Knife Expert Lethimos Masolini Interview

Introducing Lethimos Masolini

Lorenzo “Lethimos” Masolini is an Italian army veteran, student of bushcraft, and knife expert. Lethimos manages, a  website that details the importance, history, and creation of knives. He’s developed knives made specifically for the army, firefighters, and EMS. More recently, he has been producing small series industrial knives for civilians. You can find Lethimos’s Agoge branded knives on Amazon soon. Moreover, he recently published an e-book entitled Knife: The tool that forged Mankind, which you can download from his website. I was lucky enough to interview Lethimos. Below is the transcript:

How Lethimos Got Hooked on Knives

Bob: You state on your website that you lived near Italy’s oldest knife town, which I helped in developing your interest in knives. When did that interest progress into a passion? At what point did you realize you would build a business around knives?

Lethimos: It’s hard say when my interest started and its even harder to recall when knives became a passion. I grew up looking at people using and working with knives since I started forming memories. I was surrounded by people who used knives to work in vineyard, gardens and woods, and to build amazing things. Since I was about 5 or 6 years old, I imagined everything to be a knife or a sword. Every stick, plastic pipe, or piece of wood. I received my first almost blade-less (due to continuous sharpening) Opinel from an old family friend when I was about seven. I used it to shape bigger wood knives to play with.

As you can see, even then I had an insane passion for building knives. Unfortunately, in my family there was not so much space for this kind of manual work, so nobody ever told me that it was possible to actually build knives from scratch. I ultimately had the opportunity to go to to Scarperia, a city with over a 600 year history of blade smithing and occasional custom knives festivals.

I didn’t just start purchasing and receiving cheap working knives. Instead, I began collecting knives I bought during our family trips around the world. On these trips, I became passionate about ancient and ethnic blades. I then began to study different cultures. I found that everything sharp has a rich history. So, as you can see, there is no single moment where I became interest in knives. My interest is the product of a natural evolution of interest beginning from my earliest memories.

In the beginning, I tried various times to forge something with disastrous results. These were different times. There was no internet and little information around. I had a lot of things to do between school and sports, so I did not have much time to search for somebody to teach me how to build a knife. I continued going to Scarperia quite often. Every time I went, I spoke with local artisans, looked at their work, and tried to absorb every piece of information I could find. Through these conversations, I have been lucky enough to learn the hardest part of knife making: metallurgy.

While these artisans where not so happy to teach me how to technically build a knife, they never had any problems sharing information about heat treatments and basic metallurgy to a young kid. I learned how important heat treatment is in the production of a good knife and how changing the heat treatment process can affect the final efficiency of the steel. I understood that heat treatment it is actually more important than the steel itself.

The Knife Expert Forum that Changed Everything

Years passed but the passion remained. About 12 years ago, a friend of mine told me he was in a knives forum. I checked it out and found that this forum didn’t just have skilled knife makers. Most of the skilled knife makers were willing to share their knowledge as well. Most of them were living just a couple hours from where I lived at the moment, so we were able to meet once in a while to talk about knives.

At that time, I had much more experience using knives than I had building them, so it was a incredible to see these people take a simple feel bar and transform it into a blade within minutes. I started copying them, learned how a serious forgery works, and started beating my first hot pieces of steel. I have never stopped since. I’ve made a few knives for myself, for my friends, and have built a few for former comrades to be use while deployed overseas.

Moving to the US

Until I moved to the US, I hadn’t really started thinking about the idea of turning my passion into a business. Here, the economy is at a totally different level than it is in Italy and there is a huge interest around knives. Coming from a country where carrying a knife in public is not only illegal, but seen by most people like a crazy thing, I was amazed to see how many clips were sticking out of people’s pockets.

That probably is the moment where I realized that a knife company could not only exist, but also succeed. It still took a couple of years before I was able to start actively thinking on bringing the project to life. And only recently have I really started thinking about leaving the custom knife path in favor of creating knives at an industrial scale.

Military Service

Bob: You’re an Italian army veteran and specialized as a paratrooper. Did you find that the knives you were given during your army service weren’t of a quality you’d expect? What inspired you to develop knives for soldiers?

Lethimos: I was not in the Army for a very long time, as hierarchy was not something I could easily deal with. Specifically, I was in “1 battaglione Carabinieri Paracadutisti Tuscania” and learned from and trained with some of the best Italian operators. Carabinieri are a one of a kind corp. It does not exist here in the US. It covers mostly police roles all over the Italian territory, but is a pure military corp separate from the three main branches. Inside the Carabinieri are specialized units that train for high risk missions.

I was in one of these specialized units referred to as the Tuscania. The Tuscania is a parachutist regiment trained to work in Italy and abroad in high risk conditions. Inside Italy, there were anti-mafia roles, searches for dangerous fugitives, etc. Abroad, there were roles like body guarding government figures, securing embassies in high risk locations, and NATO missions in war zones.

I graduated from the police school first, then I was selected with 19 others from a pool of almost 120 candidates to be enrolled in the parachutist training. We finished with only 12 people. We received the wings first, then the assaulter specialization, and finally the machine gun proficiency certification.

I was continually training for the entire time in the service. Once I cleared my intent of not enrolling for the permanent service, one operator of the GIS (the Carabinieri anti terrorism unit) stated, “to bad, you could have been a good candidate for us.” We will never know what could have been.

Anyway, coming to the US, I discovered that inside military units, the word “standard issue” was meaningless. Back in the 1990’s even a specialized unit like ours was receiving the standard issue. None of us were sticking with any of the provisioned equipment. We were all buying our own gear. This included the standard M7 bayonet that we always replaced with different knives. Most of us had a Swiss army knife for daily use on small tasks. Many owned a Gerber Mark II for plausible CQC situations and other utility knives of any sort for all other activities.

I was in love with my Camillus Mark 2 during that period. I received it as a gift from a friend when I was 16 and didn’t stop using it until it practically fell apart. I’m a rude tools user, but very loyal to those who give me what I need. This stems from the fact that I have never seen knives as a toy, but rather what they have been used for since they first were created in the Paleolithic era: they are tools and they serve a purpose.

Unfortunately, I have seen that still to this day, the army seems to be issued with very low quality and old concept knives like the M7 bayonet. Most of the soldiers therefore buy knives from the civilian market. I know that many consider a knife a useless piece of gear for a soldier, but knives would not be so important in the world after 2.5 million years if they were not a very useful tool.

Learning to Develop Custom Knives 

Bob: I understand that creating custom knives to be used on the battlefield is no small feat. What are some of the most important lessons you learned through your experience developing knives? Is there anything you are still learning?

Lethimos: First of all, it would be stupid to say that I am no longer learning anything. I still learn every day. I learn about construction processes, about metallurgy, blade geometry, and the way in which people use knives.

People buy an expensive knife while following the latest trend and are then afraid to use it. So expensive, top quality knives become simple ornaments hanging from a wall. I have seen people leave their knife in their locker due to its weight and bulkiness and then regret not having one when time came to use it. I learned that it is better to have a good knife on your side than an excellent knife in your locker.

No matter what any custom knife maker says, a knife, especially a fixed blade, is a simple tool. There are only few things you really need to focus on when making a knife that can perform its role. It makes no difference if used on the battlefield or a backpacking trip. No knife is indestructible. It all depends if you are able to understand the limits of the tool you have in your hands and use it accordingly.

The Knife Expert’s Companies

Bob: You created Lethimos Knives Department and AGOGE Blades. For readers who may be unfamiliar with your companies, can you share a bit about each? Can you please walk us through your product and service offerings?

Lethimos: Lethimos is actually the name I have been using now for many years. I used it for many different themes: survival, preparedness, trekking and backpacking, knives, guns, and so on. So when it came time to start developing knives at a bigger scale, I treated it like a branch of a bigger structure.

Originally, my idea was only to develop and produce specialty knives for professionals here in the US. This path, however, led to custom knife production, which is not exactly where I wanted to go. I wanted to help a bigger number of professionals and give them tools that could make a difference in life threatening situations or simply make their lives easier when necessary.

I realized that I had a very long road in front of me before my project could become a sustainable business. It needed way more financial resources and connections than I had to sell my products on a small scale. I decided that I could begin working on a different brand, Agoge Blades, to direct my interest toward the civilian market. Industrial produced items among could be sold among the huge catalog available worldwide.

Even though I have never been a big fan of overseas production, specifically Chinese production, I discovered that among the huge amount of cheap worthless clones out there, there are some companies that build knives for a great quality/price ratio. The hardest part is finding the right product among the sea of fake and poor quality knives.

I don’t think I’ll have to keep the Lethimos brand in a period of stasis, since I’m working on a couple projects that hopefully will keep it up and running. My final goal is to make it one of America’s most respected knife brands. Lethimos knives will always be what I define as “Italian design, American built” products. They are designed per my specifications, proto-typed and tested to adhere to the required standards, and built here in the US with all manufacturing processes under my direct control to ensure the highest quality possible.

I have no strict plans for the future working system of Agoge blades. In the short run, they will mostly be commercial and larger production knives to subsidize the research and development projects of Lethimos knives. Very soon, or at least as soon as the numbers will allow for, we will start the in house development of knives formerly produced overseas. I know these are pretty ambitious goals. Just typing them makes my legs shake, but business is a tough game and you can’t get anywhere if you don’t take risks, expose yourself, and hold yourself accountable.

Become the Knife Expert’s Brand Ambassador

Bob: One of the aspects of the Prepper and Survival community I love is the level of collaboration. You mention on your website that you have a Brand Ambassador network. Could you describe what it is for us?

Lethimos: Saying that we have a brand ambassador network would be a big lie. Let’s say that we are working to create one. An old friend of mine is helping me test and check the knives. He defines himself mostly as a self-reliant type and he has been the first to come on board.

We, as a brand, are interested in all types of people. Exceptional individuals to average Joe’s. We’re targeting people that use knives extensively to perform their activities and people that are making knives work in the real world. We want special people that understand that a knife is not always a collection item, but a tool made to work.

Unfortunately, we are not yet strong enough to sponsor amazing expeditions. What we can commit to today is to make our future Brand Ambassadors part of a community. We will enable them to test our products before they hit the market, provide them knives for their adventures, and as we continue to grow, they will have the chance to grow with us.

Going at it Alone

Bob: Sticking on the topic of collaboration for a moment, are there people who you’ve repeatedly collaborated with over the years? Have you had any mentors? 

Lethimos: This is another concept that is almost unknown in Italy. Mentorship is not something that I can easily find, as much as I have been thinking lately about searching for a local business mentor. I have been growing another small business for the last two years. My wife is starting to get hands on in order to bring it to the next level. This will enable me to concentrate more on my knife brands.

Unfortunately, it’s one thing to grow a local business and another to build a brand from scratch in US. I still don’t know much about the US market, so a business mentor might be the right choice to help me grow this company. Going back to knives, I mentioned a forum above. I can say that I had a single mentor, but among the people I met within the forum, there are many that I owe thanks to for all the things they taught me.

People like Dennis Mura, who is well known even here in the US since he became part of the American Knifemakers Guild along with many others in European knife making associations. Even if time takes me far from the forum itself, Dennis and my other friends from the BIK forum are the first people to turn to when I have doubts or need information about metallurgy heat treatments.

Lethimos’ Book

Bob: Let’s talk a bit about your new book. What motivated you to publish Knife: The tool that forged Mankind? Moreover, you’re generous enough to distribute it for free. Why is that?

Lethimos: I have been thinking for quite a while about writing “Knife: the tool that forged Mankind, Volume 1.” This is the first of three books that will cover all three basic eras: the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, and the Iron Age. This first book is for sure the most revealing for few reasons. First, there is not actual documentation about prehistory, so it is based on theories more than on actual facts. While studying the flint knapping techniques, I happened to deepen the studies on the paleontology connected to the first knives and tools.

I would like to help people understand the close relationship between the creation of knives and how it led us to where we are today. I don’t just want to show people that knives are just tools. They’re tools that made possible everything we take for granted today. Knives have been mankind’s companions for over 2.5 million years and only in the last few decades they started to be demonized.

I would like people to understand how much we owe to these simple objects. I really believe that everybody should read this book. I’m not saying this because I wrote it and would like to live a rich life from royalties, but because it might help show people world with different eyes.

The reason I released the digital version for free is because I’m more interested in sharing the concept than I am in earning royalties from it. Besides, I already know that the royalties on a book like “Knife: the tool that forged Mankind” will never get me rich. I know it’s not much, but the book got over 400 purchases on Amazon since it was published. I’m not factoring in how many times the PDF version was downloaded from the site. Now, I’m working on the second book. I will then share it with an editor and proof reader for review and correction. I hope to have it available this fall.

Bushcraft and Survival Preparedness 

Bob: In addition to developing knives, you’re also a student of bushcraft and survival preparedness. Did these interests stem from your time in the military service, or is there another reason behind your interest?

Lethimos: I’ve had a passion for bushcraft and backpacking since before my period in the military. When I was 9, my parents sent me to a summer camp up in Vermont, so I could learn English. I was in this camp spending a few days at a National Park nearby. We cooked on the fire, slept in the woods, and hiked around. This experience opened a new world to me.

Backpacking was a thing that nobody was doing at the time in Italy. I received a book about the old Canadian Trappers and started studying it, so I could try the techniques described in the book. A couple years later I was able to convince my father to bring me on a backpacking trip. We had 2 straight days of rain. No matter how soaked I got in those two days, I felt absolutely amazed and free. My father had a completely different opinion. I remember he said to me, “If you want to go backpacking, you better get ready to do it yourself.” I still don’t know if he was hoping I’d stop with this strange activity or just permitting me to go on by myself.

I started going out my myself. Each time, I got a little further from home and always brought the book with me to test out all the possible skills I was acquiring. Within one year, my gear reduced by half. I had substituted gadgets for knowledge. By the age of fourteen, I was able to make long backpacking trips without support. At the end of middle school, I did my first 5 day backpacking trip covering about 60 miles up the mountains of Italy with nothing more than what I could pack on my shoulders. Most of the weight of my backpack consisted of food.

Once out of the military, I continued training and brought it to even higher levels by integrating the bushcraft skill set into my survival repertoire. I had been trying things that, looking back, might be considered pretty stupid. Once, during the middle of winter, I left home with only the clothes I was wearing, and my MSK (Military Survival Kit). A former SAS operator I had in a survival course I took told me to always keep one on me.

I planned a 24 hour survival training up in the mountains, far from paved roads. Temperatures at night were well below freezing and I just had my MSK and my knife. I believe that there are things that you can learn only if you put yourself on the line and take some risks. I’m far from suggesting somebody should walk out the door and try something similar without the proper training. But taking a little step beyond your comfort zone is the only way to push your boundaries further.

Prepping came even later. I have been in some kind of Reserve, which is not really the same as in the US. It’s closer to a former military association that opens the doors to military training and competition. I had been in it the last 5-6 years before moving to the US and through this association I had the chance to take a civil protection course.

It trained for disastrous situations similar to those FEMA trains for. I learned a lot of interesting things and this opened the way to my next path to preparedness. What I like about all these disciplines is that they complement one another. As you might now understand, I’m a huge fan of skills and knowledge, rather than the gadget mania that seems to be sweeping through the world. I always refused to stop being curious. I will never lose the will to continue learning new things. That is probably my best survival skill. 

Warranties and Guarantees from the Knife Expert

Bob: Is there anything else you’d like to draw our attention to? I know you work with other dealers and have incredible warranty programs and guarantees. What else would you like readers of Bunker Basics to know about your offerings?

Lethimos: The first thing I would like people to know is that we believe that a company should have strong enough products to back them up no matter what. Consumers must feel confident that they are not taking a risk purchasing a knife from a new brand. If there is any problem, they will also get great customer service.

Providing a lifetime warranty on our products challenges us to find and chose high value products with the best possible quality at a reasonable price. We can proudly say that despite Agoge Blades being such a new brand, about 5 knives are already deployed in Middle East and Gulf of Oman on the side of former American and British special forces operators turned contractors.

We are currently in some local stores and working to increase our network in order to reach bigger retail stores. Within the next few months, together with the increased number of available models, we plan to start selling directly through our website, which will centralize our company’s logistics. Additionally, we are working on two bigger projects.

One is actually still “classified” as a company secret. It may lead Lethimos Knives Department to a totally unknown world. The second is a fund raising campaign needed to produce and sell a commemorative knife and donate all the profits to charity. I believe I owe the world a debt of gratitude, especially for my wife and son, and think that this debt requires me to do something bigger than myself.

We are evaluating the right product and the right charity for this project. We are considering three options that I personally have a strong emotional connection to. The charity will be either a Veteran foundation, charity to support the families of fallen soldiers, or an animal protection foundation. I really hope we will be able to create a great event with good media coverage around this. We can then increase the number of donations and overall support provided to the chosen charity.

Staying Up to Date with Lethimos the Knife Expert

Bob: Your internet presence certainly isn’t limited to your website. How can people stay up to date with you on social media and YouTube?

 Lethimos: The website is actually still a work in progress and I haven’t yet decided whether to make a separate site for each of the brands. Obviously, making a big change will take a lot of work and investment, so I will need to hire a manager. I don’t know yet if we have the budget.

I am active on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. We’re also working on uploading another video to YouTube. I invite everybody to send questions and comments on subjects you are interested in. I’ll be more than happy to make videos, blogs, and other posts answering each question. Sometimes, when you are busy growing a company, the hardest thing is to decide what to talk about and make a 10 minutes video on a specific subject. If you want to help me decide what to talk about, send me your questions.

Remaining Humble

Bob: Thanks so much for speaking with me, Lethimos. Your knife expertise is second to none. I appreciate you sharing some of your time with me. 

Lethimos: Second to none? Are you kidding me? There are real knife experts out there. Historians, metallurgists, heat treatment experts, and real artists that transform a steel bar into a piece of art.

There are Japanese sword smiths able to collect iron rich minerals and fuse them into some of the most excellent weapons mankind has ever seen and you say that my expertise is second to none?

I’m way far behind these people and far from being an expert. I’m just somebody that learned what he was able to learn about knives and will always do my best to make and commercialize knives that are worth the price. As for Lethimos Knives Department, I want to make knives that people can trust with their own lives like I had countless times during my backpacking trips and expeditions.

I must thank you for giving me the opportunity to show the others the world of knives as I see it. I hope that this will help people see what a knife really is and make them aware that there is a lot more to knives than the misleading information out there suggests. Thanks again and keep up the good work.

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