Turns out my sister-in-law’s dad also happens to be one of my most loyal, longtime readers. Before meeting him for the first time this summer at his daughter’s wedding, I wanted to get him a little friendship present. Knives make the perfect gift for virtually anybody, but what makes the perfect knife? The answer’s different for everyone, which is why I decided to order something custom.
Benchmade has offered custom engraving through its website for ages. My friend Tyler Rogoway gave me a custom Benchmade a few years ago. Engraved with my name on one side, and a quote from George Patton on the other, it remains one of the most thoughtful presents I’ve ever received.
This year, Benchmade launched a new, more in-depth customization service that allows you to personalize blade shapes, materials, edges, handle materials, and colors. Available across a wide range of both folding and fixed blade options, I chose the compact, lightweight Bugout as the basis for my build. If you’re going to gift someone a knife, it may as well be one the recipient will want to carry every day.
I know what makes a knife useful, and I know how good a nice one can feel in the hand, but I didn’t know much about Michael beyond the fact that he’s a veteran. So, I reached out to his daughter for help. She explained that he’d served in the Army’s 238th Cavalry Regiment. Some Googling took me to a write up on the unit’s history, and I liked the sound of their motto: Deo Favente, which translates from Latin to “God willing.”
That got me Michael’s engraving: his hame on one side, and that motto on the other. So I started working through the rest of the knife.
Custom Bugouts start at $175, and come with a basic 440C blade steel. I wanted Michael to have something a little harder wearing, so checked the $30 box for S90V, one of the latest, most durable steels available anywhere in the knife world. I also kept the standard drop point shape for its versatility and nixed the partially serrated edge to make sure it was easy to sharpen. I chose the stonewashed finish, rather than a black oxide option, so it’d match the $150 titanium handle slabs I picked in the next step. The goal of any knife handle is to be as strong and as light as possible, and that material excels in both regards. I also kept the knife’s liner and lock in satin, at no additional charge, for a subtle, classy look.
So far, I’d spec’d out a really beautiful, useful, personalized knife. But it was lacking something. Just a touch of color somewhere to catch the eye, and underline that this is a special gift. Changing the screws or pocket clip looked too jarring, but playing around in Benchmade’s configurator, I started swapping the colors of the thumb stud—which bolts through the blade to make it easier to flip open—and realized that’s where I wanted the color. Adding a drop of scarlet red made the whole knife pop.
I downloaded an image of the finished product, and shared it with Michael’s daughter to make sure she thought it’d be something he’d like. She gave me the thumbs up, so I purchased the final $365 product. It was assembled at Benchmade’s factory in Portland, Oregon, and it showed up at my house fewer than three weeks later (current lead times are 20 days). I wrote Michael a note, dropped it in the envelope with the knife, and mailed it off to his house in Florida.
Did all this have the desired effect? Well, we had something to talk about when we finally shook hands at the rehearsal dinner. And the next night, we made plans to go on a kayak iguana hunt together sometime next year. I’m a bit skeptical about Michael’s idea to use blow guns, but hey, it sounds like a challenge, so I’m in. Not a bad result from a few minutes of time, and a few hundred dollars.
Can you do the same? Adding a level of personalization to any gift elevates it from being something you bought to something you designed with your unique recipient in mind. And that’s a gift anyone is going to appreciate.