“I liked to do projects,” Pietruszka of Mount Enterprise, Texas, said. “I had an old saw blade and decided I wanted to make a knife with it. My dad made me a knife when I was eight or nine [years old], and so I had always wanted to make one because he had made one.”
Pietruszka cut wood for the knife using wood from his then workplace, then gifted it to a friend he considered a grandfather, who also made knives. Pietruszka’s interest was piqued, and his craft evolved from there. “I started buying knifemaking steel and watching YouTube videos on how to do different [techniques] and buying tools I could use for other things if the knifemaking didn’t go very far.”
Fortunately for Pietruszka, his craft quickly took off, and friends and family were so impressed, they encouraged him to turn his hobby into a side gig. “I took [the knives I made] to a feed store in Nacogdoches, and they said they would sell them for me on commission.”
Boles Feed Company, Inc. continues to display about a half dozen of Pietruszka’s knives, and he sells his creations on his Facebook page, as well. However, the bulk of his work consists of custom orders. “People pick a blade style that I currently make and choose their handle type or color, the file work pattern, the sheath color and style, and I make each one to order and have extras made up for people who want one right then and there,” he said. “People design their blades, and then I’ll refine their drawings for what will work for me to make.”
“If a customer asks me for something I haven’t done before it’s exciting,” Pietruszka said. “It might take me longer, but it doesn’t seem like it because time flies trying to get it finished and seeing what it’s going to look like.”
While Pietruszka works full-time, he dedicates about 30 to 40 hours a week from home on his knifemaking small business, all the while looking for new years to make or improve the knives. “I always like to think of new ways to do something, faster ways, and to increase my overall outcome, make it look better, or cut down my hours and still maintain the quality,” he said.
That quality craftsmanship is what sets him apart. “I see some people who don’t pay attention to the fine details,” he said. “I try to do things I don’t see other people doing. One of my most popular things is the file work; it’s the design you do on the spine that goes into the handle. I see other makers do it, but they don’t do it on as many knives or on as much as the knife, and I try to do it on as much of the knife as I can. That sets me apart.”
Most of Pietruszka’s customers are knife collectors, while others are outdoorsmen or cowboys. “It’s like a status thing or something,” he said of the latter group who buy his knives. “They like to wear them with their rhinestone belts. That’s really popular.”
Pietruszka has also restored knives, but, he added, “I don’t do a lot and don’t really advertise it, but so far everyone who’s asked, I’ve done it.”
It is important to be a straight shooter, he said, so if he is not comfortable doing a restoration or a custom piece, customers will be the first to know, even if it costs him business. But so far, lack of work has not been a problem. “I’m doing a lot fancier, higher quality work, and I think word of mouth is just spreading. I’ll have one person buy one and show it to five people, and two of those might buy one each. There are repeat customers and new ones every single day.”
His work is in demand enough that Pietruszka is considering quitting his day job to focus on knifemaking full time. He would also like to have a storefront where people can view more of his work in one place and also watch him work. “They’d appreciate them more if they could come see them in person rather than just online or sending them pictures,” he said. “They can see them up close and see how much time and work goes into them.”
As one might imagine, the work itself is not without its fair share of hazards. “I always wear a dust mask, safety glasses; I have cut my fingers many times,” Pietruszka said. “It doesn’t happen too often, but sometimes if you’re not careful, or trying to use a dull bandsaw blade to cut material or forcing it, sometimes you can just slip. I’ve cut my hand polishing blades. I’ve had blades that, when I’m drilling holes in them, grab the bit and spin around. Now I know how to hold the objects when I’m buffing them so they don’t slip out of my hand.”
He has also become more comfortable talking to customers and potential ones, and he enjoys the business aspect, too: dealing with suppliers and searching for better prices for materials to make his effort and time worthwhile.
But the best part, he said, is making something out of nothing. “People call me an artist sometimes. I never considered myself an artist. I feel like I look at things through a mathematical view, and how I can reproduce it.
“It is really exciting when you start off with a piece of steel and it’s as plain as can be and you see the final outcome; it’s amazing to know I made that. It’s unbelievable when you finish one. Some are better than others, but when you get a good one, it’s amazing. It’s hard not to keep a bunch of them.”
To view Pietruszka’s work, visit Pietruszka Custom Knives on Facebook or, if you are in the Nacogdoches area, stop by Boles Feed Company, Inc. at 913 South Street.