workshop. Looking around the detached garage that serves as headquarters for Grit City Custom Knives, you can tell this is not just a clever slogan. His forge is made out of wheel parts from a 1952 Ford and his kiln is a stack of fire bricks held together with angle iron. “It’s not pretty but it works.” Joel says with a grin.

That’s really the spirit at the heart of his craft: These knives are meant to be used. Considering Joel’s previous career in the Marine Corps, this is not terribly surprising. He only produces about 50 knives a year and every one of them is handmade. This ensures the knives will last for the rest of your life and probably longer. His knives ride on the hips of soldiers deployed overseas as well as local law enforcement.

As utilitarian as they are though, anyone scrolling through his Instagram feed would readily admit these are some damn good looking knives. The Damascus steel blades are particularly attention getting. After hours of grinding–Joel doesn’t wear gloves during this so he can monitor the temperature of the steel–the blade is dipped in ferric chloride acid to etch the steel. This brings out the dark banding Damascus steel is known for.

Most of the knives you’ll see coming out of the shop are not the kind you’d find Mick Dundee carrying around. Joel likes making smaller, everyday carry knives. The most popular designs are classic bird and trout knives and his aptly named Street Cleaver. True to the name though, he’s made a few custom knives big enough to make John Rambo giggle like a schoolgirl.

So what does it take to get your mits on a handmade Grit City knife? Mostly patience at this point. Joel is not taking any more orders until he’s done working through the current backlog. Keep a weather eye on his Instagram page though. He updates regularly when knives are being made and they’re usually snatched up within hours of posting. Prices start around $200 and go up depending on materials. If you’ve peeked into the world of custom blade smithing, you’ll know how amazing that deal is.

Even if you’re not interested in buying one, it’s hard not to be impressed by what Joel is doing at his humble shop in Hilltop. He’s made knives for benefit auctions that raised money for the Navy SEAL Foundation as well as the Animal Aid and Rescue Foundation. Neighbors walk by on occasion and he’s always happy to tell them about his operation. He’s even helped a couple friends get their own knife making businesses off the ground by sharing the knowledge he’s amassed. Check out Tahoma Knife Co. for more local custom knife work.

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