Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Spike Knife

The WRCA annual knife show ran May 19 and 20, 2018.  There were amazing knives and my friend, Skip gave me spike knife.  I’m still smiling when I look at it.

airedale custom blades
Skip's Spike
Skip does some amazing blacksmithing and like almost every blacksmith he has made more than a few railroad spike knives.  RR spikes are described as “…the most widely recognized pieces of railroad equipment by the general public.”  They were invented by Colonel Stevens who was also the inventor of the current rail configuration.  You’ll find them in different lengths, widths and thicknesses depending on the manufacturer, installation location as well as the type of wood the ties are made of. 

I was surprised, but I should have realized it, there are many collectors of RR spikes.  Some spikes have the year they were made molded into their head,  Historically different manufactures used different dimensions that changed over time, all of which makes them collectable.

Standardization came with the mechanical age and American Society of Testing and Materials was a big part of it.  ASTM 65-07 (2013) currently regulates the quality of railroad spikes.  ASTM is a for-profit organization and not being a member, I can’t access the standard.  However, I was able to find out that there are two types of RR spikes: soft and high carbon.

As carbon levels increase, strength increases but so does brittleness.  It would be a poor spike that cracked every time a train rode over a section of track.  The soft spike should contain no more than 0.12% carbon and the high carbon has a wopping 0.3%.  To put this in perspective, 1095 steel has 0.95% carbon and many super stainless steels have very high carbon levels.  For example, the super steel CPM S90V steel has 2.3% carbon. 

So, a RR spike might be able to be sharpened, but the low carbon levels prevent it from retaining its edge.  Fear not, you can change that, but you better be fearless.  You can case harden your spike knife.  Case hardening introduces increased levels of carbon to a thin layer of steel, essentially creating a sheath of high hardness material.  One relatively straight forward method is cyaniding.

Cyaniding is a case-hardening process that is fast and efficient; it is mainly used on low-carbon steels like RR spike knives. The part is heated for 20 to 30 minutes at a temperature of 1600-1750 °F in a bath of sodium cyanide and then is quenched.

This process produces a thin, hard shell (0.01 and 0.03 inches thick) which is harder than the layer produced by carburizing.  Magazine lips on early Colt semi-automatics were treated this way in the early 1900’s.  The major drawback of cyaniding is that cyanide salts (and I’m speaking as a chemist here) are very poisonous.  I told you that you needed to be fearless. 

No, I’m just going to enjoy my spike knife just as Skip made it.  You can find Skip at Airedale Custom Blades on Facebook.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Get Real!

Counterfeit products are the bane of modern life. Would you want to land in a Boeing 737 if you knew counterfeit bolts were used in the landing gear and brakes?

Sure, you got a great deal on the Spyderco counterfeit the guy was selling outside the entrance to a county fair. What, did you really think that you could buy a Paramilitary 3 for 30 bucks because it didn’t have a box? And when the lock fails or the blade snaps I hope you are not doing anything important, like building a fire when you’re lost or some other dire circumstances.

Buying online isn’t a guarantee either. Here’s a slightly truncated version of an article from the March 28 2018 edition of Knife News.

A recent study by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) confirmed that consumers who buy from third-party sellers on major online e-commerce websites risk ending up with counterfeit products.
Although no knives were included in the GOA investigation, they report that more than 40% of purchases made through third-party sellers on sites like Amazon, WalMart, eBay, and Sears turned out to be counterfeit. Amazon, the largest online retailer in the U.S., has more than 3,000,000 such third party entities participating in their Marketplace. Sales through the Marketplace make up nearly half of Amazon’s total business.

According to industry watchdog The Counterfeit Report, “Amazon’s 13 global websites operate under a huge legal loophole, virtually immune to prosecution. The foreign sellers are difficult to identify and escape liability.” The glut of sellers and inconsistency of product listings make it hard to discern fake from genuine products. “Amazon also utilizes a crafty approach to avoid removing reported counterfeit listings claiming ‘Your trademark must be in registered status in [each country the item is sold in],’ ignoring their own counterfeit policy,” The Counterfeit Report points out.

According to The Counterfeit Report, Amazon emulates the notorious eCommerce outlet Alibaba, which has been on the Office of the United States Trade Representative’s Notorious Markets List multiple times, most recently in 2017.

(I found Randall knife look-alikes several years ago at Alibaba. If you didn’t buy your Randall knife from Randall, are you sure it’s real?)

Other products are shipped from and sold by Amazon directly. Buyers often assume these products are the real thing, but in 2016, Apple found that 90% of chargers it purchased directly from Amazon, using official Apple imagery on the product listings, were fake and even dangerous.

As early as 2015, Spyderco said they could not authenticate or otherwise guarantee the genuineness of any knife purchased from Amazon “due to their practice of co-mingling inventory with their 3rd party marketplace vendors.”

(Still don’t think counterfeits are a problem? Where did you buy that protein powder and health supplement from anyway? Could they not only be worthless, but actually harmful?)
But, if you want to reduce the risk of ending up with counterfeit knives, your best option is to buy from a reputable knife dealer.

(I can’t think of anything else to add.)

Friday, March 9, 2018

Beauty and the Ugly Knife

Fit, finish and function, the 3-F’s of the knife world.

One might ask does a pretty knife work better than an ugly knife?  

By pretty I mean fit and finish.  Does the knife use phosphor bronze washers, or plastic.  Are grind lines polished out of areas you can barely see?  Are the screw heads countersunk or a little proud?  Does the closed blade sit even between the handles or does it touch one side?  

The Khyber is on the left, note the blade touching the knife liners.
The Buck 110 Hunter is on the right and the blade is centered between the liners.

I see customers not purchase a knife because the closed blade isn’t symmetrical in the handle.  In most cases it doesn’t affect the ability to open or close the knife or the sharpness of the blade.  It isn’t pretty, that’s all.

Enough with the rhetorical questions and dialog.

When you buy a knife the only question you need to answer is, “What is it’s purpose?”

Pro-Tech Rockeye Auto Skull, reigning queen of my safe

I have very nice knife from Pro-Tech.  I paid more than I normally would, but its beauty spoke to me.  The fit and finish is superb.  I don’t plan on ever using that knife, it’s a Safe Queen.

I also have a Khyber I bought 40 years ago.  It was before the current tactical knife age but just after flint knives.  The blade doesn’t have washers; it rides on the metal liners and opens with a nail-nick.  I built a lot of camp sites with that knife.  It’s a tool.

Nick Shabazz in his words “...A reviewer and gripper in the cutlery world…” splits his opinion.  On budget priced knifes he suggests that fit and finish is less important than it is in $100 plus knife.  Nick sees fit and finish as hallmarks and guarantees that the manufacturer knows his business and has produced a quality knife.  Part of Nick’s gig is to act as a gadfly to encourage makers to put the little effort in to improving their knife.

The coarse marks on the top of blade's spine are mill marks.
Early Spyderco Salt H-1 steel  10X  magnification

The fine stippling is the top of the blades spine. 
SOG Spec Elite   10X magnification

I like Nick’s writing and I understand his point.  I can buy a Buck 110 hunter with a leather sheath at Walmart for under $57.  I can live with a slight misalignment between bolster and wood scales.  The spring bar at the bottom of the blade channel shows faint mill marks.  I accept this as I know the manufacturer needs to make a profit and the extra 3-4 steps to make the knife perfect would push the price out of many users reach.  But when I get to $150 plus mark, I want the fit to be perfect and all the machining marks polished out.  But more important, I want durability!

But here’s the thing.  My pricy SOG Spec Elite and my Buck 110 hunter perform the same for me.  I shave wood, build fires, cut rope, chunk meat for cooking, and open envelopes with equal versatility. 

Earnest Emerson sees it differently.  In his blog from April 2013 he states “I’ve never built the knives for looks or for a fancy finish or perfection.”  

His knives are often compared to the knives of Chris Reeves and Sal Glesser and Emerson admits they have fine fit and finish.  But he goes on to say (let me abridge this) none of those knives were present when Somali pirates were killed, when Al Zarqawi killed, when Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was captured and Osama Bin Laden was shot dead. 

I also realize that Emerson knives carried by elite teams are purchased by the military.  You don’t think the SEALs roll out on a mission with anything other than authorized primary gear, do you?  So perhaps Ernie’s claim needs to be illuminated with that light.  Still there is no question Ernie makes great, dependable knives.

To Ernie, a knife is tool and needs to be up for the work it faces.  If you are about to embark on an adventure, you want in Ernie’s opinion, a suitable tool.

Olamic Busker, a gentleman's knife 

I understand that as well.  I would never take my Olamic Busker white water rafting, but my Spyderco Salt would be clipped in.  But I wouldn’t take an Emerson knife either.  The possibility of losing a $200 plus knife when you have to pay for it alters your perspective.

3-Fs: Fit, Finish and Function.  These terms only are defined by purpose.  I marvel over art knives.  I own one, but I’d never use it at the range to pop stables out of a target or move meat around in a skillet.

My work knives aren’t always the prettiest but they are tools.   I guess it means I’m pragmatic. 

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Why Is A Penny Like A Knife?

I had hoped to shoot a Saturday evening match, but I started working on my father’s coin collection and lost track of time.  Most of his coins are from circulation so they have little collection value other than face value.  It was the excess coins that troubled me.

What’s a lot of pennies from 1949 to 1960 worth?  Let’s start off with the fact they are ‘wheat backs’ which are no longer minted.  Also understand they minted millions of each wheat penny each year.  Nobody knows if they will be worth anything for at least 150 years.  I base that on a large penny I have from 1848 in good condition that might be worth $3 bucks.   

Current pennies are a copper clad zinc coin, but these are solid copper.  I checked the selling price of copper, the weight of a penny and 158 pennies could earn you around 2 bucks.  I suspect many US metal recyclers will not want to handle pennies, afraid of laws about defacing US currency.  Factor in the cost of a trip to Canada where a US penny just is a disk of copper, and I suspect you need to take tons to come out ahead.

Many of the coins in circulation have features raised above the coin’s rim and are quickly eroded way along with their value.  Most Indian head nickels have lost their date and you might be able to sell such a worn coin for 8 to 10 cents.  It seems during the Depression, hobos would carve an Indian head nickel to resemble some other figure and would try to trade their handy work for a meal or shot of Ol’Red Eye.  So there is still a small market for the coin as artistic media.

So it goes with most coins in circulation, a dime without silver is worth 10 cents.  A Kennedy post 1964 half dollar might be worth a few cents more to a collector or someone who want to imitate George Raff flipping a coin.

The only real way to make money on most circulated coins, other than to spend ‘em is to sell them to other new collectors who can no longer find a 1941-S penny.  From my knife selling experience, forget ebay.  You could rent tables at coin, hobby, and flea markets, spending a lot of weekends to make peanuts.  You should prepare to spend years to sell circulated coins with a face value of $100.

So what does this have to do with knives?

Knife collectors are kind of in the same situation.  If your heirs aren’t interested in your collection, they will want to sell it.  So what’s a fair price?  There aren’t that many people willing to plunk down bucks for used Case knife.  If you have one from the 1930s, it may be valuable to the right person, but you’ve got to find that person.  Even custom and semi-custom knives go out of style and drop in price as the maker becomes more obscure.

Yes, there are exceptions.  Loveless, Randall and others are still in demand, partially because the organizations still exist and are still making knives.  Others aren’t so lucky.  Most factory made knives only drop in appreciation as newer design and more sophisticated steels are introduced. 

collecting and value of engraved knife
It is a nice little knife in its own right.  Does the blade engraving make it more valuable or less valuable?
I think more to me, less to everyone else.

As knife collectors we are told to list or provide documentation to our heirs to help them understand what we believe the knife is worth.  We are often guilty of over-evaluating our collection.  We would like to believe the club knife or special event knife should be worth more, especially if only a few were made and it’s old.  The same with knife lines no longer manufactured.  Scarcity and age do not determine price.  Price is determined by the transaction between seller and buyer.  And it can be different on any single day depending on who’s at the table and how much each wants to buy and sell.

So, do I have a solution to the coin and knife collector?  Of course I do!

It’s a two part solution.  The first is selling your collection yourself.  You enjoyed putting it together; now enjoy haggling and selling it.  You’ll make, lose or break even on the deal, but at least you’ll have fun doing it.  The second part is don’t worry about it.  Enjoy your collection while you can and let the heirs deal with it.  So what if the kids sell your custom made ivory handled Fairbairn-Sykes combat dagger for 50 bucks and threw in a sharpening stone. 

It isn’t like you can use the money, is it?

Monday, January 15, 2018

Off The Leash

Since when do we find weather the new source of chills, goose bumps and scary things that go creak in the night?  Why do we find it entertaining when the weather person gets on the tube and tells us it could be bad weather ahead, (assuming the parameters don’t change over the next three days) and the facebookers announce that they have traded their car for a two-person dog sled and 100 pounds of potatoes.  

I use to work with a bunch of Texans, who at the mere mention of snowy driving conditions, would raid the vending machines and horde candy above the ceiling tiles in their office.  And I want to say  categorically, no evidence of cannibalism was ever suspected or even found.  At least they had good reasons.  They never saw snow before, but the rest of us? 

Anyway, the Medina knife gun show was pretty empty.  A lot of vendors got snowed in at home, frightened off or just plain figured it would be poor show.  And they were right.  Saturday was very empty, but I don’t know why.  It took me about 45 minutes to drive in because I slowed down to 40-45 but the roads were drivable.  It would have been a good day for bargain hunters.  Most of the vendors needed a sale and could be talked down to a better price.

By Sunday the roads were clear and we got a few more walk-arounds and quite a few more walking sellers.   I don’t know if it was the need to raise cash for Christmas bills, got a better one for Christmas, or had too much money tied up in weapons.  Many people had simply stocked up in anticipation of a presidency that would order out the troops to go house to house in search of guns, bullets and any knives other than the plastic ones you get at Mickey D’s.

Don’t sit there smug you muzzle loaders, you and those 1776 assault rifles would have been next!

I welcomed one man to my table, telling him he was free to handle the knives.  He confessed he was just looking, cause he didn’t have any money.  I told him that’s okay, because none of the knives were for sale. 

I’ve got to give him credit.  He came back with “Except for what sticks to my hands,” but I informed him that I was sure that I and the police would manage to get the knife free.  He didn’t buy anything, but then again he said he didn’t have any money.

One of my potential customers had some specific needs and no matter how I tried I couldn’t find the right knife for him.  He was, or perhaps I should say, is an elderly fellow with a bad case of the shakes.  The shakes rob him of both strength and dexterity.  He wanted a knife that he could open with one hand and it would lock open.  It had to be a small, quality knife with a pocket clip and of course it had to be cheap.

Now cheap is an interesting word.  Some people think an $8 dollar steak meal is expensive and others think a $45 steak meal, without bar bill, is cheap.  I understand it.  But personally, when I have to purchase something to make-up for my inabilities I expect to pay more, rather than less.

I had a small, Gerber with a great price, but it was too hard to open and didn’t have a pocket clip.  I showed him a Spyderco Delica, too big and too hard to move the blade with his fingers.  I showed him several others but they were too hard to open single-handed and he insisted it had to be a one-hand opener and small.  Frankly, small was his enemy.  With his loss of strength and dexterity, a larger knife would have given him more surface to grip and better leverage, but he insisted on small.  I skipped over the Benchmades with flippers and showed him a nice sized auto.  I thought I had a winning card for this fellow.  Boker makes a small auto for 45 bucks.  Too expensive for him.  I had to admit defeat and send him on his way.

automatic boker knife.
Boker Auto

I don’t think he’ll find a knife to match his rigid expectations.

I also had a fellow with an absolutely beautiful damascus knife that he wanted to sell.  I don’t have a picture of it, but let’s give words a try.

It had a shape similar to a Gurkha Kukri made from 250-some fold damascus steel.  The damascus had strong lines and formed a raindrop pattern.  The blade edge was split into front and back edges by a decorative structure resembling a single 3 inch row of corn kernels still on the cob.

It only took one look to realize that it was a classic wall hanging, ‘barbeque knife’ for the man cave.  My seller confided in me, when I indicated that as much as I liked the knife it wasn’t right for me, that he was in a financial bind.  He just bought a gun and owed his buddy 80 bucks.  Still, there wasn’t a maker’s mark or name stamp on the knife and it just looked too good.  I knew that even for 80 bucks, it might take years to find the right buyer. 

Did I miss the bargain of the show?  Did someone sell everything they had to buy this pearl of great price?  I don’t know.  But I doubt it.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Winding Down

The legal battle on pocket knives continues in NY City. The current law defines a knife that can be flipped open as illegal. This means if you buy a knife which neither you nor the salesperson can flip open, it’s legal until you run in to the cop who can flip it open. It may be the first or the 23rd cop. As I understand it each officer has three chances to wrist flip it open. You can image the impact it has on any cutlery store in NYC!

The NY City DA is determined to resist any change to a more intelligent view (mine of course!) that the activity of the knife owner is more important than how the knife opens.

Closer to home:

Ohio knife laws are confusing at best, but Ohio State Senator Frank LaRose has introduced, Senate Bill 242, Knife Rights' bill to repeal Ohio's ban on the manufacture and sale of "switchblade, springblade, and gravity knives."

The announcement blurb claims: “While Ohio statutes allow for the possession and carry of these knives, but they cannot be manufactured or sold in the state.”

A check of Ohio state laws appear to take the position that a butterfly knife (for example) is both legal and illegal at the same time. Some of this confusion is from case law and it appears that a legal knife becomes illegal when you use it in an illegal manner. This makes more sense than the NYC wrist flip test.

Thus a steak knife becomes illegal when you chase someone down the street threatening to cut their ear off, but not while you eat a pork chop.

Please contact your state senator and urge them to support the bill. A nice note to the Governor wouldn’t hurt. Ohio has several knife manufacturers that currently must have autos produced out of state and it does represent lost economic power for Ohio.


On the upbeat side:

Buck unveils new knives, including their new auto, (I’ve handled the new Buck auto and the jury is still out in my opinion.)
Al Mar is working with both TOPS and Kershaw to license their designs
Spyderco releases their new 2018 catalog.

Have a Very Merry Christmas and a Happy, Heathy New Year.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Knifing Through The Sky

I finally broke down and bought one.  I’ve seen them for years and always wanted one, but could never pull the trigger.  My favorite dealer was down to one last knife, so I bought it.

The German Parachute Gravity Knife history seems to start at WWII, which makes sense.  That was the first war that used parachutist as troops.  The original knife had a wooden handle.  Later models had plastic grips.  I think mine is a Type IV FKm.  These knives were essentially a utility knife designed to help free a parachutist tangled up in a tree.  The spike isn’t for combat, it doesn’t lock open nor used for ice chopping.  It can be used as a pry bar of sorts, but chiefly to help with knots.  So much for the theory it was to chop up an ice block to better cool bottles of beer.  (I did see a similar knife made by Eickhorn that I swear had a bottle opener built in!)

German parachutist knife
You flip the toggle lever on top 180 degrees and press down.  This allows the blade to slide out.

The OD green handle has BUND molded into the grip.  That’s short for Bundeswehr or German Armed Forces.  I guess that’s no surprise.  With the blade open it’s about 10 inches long while the handle is just over 6 inches in length.  My blade is marked OFW, which is one of three listed manufacturers: OFW, OWF and the previously met, Eickhorn.

The knife is a little chewed up, but not bad.  This type was manufactured from 1961 to 1979 when it was replaced by the type V also known as the LL80.  It’s still in production.

Classic gravity knife
I don't understand the legal prohibition against this knife.  It open slower than most assisted opening knives and is a lot noisier.  What can I say, old laws and a government too busy making new laws to remove the useless ones.
What surprised me is the weight.  It’s a very heavy knife (9.8 ounces!) composed of many steel layers.  For a knife specifically issued to help free a parachutist from trees, it seems poorly designed.  I would have expected a razor sharp hook blade.  That seems like the kind of edge I’d want if I was trying to cut my way free of risers and lines.  I’m not sure why I’d worry about knots either. 

Mine is also remarkably dull.  It will slice paper, but no better than a blunt letter opener and will not cut paracord at all.  I’ll fix that later.  I like all my knives, even collectibles to have an edge and sharpening this one will not lower its value.

While the knife is very cool, the advertisements for sales, especially the auction sites, are hysterical!  The knife is often listed, correctly as, Type IV and then described as a Special Forces Pilot Knife of very rare status. It sold for over $200! 

Parachutist knife with spike
Knots?  I've landed behind enemy lines and I'm worried about knots?

Another site described the blade as laser cut 440A steel, ice quenched.  Well, the first operational laser was 1960 in California.  It was a synthetic ruby crystal powered by a flash lamp.  The lasers of this era were rated in Gillettes.  That’s how many Gillette double edge carbon steel razor blades a laser could burn through in a minute.  I doubt anyone was cutting out knife blades with lasers by 1979.  And I suspect if you quenched a red hot knife blade in ice water you’d get scrap steel.

As Mr. Barnum once said,  “There’s a sucker born every minute!”  Mrs. Barnum is reported to have replied “Oh, that poor Mrs. Sucker!”