The symbiotic relationship between production knife manufacturers and custom makers has birthed some of the greatest innovations in knife-making. Benchmade’s history of employing the minds and hands of such collaborators has produced a plethora of iconic designs like the AXIS® lock, Griptilian®, and 940 Osborne.
Jared Oeser has quickly amassed a dedicated following of collectors and enthusiasts. Now, with the launch of the Benchmade 601 Tengu Flipper and 602 Tengu Tool, Jared Oeser has stepped into the world of production knife collaborations, and it seems appropriate to shed some light on his journey to this point.
Born and raised in Utah, Jared developed an obsession with knives and artistic design at an early age. His first knife – a Case slippy – was a gift from his grandfather. His burgeoning love of sharp objects and artistic endeavors found an early advocate in neighbor and knife-maker, David Lang. “Dave moved into my neighborhood the same time my parents did, back when I wasn’t even a year old yet. I have known him my whole life and have memories of going to his shop as a kid and watching him grind on steel,” explains Oeser. With the foundations set, Jared Oeser’s future was sure to be bright.
In 2008, while Jared was working as a builder, the housing market imploded, and the economy went into recession. Seeking new opportunity, he decided to try his hand at knife making. He worked up the courage and asked Dave to teach him the ropes.
Jared’s first completed knife would ultimately serve as the basis for his Uinta Bushcrafter, but despite his first project being a hardy fixed-blade, slip joints, like those his grandfather carried, were ultimately the goal. As he revealed in 2012, “After making my first few slip joints, I showed one to my friend and mentor David Lang. He was so impressed he asked me to make him one. You can imagine my surprise and how honored I felt. I gladly agreed.”
In knife design, form and function intimately intertwine. In Jared’s case, his desire to become a knife maker was deeply-rooted in a love for artistic expression. “That thought is what inspires you, seeing something hip and cool. The knife has to be functional, has to be comfortable, and it can’t be ugly. I have a big background in art, and if it does not look good, it’s a waste of time. I try not to sacrifice either one.”
You can trace many stylistic influences out from his various designs. It’s easy to spot the traditional elements in his work, particularly in his affinity for slip joint folders. And yet, his knives also have a timeless, post-modern aesthetic that, on paper at least, might seem to conflict with those classical roots. But like all true craftsmen, Oeser binds it all together in a unique examination of the “Modern-Traditional” knife movement.
Jared’s process begins with his favorite medium: pencil & paper. Sometimes, Jared may draw inspiration from something someone says or something he sees, and an idea will come to him fully-formed. When that isn’t the case, the inspiration comes by drawing different blade and handle shapes, mixing and rearranging them to home in on what feels right. Competitions with other designers can also get the creative juices flowing. The Tengu Tool, a smaller, friction-folding version of the Tengu with a bottle opener and pry tool, was born out of such a competition.
Once he zeroes in on a design, Jared trades pencil & paper for AutoCAD. The process of translating a 2D sketch into a 3D model helps designers work out issues like ergonomics, structural weaknesses, and machineability. Jared’s proficiency in Computer-Aided Design ensures the tight tolerances and precision machining required in modern knife and tool fabrication.
Jared’s knack for traditionally-grounded innovation is evident in his famous Tengu. His most popular knife sprung from a customer request for a small, tanto-blade slippy, which takes its cues from classic Japanese design. The Tengu Flipper employs a flipper tab for easy, one-hand deployment, as well as a liner lock for full blade lockup.
Venturing into the realm of production collaborations, Jared says that the most exciting part for him is the final product. “I like seeing it come alive. Taking it from a concept to something in your hand, and it works, that’s my favorite part, seeing that first one come out, seeing something new.” On taking the plunge into knife-making, he says “I just started doing something and stuck with it.” This deceptively simple sentiment belies the true driving force behind what he does: for Jared Oeser, it’s about the fun, not the money.
Jared is a proud father and husband living in his home state of Utah. For him, family comes first, and that’s evident from the minute you engage with him. When he’s not busy making knives, the former collegiate athlete can be found outside, playing with his kids. He shares with his family a passion for basketball, football, and soccer.
That may be the best way to describe Jared Oeser: Passionate. You can feel it in all his work. His one-of-a-kind style is functional art, steeped in tradition, oozing class, and pushing the boundaries of modern knife aesthetics. No one else is making anything quite like a Jared Oeser knife right now, which is why we’re proud to partner with him for his first full-production collaboration. The 601 Tengu Flipper and the 602 Tengu Tool mark a new chapter for him and for Benchmade, and we can’t wait to see what he does next.