Knafs Mid-Flight Update - April 2023
Whoa. What a ride we've been on over here! Athena (my wife) and I took Knafs full-time in May 2022, and we've learned soooooo incredibly much over the past 11 months. To share it all would take hours, but we also feel like it's only proper to give a brief update on Knafs from the inside. This has been a collaborative journey with our customers since the beginning, and we figure you might be interested in the hot mess we're making. A few highlights:
- We now have 4 full-time and 3 part-time employees.
- We took over the second, then third bays of our garage. Was I frustrated with chipping ice and snow off my windshield in the snowiest winter Utah saw in years? Perhaps. But once Athena's car was out there too, the suffering felt more universal, so it's fine. Here's a picture from too many mornings at the Knafs HQ this year:
- We've seen amazing interest in Knafs from individual customers and dealers alike. We are now in 35 dealers across the world from New Hampshire to Norway.
- We've released 114 new products since May. This is anything from individual screws to Lander Scales to Burrito Grandes. No wonder I feel so tired.
- We've learned so incredibly much beyond our previous expertise as a registered nurse (Athena) and brand manager (me). We've still got a long way to go in the education category, but it feels like progress.
- 2021: I wanted to design and make an affordable pocket knife with swappable scales.
- 2022, January-ish: Prototyping and design with our supplier, QSP
- 2022, May: We launch the Lander Kickstarter
- 2022, October: the Lander Kickstarter arrives to more than 1,000 backers. A huge hug to all of you for making this a success.
- 2022, October - Now: We've sold thousands of Landers to thousands of people. The aftermarket scales and 3D prints have been amazing to see. And we've learned a lot about manufacturing and how to improve in future rounds. A few key findings:
Turns out screws can be a magical, awful world. We ended up with a couple early challenges:
Many of the Round 1 screws had threads that were stripped from the factory. We must have swapped out 8,000 screws during our Quality Control process. It was rough. We worked with QSP to fix this, and we're not seeing it on any other rounds.
We've heard some complaints about our screws being soft and stripping out during disassembly. They're 416 hardened steel, and from what I've learned, this is fairly standard in the knife industry. But we've been digging deeper into why they strip. Two reasons:
1. Operator Error - hear me out before you send me an angry email about how you've disassembled 500 knives and never had an issue. Story time: one of our employees (we'll call her Annie because that's her name) was swapping 100 scales for our Lunar Lander Knife project. That's a total of 800 screws to swap. She was stripping out about 10% of the screws. Whoa. Surely that couldn't be right? I sat down and taught her how to avoid stripping screws, and it dropped to 4 stripped screws on the rest of the batch. Education is a beautiful thing. But I don't think it's ALL operator error, and Nick Shabazz's gripes about the Lander would agree with me:
(As a side note, I love Nick's critique of the knife. Constructive feedback is a beautiful thing, and I'm working to improve on the next round) So, if stripped screws aren't an operator error, what are they? Read on.
2. Manufacturing Design - Here's what we've learned: the design of the Lander has T6 screws that are flush with the handle. Turns out, this is not the best concept because the width and depth of the T6 head and the flat screw head means your bits don't have as much to bite onto. If you force it, the screws will likely strip. We've seen a decent amount of stripped screws-- not ideal on knife that we designed to be disassembled. We sell replacement screws for the Lander, but the reality is, we have a manufacturing challenge that doesn't fit well with the core concept of a product with swappable scales. How do we fix it? Well, backward compatibility with the Lander is very important to us, so we can't make a "running change" where we fix it on future runs with T8 screws or a different head.
Unfortunately, it means we are now reactive to fix it, rather than proactive. So, here's what we're doing:
- All new Landers ship with a small bag of scale screws and clip screws with the hope that it makes repairs a little easier. (Note: there are still rounds of Landers out there at retailers that don't have the screws, so don't freak out if you buy one without the screw bag. Or bag of screws? Screw bag sounds mildly derogatory.)
- On future Lander runs arriving mid-2023, we will not be using blue threadlocker on the Scale Screws or the Clip Screws. This will allow for easier disassembling, but the tradeoff is screws will likely wiggle out over time. We encourage you to put on your own threadlocker to avoid losing screws.
- We've put together video instructions on how to remove stripped screws from a pocket knife here. You can also find the blog article here. The hope is that we can teach you how to avoid stripping screws (there's an art to this!) and show you how to fix it if you do.
We've had a few people ask what the coating is on the Black Lander. It's a black titanium vacuum coating. Sound like Greek? Yeah, me too. Let's learn together from this site:
Vacuum coating, also known as thin-film deposition, is a vacuum chamber process whereby a very thin and steady layer of coating is applied to the surface of a substrate, protecting it from forces that might wear it down or decrease its efficiency. Vacuum Coatings are thin, ranging from 0.25 to 10 microns (0.01 to 0.4 thousandths of an inch) thick.
I've still got more to learn here because I'm imagining a guy in a hazmat suit blowing titanium dust out of a hose like a spray gun. More digging shows I'm not that far off, and instead of a guy, it's a machine that looks like it came from a movie. Check out this cool stuff! Granted, this isn't our manufacturer QSP doing it, but it gives you an idea of what vacuum coating looks like:
Interesting fun fact about the hardness: the Rockwell harness for the D2 steel, uncoated is 58-60, but the coating decreases the HRC to 57-59. I'm not a metallurgist, so sound off in the comments if you know why.
What an amazing time to be alive in pocket knives! Seriously, there are so many cool things happening in this industry, and there are so many places you can spend your hard-earned money. I'm grateful for all the folks that have spent a few dollars with Knafs and continue to support this dream I have to build a business, even despite the learning challenges we're fighting. A few weeks ago, a gentleman reached out with some complaints about a scuff on the pocket clip of his Lander, among other things. Admittedly, we messed up a couple things in handling his complaint, but I re-engaged, and I had a great conversation with him that included a large dose of reality for him and me. Here was my response:
Thanks for the support! I'm grateful to have folks like you on board with our little brand. One day we'll be a big kid brand that isn't just operating in my garage, but for now, we are what we are.