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Focus on the Maker: Travis Runyan

Focus on the Maker: Travis Runyan

A few nights ago I had the pleasure of sitting down and talking with Travis about his journey into the art and some of the things he encountered on his path to where he is at right now. 

As always, we'll start at the beginning of his path (since it really doesn't make sense to start in the middle, yall would be lost). Travis is a guy that has always like to work with his hands. The type of guy that would go form something out of scrap steel and make it functional if not very good. While scrolling through a social media feed one day Travis came upon a video of a guy making a knife out of a railroad spike. That moment sparked his imagination and he decided he was going to make a knife as well. 

Travis didn't have any tools for the trade at the time so he looked around at what he could do with what he had and came up with a solution to the problem. He pulled the drum off an old semi truck and got to work. Adding a hair dryer and some piping into the mix with a little welding he stepped back and looked at his first coal forge. He's since graduated into a 2 burner propane.7 years of learning through trial, error, and maybe a swear or two has brought him to this point.

The blade featured in this article has a story behind it that I thought made this already unique piece of art even more unique. Travis had been displaying his blades as he crafted them on social media and one person asked him to make 5 knives for his groomsmen when he was to be married. It's a pretty big honor to have your work featured in one of the most important moments in life if you ask me. This particular piece was made for an avid outdoorsman who's favorite color was blue. Given creative freedom, Travis took his vision from thought to physical manifestation.

This unique full tang work is forged from 80crv2. The handle (or scales if you prefer) is formed from a combination of stabilized black cottonwood broken by blue Tru-stone and offset with white G10 liners giving it a pleasant contrast. The blade itself is saltwater etched using a 30 volt DC power supply by removing the pieces from a vinyl pattern that he wanted to etch into the blade to give it a broken concrete feel. I think he definitely pulled it off as this is truly a work of art.

Travis started out in his journey with that impromptu anvil that soo many of us do. Yep, you guessed it. A piece of rail road track. He has since upgraded to an actual anvil and has a little less ringing in his ears because of it. Like many do he didn't know about anvil height and the importance of not over extending which led to tinnitus in his elbow which caused him to take a pause in his journey. 

When first starting out he picked up a grinder that "shall not be named" and many of us probably still have in our shops today even if we won't admit it or brag to our friends about it. The good ol, not so faithful, 1x30 harbor freight deal of the day. After struggling with this grinder for awhile he decided it would be a good fit for a razor strop only and put his investment into a Heretic H2 Extreme grinder made by Daryl Belnap. As he puts it "its the Cadillac of grinders and is the focal point of my shop now".  

For belt progression Travis bases it off the thickness of the steel that he's working with and the final finish he is going for in the bevel and blade. For most projects he starts at a 36 grit shredder and works about 75% of the bevel down. Once at that level he'll work into a 80 grit and then into a 120 VSM. If going for a rugged finish he'll stop there but for finer finishes he'll go all the way up to a 600 grit 3M Trivecta. Because no one likes hand sanding except masochists he finishes the blade off by buffing to a beautiful finish.

The heat treating process is possibly one of the most important parts for any blade maker and it is taken very seriously by Travis. He goes so far as to break test his blades once a month to ensure that he is providing the quality to his customers that they deserve. Given that each of his blades come with a lifetime guarantee, it goes without saying that he focuses on a HIGH level of quality. To ensure he is on point, Travis uses a Jen-Ken hot air bath kiln to consistently put out blades right and couples that with 5 thermal cycles to make sure the blades are on point.

For the quench (or bath of fire as I like to call it) Travis uses Parks 50 for his oil. It is a fast oil which works really well with 80crv2 but he did start with Canola oil as it has similar properties. 

In closing, it was a great time talking with Travis. He is very knowledgeable and passionate about his craft and I anticipate he will take it very far. He is planning on launching a website in the future but right now the best place to get in contact with him is on facebook at TR Custom Knives.

Thanks a ton for the interview Travis!

Travis RunyanTravis Runyan


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Jim Marsh - February 12, 2023

This is a very striking example of blade smithing. It’s such an interesting pursuit and hobby or line of work, when you’re able to create a thing of beauty and a very useful tool. Travis has definitely managed to be successful on all fronts. I’ve not seen this blade treatment before and must say it’s very eye catching.

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