The Artistic Process

When I began making knives in 1988, my background as a tool and die maker helped a lot in starting the fabrication. It had given me a foundation that allowed me to overcome technical difficulties I encountered through my first experiences; and I learned a lot by improvising in my own way. I had for example chosen to make hidden tang knives instead of full tang because of the added strength but also because the cosmetic appearance of the handle seemed depreciated by the intrusion of the steel in the middle; furthermore the cold feeling of the metal in the hand bothered me. But this choice was not facilitating the process and I had to be very ingenious when it came to gluing and assembly issues. Another example is that in my quest of cosmetic and strength perfection, I insisted in adjusting the guard to the blade and not fill the gap with welding. This is how I progress at my own pace in the making of my first straight knives.

As I was technically progressing which is an indispensable quality for a knifemaker, the side I had voluntarily set aside at the beginning was making itself more needed and urgent, I needed to develop a personal style for my knives. When I realized this, I stopped making and focused solely on designing. I sought the critique of my drawings from friends and family; and we were trying to find the design that would identify my style. It was obvious that the ones who had met success, the legends such as Bob Loveless, Ron Lake or Michael Walker, had all created a style, which had imposed itself. I wanted that at the first look at one of my knives, people would say “It is a Bennica”.

The task turned out to be difficult because custom knives have been greatly explored and I didn’t so much aspire at revolutionize the knife designs as making it my own. Back then, as is still true today, I wanted to keep in mind the original function of the knife: in the hand and not only in the collection cabinet. I wanted a line with this idea because the knife is first a tool, from the everyday user cutting a material or food to the hunter dressing an animal. It must be useful to all. I looked for an ergonomic shape for a solid and pleasant grip like a handshake. This led me first to consider a voluminous handle, thick and round, on which the hand would have a strong and comfortable grip. Furthermore, so that the knife would be safely anchored to the user, I wanted the butt end to act as a guard, keeping the hand on the handle.

This was the path I followed even if today my knives are considered more as collector knives than tools. On this path my line was carved, that which identifies me in today’s custom knife world. In fact this is so true that a new challenge arises for me to design another “Bennica” which would find its place next to this first inspiration that is still alive 25 years later.

Back then my fixed blades were made with a lot of care (they still are!) but to develop the custom aspect I started making adjustments to the handle materials, separating them in 2 parts. However even through such projects I was not advancing my practice much and quickly found my limits in the fixed knives world. I needed to find a new technical challenge.


The Folder

On the market there is a type of knife that is strongly valued as pure cutlery art; it is the folding knife. It was a stimulating challenge, allowing me to innovate as truly put my skills to work. To start I gave myself some esthetic parameters: To maintain the design of my fixed blades and incorporate in the most original and discreet way the principle of the lockback. I chose this mechanism because it is technically more sophisticated than the slip joint or even the liner lock and offers optimal safety. My colleagues and predecessors have largely explored the lockback system; so to start in this endeavor I first researched the literature. I studied in detail Ron Lake’s work, which is a reference. I wanted to avoid replicating, as it seemed a bad idea to take apart a folder only to try to make it again piece by piece. I wanted to understand the essence of this mechanism: The different levers allowing to play with the smoothness of opening, the strength of the closing, the slickness of the blade, the sound of the blade as it locks… I wanted to compose my way all that makes the art of the folding knife. I read, I made the material my own, I made mechanical drafts, I superimposed my fixed blade, I adapted the mechanism forcing it to follow my line, I made prototypes, I re-read, I understood the failures and through this path I made my folder which was introduced at the 1992 Thiers Show. This process gave me a lot of satisfaction despite the numerous hours it took. It allowed me to truly valorize my love for mechanical precision. I think I have won my challenge to make a folder with as pure a line as a fixed knife because at shows I often see customers struggle to find a way to close the knife they just opened since the closing mechanism is so well integrated into the shape of the handle. It is the whole heel of the handle that slides down and not a button sticking out. This knife was an instant success and became sort of my trademark. It is my best seller today. At the time despite this considerable step forward, I still had a long road ahead on the demanding path of fit and finish.




Despite my best efforts I still wasn’t completely satisfied by the grinds on my blades. Sometimes asymmetrical but mostly I needed to spend hours to obtain the finish I wanted. It seemed that I did not have a set and efficient method. Another major problem I was having was in the polishing of the steel. My results were lacking despite all my efforts to perfect and master mirror polishing. I had found my limit as an autodidact and realized that I would not move ahead by myself. I needed to find a master knifemaker willing to teach me his art. I tried in vain to glean advices from my French colleagues but these either weren’t sufficient or I did not understand; other times they weren’t willing to share. Because I needed help desperately I dared turn to the one maker whose impeccable grinds and finish amazed me the most. I contacted Steve Johnson, a top celebrity and himself student of the “Loveless School”, and asked him to further my practice. He first examined my work before answering; very humbly stating that he had little to teach me but he agreed to let me in his shop. This meeting was most enriching and helped me make a great leap forward in the finish and in the speed of my blade grinding.

Later in 1996, I had a similar experience with my friend Dietmar Kressler, which helped me further even more my finishing skills and gain speed in the process. I would like to recognize the generosity of these knifemakers who unselfishly shared their knowledge with me. Their gesture meant a lot to me and I didn’t hesitate to do the same for others when the time came.




People have sometimes told me that I do not leave a sufficient place for transmission of knowledge; in particular when I participated in the Bettencourt contest on the intelligence of the hand or when I was considering entering the “Best Crafstman of France” contest. It is true that I do not have apprentices, maybe because I don’t have the skills but I really never had the desire to do it. However during my career I have had numerous exchanges of knowledge with my colleagues and I willingly accepted to be a stepping-stone for those who asked me. For example on folding knife technique, I welcomed many knifemakers wanting to develop their skills: In no particular order I can think of Francesco Pachi, Antoninio Fugarizzu, Gaëtan Beauchan, Charles Roulin, Scott Slobodian, Emmanuel Esposito, Jean Paul Tysseire, Max Salice et Jean Noël Buatois. I have also shown my methods in regards to certain specific technical issues to makers such as Michel Blum, Alexandre Musso, Jean Paul Sire, Paul Gonzales, Jean Pierre Suchera, Daniel Valy, Gérard Doursin. Lastly I was honored to welcome in my workshop Bob Terzuola, Ron Lake, Howard Hitshmount and to share our points of view on knifemaking.


The Liner

The classic liner lock method was not satisfactory enough for me. To remedy that I created a stand-alone piece attached to the liner by a dovetail. This allows me to heat treat it to the hardness and flexibility of my choosing, also enabling me to adjust it precisely to the lock face of the blade. This ensures a greater reliability of the mechanism that will not wear over time and will not require adjusting. Despite all the care I put in improving the reliability of the liner lock system, this knife did not receive a comparable success to my lockback. Maybe it is because a Bennica is not a liner lock and that is not what the collectors want from me. Maybe a Bennica isn’t anything else but this line with the recurved heel. Could it be that this trademark line we search for so hard at the beginning becomes what defines us and never leaves us? However I am hard at work on a new folder design project with an innovative, strong and reliable new locking mechanism.


The Interframe

On the handle of folders I make an interframe that can be divided in two or more inlays depending on what I or my customers want. The interframe allows imprisoning the materials and insures more rigidity and longevity. Here again my skills as a toolmaker helped me a lot since I use the pantograph to make creations always more demanding in the mastery and use of the machine. I look for multiple voluptuous lines in tangents, which are very difficult technical feats. The interframes on my folders open the possibility of a blank canvas for engraving. For my first show in 1996 I had a knife engraved by Manrico Torcoli. I wanted to show the European culture with an exceptional piece and separate myself from the American style. I renewed the experience with other engravers such as Firmo Fracassi, which is being called the engraver of the century. I have collaborated with Pedersoli, Stoltz, Galeazzi and Rizzini.


 The Technique

I have always given great importance to the consistent quality of my creations. In my shop I have traditional machines: Lathe, milling machine, pantograph, drill press, grinder, heat treating oven and lots of files and sand papers. Being a perfectionist, I push as much as possible the tolerances and during the whole manufacturing I measure my parts so that they fall within strict criteria in terms of size, finish and hardness. This rigorous work ensures minimum play between the different parts once the knife is assembled. My constant research brought me to always improve my manufacturing process and even the mechanism itself. A few years ago I introduced a personal system of ball bearings which gave an incomparable smoothness to the blade operation and completely removes any play between the blade and the handle, that knifemakers and collectors pay so much attention to. From knife to knife the design evolved, the thickness of the handle decreased and the knife joined a general trend, which sees the knife in two dimension. Maybe this is because the profile of the knife is being seen first and foremost that way and that this view is truly valorized when the knife is flat once laid down on a table. It is also true that a flat knife is easier to carry in pants pockets.

I revisited the integral knife by adding an interframe in the handle. This knife which simple line seems easy is in reality a very complex piece to make. To create it I need a RWL34 steel bar that weighs 1.2kg and after many milling and grinding operations a 200gr knife will be born.



At this point in my story I need to introduce my wife Chantal. From the start of this adventure she has always supported and encouraged me and took on the job of assistant with many duties. Chantal prepares the shows and the trips, answers your emails, keeps the website alive, goes to the bank and the post office. She designed the pouches for the folding knives and makes them by hand along with the sheaths and presentation boxes. When we decided to go to the USA she started learning English. She found an interest in photography and recently tried her hand at designing interframes for my folders. The Atoll is her first design, which has been very successful and others are in the works. She likes to summarize her tasks in 3 words: Charly makes the knives and me the rest.


Materials and Embellishments

After numerous tests I selected RWL34 for my blades and 416 stainless steel for the handles. For the Damascus I keep good relationships with talented forgers around the world and in France that I call upon often for my blades. I know I can count on the professionalism of Hank Knickmeyer (USA) and Claude Shosseler (France).

In the continuation of my philosophy of being demanding on the reliability and longevity of the knives, I slowly went away from woods and ivories to go to materials more thermally stable like stones, coral and mother-of-pearl. Coral is an exceptional material but it is very difficult to procure high quality pieces. I put a lot of efforts into finding them first in Corsica and then in Italy. It is in Tore del Greco near Naples that I met Vittorio Liverino who helped me chose top quality coral. I also found great interest in semi-precious stones, which are much easier to procure and offer a wide variety of colors and patterns. I slowly converted to this art form, investing a lot into my equipment because stone working is very specific and does not leave much room for improvisation. In the essential phase of polishing, the work is more about chemistry than machining. Once again I did not hesitate to call upon my colleagues to share their knowledge. Warren Osborne welcomed me for a first workshop and Scott Sawby gave me multiple clever advices over several exchanges. I also would like to mention my friends Valerie and Allen Elishewitz who have helped me numerous time and especially Allen who is a great technician and like me lover of beautiful machines. I am having a lot of fun with these new materials and today I am one of the rare European makers offering them on their knives.


The Marketing

Making knives is one thing, selling them and becoming part of the collector knife world is another. At the beginning of my career, I was looking at this world only through articles in dedicated magazines such as La Passion Des Couteaux that reported on major events in the cutlery industry in France and in the USA such as the SICAC in Paris or the Knifemakers Guild Show in Orlando. There were also articles on famous French knifemakers like Pierre Reverdy, Michel Blum or Henry Vialon; and I discovered that one of them lived close to me. This is how I contacted Michel Blum because I wanted to show him what I was making and have a top knifemaker critique my work. At that time I had no confidence in myself and it was Michel who really pushed me to start in the knife world. He encouraged me, gave me confidence in my work and pushed me to participate in my first show: The 1990 SICAC show in Paris. I would like to give homage to this knifemaker whose artistic value I really admired. I realize today by observing the productions of colleagues around the world that he was the initiator of an esthetic style that has been reproduced and developed.


The Shows

From show to show, the knife world opened to us and by meeting knifemakers from all horizons we realized how it extended its frontiers beyond France. The custom knife was born in the USA and a phenomenal market existed there while in France the movement was only beginning. With the creation of the SICAC in Paris, came the Thiers show in the French knife capital; then other cities like Cannes or Aix-en-Provence tried to start as well. But once the initial interest passed, the enthusiasm seemed to fade and the European market did not seem to be destined to as bright a future as the market on the other side of the Atlantic. Being more and more determined to be involved in the cutlery industry and to quit my profession to become a full time knifemaker, I realized that I needed to target the largest and most successful market possible. I was rather anxious to see this new direction succeed. I wanted to take every opportunity to reach a wide customer base and I tried to make my mark in the USA. At first it seemed very difficult because of the language barrier, as neither of us had studied English in school. I have to command my wife Chantal who dedicated herself with enthusiasm from the beginning and demonstrated great courage and perseverance without which this American adventure would not have been possible. To set foot in the American market it was paramount that I join the American Knifemakers Guild according to my French colleagues who were already selling in the USA. To become a member of the Guild one has to follow a submission process and get his work examined by three members who support the maker’s application. I asked Ron Lake, Michael Walker and Bob Terzuola to sign my application to the Guild. Having participated in several international shows like the SICAC in Paris or the Exa in Brescia, I had met them several times and we became friends talking about knives each time we met. I was honored and proud when they accepted to support my application. In 1996 I quit my job in the precision machining world and it is the year I became a voting member of the Guild at the show, which was held in Las Vegas. Gaetan Beauchamp, my Canadian friend and colleague advised me to attend the ECCKS in New York that same year. In 1997 the first Milan knife show was organized. I was invited and was happy to attend as my maternal language is Italian and it was easy to communicate with the Italian collectors who real knife enthusiasts. I have developed great friendships and work collaborations in this country. These three shows were successes and encouraged me to renew the experience. I attended the Guild Show until 2000 and I am still attending the New York and Milan shows today.

The American market is very good for me and slowly became my preferred market; a lot of collectors enjoy my knives and I regularly work with purveyors who by their website show my work around the world. My presence extended in 1998 when Dave Harvey invited me to participate in his show in the small town of Solvang in California. It was becoming important to choose amongst the shows because there are many in the USA. I stopped going to the Guild Show, which was gigantic and not conveniently scheduled (it was too close to the SICAC in Paris). From then on I focused on bringing the best of my work at the five international shows I was attending: Paris (SICAC), Milan Knife Show, Thiers Show, ECCKS (New York) and Solvang Knife Show.


The Art Knife Invitational (AKI)

Once a certain level of notoriety developed around my knives in the USA, rumors surfaced that I might be considered to be next on the very exclusive list of makers members of the AKI show organized by Phil Lobred in San Diego. It is a show unique in the world: The 25 best knifemakers of the planet invite 200 top collectors worldwide to participate in this exceptional day. It is held every other year in October. All these collectors are selected and invited to attend this show recognized as the most coveted. Each knife is sold by drawing or auction. If a knifemaker leaves the group, the new candidate presents his/her application to the whole group and is elected by the majority of the 24 other makers. Several years ago I had applied to become part of this prestigious group but it was not possible at first because one former member had reintegrated the group after a pause. I had forgotten about it when Ron Lake contacted me in January 2012 to renew my application so I sent a letter and some photos to all the members. In March 2012 at the ECCKS in New York, Phil Lobred announced my election at the AKI. So in October 2013 I will attend this amazing show. For me it is a great honor to participate and it is also the recognition of my work by my peers. I hope to present beautiful pieces; either way it is a great challenge, as I like them. Such is the goal of this show; the competition created amongst the group is an excellent motivator to innovate and conceive exceptional knives.

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