Posted by Ryan Johnson on April 07, 2016
I have a knife almost ready to put up for sale this week.
I forged it back in early fall late at night. I ground and heat treated it a few weeks after that. Over Christmas break I tried out some experimental handles – rubber horse mat glued and riveted in place overlaid with spray on truck bed liner. This knife kicked around in my car for a few days under the theory that anything that survives my car for any length of time will survive carry by a Marine. I made the mistake of taking it with me while on a short trip with Austin McGlaughn, and I sort of left it in his car where it went back with him to Columbus GA. It stayed there for a while till Ben Peterson then of CRKT (now of Blade HQ) brought it from Austin's shop to my shop while filming for the CRKT “Forged by War” program. I handed it to New Guy Ben last week who fitted it up with a leather/kydex hybrid scabbard.
So why the long story?
Because when it goes up for sale this week inevitably someone will contact the office asking “why am I having to wait on a Shrike when Ryan has all this time to play around with knives and stuff?”
This is frustrating on two levels:
While I have no good way to correct the first I can certainly help educate folks on the latter point.
Let me go person by person and explain a little of what each person does at RMJ Tactical – I will not list everything but it will help paint the picture.
Vanessa is all things shipping. She is the final Quality Control check and that alone makes her job super important. Shipping stuff takes up a LOT of time. She makes sure that the right things go to the right folks at the right time. If it goes out it has HER stamp of approval and if it doesn't pass muster she will send it back into the shop. She takes a lot of pride in what she does and she does it well. Vanessa does other stuff around the shop – artwork, phones, making leather patches, but shipping keeps her occupied a lot of the time.
Olivia started out as an intern. We realized right away that we needed her in the office a lot more than she needed us. Olivia is a smart self starter and organized to boot. Olivia answers the phone, takes orders, tracks orders and is Richard's right hand woman. Together they assess our processes and figure out better ways to improve quality and efficiency.
I'm not sure what Colton does. But he's a nice guy.
One of the owners of RMJ Tactical. She answers calls, processes orders and does a good bit of customer service related duties. Having lived with Richard and reared Jonathan and Reid she has the patience of concrete and is well suited for customer service calls. She also monitors the mountain dew levels in the fridge. More important that you think.
Jonathan is the classic working your way up through a company guy. He started out sweeping floors and doing odds and ends work. Years (and a degree) later he knows how to do pretty much every process in the shop. Jonathan is the production manager – meaning all production goes past his desk. He does CAD, he programs parts in CAM, he designs fixtures, he builds fixutres, he does part setup, he machines parts, he deburs parts, he preps material and in his spare time he gives direction to the other guys in the shop as to what they should be working on. Now he is cutting his teeth on design and doing a good job of it.
Charles is our long range shooting expert, so we keep him around for security. But he does a multitude of things around the shop. His skills range from Cerakote finishing to sharpening, machining and heat treating. He does all of our in house heat treating. Charles also gets a lot of woods time in so he ends up carrying gear out to test. Lately he has also been learning design and getting some CAD experience. His rescue knife attests he has a knack for it.
Ben aka New Guy Ben:
New Guy Ben is all about leather work. He does all of our leather scabbards from hybrids to traditional sheaths. Ben does a good job of taking general concepts I have and executing them into the real deal. Basically I'll make a prototype that looks like an old shoe from the dump, and he'll transform the idea into a scabbard.
Reid is the closest thing we have to my forging apprentice. Reid does all things forging – from coins to knives to hawks. His education is in art with an emphasis in ceramics and metals. I am developing a line of forged items that Reid is helping shape.
Richard has done it all at the shop. His job now is not just to run the company but to shape it. Richard oversees the day to day operations and plans our operations and goals for the next few years. He pays the bills, makes sure payroll happens, answers calls, negotiates contracts, works with vendors. Richard has a good sense for business and is a good person. We are all lucky to have him giving direction to the company.
To protect the innocent I'll lump three of the young guys together – they do Cerakote, bead blasting, tempering and thermoforming. It's not fun work but someone has to do it and they do it well.
Ryan aka RMJ:
Now we get to me. My job at the shop has changed over time. When I started I was working with my dad – he did sheaths and I did most everything else. After my father became ill I was a one man shop doing a little of everything, much of it poorly. Now you can see I have a team of talented craftsmen (and ladies) that can help me execute pretty much anything I want to tackle. My job at RMJ Tactical is to primarily design new things, to improve existing designs and to improve our processes. When I design a new knife or hawk, I usually prototype it and test it. Those pieces usually take a great deal of time and money initially – it is not uncommon for prototypes to cost three times what we end up selling the eventual item for. Shrike prototyping costed thousands of dollars. Each combat Africa proto cost about $400 to make when it was all said and done. Making one of something is pretty simple. Planning and designing something that you plan on making several hundred or several thousand of is extremely challenging. Every aspect has to be designed, tested and nailed down before you go into production. It takes most of my time. Once I have a design ready to go into production I hand that information over to Jonathan who then oversees that production. I'm called in to see quality and progress, I answer questions and show how to do new processes when they come up. I help troubleshoot. Sometimes I'll help heat treat, sharpen and machine. I do a great deal of forging, from knives and hawks to jewelry.
Being an owner of the company I do not make a lot of money from it – so I supplement my income by making knives, tomahawks and jewelry in my own personal shop, on my own time. I usually spend about two days a week at my shop now and often work there at night after my kiddos go to bed. Sometimes these are things that I have made for years (pipe hawks for example), at other times they are new items that become part of the prototyping process (R37 knives are a good example). Over the years there were not many of these items from my shop because I also worked at the local University. I have recently left the University to work full time in the RMJ TAC shop and my own personal shop. So you will see more handmade knives and hawks coming from me as I transition from being a state employee to being a full time knifemaker and blacksmith.
So here is the answer, sort of. We make our tactical tomahawks in batches to be more efficient and to reduce the final price tag. These batches are made by a team of talented people – including me but by no means exclusively by me. We are constantly machining and heat treating – today we were machining Berserkers, heat treating Berserkers and 37 hawks made last week, welding and prepping shrikes for injection molding that were machined a few weeks ago and heat treated last week, making scabbards for Kukris and Pathfinders and designing a new hawk with our friend Elmer Roush. If you are waiting on a Shrike, know that it is being worked on – and that my forging or developing does not negatively effect your delivery time. Hope that sorts it out.