What started out as a hobby for Andy Roy has grown into a full-time career with an apprenticeship program and thousands of loyal customers.
Roy’s Braselton-based Fiddleback Forge produces more than 90 models of hand-made knives in-house from material also produced primarily in the United States. Roy said that the knives serve a variety of purposes, from chores around the house to the most extreme outdoor pursuits.
“I’ve got knives for many functions: kitchen knives, filet knives, weapon knives, outdoor knives, skinning knives and then I’ve got several size categories in each of those knives,” he said. “I’ve got a notebook full of drawings. I sit around and sketch knives and then experiment until I think I’ve got them right, name it and then make it.”
The process for making each knife is very labor-intensive. It starts with a slab of American-made steel that Roy or one of his employees sketch the outline of a knife onto. Then the steel is ground down to the shape of that knife and placed into an oven for heat treatment.
Next comes the handle. Similar to the piece of steel, the outline of a knife handle is traced onto a block of wood, which is also shaved down until only the desired shape remains. Roy said that it takes about two hours to make each knife, and that’s with several employees handling different steps of the process.
He said that a “normal knife maker” working on their own can complete a knife in a weekend. As for himself, Roy has crafted 27,000 knives over a period of twelve years.
Roy’s experience with making knives goes back as far as boyhood.
“When I was a kid my grandfather and I were very big into knives and it became something that I was very interested in when the web started to blossom,” Roy said, adding, “I was actually doing furniture first and it was taking so long to complete a furniture project and I wasn’t making any money doing it as a hobby…knives are pretty quick, so I could turn one out in a weekend and have a hobby that would sustain itself.”
Roy said that he started making knives full-time in 2009 during the economic downtown. As his product became more popular, he realized that he needed more hands to help him meet demand. This need led to something beneficial for both Roy and his employees- an apprenticeship program.
“What I offer [is], I start a guy at $12 an hour, I teach him the logo, the marketing, how to sell knives online, the do’s and don’t’s of designing a knife and of course how to make them,” said Roy. “There’s a bunch of knife makers out there that learned here, so I’m pretty proud of it.”
Customers of Fiddleback Forge are also fans of their product, as is made apparent every Friday at 9 p.m. for Fiddleback Friday.
At this time every Friday, Fiddleback Forge employees post each of the knives made that week that are available for purchase on a live webpage on the forge’s website. Roy said that knife aficionados take full advantage of the opportunity week-to-week.
“It’s a feeding frenzy…and it’s first come, first serve,” said Roy. “It’s been very good for my brand name and we enjoy it too.”
In addition to the regular and Fiddleback Friday customer base, Roy said that he also sells to knife collectors. He said that collectors are the primary reason that he repeats each knife model, instead of making just one of each.
“I’ve been successful with that, I’ve got some collectors that have a hundred of just one of the models and really the business just couldn’t float without that,” said Roy.
Surprisingly, Roy said that the COVID-19 pandemic benefitted his business. The forge, along with his supply business that contributes to it, were deemed essential in Hall County because both sell to home-based businesses.
“Since everybody has been staying home it seems like knives are like toilet paper, people started buying knives in COVID and I had a banner year last year,” said Roy.
Roy is currently a board member of the Georgia Knifemakers’ Guild and encourages anyone who is interested in learning more about knifemaking to get involved. More information is on the Georgia Knifemakers’ Guild Facebook page.
Small Business Spotlight is a periodic feature highlighting unique small businesses in AccessWDUN's 10-county coverage area. Have a business that you would like to see featured? Email the author at [email protected]!