Hello, I’m Mike Mooney, a full-time maker of hand-made knives for over 9 years. Thank you for taking the time to look at my work. On this Knifecraft page, I will share with you some of my philosophy about knives and knifemaking, as well as some details of how I create one-of-a-kind Mooney Custom Knives.
What is it about knives? What causes some of us to have this fascination with such a basic tool? Is it primal? Maybe. I imagine the first caveman who, as he finished crafting his club, held it up, looked at the curves of his new tool and grunted a satisfied: “Uh huh!”
For me, it is the inherent beauty of a utilitarian item and the extension of that to the level of “useable art”. Other examples of such everyday items which sometimes have lines, shapes, materials and workmanship that can be quite pleasing to the eye and occasionally are adorned to make them even more attractive include furniture, musical instruments, tools and household items. Consider the curves of a finely crafted guitar with abalone inlay; the gorgeous wood grains and carving in a hand-made rocking chair; the elegant utility and workmanship of an antique tea pot; the almost sexy shape of a recurve bow.
Knives have this basic functionality while also often having attractive curves and shapes, the beauty of exotic materials and the fine workmanship of the craftsmen who created them. This is the basis of my fascination with hand-made knives.
Many knifemakers have helped me, but I must recognize and thank my mentor, role model and knifemaking hero, Tim Hancock. Tim has been the most significant influence on my knifemaking, and maybe more significantly, on my whole philosophy as a knifemaker, not only regarding the craft itself, but also the art and the business of knifemaking. He is also an excellent teacher, a rare quality among experts. My respect for Tim, not only for his knives – but for the man, cannot be overstated.
This doesn’t happen without customers…custom knife collectors. Thoroughly satisfying my customer’s expectations is my primary objective. To achieve this, quality and service are paramount. My name goes on every knife. Providing a knife that is designed for the intended application and that works effectively is only the start. Fit and finish must be as good as they can be. Quality materials and workmanship are never compromised. I strive to build every knife to the best of my ability, with tight fits between mating surfaces and a flawless finish that looks as good as it works. Please visit my Honors and Distinctions page to see some of the industry recognition Mooney Custom Knives has received.
For me, giving back is an important part of being a responsible member of the knifemaking community. I am currently vice president of the Professional Knifemakers Association, and have served in the past as vice president and president of the Arizona Knife Collectors Association. I am also a member of the Copper State Cutlery Association, the Southern California Blades and the Oregon Knife Collectors Association.
It’s a knife first! Design for the intended application is a primary criterion, whether it’s a skinning knife with a lot of belly in the blade or a sashimi knife with a long thin straight blade. Ergonomics is high priority; to make the knife fit comfortably in the hand during use. Sometimes, customers can bring new perspectives to the design process. Collaborations with customers have led to some of my best designs.
I currently make fixed-blade knives for use in culinary arts, sporting and combat applications. Kitchen knives, hunting and fishing knives, bowie and fighting knives range from simple utility models that will get used everyday to highly adorned collectible pieces that are more likely to be displayed on the mantle or stored in a safe.
Blade geometry and edge geometry are critical to the effective functioning of a knife and, along with heat treating, have the biggest effect on edge retention and sharpenability. A thin edge cuts more efficiently than a thick edge. For slicing tools, such as kitchen, hunting and fishing knives, a thin edge will be easier to use and to maintain. All Mooney Custom Knives are flat-ground, which results in a high performance edge.
The technology of blade steels is continually improving. As new formulations are developed by the steel companies, Mooney Custom Knives will research and use the best available steels to provide high performance knives to our customers. In recent years, steel companies have formulated steels specifically for knife blades. CPM S30V from Crucible Metals is used extensively, as it has demonstrated itself to have one of the best combinations of edge retention, durability and stain-resistance of any available steel.
Customer preference for other steels is easily accommodated. On request, Mooney Custom Knives have been crafted from tool steels such as D2, O1 and A2, high carbon steels like CPM S3V, 1095 and 52100, other stainless steels such as CPM 154CM, as well as forged billets of damascus (or pattern-welded) from Devin Thomas, Alabama Forge, Twisted Nickel and Larry Donnelly, among others.
Handle materials come in such wide variation it almost impossible choose a favorite. Personally, I prefer natural materials, and my favorites are mammoth, elephant and walrus ivories. Desert ironwood is another of my favorites. The variety of stabilized woods and wood burls, bone, antler and horn is amazing, with colored dyes adding even more choices. I’m happy to use whatever the customer wants, including Micarta® and other man-made materials for rugged applications.
Mooney Custom Knives are hand-crafted. No CNC or automated equipment is used. I use the stock removal method of knife making. Starting with a bar of steel, the blade is cut out and shaped to its final profile. The blade blank is drilled for bolsters, handle, and thong holes and then the bevels are ground while hand-held. The tang of many full-tang blades are tapered to improve balance and reduce weight. Hand-cut decorative file-work embellishments are added to some blades prior to heat treat.
All Mooney Custom Knives comprised of stain-resistant steel are heat treated by Paul Bos Heat Treating. Paul has been heat treating knife blades for over three decades and is widely recognized as an expert in the field. Carbon and damascus steel are heat treated by myself.
After heat treat, the blade is finish ground to the final thin blade geometry and hand-rubbed to a fine satin finish. Dovetailed bolsters, a guard and/or other hardware are added and the hilt is assembled. Finally, the blade is sharpened. A sheath is also fashioned out of leather, often with decorative tooling and/or exotic hide inlay. Sheaths are hand-stitched and treated with hot oil and beeswax for a weatherproof finish.