When it comes to designing functional knives and lightweight saws, Renegade Outdoor, like the name implies, does things a little differently. Owner and creator Travis Dean uses a 3D printer to bring cutting edge ideas to life.
“I knew I didn’t want to invest in the tooling for mass manufacturing. With 3D printing, I can just make a dozen, and see if people want to buy them,” he said. “Nothing is stopping me from launching these products now.”
Travis has always been curious, inventive, and in search of out-of-the box solutions. “I was the kid that took things apart and didn’t put them together,” he laughed.
Growing up on a small farm in Idaho’s Treasure Valley, he was constantly tinkering. “Around a farm, there’s always something that needs fixing. That influenced me a lot. I always asked, how can we do this better? I don’t think I invented anything amazing back then, but the germ was definitely planted.”
Travis recalled constructing a backpacking stove about 15 years ago. “It worked so well, it melted the aluminum,” he laughed. "But, it was a fun experiment. That kinda got the bug started.”
He went on to earn a degree in Mechanical Engineering in 2011 and has worked in product development ever since. He’s taken a whopping 17 trips to China, giving him some insight into manufacturing overseas.
Travis eventually started his own business, Renegade Design, freelancing as an engineering consultant for product design companies.
He busied himself developing products for other people, but he never stopped brainstorming his own inventions or iterations of things he believed could use improvement.
“I didn’t want to take a loan out to buy tooling for just one product. I wasn’t convinced that one product would be a success. When the 3D printer materialized, I thought ‘this is it’. It’s very low risk to launch an outdoor product this way. 3D printing is an amazing development, and it’s a niche that’s perfect for a cottage industry.”
When asked to explain 3D printing in two or three sentences, Travis said: “Once the product is created using Computer Aided Design (CAD), a software program then slices the model into hundreds or even thousands of paper thin slices. In its simplest form, most 3D printers work by printing one slice of material at a time, layering one slice on top of another, until the full object has completely formed.”
Both the lightweight outdoor knife and saw were two particular products Travis wanted himself. “I did a bunch of sketches, and the little pieces just came together. I had a good feeling about these ones.”
He gave the knives to friends for product testing, and carried one himself for over a year. “When I did finally get my own 3D printer this year, the design was done. Very little had to be changed.”
And if he did want to change something, Direct Digital Manufacturing (i.e. 3D printing) makes that extremely easy.
“The cool thing about it is you don’t have traditional manufacturing limitations. If I didn’t like something, well, I could change it. DDM can manufacture components ‘on demand’ and I don’t have to carry a huge inventory and can adjust to better meet customer needs. This is more freeing because I can make whatever I think up; it’s very exciting from a design standpoint.”
Travis’ excitement surrounding his new venture with Renegade Outdoor is infectious.
“I like the what if? or why not do this? questions. It’s hard to turn it off sometimes,” he laughed. "It can be distracting, but getting in that creative space is so enjoyable for me. It’s hard for me to stop. Hours go by and I don’t even notice.”
In true engineer fashion, Travis appreciates things that are functional and appropriately valued. “The best design should address a real need and solve an actual problem, at a price point that makes sense…that’s a good design. Nothing less and nothing more.”
With many more products in the pipeline, that’s what Renegade Outdoor is all about. “I want to generate cool, simple solutions to problems and create an authentic design.”
The UltraFire Knife and MicroLight Saw both fit the bill. The tools are functional and affordable; the blades are replaceable; and everything from concept to creation takes place in Travis’ three-car garage (though, he only occupies two bays, leaving one for his wife to park her car).
“I’ve always wanted to be an inventor. I’ve had so many ideas. I’ve always wanted to see something make it out in the wild since I was a kid. I have lots of designs, but I’ll stick with the simplest, most basic designs in my notebook for now.”