The Protectors® Podcast

#471 | Eric Kramer | From Coast Guard to Craftsman | Kramer Custom Knives

November 29, 2023 Dr. Jason Piccolo Episode 471
The Protectors® Podcast
#471 | Eric Kramer | From Coast Guard to Craftsman | Kramer Custom Knives
The Protectors® Podcast +
Become a supporter of the show!
Starting at $3/month
Support
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Eric Kramer of Kramer Custom Knives joined the show to talk all things knives, serving in the Coast Guard, and his upcoming line of knives.  

Eric takes us through his journey to becoming a professional knife maker. He shares his  approach to each unique piece, emphasizing that knife making is a blend of craftsmanship and functionality. We tackle how he balances work and passion, and manage his workload efficiently. This episode is a must-listen for those interested in exploring the intersection of military service and craftsmanship.

https://www.kramercustomknives.com/

Support the show

Make sure to check out Jason on IG @drjasonpiccolo


Speaker 1:

Oh, hit record. Welcome to the protectors podcast, eric. What's going on, man? I love just in record because we end up talking all about all the good stuff before we hit record all right. Eric, you were talking about like the Coast Guard and aerial gunnery and and so what kind of platforms we're using. So you know, eric, you know 20 years Coast Guard, 20 plus years 20 years and seven months. Oh, there we go, yeah, but we were talking about being on a helicopter and like aerial gunnery. I want to know what kind of platforms you guys using it like are you? You know, I saw a full metal jacket, I know you got to leave the targets and stuff like that, but what does it really like to be up there and be like, okay, what do we got? What kind of platforms we're using?

Speaker 2:

So we, we were kind of a prototype Unit for the Coast Guard when the Coast Guard stood up. The it's called the MSRT maritime security response team started up in 04 and we started as the organic capabilities. So we, you know, used our own assets. Usually it was it was all modeled around the H 60 Just because of the you know, it's not things a flying dump truck. You can pack as many guys as you can fit it in. You know, you still have plenty of power to spare. So we would do Basically, we trained for boarding team cover so we would fly out. We we could put our own boarding teams on on deck and then Maintain a cover position and cover the guys while they're on deck. So, primarily weapons wise, we had the ability to mount an M240 and the door on a hard mount, but for the boarding team cover aspect of it we ended up using mark 18s because space constraints. We also had M14s and an EBR stock that I'm. The story was that it was the, the prototype batch that crane did for NSW. That NSW kicked back and we're like these things are garbage, we don't want them. The Coast Guard's like oh hey, we'll take them. So we use those. We had to keep qualified on those as well. But we, they usually stayed in the, in the closet, until, you know, until it came time for the range, the, the mark 18 was kind of our bread and butter.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, sounds like I'd love to get up there and like to shoot. Let's see if I can actually hit anything.

Speaker 2:

It was a good time. We we shot a lot On our end of stuff on the aviation side of the house. All we ever did was train. We never got to do anything operational. So I've got a lot of rounds on paper and in the ocean that we know we never. We never got deployed on our end of the house. I know the unit has grown as the the the water side of boat guys they're. They're out doing stuff and I know there's a West Coast unit of them out here too now and I still know some of the guys that you know were E4, e5 coming up through and now they're master chiefs and senior chiefs, you know, kind of running the show. So it's kind of dates me. It's like man, I'm really getting that old, that fast, huh, I still think the Coast Guard is like one of those hidden services.

Speaker 1:

You know I always tell, like my kids, like you know, you might want to check out like sieges. I mean, if what if someone wants to get a law enforcement or Intel Check out? Like you know, investigative service Coast Guard has Intel there. There's all sorts of things that Coast Guard is doing out there.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, and then I actually I went in in 93 and you know I went in. I went in because I wanted to get a lot of background in law enforcement, because that was my, my ultimate goal. I was gonna do that. You know, originally I think it's probably the story of most guys you know I'm gonna do my four years and, you know, get the experience and then get out and then 20 years later You're retiring. But you know it's, it's a really good deal because you know you, you get a lot of responsibility and a lot of experience Early on, just because it's such a small service. I mean, you know, even with within the aviation community, you know, you know most people or know of Everybody else. You know it's there's really like six degrees of separation there.

Speaker 1:

So yes, I think about Coast Guard. Everybody knows everybody else. It's like, yeah, you're running, no coasting.

Speaker 2:

It's like I know that guy yeah, yeah, you know you when, especially when you get into aviation and Most guys will stay on one airframe their entire career. And you know we only have I don't know what the what the current count is. I know there's, there's a lot of other military units. They have more H60s on their in their unit than the car Coast Guard has in their entire inventory. So you know names. Names go a long way and you know you always know somebody that knows somebody else.

Speaker 1:

Well, reputations. Reputations go a long way too, and that's kind of one of the next topics I want to get into is, like, the one of the big reasons I want to talk to you's like yeah, I love guns, but I had had this edge. You can never have too many like guns, knives and something else, but you can never have too many knives. You can, and you know I love you. The Cranber customs knives is like knives you could swear by but not at. I love that Because typically you get a piece of crap $30 knife. It's gonna, you're gonna, swear at it. Yeah.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, and it's I don't know. It's one of those things I I don't know where I came up with that. I think I think somebody Quoted it on a chat forum at some point and I saw it. I'm like, ooh, that's good, you know, and that's kind of you know, it's where I've tried to go with with the stuff that I make. You know, I try to make stuff that you can beat the hell out of and you know it's gonna be there for you. You know, everything has its limitations. A knife's a knife's a knife. They're great for cutting stuff. They make really crappy screwdrivers, or you know some other things.

Speaker 1:

But you know, I gotta, I think about that now. If you told me like 10, 15 years ago, a knife is a knife is a knife, I'm like, yeah, you know, I get a decent knife, that's cool. But now, as I've collected a lot of guns and I have so many different pistols and rifles and I'm like they're all different, right, and you know some of the same caliber, so they're doing the same thing. And the same concept goes to knives is like when you know not gonna knock on, like you know buck knives or anything else like that, but it's a buck knife, you know it's mass produced. But when you start getting into knives, but when you start getting into knives and you start seeing a custom knife and you start feeling the difference between that, it's like you know, I grabbed this really nice 1911 I have compared to this cheap 90 millimeter have.

Speaker 2:

It's completely different right, yeah, the fit and finish on Stuff goes goes a long way, you know, and it's Little details like Breaking the edges down on. You know, basically, the only the only sharp edge on our sharp point on that knife should be the cutting surface, right? You don't want, if you're, if you have a hard-use knife, you don't want something with crazy Jemping down the back because it looks cool but it will, it'll grab your thumb to the point where it'll take the skin off your thumb at that point, and Probably not such a good design. I had that happen to one of my knives, one of the bigger ones that I'd made. Early on. Master Sergeant Kim breed, that writes for blade magazine, did a review on it and I had this Really cool looking jimping pattern where I used a checkering file and then every other, every so often, I would run a chainsaw file through it. So you had this kind of a finer serration with a really big kind of a half circle through it and and at the end of the, the Evaluation he's like, the only thing that I have to say is get rid of this damn Chimping because it will absolutely tear your, tear your thumbs up and I'm like, okay, noted, you know I good to know, so I did.

Speaker 1:

Now let's go to the way back machine and and when did you first get into, like you know? Hey, you know what? I've carried a knife for a long time, like knives.

Speaker 2:

Well, let me have a start, a hobby, so yeah 2005 was the first time that I in that case put a file to something. I had this old Throwing knife that it was in my shed. At that point it was my reloading shop and and so kind of back it up a little bit. In 04, once we started Started the unit that I was at and we started shooting a lot, it became less entertaining to go shoot because I'd already done that a whole bunch for work and I already had to clean all those guns and the thought of going out and shooting some more and cleaning my own gun I was like no, so Started looking for some other hobbies. I got pretty interested in gunsmithing. I wanted to start building a ours and mark 12 Uppers and started speckin all that stuff out and I was looking at like $1,200, you know to build a, you know with a PRI parts and you know to build a proper mark 12 and didn't have that. But a Lot of these places still that you know they also did the tactical knives and everything. So I started looking at those and I'd always been a knife guy. I've been carrying an ice since I was, you know, a little kid and I was like, ah, wonder how you know, wonder what it takes to make one of these knives. You know, I'm not gonna say a brand in particular, but you know, say, a fixed blade with a cord wrap handle. And you're looking at this and I'm like I, how hard can this be? So there I go off to the shop and 12 hours later I come out and I had a Former throwing knife that sort of resembled something else, that kind of resembled a knife. But I'm like, okay, this was a lot of fun, I need power tools. So Started kind of horse trading around, a horse traded into a, an old sears To buy all those. I got 2 by 32 belt slash Disc grinder that used to get for woodworking, traded the guy that owned the gun shop that where I was stationed Out of the back his shop for that and made the first I don't know handful of probably five, six knives off of that thing and and it it was a hell of a teacher ran it like half the speed of sound. So you screwed up. It took off a lot of metal really quick and you know it's like, okay, well, that didn't work. And then, you know, met a couple of other custom makers in North Carolina where I was at. They had me to their shop and it became a case of tool envy and and then the tool collection started and you can see behind me it's, it's still growing.

Speaker 1:

So you know, when you bring up the tools and everything too, is like a lot of people think, hey, they watch like forged a fire, one of the shows, and like I just got to go out there and like I get a, you know, burn steel down to like a certain level and we're gonna hammer it up, and but it's more machining. I think I mean what.

Speaker 2:

What I what the way I make I make I use stock removal. I don't forge. I've tried it once and it was the most humbling thing I've ever done. I burned my hands and I had a master Smith standing behind me going what are you doing? I'm like I did what you said. He's like no, you're screwing it all up. I'm like this is dumb. I want my saw and my grinder back. The guys that can do that the Forge and Fire stuff that can forge knives like that are absolutely amazing. It's really cool to see where that shows has gone, the attention that it's given to those guys, because it's well deserved on their part. I mean, when I first started doing the knife shows in 2009, blade specifically because I was on the East Coast and that was an easy one to drive to you would have this whole section full of handmade, hand forged knives and you get them for a song. It's like you know these guys have got hours and hours of sweat equity into these things and they just didn't get the recognition that a lot of them deserved. So you know, in that case, forge and Fire and you know there's been a couple other blade oriented reality type shows. I think it's done a great service to knife makers. Just to show the public what kind of goes into that, I said I do stock removal so I'll get a sheet of steel, cut it on a bandsaw. I do my own heat treat. Well, I can do my own heat treat and grind to shape, cut, shape and kind of go that way.

Speaker 1:

So I look at blades as like a work of art, though. So, yeah, you could take a sheet, but it's still, but the end product is an absolute work of art.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, it's pretty cool on that aspect of it. I don't consider myself an artist, but you know I don't, even if I make stuff in a batch. So you know, I'll start four or five knives in the same knife and I try to make them as identical as I can. Especially, you know, I've got a dealer or two that I work with and like the last guy, you know, he bought three of the same knife. I'm like man if I'm making, if he's getting three of the same knife, I've got to get these things just as dead nuts identical as I can. That way, you know he's not going well, this one's a little different, this one's a little different, but I still have yet to, you know, make two identical knives.

Speaker 1:

I don't know. You know, I'm looking at your IG Kramer's Kramer the K Custom Knives. This is art man. I'm looking at the partisan field knives. I was looking at the Grinch XL. I mean, this to me Is a work of art man. I mean, I, I love knives and it's like the same way I look at like a really fine firearm I there. To me it doesn't matter, they're still like almost like a work of art. I don't know, I don't know, maybe it's just us, because we're kind of around the same ages, where you look at something, you see it, and you see it at a different eye, a different perspective than something that's kind of mass produced.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, yeah, it's like that. You mentioned the partition. That's my, my new favorite thing that I've made recently. So, I got geeked out on on some of the more historical designs. Specifically, that one is based off the Macbysauk knife from Vietnam and I've been wanting to do one for a few years and you know, I did all the, did as much research as I could and I still, I still it's not, the project's not done yet. That's that iteration of it. That's just kind of my take on it. I still want to do some that are traditionally constructed with a fitted guard and a stacked leather handle, you know, and and very a more traditional build, and then the way the handles are on mine, where they're screwed on, and not that there's anything wrong with it, it's just not, it's not done yet. But yeah, that design, the, the commando dagger that I started doing that was based off of Well it was, it was heavily inspired by the, the Fairbane Sykes dagger, and yeah, I'm looking at the commanding right now and I've got a. I've got a drawer of Stuff that that's that's kind of my inspiration drawer and there's everything from a replica v42 or replica Fairbane Sykes, a Gerber mark one, a Gerber mark two, couple of old sogs, and you know when it came down to it. You know this is. This is the blank that came out of that. That's the design. So you know it's. Oh yeah handles very fairbane Sykes ish, but the blades a little bit shorter. It's thicker, unlike the you know, the fairbane and the v42 where they're very thin. This one's got a little bit more meat to it, kind of like the old Gerber mark ones do. Definitely a shorter blade For for concealability and and use or user in, user friendliness I guess. But I've done a few of those now. I did like the first run I think I made I want to say it doesn't of those off the first run and this is the one stack yet that are that are due to go out to some people. But Still got a couple of designs on the back burner For you know that's one thing that you know.

Speaker 1:

Talking about designs and everything, I've seen a lot of like like knife makers Rolling in, not just doing fixed blades anymore, but they're doing foldables, and I've noticed that you're pushing out foldables now too. That's. That's a really cool concept, because I always thought foldables kind of had to be like mass produced, but you don't.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. So the folding knives. I went really deep on the folding knives for a few years and that's essentially all I was making up until about, I think, 2016. I just burned out. I had some other things going on and I come out here, and I mean here. So, as an example, all this is all hand cut, hand fitted, it's all titanium or whatever handle material this one in particular really is micarta for the handles and then a carbon fiber backspacer, and at that point I didn't even have a mill. I was using a drill press with a cross slide vise to cut my lock channels and all my lock bars and I burned out really hard on that. So I kind of stepped back and started doing more of the fixed blades for a while and now it's like OK, I need to get back to the folders. I spent too much time learning how to do it and I've got a really bad habit where I don't write things down, I just kind of do it. So I've spent the last few months relearning and improving the process a little bit. So hopefully I'm going to shift back to folders for a while, because I do have a design.

Speaker 1:

These folders are sweet man. You have got to go to your IG page. You're already out there. Kramer Customs Ives. It's just. I love this, this type R-Turly folder.

Speaker 2:

And then you're killing me over here. So the next iteration of the design will be the Grinch folder. So let's get on the other side.

Speaker 1:

Oh yeah, OK, that's perfect.

Speaker 2:

The Grinch size handle, and then I've been carrying this one for I don't know. I think I made it a year and two years ago. So this is the prototype I've been beating a hell out of. So these are going to be coming out pretty soon. I don't know. I've still got to tweak the design up a little bit, but it's fun. Give them back into those. You can do a lot more, a lot fancier stuff than I feel like belong on a folder, as opposed to some of the fixed blade designs that I have, and you can only address those up so much and it still is what it is, where the folders. You can get into some really crazy materials and just go hog with it.

Speaker 1:

I've noticed so many veterans get creative, whether that's through art, whether that's through writing, whether that's through podcasting, and I've seen a lot of veterans get into the knife space, the working with their handspace, the creating, building thing. That's going to be some very therapeutic as well.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, it is. It's like anything else, I think, especially for me in particular. You start it as a hobby and then you make it a job, and then it becomes a job, and this is one of the things that I get wrapped around the axles about things and they're right here and now and it's like, man, I've got to go to work. But I've had the opportunity a few times in the last couple of years where it's like maybe I'm going to go do something else and then go work for somebody else in a shop, for somebody. No, this is pretty good, I got this all right.

Speaker 1:

I love it, brother. Well, I'm excited you came on the show. I'm excited that maybe I'll make the list of I could actually purchase one next time you have a batch come out.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, I'm taking orders now. So I don't keep a lot of stuff on hand. Generally I make stuff to order. I know my website, which is horribly out of date I apologize to everybody for that but it says that I'm not taking orders and the reason I still haven't changed that is I don't want to get completely inundated. I've been, you know, really deep behind in the books and then it becomes a real chore to come out here and like, oh, I have to make this. I find it's just, it's more, it's easier for me to. You know, I'll take an order, like I think I've got orders for 10 folders right now and okay, I can, I can do that. I'll work through this batch and then, once those are cleared, okay, hey, you know, I've got another 10 slots open for whatever. And anyway, it helps me too because, if you know, if I, if I wind up 2530, whatever orders, I kind of get pigeonholed into into that one spot where, if I, if I keep it short, I can, it gives me time to work on new stuff too. And you know, like this Grinch folder that needs to be fleshed out and get that going too and give me time to do that.

Speaker 1:

I'm looking forward to. Brother. We're going to talk as soon as I hit this and record, but appreciate you coming on a show man.

Speaker 2:

I appreciate you having me Thank you.

Coast Guard Aviation and Custom Knives
Knife Making and Gunsmithing Hobbies
Balancing Passion and Work