The film Conan the Barbarian might seem an unlikely inspiration for a career. But we can hardly pass judgment, as it engendered Quintin Middleton's love of knives at a tender age.

Now a highly gifted bladesmith at 25, Middleton has just launched his own venture, South Carolina-based Middleton Made Knives. Already the new operation has supplied bespoke instruments to chefs at such nearby Charleston restaurants as Cypress and The Ocean Room.

To hone the craft, Middleton spent the past six years with lauded bladesmith and fellow Southerner Jason Knight. Now, Middleton designs knives (starting at $260) in a variety of distinct styles, a process that starts with him hand-hammering each piece of domestically made high-carbon steel.

Middleton creates his handiwork based on his clients' preferences: Weight, handle material and style are all customizable (useful information for future gift giving, we think). As a starting point, though, consider Middleton's gyutou knife, a harmonious blend of Japanese and European sensibilities; its light blade features an aggressive curve, making chopping a breeze.

Time to practice those knife skills.