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Home Get smarter Designer Sal Glesser: the man behind the knives with the hole in the blade

Designer

Sal Glesser: the man behind the knives with the hole in the blade

One of the most important individuals in the knife world is Sal Glesser. In the seventies he and his wife founded Spyderco. Ever since he has designed hundreds of different pocket knives (much more, however, if you count colour, handle materials and different types of steel used). Many pocket knife features that are common today were invented by him. Meet this knife mastermind: this is Sal Glesser.

Sal Glesser

Born

7 June, 1943 Brooklyn, New York, United States

Knifemaker since

1976

Place of residence

Golden, Colorado, USA

Own brand

Spyderco

Hands over eyes

Sals designs all have one thing in common: ergonomics Each knife he designed was designed to feel amazing in hand. Not necessarily the most beautiful way, but the finest nonetheless. Glesser sometimes even thinks his designs are ugly. That is also why he says: 'We design for the hand, not for the eye'.

We design for the hand, not for the eye

For that reason many of Sals designs are enhanced with finger grooves. Placed just in front of the handle, like with the Native, Paramilitary, Sage 5 and many more models. As such you can place your hand a little closer to the blade which also means you have more control over the knife. At the same time it enables you to hold the handle in a 'normal' way, for the more demanding tasks.

Spyderco Native 5
Spyderco Native 5 with the characteristic finger grooves

Sal the steel pioneer

For years Sal has been 'obsessed' with steel. Throughout his career he always made sure to use the newest types of steel. With his own test lab where he tests each type of steel and checks different hardnesses and shapes, he has set a new standard in the knife industry. Before many manufacturers simply used a nice type of steel - and people thought is was fine. Sal, however, continues to search for types of steel that perform even better. Not all types of steel are namely designed to end up being knife steel. Sals tests and dedication in this field are therefore key to how, today, we look at knife steel. 

The grind and the geometrics of the blade are also very important to Sal. All to enhance the performance of his knives. He pays close attention to the qualities of the steel, its purpose, and the person who will use it in the end.

The famous Spyderhole

Amongst the masses Spyderco is known for its characteristic hole in the blade. Today an obvious way of opening a knife, but in the seventies Sal was the one who came up with the hole. In a time where one-handed opening knives barely existed he started looking for a way to make this possible. He took an existing fixed knife and welded some steel parts to the spine of the blade. From protrusions that offer your thumb enough grip to a piece with coarser grip serrations: he tried it all. At a given moment in time he started experimenting with a small dimple. As he continued to test this idea the dimple became deeper and deeper until he was carrying a knife with a thumb hole. The Spydie Hole was born. Today every Spyderco pocket knife is enhanced with this trademark hole in the blade, even the fixed knives.

Spyderco Original, Copyright Spyderco
The first Spyderco pocket knife. You can see the traces of different experiments with openings mechanisms

Sal Glesser: the early years

Sal was born in June 1943 in Brooklyn, New York, United States. As a school boy he discovered that he could add a sharp edge to a railroad spike (a nail that is used to secure railroad tracks), by sharpening it on the edge of the kerb. A great tool to make sure you and your lunch money could safely arrive at school in the poor areas of Brooklyn of that time.

In the seventies Sal and his wife Gail travelled the country visiting market after market. In a converted baker's van, towing a Volkswagen Beetle. They produced and sold small tools. From a type of spider-like clamp with multiple arms, great for jewellers and electricians when soldering, to knife sharpeners. His interest in sports cars led him to the name Spyderco. The large brands namely all had sports cars named Spyder of Spider. You could say that the oldest, still active Spyderco product is the Sharpmaker. Even though, throughout the years, the design evolved.

Spyderco Sharpmaker
The Spyderco Sharpmaker, one of the most popular knife sharpeners ever

At that time Sal had become an expert at opening pocket knives with one hand that were not meant to be opened with one hand. He managed to master the technique, but also understood that not everybody could open a pocket knife like that. His search for a good openings mechanism started and in the end he ended up with the thumb hole. The Spydiehole. Patents were applied for a new markets began to open up.

Function over form

Spyderco has always focused on knives that perform exceptionally well. In the early years, the brand pioneered in the high segment. An area where no other knife brand had dared to go before. Due to their outspoken design, many had something to say about the knives. If Sal was designing his knives in the dark, because they looked terrible. Especially for that price. To which Sal could only say that he designed knives for the hand, not the eye. When those same people started using a Spyderco pocket knife and noticed that the ergonomics were perfect, that the steel was better than other knife steels and the overall construction quality excellent, Sal had won over another soul.

Touring around in his baker's van started to wear him out. Also, Sal soon realized he needed to find a permanent base for his company to continue to grow. Colorado seemed like the perfect place to go. They came across the city of Golden and the name appealed to them. A positive name. Sal settled down in Golden and never left. The ambitions grew and the blades were now enhanced with: Golden, Colorado, USA, Earth.

Spyderco Military
Spyderco Military

Knife magnates, from father to son

In those days Sal and Gail welcomed their son Eric. At the time Spyderco was a small company and daycare wasn't readily available just yet. So Eric joined his father to the office and fairs. At these fairs Sal promoted his own goods. Eric was never far away and heard his father talk about knives day in, day out. As a result Eric became infected with the knife virus at a very young age.

It is therefore not surprising that Eric started working in the knife world as well. At Spyderco, of course. He designed many models for the Spyderco range. Partly on his own, partly with his father. The fact that his father taught him how to design knives is evident when you look at his work. Ergonomics and performance are always more important than looks. It's an acquired taste as some like to say. Fortunately many seem to like what Spyderco is doing. Today Eric is taking over more and more tasks from his father. Sal is carefully getting ready to retire while Eric is carrying on his vision.

It's an acquired taste as some like to say. Fortunately many seem to like what Spyderco is doing.

Knife enthusiasts appreciate Glessers knives. Not only because of the knives, but also the company behind it. Sal and Eric are known for using a lot of input from their users. They have their own large forum where Spyderco enthusiasts discuss the knives. Sal often visits the forum and follows the discussions to be able to improve his knives.

There is also no other knife company that hosts an annual user day to discuss prototypes. Each year Spyderco hosts the Spydercomeet in Amsterdam. In the past Sal visited, today Eric drops by to discuss dozens of prototypes, new releases and much more. Unique, not only in the knife world, but also beyond.

Spyderco is always open and honest about its knives. Is a knife not turning out as expected? They will tell you. Are they not able to produce a model for a specific price? They are honest about that as well. Sals motto is therefore, not surprisingly: Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.


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