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Stylin' steel! Canadian knifemaker Sean O'Hare blends good looks with primo slice.



If cold Canadian winters make for prime grinding time, Sean O'Hare has spent his working overtime. This custom artisan from up north has a knack for balancing form and function into his knife designs, finishing them to perfection with just the right blend of steel and handle. All of this gives Sean's knives that special something summed up in one word: style!

O'Hare's knives differ from many of his peers' in they capture modern and traditional elements, giving customers the best of both worlds. Born and bred Canadian, this custom artisan backed into custom knifemaking in a most unusual way. Sean explains, "I was always fascinated by knives. I have carried a pocket knife since I was a young kid, and was always interested in what pocket or belt knife others were carrying." Sounds normal so far, but O'Hare never had any intentions of becoming a career custom knifemaker.

In fact, Sean was a math teacher and Internet techno-wizard by trade. "I started making knives after creating a website for another knifemaker. He was supposed pay me with a handmade knife but, in the end, taught me a little about making knives. We had a falling out during the learning process, so I had to choose to either give up on making knives or put a lot of money (that I didn't have) into tools of my own. I opted for the latter and never looked back."

At age 41, Sean is considered relatively young among custom makers, as many don't become full-time steel slingers until late in their other careers, or even after retirement. He credits the Knifemaker's Guild with helping him refine his skills to a high art. "Working on my own in a very isolated area of northern Canada meant I spent many hours toiling away, not making much progress or improving in my knifemaking. I would say getting involved in the knife forums and joining The Knifemaker's Guild were two very important things I did, which really helped me improve my knifemaking skills.

"When I went to my first Knifemaker's Guild Show in 2005 as a probationary member, I, like all probationary members, had to get my knives critiqued before they would allow me to display at the show. They were pointing out things at the time I didn't even know to look for. Over the two years as a probationary Guild member, I learned an incredible amount about fit and finish. I am definitely a much better knifemaker today for having joined the Guild."

Renaissance Man

When it comes to talent, Sean doesn't fit a mold; rather he fits in many molds. He makes both full-tang and hidden-tang models. He can take a design with bolsters, a more traditional look, or go bolster-less for a more modern build. He offers a veritable encyclopedia of exotic woods for handles, but also brings state-of-the-art synthetics to the table.

Diversity can be seen throughout O'Hare's offerings. "Most of my knives are hunting or utility-type knives, but I do also make some tactical knives," Sean lends. "As for adding new knife designs, I might go six months without coming up with anything, then come out with two or three the next month. I like the design phase of knifemaking and have a lot of different designs. I also tend to fine tune designs over time, when I come up with a small change that benefits a certain design. The toughest part for me is naming the designs. My family often groans when I say, 'it's time to play: name that knife!'" He also offers customers a wide range of blade steels ranging from top shelf stainless, good old-fashioned carbon steel, and his own hand-forged Damascus. Sean tells Handgunner, "More than anything else, I use high quality stainless steels like S30V, CPM154 and RWL34 (a great Swedish steel). I also use Damasteel (a Swedish stainless Damascus), and have recently started making my own high-carbon Damascus, which has been a lot of fun. A very talented maker and friend, Herb Derr from West Virginia, has been teaching me the Damascus making process. The carbon steel Damascus I am making is a mix of O1 and L6."


Designs Aplenty

O'Hare's stable of designs has the diversification to suit just about any need. One of his most popular is the Starling, a nicely balanced full-tang drop-point hunter that checks in at 8" overall, with a 3.75" blade. This knife falls into what many consider to the ideal size for a hunting knife, and the drop-point blade style--popularized by knifemaking legend Bob Loveless--has been the top choice for dressing game for decades now. The Starling's handle has sumptuous curves fitting the hand like a glove, and a damned comfortable one at that.

Also falling into the mean size for hunters are O'Hare's Shearwater and Sweeper models, both hidden-tang designs. The 8.25" Shearwater has a 4" drop-point blade, complimented by a curvaceous handle and a finger groove for enhanced grip. The 9" Sweeper, with its 4.4" straight-back blade, has a more businesslike attitude with a straightforward handle to match. Want aggressive? The knifemaker's 8" Finback model is sleekly styled with a wicked 3.5" clip-point blade.

Those desiring a larger knife that can handle tougher field chores can opt for Sean's Hunter-B model. At 9.7" overall, this knife has a clean 4.75" trailing-point blade just as at home building a shelter as serving up slices of the day's harvest. Similar in design but even larger, the knifemaker's Hunter model tops out at 10.25" in length with a 5.25" drop-point blade. The Hunter differs from its sibling B model in that it has a hidden as opposed to a full-tang.

Additionally, O'Hare offers a nice group of tactical knives. The monster in his line is 12.4" of full-tang cutting beast dubbed the Pathfinder. The only thing gentle about this giant is the gracefully sloped 7.25" blade design, which belies its ability to take down trees or anything else in its way. Lashing holes in the guard and an ample contoured Micarta handle round out the equation.

Most of the fixed-blade knives pictured here are done in exotic woods, but other options such as affordable synthetics or top-shelf stag are available. For toting your knife, Sean informs, "Each knife comes standard with the sheath that best suits it. If the knife has a guard or bolsters it has to have a leather sheath, if the knife has a synthetic handle it will have a Kydex sheath; standard."

Growing Strong

O'Hare's robust line of fixed blades is complimented by folders as well, his latest being the Dihedral model. At first glance this knife has all the look of a tactical folder, but the Dihedral can serve double duty as a folding hunter. A 3" drop-point blade, held firm with a liner-locking mechanism built into titanium liners, does the cutting chores. Here again we see the knifemaker's penchant for styling in a handle offering good looks and excellent ergonomics in tandem. Like his fixed-blades, Sean can offer the Dihedral in basic G10 and Micarta handles, or dress them up in exotic materials.

Making knives has been a dream realized for Sean, but he doesn't take it for granted. "I get a lot of satisfaction from creating a product people actually want to buy. I put a lot of effort in making the best knife I can, and am pleased when someone who shows a real interest in owning one comes along."

Style doesn't necessarily cost an arm and a leg. Sean's knives are very reasonably priced for custom fare. His fixed blades start at $255 and go up from there, depending on steel, handle options and model. You can get a nicely decked-out knife in exotic wood with premium grade stainless steel for $395. The massive Pathfinder is righteously priced at $450. The basic Dihedral goes for $425 and can be dressed up from there.

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Author:Covert, Pat
Publication:American Handgunner
Date:Nov 1, 2011
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