Story by Joshua Swanagon – Photos by Kelly Frasier, Sharp by Coop and Cory Martin
While flipping through the pages of our good friends over at Knife Magazine I came across a knife by Jon Kelly Designs, and something about it just stood out to me.
Anybody who knows me, or has at least read some of my articles, knows that I like clean lines and a sensible, subtle flow. I am also a big fan of really great looking, natural handle scale materials. When you look through Jon Kelly Designs’ work, you will find that these are tenets of his designs, across the board.
Something that I have found to be a sign of a great maker is the inability to decide which knife I like best. I find this to be something that makes people keep coming back, because it is so hard to settle on just one design. That is a hallmark of longevity and a prolific career, one that I believe Kelly Frasier, of Jon Kelly Designs, is well on track for.
Keep an eye on Jon Kelly Designs and watch your pocketbook, you may end up emptying it before you realize it. Speaking of which, a second job – for an increased knife fund – might be in order, if anyone is hiring.
1 – An Ardent Craftsman
Coming from a background in the lapidary arts, silversmithing, cabinetry and other areas of fine craftsmanship, Kelly decided back in 2012 to purchase a small forge, and some of the necessary hand tools, and utilize his experience working with wood/metal/stone to begin learning the basics of forging.
By 2013 he bought his first grinder and started learning stock removal. Shortly after he began taking classes from Montana Master Smith Ed Caffrey. By mid-2014 he was making knives he felt were worth selling.
2 – Overcoming Superstition and Finding a Voice
In the beginning of his journey, Kelly found it difficult to separate the facts and science of knifemaking from the superstitions that can tend to pervade the craft. Having overcome that, he now finds it hard to find his voice in a virtual ocean of talented makers. It is also hard to create and maintain a forward momentum, consistently enough to allow for comfortable and stable full-time pursuit of the craft.
3 – Finding Inspiration
Kelly draws his inspiration from all of the great makers who take the time to produce knives with clean lines, exceptional fit, finish and form, appropriate to the function of their design. He also feels that, although he hasn’t met them, Nick Wheeler and Kyle Royer have contributed immensely to his growth as a maker.
4 – A Favorite Build
When asked about his favorite model to make, Kelly answered with the Bowie, because it allows for a lot of opportunities in materials and design creativity.
5 – Choices Choices
Jon Kelly Designs has 7 different models to choose from that can be customized per client request, to include options such as steel, handle materials, liner colors, etches, tapers, patinas, differential hardening and a variety of construction methods such as stick/full/through tang or frame handle. Each knife you have created by Jon Kelly Designs will be truly your own, even though it starts from a stock model.
6 – It’s in the Materials
When asked about the construction of his knives, Kelly said that his go to steels are 80CrV2, 1075, 1084 and 1095. For his handle materials Kelly said that it is really hard to compete with the simple beauty of natural wood, with his favorite being ironwood. He also likes to use a lot of professionally stabilized woods, like mango and lacewood. To add some extra aesthetics to his knives, Kelly likes to work with copper as well.
7 – Ordering
Although most people select models from his website, some being selected for customization and some for direct purchase as is, Kelly always appreciates the opportunity to work closely with select clients to bring their ideas to life.
If you would like a fully custom knife, his waiting period is approximately 3 months – provided any special materials can be readily purchased or sourced. If you are looking to have one of his regular models customized, the wait time is within 30 – 45 days. K&G
Website: JonKellyDesigns.comInstagram: @Jon_Kelly_Designs
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Joshua Swanagon has studied survival in both urban and wilderness environments in Colorado and Michigan for most of his life, while also adding experience in harsher terrains abroad. He utilizes his experience and years of diverse martial arts and combatives training and real world application as a self-defense/combatives instructor, published freelance writer and Field Editor for various magazines in the fields of knives, survival, self-defense and tactical subject matters. Joshua also brings with him his years of experience as Editor of, and Subject Matter Expert for Knives Illustrated Magazine.
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