Sunday, March 12, 2017

Axe And You Will Receive


I recently spent an extended weekend in a cabin in southern West Virginia.  It is beautiful country filled with rugged trails and incredible views.  The cabin had a brick lined fireplace and a wood pile was available, so I made use of it.

In anticipation of chilly nights and warm fires I packed my SOG hatchet.   It didn’t work very well.  Despite the small amount of cutting I did several years ago, my hatchet was dull.  Using that axe really brought out the true meaning of the expression, “Firewood warms you twice.  Once when you cut it and again when you burn it.”

Fortunately my nephew brought his hatchet, a smaller and much sharper Gerber.  It didn’t take too much work before I realized that my SOG made fast work of splitting quarter logs in to eighths, but was crappy for making the thin pencil-like sticks need to build fires.  The Geber made nice pencils of wood but failed to impress the larger quarter logs.

Two hatchets
The Gerber is noticeable lighter and compact than the SOG

The two hatchets would complement each other (after I re-sharpened the SOG), but you really can’t completely interchange them.

The Gerber has a small head resembling a flat grind Regular Wisconsin while the SOG has what appears to be a modified double bevel Virginia. 
axe head
Gerber hatchet head


Don’t be confused, think of grind the same way as you think of knife grinds.  Axe head style defines the shape and appearance of the axe head.  Historically, some heads worked better than others for specific jobs.  What worked for splitting long logs into quarters or fence rails, wasn’t the best design for log bucking.   Some axe heads just develop a regional interest and became known by that name.

SOG axe head
SOG hatchet head


My cutting experience indicated the Gerber might be a great hatchet for backpacking.  It weighs in at 22.4 ounces and is 14 inches long.  Not a bad combination for carrying in a pack.  The small size limits its practical use.  Need to cut a tent pole or cut down branches into small burnable size?  Great!  Quarter a four inch diameter log, not so hot.  Typically, after you drive the hatchet into wood, you would pull the handle to one side or the other to rotate the metal head to act as an expanding wedge.  This action causes the crack to propagate down the wood.  The short handle made it feel like I couldn’t produce enough torque to turn the axe head and the split wood.  The handle is a fiberglass composite and I felt queasy about using it as a lever arm.

My dull SOG weighs in at 33 ounces and is 16 inches long.  The steel is a 1055 steel.  It is too heavy for very much backpacking.  Car camping, sure bring it along, but why not bring a three quarters length axe and really chop wood?

The SOG’s weight and steel handle gave me confidence I wasn’t going to break anything but the log when I twisted the hatchet handle to pry wood apart.  The dullness made it difficult to cleanly split the wood into pencil size kindling.

The SOG camp axe has a RC hardness of 50-55.  Not bad for a hatchet, but I noticed that after several days of chopping wood the edge had several dents.  Clearly a sharpening stone or file should be this hatchet’s constant companion.

Pick the right tool for the right job!


All I could find on the Gerber was that it has been replaced by a new and improved version.  The hardness wasn’t published.  But I wouldn’t be afraid to carry it into the woods.


So, I learned I need to look after my hatchet better and that proved what I already knew: the right tool makes any job easier!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The last Medina gun show was a little trippy.

Right off the bat two guys comes up to my table and point at the Benchmade knives and asked “Are they real?”

Wow, what an existentialist question!  Plato thought that everything was an imperfect copy of an ideal object.   Somewhere there is the perfect knife which displays all the attributes, all the knifieness that a knife should have and in perfect portions.

Astrophysicists suggests that all matter is a hologram of an information trapped in the event horizon of a massive black hole.

I really didn’t know how to answer them until I realized they were asking if my knives were counterfeit.  It was a little insulting and I should have told them to fuck off.  I usually only come to that conclusion sometime later, so I told them what I know and suggest that if they buy a $200 knife for $50, something isn’t on the level.

One of them asked if his Spyderco Civilian was a knock-off.  Frankly, in many cases, it’s almost impossible to tell without doing both destructive and non-destructive testing.  They bought it for 50 bucks off a guy who thought it was a counterfeit.  I think they got what they paid for.
********
After a few sales I realized the main advantages of not buying from the internet.
One: you can pick it up, hold it and compare it to similar object and decide which is the best for you.
Two: you get it right now.
********
In the gun side, I was surprised to see a lever action cowboy rifle with a bullseye type peep sight fixed to the top of the receiver.  In retrospection I don’t see why not.  Most guns are more accurate than we are, I just don’t think of a lever action as a 500 yard gun.
********
I was filling in for my friend John, who needed to make a pit stop.  John sells ammo among other things.  So I was surprised when someone asked if the one ounce novelty pennies were gold.
 
“No sir, just copper.”   I said.  Especially since they are on sale for 5 bucks.

I get similar questions about a line of Marttiini fixed blades I carry.  People what to know if they are made from the laminated steel they have read about.  Again a simple examination of the prices revels they don’t sell for the $500 plus that Fallkniven asks for their laminated steel.

*************

We had a little bad news on Sunday morning.  We arrived just ahead of the opening bell and found out our neighbors had an S&W watch stolen.  They covered their table and were one of the last to leave.  Only a few other vendors and security was left behind.  It means someone:
       Knew it was there,
       Waited until the place was empty,
       Walked around to the back of the table,
       Lifted the cover cloth and stole it.



You expect a small amount of theft from the general public but not from the other vendors.  (We had a inexpensive CRKT knife lifted from the table during a show.) It wasn’t an expensive watch, but now I have to wonder if someone will do that to me?

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Check out the Observer


I just got a knife from China.

Too bad, you respond.

Nay, nay I say.  It’s a Real Steel fixed blade called the Observer.

Real Steel Observer
I've seen that blush on steel before, but the best I can find out is it's an affect from heat treating. 
Real steel is located in Hanzhou City on the east coast of China and has been making knives as a contract manufacturer for the last 15 years.  In 2013 they launched the Real Steel Company.  China doesn’t allow the sale of folding knives with locks on the mainland, so Real Steel has focused on external sales.  This, in my opinion, has made Real Steel quality conscious. (Interesting note on the sale of lock blades in China.) 

The Observer is 8.25 inches in overall length with a 440C steel blade 3.5 inches long.  The full tang knife has a grooved G-10 handle and comes with a kydex sheath and adjustable belt clip.  The blade is 0.197 inches thick.

440C was one of the standard knife steels used by the knife industry.  You’ll still find plenty of knives with this steel.  It has the highest carbon content of the 400 series family, 0.9 to 1.2% carbon.  The elevated levels of chromium, 16 to 18% provide small, hard chromium carbides that anchor and stabilize the steel grains.  This level of chromium also provides of a thin, self-forming layer of chromium oxide that makes the steel resistant to staining.  Still, a little care is required.  Remember, it’s stain-less, not rust proof.

Real Steel Fixed Blade knife handle
The machined G-10 scales are removable.


440C steels can be hardened to around 58-60 RHc.  I’m good with that.  These levels of hardness allow for a little flexibility in the steel.  After all, a bent knife can be sharpened and used.  A cracked knife is just junk.

Look, it’s a basic fixed blade knife with a nice working length.  It feels good in your hand and you can resharpen it with ordinary stones.  No complicated or advanced sharpening systems are needed, always a plus in the field.  You can remove the handle for cleaning if you want.  All for under $69. 

It feels good, seems well made and looks good.  It’s for resale so I can’t test it, but reviews I have seen make this knife seem like a good deal.  If I was still camping and hiking I would carry this knife.  Let me remind you, it’s not the country of origin that establishes quality but the workmanship of the company.


Real Steel also makes some very nice folders.  You can find better for more money, but these seem to have the best value for the price.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Book Review - Primer on Folding Knives

I don’t do too many book reviews, but I’m going to do one now. 
Let me recommend “A Primer on Folding Knives” by Steven Roman.  I think you’ll enjoy this book.  I know I did.






Who is Steven Roman?

He’s a mathematician, currently Emeritus Professor of Mathematics at California State University, but don’t let that scare you.  He’s also a wood worker, pen turner, knife collector and a knife sharpener.  He also likes to write.

The book covers many knife-related topics, like knife companies, opening and locking mechanisms, blade finishes as well as handle materials.  That’s a partial list of chapter one.  Chapter two deals with the complex subject of metallurgy.  As best as I can tell, he’s on pretty solid ground for basic metallurgy.  If you want to find out what elements stabilize austenite or the difference between cementite and aged bainite, you’re going to need a more advanced guide.

Chapter 3 is an intensive look at sharpening. 

Face it, knife sharpeners and knife fanciers come in two varieties: those interested in a working edge and those who want the ultimate edge.  We all fall somewhere on that spectrum.  For my barbecue knife I want the ultimate edge.  It’s never going to be used, just shown off.  But the blades I carry, well, they need to be a compromise between sharpness and durability.  Sharp enough I can cut, but not so sharp the first cut dulls the edge.

Steven suggests trying different edges for different steels and working them to see which edge stays sharp the longest.  By matching edge geometry and sharpening against steels you can obtain the optimal best edge for your use.

Most of us will not do that.  It requires a lot of work, standard cutting tests and plenty of notes about observation on your part.  Most of us don’t take the time or make the effort.  That’s okay.  All we want is a sharp knife.  But if you want the best working edge for a particular knife, you need to put forth the effort.

Oh, just because it’s about folding knives, it doesn’t mean its sharpening ideas don’t apply to fixed blades!


Find a copy of Steven’s book, “A Primer on Folding Knives” and read it.  I think you’ll enjoy it.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Around and About


The Western Reserve Cutlery Association had Wayne Hensley custom make a sub-hilt fighter to celebrate their 40th anniversary.

Anniversary sub-hilt fighter
Wayne never meant for us to carry this one, it didn't come with a sheath.

I have to admit 40 years is a funny anniversary.  It’s a multiple of the 10th celebration, but it’s not 4 times more fun than the 10th anniversary.  Still, an anniversary is a good reason to buy a custom knife.

I’ve always been interested in sub-hilt fighters.  The most noticeable feature is the extra hilt or “trigger” as some people call it.  I understand this design was developed by Bob Loveless in his “Big Bear Classic.”  I suspect other people had previously devised this type of handle/hilt, but for whatever reason it never took off.  The last really “new” thing I ever heard of was logarithms and that’s way off topic.

The upper edge of the Hensley sub-hilt is semi-sharp.  As I think of a sub-hilt fighter, the upper edge should be razor sharp, making the knife more of a dagger.  For me that makes the knife a little less useful as I often find myself pressing on the back edge to get more force into the cutting stroke.  Try that with a dagger and you’ll get more get more cutting all right, but not where you want it.

The Hensley sub-hilt blade is 4.5 inches of sharpened ATS34 steel and an ebony hard wood handle with bird head butt.  The stainless steel guard was to be stamped/engraved/etched with series number.  WRCA had ordered 15 for their members, but through some mishap all the knives got marked “1/15”.  I guess that is true enough, any one of these knives is one of the 15 made for the club.

We had requested a plaque or shield in the side of the ebony handle, but somehow that too fell through the cracks.

We’re also in the process of selecting a club knife for 2017.  These are often, but not always folders.  They are, almost exclusively, boring “old man knives.”  That of course is my opinion.  Two and three bladed friction folders don’t really ring my bell, but other club members love them.  Frankly, I think it’s more of a cost function.

I understand it.  I remember when I could by a Spyderco for half the current cost.  What I also remember is I used to buy gasoline for a half a buck and I was making $2.57 an hour then.  Scale the cost of that folder you bought in 1953 by fuel cost and you’ll find modern knives are still a bargain.

WRCA is also getting ready to launch the 2017 Knife Expo at the Knights of Columbus in Massillon, Ohio.  The show will be May 20 and 21, 2017.  I drove out there to see the building and found it in the middle of a residential neighborhood.  I was depending on my GPS to get out of there, so I followed its instructions and after a couple of blocks it informed me I was off roading.  Well, I was making such good time I didn’t want to stop.  Fortunately, I got to a major intersection, rebooted the darn thing and it showed me the way to go home.
  
I wish we could find a nice stable place to hold our show, but it doesn’t look like it will happen any time soon.

At the last gun show in Medina (that’s a local community not too far from me) I picked up an Arno Bernard fixed blade with sheath.  Arno Bernard is from Bethlehem, South Africa, and he uses some rather interesting and exotic materials for handles and sheaths.

Scavenger series Wild Dog
It's a classy knife and it's never been used.
This knife is one of his more plebeian issues.  It’s from his Scavenger series called the Wild Dog.  It available in several interesting handles, but mine is G-10.  His website is a little apologetic about using G-10 but as he claims, customers ask for it and it’s damn near indestructible.  The sheath is water buffalo leather and very interesting.

Water Buffalo sheath
I like the deep sheath which retains the knife in brush.  There is more than one American manufacturer who could make deeper sheaths.

He uses N690 steel which is similar to VG-10, but with a bit more chromium and cobalt and a little less vanadium.  My research indicates N690 can be hardened and tempered to 58-60 HRc. 
Bernard started making knives in 1979 and it’s a family run operation with the kids and their wives involved.  I’m always impressed with how one person can start something that grows to supports their family as well as other families in their community. 

I’m not going to keep this knife and you’ll find it on my table next year. 


Sunday, December 4, 2016

Zedd vs Foray


Talk about a mismatch!  The Zedd is made in Russia by Kizlyar Supreme and the Foray is made in the USA by Benchmade.  Did someone let a lightweight in the ring with a heavyweight?

Foray and Zedd D2
Today's match:  Kizyar Zedd D2 VS Benchamde's Foray


Let’s see what happen.  There’s the bell.

Let’s start with the blade.

The Zedd uses D2 steel.  D2 is considered by many to be the best knife blade steel because of edge retention and corrosion resistant properties.  The steel has high carbon 1.3% and less than 13% chromium.  A lot of that chromium is tied up as carbides and not available for corrosion resistance.  These blades are hardened to 58-59 Rc.

Despite its drawbacks, too many people like D2 to simply dismiss it out of hand.  Just wipe it off with oil now and again and it will be fine.
 
Foray uses CPM-20CV steel.  This steel contains 1.9% carbon and 20% chromium.  The recipe is topped off with a jigger of Vanadium (4%) and a dash of Tungsten (1%).  I did notice that there are several different formulas for 20CV stainless on the internet.  Here’s a link to the Crucible information sheet.


20CV is reported to have better wear potential and edge retention.  The nature of powder metals, when handled properly, produces a finer grain with smaller carbides and better properties.  Will 20CV become a world beater?   Well, that’s an answer we’ll have to wait for.

The Benchmade blade is hardened to 59-61 Rc.

Zedd and Foray
Both nice looking knives!


The Zedd utilizes both a flipper and ambidextrous stud.  I like that option.  As their website says, “…let's agree that it is not always a good idea to flip open a knife in public.”  I would go farther and suggest sometime the polite, two-handed opening is the way to go!

The Foray is set up for stud only, but can be open with either hand.  Yes, I know you can pull the axis lock back and flip the blade open.  I also know in every knife class I have taken, everyone who uses that method of opening their knife loses it at least once during the practice drills.  People using studs and flips never drop their knife while opening it.  Something to think about.

There is no question the Benchmade Foray is easier to open and close than the Zedd.

I wish the Zedd were set up for a 4 position clip.  Unfortunately the curved nature of the clip doesn’t allow it to be reversed.  It is set up for tip up carry.  That’s a plus.  Nor is it set as deep pocket carry as the Foray. 

Benchmade vs Kizyar
The Zedd D2 on left has a curved clip as compared to Foray straight clip


Many of us remember knives with molded plastic clips.  They couldn’t be moved and they didn’t allow for deep pocket carry, and we thought they were the cat’s pajamas.  But that was 20 years ago.  Almost all the better knives come with moveable clips.  While deep seated knives are less noticeable, I’ve found them a little more difficult to withdraw from my pocket.

Having ranted about that, I need to point out that the Foray is only left/right tip-up reversible.
The Foray weighs 101 grams as compared to the 141 grams the Zedd weighs.  That difference is less than a double shot of rye whiskey.  That difference is not important to me.

The Zedd uses a liner lock and I like the design, the entire thickness of the liner is behind the blade.  The Foray has Benchmade’s Axis lock.  I can’t go to war over which lock is better, but I will say the axis lock treats lefties better than the right-handed liner lock.

Full thickness of Zedd linerlock
Kizyar's Zedd has the full thickness of the liner lock behind the blade



Here’s the box score!

Zedd
Foray
Blade steel
D2
CPM-20CV
Blade length
3.22 inches
3.22 inches
Blade thickness (max)
0.11 inches
.14 inches
Handle
G10 over metal liners
G10 over stainless liners
Operation
Manual flipper and stud
Manual stud
Clip
Metal
Metal
Clip position
I position, right side tip up
left/right reversible tip up
Lock
liner
axis lock
Handle thickness
0.58
0.56
Over all open length
7.87 inches
7.34 inches
Price
$120
$225

Now, these aren’t my knives and I can’t perform the indicated functions. That is, cut with them, carry them, use them, resharpen them.

What do I think?  Well, nobody pays full retail if they are willing to do a little searching.  Even so, the Zed is quite a knife for the price. 

I’m not a steel junkie and I don’t mind sharpening my knives.  The larger, contoured handle of the Zedd fit my hand better in static tests.  I still have enough hand flexibility to work a liner lock with either hand and I liked the flipper/stud option.


For the money, I would go to go with Kizyar Supreme‘s Zedd as a basic everyday carry knife.  

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Events Revisted

Knife Gun shows do bring out some interesting people.

I ran into a fellow who had a very interesting Bark River fixed blade knife.  It had a well-oiled wooden handle and a 12-14 inch blade.  The tip of the blade was pointless, similar to that of a butter knife.  He was selling but the $250 price was out of my range.  I thought of telling him I’d stand tall at $100, but decided not to.

Talking to other dealers I found out he had just bought the knife from them the week before.  It was obvious he was trying to flip the knife.  I hope he has fun, but I had the idea that the last person on that money pyramid would be stuck holding the knife for years before the price caught up.  And it wasn’t going to be me.  Still it only takes one customer who desperately needs that knife for his collection.

You can't always get what your want
I also ran into a fellow searching for a Kershaw Leek made with S30V steel.  The original ones were made that way, but now that they are available in Wal-Mart the best you might do is 420HC or 14C28V.  In truth 14C28N sounds like it could be a quality steel, if heat treated and tempered properly. 

The problem is, Wal-Mart has a well-deserved reputation for pushing manufacturers to use shortcuts and cheaper materials.  One only has to remember what happened to Rubbermaid.

I wouldn’t trust any knife I could buy at Wal-Mart for anything serious.  There are too many cheap counterfeits being brought into the country and who know where they end up.

Something New
I’ve been selling knives for years and I ran into something I haven’t ever seen.  Anywhere.

I take credit cards.  More and more people are using credit for everything from buying a cup of joe at McDonalds to a new car.  So a man walks up to the table and wants to know if I take “real” money.  I thought that was a satirical comment on credit and he was referring to greenbacks, bucks, dead presidents.

He wasn’t.  He wanted to trade one ounce silver bars for a knife.  I backed out of that as fast as possible.  Look, last Saturday an ounce of silver was selling for around $18.35.  Today it’s in the upper $17.  Who knows what it will be tomorrow.  I would have low balled him at say $15 an ounce and I’d still have his problem of selling the silver.  I can’t go to the bank and deposit silver.  I would have to sell it at the going rate or try to barter it away like he was trying to do.


Real Money or not
Are they silver?  Are they actually 99.999% silver?  Dot they really weight what they're stamped?

It’s an impossible system.  Even when we were on the gold standard, a gold coin had a fixed value.  Besides, how did I know it was 99.999% sliver and an honest one ounce weight?

Maybe if society collapsed and we were all bartering .22 rim fires for bread, we’d all have scales and would barter in silver.


But you know what?  If it was the day after the apocalypse, I’d rather have steel knives than silver.