Shigefusa 270mm kasumi yanagiba with custom, by me, desert ironwood handle

24 Apr 2012

Full custom 300 mm damascus san mai suji - "The Black Pearl"

About a year ago I was thinking seriously about getting a full custom knife. I was not sure where I wanted to go so I searched the Internet, different knifeforums and several knifemakers' web pages. There was a plentitude of options. Some of them totally not my liking and others so costly I would have to sell my car and a kidney to get one, so quite a few options were ruled out pretty easily.

After a lot of searching I found exactly the design I was looking for in a blade. Problem was it was not a kitchen knife. It was a hunter blade. Fully forged high contrast damascus with an O1 core. The blade was absolutely stunning! By this time I had pretty much settled my mind for a sujihiki blade to complement my collection of yanagibas, and I wanted to stick to the 300 mm length as this is the length I have been accustomed to in my slicers.

I contacted the knifemaker of the above mentioned hunter, and we started talking. He was all ears about my requests and baseline design suggestions, filling me in on the gaps and finally he came up with an idea so grand I could not resist. A 300 mm sujihiki with O1 core steel encapsulated in pure nickel and direct forged in a high contrast damascus of 15N20 and 1084 steel. In this particular blade the core steel is forged directly into the centre of the damascus bar. This is a very time consuming and an immensely difficult task to accomplish, especially in a 300 mm blade, as it is almost impossible to keep the core straight and in the centre of the blade during the forging process. This was going to be a grand test of his skills as a blacksmith.

You can see the core steel gently rippling down the centre of the spine of the blade with the nickel encapsulating the core.
After one single trial run, resulting in the worlds probably most exclusive letter opener :o), he succeeded. That is nothing less than impressive, and a proof of exceptional skill as a knifemaker.

The result ended up like this. I just can't stop looking at it. It is an exceptional piece of functional art. It looks pretty hefty, but actually, the first thing my wife said when she took it up was "Wow, it's a lot lighter than it looks!". I have to agree with her on that one. It is definately not the lightest suji out there, but the balance, the forged tapering of the blade and the weight and shape of the handle is so well executed that the knife immediately feels like an extention to your hand.
"The Black Pearl" in all its' splendour with the stunning Stingray saya. It is truly a one-of-a-kind knife
Most of you will recognize the brand mark on the certificate. The Bear paw. Many of you will also recognize the special rounded choil and the full grain leather saya design. The blacksmith and knifemaker is of course Mr. Pierre Rodrigue from Canada. A true master of his craft and a true gentleman to his trade.
The Bear paw of Mr Rodrigue's brand. Look also at the incredible damascus pattern.
Remember that the damascus pattern is forged with the core in. That is pretty impressive stuff!
Total production time was about one year from start to finish. The extensive production time was partly because Mr. Rodrigue is a very busy man and a popular knifemaker, partly because the forging of the blade is an exceedingly complex matter, partly because some of the materials used are pretty long lead items and partly because this project was not one to be taken lightly, not by Mr. Rodrigue nor by me. It was to be a masterpiece. A Piece de resistance. A signature design. Mission accomplished!
"The Black Pearl" is number 124 in the production line.
Sum up the numbers and you'll get lucky number 7.
Coincidence? I think not! :o)
Our frequent conversations on the different design issues, material choises, challenges and new ideas gave me an ownership in the project I have never before experienced. It felt almost like I was there with Mr. Rodrigue designing my own knife. Truth is I didn't want it to end. Well, on the one hand I could not wait to see and experience the finished knife, but on the other hand I found so much fun, joy and excitement in the discussions with Mr Rodrigue that I wanted the project to go on.
Every now and then he would tell me about ideas he had that he wanted my opinions on and other times he told me that he had surprises coming that he didn't want to disclose. This kept the excitement and thrill in this for me all the way.
The black burl handle perfectly matching the knife
On one occasion we were discussing handle design and materials, I told him I would like some black burl to match the black blade, and Mr. Rodrigue suggested he could accentuate the handle with black Mother of Pearl shell. I was thrilled by the idea and in a fraction of a second the obvious name of the knife popped into my head. The knife had been named "The Black Pearl".

"Fifteen men on a dead mans chest. Yo, ho ho, and a bottle of Rhum!" :o)

The black Mother of Pearl inlay giving the knfe its' true name
The greatest and best kept secret was the final design of the saya. To go with the maritime theme of "The Black Pearl", Mr. Rodrigue has designed the saya with jet black Stingray skin keeping the natural snow white "diamond" in the skin in the centre. I tried to imagine what the secret could be, but honestly, I did not see that one coming. The first time I laid my eyes on it I was totally stunned by its beauty. The Stingray skin looks like millions of tiny black shiny pearls glued together on the saya with the beautiful diamond shape in slightly larger white pearls. It is an amazing feature which makes the knife even more spectacular (if at all possible).

As if all this wasn't enough, Mr. Rodrigue suggested one more thing. He was really twisting his clever brains on how to add another design feature to the handle butt to pimp it up the last final bit without making it look cheesy. That alone is no simple task on an already extreme knife like this. To me it was no surprise he found a great solution. "How about mounting a small Ammonite?" he asked me. "An ammo...what?" I asked. "An Ammonite is a fossil shell from an extinct squid, some millions of years old", he told me. "Really nice." he finished. I agreed without really knowing what an ammonite was and how it was looking. At this moment in the process I had come to trust Mr. Rodrigue's sense of design pretty blindly.
Ammonite. MY Ammonite! 'Nuff said.
I was stunned when I saw it the first time. It is alost translucent and three dimensional, changing colours from rust red to a deep green through blueish tones and with a bright metallic sheen to it. It is an absolutely magnificent little gem. The above picture was the best I could get. Turn the Ammonite some degrees and you will get a totally different appearance. I really don't know what more to say about it. I am just really glad that it is there.

This knife stands out as an absolutely perfect example on how all the small pieces of a design add up to something a lot more than the sum of its' parts. It's like an expensive car or an expensive watch. It gives you that special feel and its' quality is instantly recognized. A very important difference, however, is that this magnificent blade has not only one, but two souls in it. A large chunk which is from Mr. Rodrigue, and I feel he has succeeded to incorporate a good piece of my heart and soul as well. I can feel that when I am holding the knife. It is like closing my eyes, imagining the perfect knife in my hand and when I open my eyes "The Black Pearl" is there.

So, it takes a while, and it is not cheap, and if you rather want a good main stream knife quickly without paying a lot, call one of the several good shops importing Japanese blades and selling pre made blades from good makers. Ask someone at or A lot of good guys there that will be more than happy to help you out.
For me, a good knife quickly was not what I was looking for (this time). I have all that I can use and more of that kind. I wanted to go full custom and to be able to interact, or at least contribute in the making even though I was an ocean away. Did I get it? Yes, yes, and more so. I have gotten the knife of my dreams through this joint venture with Mr Rodrigue. His exeptional skills as a knifemaker and his ability to put some of my more or less quirky whishes and ideas to life made this happen.
But no matter how much i treasure "The Black Pearl", the most surprising and valuable thing that came out of this adventure was the forging of a good friendship. I am very greatful and proud to be able to call Pierre Rodrigue my friend. If you want an exciting knife making journey getting to know a true gentleman and one of the very best knifemakers out there, and a magnificent one-of-a-kind knife to top the whole thing off, send him a note.

My next whish is to be able to sit with Mr. Rodrigue in his back yard some day. Talk knives, drinking cold beers and slice a perfect BBQ roast for dinner with "The Black Pearl". That would be going full circle to me.


Up next: Captain of "The Black Pearl" - The user experience


  1. Awesome knife.
    Im off to a BBQ party this saturday. Can I borrow it?


  2. Great knife. I wish I had a knife lIke that. Enjoy it.

  3. Again Harald, I came to "check up on you" and couldn't help read this again. Thank you.

    I want to wish you and yours a very happy and prosperous new year!


  4. I read in a fórum that you are considering selling some knives. Would you consider selling the black Pearl?

    1. I have sold off most of my collection. All my Shigs are gone (whimp!) and a lot of my other jewels went with them.

      Regarding the Black Pearl, it was designed by Pierre Rodrigue with inputs from me and built by Pierre over an 18 month period. A long pregnancy but an absolutely beautiful lovechild :o) It truly is a one of a kind masterpiece and a true work of art. It also performs beautifully. In my love for this knife and respect for Mr. Rodrigue I have not considered letting it go. Feel free, however, to make me an offer I can't refuse :o)

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  6. Replies
    1. Haha, thanks for the comment :o) If it was meant as an offer, I am sorry I'll have to decline. If it was a suggestion on the cost of the knife, you'll have to add quite a bit :o)

  7. i am, y love your knife i have done a couple of knives with pierre

    1. Thanks, Santiago. I am very happy with it. The O1 core takes a wicked edge and the design is really out of this world. Truly a one of a kind masterpiece.