You won’t find a frame lock, flipper tab, or even a thumb stud on any of Ron Appleton’s designs. “I’m not interested in making any of the standard mechanisms,” Appleton tells us. The Texas-based knife maker would rather be using opening and locking methods of his own invention instead. “I’m intrigued with them. I love designing new ones.” A highly sought-after maker whose work routinely sells for five figures, Appleton has 29 different mechanisms in his portfolio of inventions, and intends on developing many more.
“I like making mechanisms that no one else can understand. I think that’s a cool thing,” says Appleton. His IQ series, designed with his late father Ray Appleton (who was also an accomplished knife maker), got its name because early customers said just grasping how they operated was a true measure of ‘Knife IQ.’ The series consists of four different locks, each visually similar but functionally different. One of Appleton’s latest, the Slipper mechanism [shown in video below], is completely hidden; only by pivoting the entire scale can the user deploy the blade.
Despite the complexity of his knives, Appleton says that his first concern is always functionality. Nothing he makes is just about being clever. “[My knives] are ultimately strong. That’s the basic thing I start with: a knife that’s strong enough for your life to depend on it,” he says.
Knife users love trying out new opening and locking methods, and Appleton says he hasn’t completely ruled out the idea of producing larger volumes at more affordable prices. But there’s still a good chance his inventions will remain confined inside the safes of collectors. “That means making a lot of knives, which means taking on employees and investing in CNC machinery,” he says. It would be a radical change for Appleton, who is more accustomed to making each knife by hand over the course of 300-500 hours.
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Collaborating with knife companies isn’t outside the realm of possibility either. At one point Appleton and his father were even in talks with Outdoor Edge, but the project fell through due to extenuating circumstances. Since then, Appleton says he hasn’t been approached by any knife companies, nor has he pursued patents on any of his designs. “I have not been secretive about my mechanisms,” he says. “However, they are so out of the mainstream and unusual. I don’t care if anyone uses my ideas. I have plenty more where they came from.”
Knife featured in image: Appleton Knives Titantalum