Archive for October, 2013

Shiva-Ki: Master of the Blade’s Edge

October 22, 2013 2 comments

David Crane reviews this master bladesmith: Shiva Ki may just be the single best-kept secret in the custom knife world today. He makes what are arguably some of the sharpest tactical/fighting fixed blades in the world, and you can quote me on that. Every Shiva Ki custom knife comes to its new owner SCARY SHARP (and very durable). Perhaps this is why armed professionals all over the world carry and rely on his knives on a daily basis.

Read his article here:


Louisiana Bugoutwhale’s article about Shiva-Ki: These are made locally. For those that do not know Master Ki, he is one of the few true, legitimate, Ninja Masters left in the world. He is a veteran, and when he is seen out he can often be found wearing a human ear on his dog tags that came from a North Vietnamese General that he killed in a Spec Ops mission. (I don’t remember if its Vietnam or Korea). Read more here:


Shiva Ki – Nothing less than the best

October 19, 2013 1 comment

spirit_bladeWhat’s it like to be the best in the world? The best runner? The best cyclist? The best craftsman?

Editor’s Note: This post first appeared here:

Baton Rouge custom knifemaker Shiva Ki knows.

His custom blades may be the best in the world.

A Ranger paratrooper with the 101st Airborne, Ki started making knives 25 years ago when he wanted to modify a favored Gerber knife.

“I was teaching hand to hand combat to the East and West Baton Rouge police departments on how to take away a knife, how to use a knife against a guy while he’s still got it in his hands,” Ki said. “I had a Gerber Mark-II but I didn’t like the handle on it.

I wanted to make my own handle out of silver, put some stones on it and stuff, but you can’t get their handles off because they’re cast on.”

Ki called the venerable knife manufacturer to discuss his idea, but Gerber was slow to respond.

“Gerber said they would give me a few blades to customize if I promised not to re-sell them,” Ki grinned. “I said, ‘Too late. I started making my own knives now’ So blame Gerber.”

Hundreds of hand-made custom knives later, Ki has elevated his knifemaking craft to an art.

At any given moment, Ki is working on a number of knife projects at his modest north Baton Rouge home. Pieces of dusty iron and steel are casually littered about his garage machine shop. A 36-inch sawmill blade leaning against the shop wall is missing a diagonal pie-shaped section.

“Bearing steel is the best steel to make a knife. The whole world runs on bearings,” observed Ki. “But saw blade steel is the second-best.”

In one dark corner of his shop rests the dragon, Ki’s gas and coal-fired forges.

“I’ll start up the fire. Once the propane is burning I flick the switch and it goes ka-bwoosh,” Ki said. “It starts belching like a dragon. I call it the dragon breath.”

Opposite the dragon rests a grinder adorned with a number of wheel attachments and belts. He flicks on a clip-on light. Two unfinished knives are resting on a flat surface near the grinder. Ki has yet to mount a handle to the knife’s skeleton.

“These are croc hunters,” Ki explained. They are similar to a Bowie knife.

Sparks illuminate the dirt floor below as he runs the croc hunter under the grinding belt.

Satisfied with the progress, Ki dips the blade into a bucket of cool water and wipes the steel on his pants leg.

Skulls, (it is not known if they are human), taboos and a fierce Rottweiler protect Ki’s shop and backyard. A hand-painted sign, worded in German with “!Achtung! Mörderisch Hunds!” warns unwanted visitors of Ki’s watchdogs. The warning literally translates to “Attention: Murderous Hounds!”

Ki gives the dog silent hand signals.

“There’s nothing like a well-trained dog,” he murmured.

Inexplicably, Ki also has a turkey and a bantam chicken in the pen along with the Rottweiler.

Perhaps to someday test a blade’s efficacy?

“Nah, I couldn’t eat my friends,” Ki said. “I love birds.”

Ki, a Zen Buddhist, has placed inconspicuous Buddhist trappings around his household. A photo of Ki meditating dominates a wall loaded with framed mementos and newspaper clippings. A tiny Buddha occupies an honored placement in the middle of the top shelf of a glass bookcase.

Then there’s the knives. Beautiful blades, razor sharp edges, flesheaters are everywhere. From antique Samuari swords mounted on beautiful lacquered Oriental stands to a variety of edges under glass, all are seemingly within arm’s reach. Long pieces of steel with patterns drawn upon them, the birth of future blades, are clamped into vises or laid on counters.

Ki’s elegant blades are completed with exotic handcrafted handles of ebony, ivory and rare South American snakewood. He also used 50,000 year old fossilized wooly mammoth ivory for grips. The grips may be lined with water buffalo or sting ray hide and trimmed in Japanese raw silk. The decorations make the knife beautiful, but the real artistry is in the blade.

Ki admitted it took him four years to learn how to learn how “to sharpen worth a (darn) shit,” but once he mastered the skill his blades became cutting machines.

“Well-known and respected American Bladesmith Society (ABS) master bladesmith Jim Crowell studied my edge under the microscope trying to figure out how in the hell I do it,” Ki said. “Why my knives cut so good and keep cutting.”

So how does he do it? Without a trace of irony, Ki flatly states, “I’ve got the enigma thing going that clay tempering gives me.”

He said the special clay-tempered technique he favors combines hard and soft steels to make a super-durable knife that is scalpel sharp.

“You’re only supposed to have hard steel or soft steel in a knife. You can’t have both,” Ki said. “The clay mass delays the quench”

The quench is the hardening process of immersing the heated blade in oil to rapidly cool the steel.

“By the time the quench gets to that part of the steel, the molecular structure has rearranged into a lower granular level. The molecular structure of steel goes through many changes at different temperatures. So you got spring steel underneath the clay and hard-as-a-chisel steel on the exposed portion. You can keep your steel much harder without it breaking because the stress is absorbed by the softer, springier heart of the steel.”

But the entire knife making process is more than forging a unique blend of metal.

After cutting the raw steel into the basic knife design, Ki rough grinds the blade to 80 percent of its final edge using a Wilton square-wheel grinder.

“You’ve got hammer marks in the steel that you got to grind out,” Ki said. “You straighten everything up and get the nice straight clean lines.”

The rough grind is followed by a heat treatment at temperatures ranging from 1450 to 1550 F.

“I can melt steel in my forge,” Ki said, which is important in the manufacture of Damascus steel. “When you’re making Damascus steel, the outside is like melted butter and then you take the hammer and hammer the molecules together.”

Damascus steel is a hard steel favored by Ki for many of his knife designs. It’s characterized by a wavy pattern on its surface which is caused by forging the metal in layers. It’s both flexible and tough

After the blade is heat treated, Ki begins the finish grind using a variety of cubic zirconium belts to achieve the desired finish. Ki uses an acid dip to highlight the nuances of the steel’s wavy layers, which resemble a metallic wood grain.

“I put a blade into the acid to bring out the granular structure, the guts of the steel,” Ki said. “Sometimes I want to bring that out a little bit more.”

Before Ki hones the final scalpel edge to a knife, he first builds a sheath of exotic wood or leather.

Pointing to a 4-inch scar on his thigh, Ki learned the hard way to complete every aspect of the knife before edging the blade.

“I’m so stupid,” Ki admitted. “For years I’d finish a knife. It was sharp. Done. Finished. And then I’d make the sheath. I’m trying to draw the pattern around the knife onto the leather and I’d be cutting pencils in half.

“It took me years to figure out how dumb that was and not sharpen the knife until I was completely done with everything else. That way you can’t possibly hurt yourself. You can draw around it without cutting the end off your pencil and stuff.”

He shook his head in wonderment.

“Sometimes even a genius is a stupid s.o.b.”

He held up a pattern of a knife he calls the A-Tac, a folding knife with a graceful curve. He has already made a number of mental calculations refining the design.

“I’m going to take a little bit off the top to make it sleeker,” he said. “That’s a wicked s.o.b. The handle’s going to be sculpted so you can hang on to it real good. I redesigned it and redesigned and redesigned. I got them singing now.”

But Ki easily recognizes when he is satisfied with an edge, a blade or a design.

“The perfection for me is in the performance. That’s why I got out of the ABS. If you want an unbreakable knife go to the hardware store and buy a crowbar. I sell scalpels. You just point my knife at the guy and the hair starts jumping off his arm and he runs yelling, ‘Oh, don’t cut me.’”

Whether the hair starts jumping off or not, one thing is certain, Ki’s blades are impossibly sharp.

Noted French knife expert/journalist Dominque Beaucant recently filmed a cutting exhibition with Ki’s famous 10-inch Spirit knives. Beaucant bundled 16 one-inch ropes into a single thick strand and began slicing. Not hacking. Not sawing. Slicing. According to Ki’s website (, Beaucant cleanly cut the bundle of 16 ropes eleven times. Immediately afterwards, using the same knife, chopped up a bunch of two-by-fours. Just like butter.

After the amazing demonstration Beaucant wrote in a 2004 issue of Tactical Knives, “Every Shiva Ki blade I’ve tested, was incredibly sharp, dangerously sharp. How can this man make knives so sharp? Master Ki’s knives are the sharpest I’ve ever tested. Every one a flesh eater.”

So in order to make a super-sharp blade all one has to do is quench and laminate and mix hard steel with soft steel and temper it with clay? That’s only the physical part.

“Because of my martial arts and Zen background I understand the universe,” Ki admitted. “I’ve seen the source of all life. I integrated everything and just let it happen. Life lives me instead of me trying to live my life.”

Ki started studying Zen Buddhism more than 30 years ago.

“I started with yoga and worked my way up from there,” Ki said. “In 1977 I reached enlightenment. Don’t ask me to explain it, but I merged back with the source of all existence. In essence, I died and came back. The purpose of yoga is to create that state. Meditation and yoga’s practices are aimed at enhancing that energy and bringing forth that energy’s force, which is dormant in us all. There’s a power in each of us that is greater than flesh and bone. That’s what the old masters spent 20-25 years studying, to reach that state. I am a master’s master. The first thing I teach my martial arts students is that state.”

Simply put, Ki’s enlightenment allows him to have a special relationship with steel.

“It’s more intuitive than anything else. You’ve got to let the steel talk to you,” Ki finally revealed. “I let the steel tell me what to do. Everybody else tries to make the steel do what they want. I watch the steel. When it’s in a certain state, I know it’s ready to do a certain thing. I just look at a piece of steel and I know. I don’t think. That’s Zen. That’s meditation in action.”

Perhaps that is why he named his favorite blade the Spirit Blade.

Ki’s Spirit Blade, a stylish working tool, is perfectly balanced. It is lighter than it looks. The handle, covered in stingray leather and wrapped in Japanese silk, creates an incongruous feeling that the blade is “soft and warm in the hand.”

Another blade concept on the drawing board is the Shiva Linga, a sleek folding knife.

“This blade is sexy. I call it the Shiva Linga,” Ki said. “The Shiva Linga is any icon that represents the Hindu Lord Shiva, the creator and destroyer. People always take that in the sense that it’s tearing something up. I always took it that I am destroying a piece of steel and turning it into this work of art. It’s not destruction, it’s creation.”

Ki has many knife concepts rattling around in his brain but he regularly fabricates a line of models for customers willing to spend upwards of $1250 for a Shiva knife, $3000 if they want Samurai steel.

The Gung Ho, Gator Hunter and a super-sharp Fightin’ Bowie are some of his regular offerings. Smaller knives like the Eagle Talon and the A-Tac bring $750. He also builds a smaller version of the Spirit and regularly outfits servicemen free of charge with his Ranger Stealth Kill blade.

Ki has also issued a challenge to all knifemakers to adopt and arm U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq with a custom knife.

At 63, Ki is a fit and trim 165 pounds, but can bulk up to a muscular190 lbs like he did three years ago when he set the knockout record at the 2002 national Tough Man competition. Interestingly enough Ki was 190 pounds 40 years ago when he spent his time patrolling behind enemy lines in North Vietnam.

To stay in shape he lifts weights and rides a mountain bike.

“I can’t run anymore because I messed up my knees, hips and back doing all those parachute jumps,” Ki related. “I’ve had a very interesting life and busy life. But my body has paid the price.”

He doesn’t keep track of how many knives he makes in a year.

“I just make knives to have something to do. I don’t keep track of anything,” Ki said. I give a lot to servicemen. Since I left the Rangers they won’t let me kill bad guys anymore, so I stay home and make warrior blades for our modern warriors to carry into the heart of the battle for our freedoms..”

Categories: Shiva-Ki