10 Questions with Pete Winkler of Cross Knives
Today, we sit down with Pete Winkler owner and knife maker at Cross Knives. Having known Pete for over 18 years I can tell you Pete is a perfectionist and a man of great integrity. Combine Pete’s love for hunting, fishing, camping and all things outdoor related and you have a pretty good combination if you are looking for someone to build you a first class outdoor knife.
Q: Pete – you and I have been friends for a good number of years. I know you are a man of deep faith. Can you tell us how you came up with Cross Knives and the significance of the name?
A: I was tossing names around for a few months as I got started. In the late 70’s I had an incredible God encounter and Jesus brought great change to my life. I wanted to have something simple and yet give testimony to what He had done for me through His death on the cross and His Resurrection. One day I was doing some planning and organizing for moving ahead with my knife business, and thought of the name Cross Knives and immediately had this inspiration of the Cross symbol in the logo. I was doing some work that day for a graphic designer and she asked me how things were developing and offered to do my logo. Before I got home from work that day she had several proofs of the name and logo and one of them is what I use today.
Q: Prior to becoming a world-class knife maker you were a very good craftsman/cabinetmaker. How does this background affect your knife making and the way you do things?
A: As a carpenter/cabinet maker/ finisher, fit and finish is top priority for your customers. There is no room for ‘good enough’ when you are installing cabinets and trim in a $40,000 kitchen. Exceeding your customer’s expectations with your finished products needs to be an improving standard in our work. The craft I have worked at all my life certainly equipped me for much as
a custom knifemaker. It also prepared me by doing projects that took me out of my comfort zone, and having to do things I had never done before.
Q: Dating back to your days living in the Upper Peninsula, I know you are a very avid outdoorsman. You’ve taken nice whitetails and other game and are a very accomplished angler. How does your outdoor background influence design?
A: Knives are tools, and good tools make all the difference. My years in the field shaped a desire to create functional, affordable sharp knives, that are made with excellent materials. Tools that I would use myself, that are comfortable in the hand, and I know that they will hold up. I know also that what looks good to me, may not be someone else’s cup of tea, that’s ok. Most of my designs resemble older classic knife designs and styles….good working knives. Often a new design takes making several, before you tweak it to where you find the sweet spot with it.
Q: What is your personal favorite model you make?
A: My personal favorite would be a toss between my Lil Trapper and the Lil WhiteTail Hunter. Both are smaller blade EDC knives with 3.25-3.5 inch blades. Having either on my person, I know I can handle most anything the day offers me.
Q: What has been your biggest challenge in your journey into knife making full-time?
A: The biggest challenge in my journey is developing a market for my knives. Making them is work that isnt work. Developing new models and taking ones skills to new levels is exciting and motivating. Marketing them to build a sustainable income takes seasons of patience and perseverance. Jason, you have been an encourager and given me good counsel through the years as I have developed my business. Mike Stewart has also given me time and counsel that have enabled me to make fewer mistakes along the way. Ultimately you can make all sorts of knives…but to live, you do have to sell them. Letting other experienced makers offer their critique of your knives helps you to find humility and to be instructed by someone who has walked the dirt road.
Q: What is your favorite part about building knives for a living?
A: My favorite part is having satisfied customers and hearing their reports on the performance of their knives. Out of that there is an organic word of mouth growth in the business that is satisfying to see.
Q: You get your knives as sharp as anyone on the planet. Why did you choose convex edges for your knives?
A: I fell in love with the convex grind the first time I held a Bark River knife. Following my first Grind-In at BRK I decided it was going to be my ‘go to’ grind.
Q: I love the uniqueness and style of your sheaths. I know who makes them but why don’t you tell our audience who makes them and why.
A: I make 95% of my own sheaths. I love being able to claim ‘sole authorship’ to my knives and sheaths. I have a friend here in Ohio, Adam Cantrell of VoyagerLeatherWorks that I send customers to who want something beyond my ability. He and I also barter sheaths and knives to promote each others business a couple times a year.. My wife Linda is going to get hands on, in the year ahead, and help in the sheath making department.
Q: What is your favorite steel to work with? How about your favorite handle material?
A: A-2 is my go to steel for most of what I do. With my forged knives, I like 5160 and 80crv-2. both are good steels. I love the performance of the CPM steels and recommend them to clients that want a top tier steel for their knives.
Handle material…I love figured wood, Turkish walnut, Spalted maple or Hackberry, Curly Maple, Dyed and stabilized burls. Snakewood, Black and white Ebony, Desert Ironwood and good figured Cocobolo.When it comes to what I love to work with, it would be a toss up between Desert Ironwood and cocobolo as my favorites to use.
Q: Pete, I have to address this: square pins. They are so very unique and we hear from so many people how much they like them. I was told once that you have a set of custom square drill bits that will drill the holes for these pins (joking). I certainly am not going to ask you to tell us how you work your magic on these but can you tell us how you came up with the idea and what folks at the shows have to say about them?
A: Years ago as I was getting started I was thinking of things I could do to make my knives different. I thought that having square pins would certainly get attention. It has been fun displaying them at shows and seeing reactions of customers and makers. Often people buy my knives because the pins are so unique. It is a real asset to be able to incorporate them into most models and they can combo with certain handle materials to get the ‘AHH’ effect when it is right. Many times at shows, folks walk by and do a double take at them and return to handle them and ask questions. They are a more work, but really worth the extra time. It has really been a lot of fun seeing people’s reaction to the pins and hearing their feedback on the uniqueness.