Sunday, June 27, 2010

Kydex – Close Encounters of the First Kind

It’s hard to imagine all the materials used to sheath knives. I can imagine a by-gone craftsman carefully fitting pieces of wood to create a protective pocket around an edge. He had a few different options on how to bind the two sides together. Plant fibers or hair could be twisted to create cord and then wrapped around the two sides of a wood sheath. The discovery of glue opens up many possibilities: glue the two wood halves together or use it to create build-up layers around the sheath. I’m sure glued impregnated paper or cloth was the micarta of the day.

Animal skin is an obvious solution. It could be sewn with other animal parts even as we speak of using cat gut or deer tendons today. It could also be decorative. I can see my fixed blades with a coyote or skunk fur sheath, especial with the skunk’s white stripe. It says something about the man carrying a blade in a black and white fur sheath. What, I don’t know, but it says something.

Once we learned how to tan hide, leather became even more useful. We still value leather as a sheath material. I have friends who carry Ka-Bar fighting knives while hunting. They want the silence of leather in the bush.

Metal seems to have been reserved for sword and other thin blades. Many art knives sport thin metal sheaths, but few of us would carry an art knife out on a picnic much less to a caribou hunt in Alaska. They seem to have fallen out of fashion. I don’t know of any factory produced fixed blade knife in a metal sheath. Is it weight? Maybe it’s concern about corrosion? Or are we just worried about dulling the edge every time the knife goes in or out of the sheath?

Kydex seems to be the answer. Wears like iron, isn’t harmed by moisture and sweat like leather and it doesn’t corrode the metal. It can be a little noisy in the field. In an urban environment the background noise out weighs the little ‘zith’ the blade makes slipping from the Kydex.
Since it’s moldable at low temperatures everyone with an old toaster oven or heat gun is trying their hand at it. YouTube is filled with how-to videos to initiate you into the secret brotherhood of Kydex workers. Why shouldn’t I be included in this group?

So I bought foam to make a press, bought Kydex, Chicago screws, leather working rivets, plywood to hold the foam. I already have a heat gun, an old toaster oven, an assortment of clamps, hammers, metal straight edges and drill bits. The sky’s the limit. My first target is an original Blackjack fixed blade I found at a gun show. It cleaned up nice and is very collectable, but I want that poor man’s Randall for my days in the woods.

I cut the Kydex to the size I wanted and with a heat gun folded the plastic sheath and pressed it flat. Hmmm. I didn’t get the flat fold Murray Carter shows in his video.

I reheated the folded Kydex and the crease goes away! It’s now cooked-noodle flexible and I’m trying to the position the knife and the floppy Kydex in my foam press. I found stiff thick foam, but not the high density foam recommended. I’m hoping that a nine and a half inch thick foam press will compress enough to flatten the foam and shape the Kydex. It’s harder than it looks.

I stand on the press and my body weight proves to have enough force to compress the foam. Unfortunately it’s very hard to apply the large wooden handscrew clamps from that position. What am I going to do?
About that time my wife sticks her head out the door and enters the Kydex fray.

“Well, got any fruits of your labor yet?” she says.

“Say,” I said, “why don’t you give me a hand.”

I quickly move the press to the plywood and saw horse work table I have set up in my summer workshop, AKA: driveway. I had the wooden screw clamps and while she’s opening the jaws, I press down on the press only to have the plywood teeter-totter up on me. She reverses course, pushes the table down and I reposition the press.

The first clamp goes on without too much trouble. We’re both conscious of the Kydex cooling off in the foam press. I pick up the press, do my imitation of Hercules crushing a phone book and she slaps the clamp on the press and my finger.

Before I can say anything she starts tightening the clamp.

“Not my finger… Not my FINGERNOT MY FINGER!”   This seems to be the only intelligent thing I can say.


That crises out of the way, we get the press closed and let it cool. Twenty minuets later the press comes open, and I understand how a baker feels when his cake fails to rise. The fold in the Kydex has bulged, the knife is at an angle to the sheath and the Kydex has parallel lines embossed into the surface. Oh…from the toaster oven grill. And I don’t know how I’m going to attach this sheath to a belt.

Still I’m encouraged. Easier than wood working and it doesn’t have the odor that skinned skunk pelt has. More on this project later!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Hell's Angels and Boy Scouts

Oh! Those wacky folks on the other side of the Atlanta Ocean.

I just found an article from June 16, 2010 about attacking Hell’s Angels with a puppy. Now I just finished a book on the Hell’s Angels and frankly siccing a puppy on them would not be my weapon of choice. Unless a puppy is what you call a baby dragon.

It turns out a German student, possibly with a death wish, mooned and then flung a puppy at a group of Hell’s Angels. He then tried to make his get away on a stolen bulldozer at 3 miles an hour. One can almost see the youth holding his pants up with one hand flogging away at the dozer with other hand, shout

“Faster!  Faster you fool. They are almost upon us!”

The paper didn’t report if he moved the dozer’s blade up and down in the menacing manner. The Telegraph reports he made good his get-a-way. He was later arrested at home. I can only surmise the Angel’s were laughing too hard to chase after him.

Last September Great Britain’s Boy Scouts were advised not to carry their pen knives, even when in uniform. An English newspaper, The Guardian, reports that “Scouts are so closely associated with pocket knives that the term Boy Scout knife is a synonym for penknife.” Bad news from the nation that once carved out an empire so bold, so large, the sun never set on it and is now afraid of Boy Scouts. It must have been that deadly combination of folding blade and can opener that was more than anyone could take.

In a related story, it was reported the whirring noise reported by so many Britons was identified as Lord Baden-Powell spinning in his grave.,_1st_Baron_Baden-Powell

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

April Showers And All That Jazz

“April showers bring May flowers that bloom in June...” singers croon, but we know they bring grass. Healthy, tall growing, vibrant, green grass that has to be cut on a regular basis.

I popped off the blade on my grass cutter to give it a much needed sharpening. I’m always amazed by rotary mower blades, only the tips are sharp. I always thought they would be more effective if the entire blade was razor sharp.

Not so, grass cutter man. Only the tips of the blade need to be sharpened. More on that later.

I use to take my blade into a mower shop where I envisioned a skilled certified technician (in a white lab coat, of course) who would carefully grind and polish the blade with a set of water cooled stones at some precise angle dictated by the blade manufacture. Careful to take only an equal amount of metal from both blade ends, he would constantly check the blade’s balance so it will spin true.

Not so, grass cutter man. Some guy eyeballs the edge while passing it over the course grind wheel. Sparks shoot out the back of the grinder and maybe he makes a second pass to see more sparks if he missed the fireworks last 4th of July.

I hate it when reality collides with my imagination! So I bought a disk-shaped stone with a plastic collar/guide that fits my cordless drill and now I just clap the blade in a vice and grind it myself. Then when I’m done, I can use a fine carbide stone to polish up the rough spots.

I was thinking while clamping it in the vice, how fast does the edge move? I took a measurement from the blade axle center to the leading and trailing edge. The back of the blade is 4.5 inches from the center while the leading edge is 9.5 inches. Since the blade spins at 3600 rpm that means the blade is spinning at, ahh, let’s see, 3.1415 times 0.375, carry the 7…

Wow, the front of the blade zips along at 101 miles per hour while the back of the blade is loafing along at a measly 48 miles per hour. The blade is only five inches long, so if I’m mowing an inch a second, (as a trivial exercise to the reader I let you calculate how fast I’m walking), a one inch section of the blade spins 60 revolutions over that one inch of grass.

Speaking for myself, cutting grass has a new dimension of fun!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

On the Road from Atlanta

The Monday after the Blade Show was a travel day. As predicted by Nostradamus on my last blog entry, it was a long day.
On behalf of 100,000 drivers I want to acknowledge and thank the unofficial pit-stop of America. They are clean, well lit and air-conditioned. Thanks McDonalds! I never would have made it home without you.

Some people think trips are fueled by gasoline. My trip home was fueled by McDonald’s iced-coffees!

Now comes the work of filing all the literature, business cards and notes for future blogs. My parting lines come from the music world, but pertain to knives and many aspects of daily life: C sharp or B flat.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

On the road to Atlanta: Day Five

This was the final day at the Blade Show. The show officially ended at 3:00 but the vendors start packing up earlier. In some cases earlier meant yesterday by being willing to negotiate better prices. Everything you don’t have to pack-up and ship home is a savings in both money and effort. Others started packing up this morning, organizing boxes; making sure things were ready to repack. I can’t help wonder if there might not be a flea market mentality at 2:30. Especially with custom makers who needed a few more sales.

I finished at noon. For me, today was a seminar day. I wanted to see Historical Sword-fighting Techniques by the Reinhardt Legacy Team. Hank Reinhardt started Museum Replicas years ago because he believed people had an interest in sword and sword fighting. As he tried to duplicate medieval combat he discovered or re-discovered the techniques contemporary fighters wrote about. Hank has passed on but his students carry on. Watching them fight explains a lot about both knives and swords.

A Hit!  Good thing the tip is padded!

Ready! SET! FIGHT!


Titanium Knives are both the bane and Holy Grail of knife making. Strong, light, non-magnetic, resistant to normal oxidation -- this wonder metal has a serious draw-back.

Is it toxic? Nope, we implant titanium in the body all the time. Too expensive? Price never stopped a custom knife maker. Do people laugh and call us girly-men for carrying titanium blades? Well, yes they do, but it’s not because of the blade. The metal can only be hardened to Rockwell 40ish unless you’re NASA. Soft metals don’t stay sharp. Why? Well, it has to do with the metal's shifting grain boundaries and how micro-crystalline strain fields resist movement.   Enought to know that hardness is related to strength and strength means edge retention.

What George Lambert has done is find a way to use a Rocklin spark deposition machine to place a thin layer of tungsten carbide (with a Rockwell value of 74) which provides a self-sharpening edge caused by the erosion of the softer material.
Sounds like a pipe dream, but nature does it with beaver’s teeth and welders do it to digging tools by layering hard face on one side of softer material.
George claims you can take cheap steel which gives you 20 hemp rope cuts and by using only this treatment, can increase it to 400. So you can make flexible knives that perform like the hardest. WOW!

My high spot was the Victorinox build-a-knife machine. I pictured a large computer controlled machine with pre-loaded polymer pellets ready for injection and clam shell-like dies that spit out a knife every time they open.

The machine

Dan Carpenter pulled a fellow from the audience and with a little hand-operated press, a repair block, a pair of nippers and a machinist hammer, he built a Victorinox Spartan pocket knife. Having seen this done, I understand knife repair so much better.

tap! Tap! TAP!  Finished!

There will be more comments and images later. The Blade Show needs to be reflected in the mirror of time. Too many things happen at once and a little distance is needed. Tomorrow is the trip home and a return to the world. It will be a long day.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

On the Road to Atlanta: Day Four

Do you know these people? I found them wandering by the Spyderco booth in good spirits and having the time of their lives. More of the WRCA gang from northeastern Ohio. Next year we’ll have to plan a WRCA dinner. It’s way too hard to keep meeting in hallways.


I bought a Swamp Rat fixed blade today. I like the thickness and the micarta handle. What I find hard to believe is - a sheath doesn’t come with it. I’m planning on ordering one from Bud Brown Ind. What’s very cool is he accepts PayPal, and claims it has bumped his business up. Stands to reason, click a button and the funds are on the way.

There are so many things to experience at the Blade Show. I attended Ernest Emerson’s presentation on surviving mortal combat. It was eye opening and motivating and a bit alarming all at the same time. I’ve heard him before and I’d go out of my way to hear him again.

Ernie tells about surviving urban mortal combat

If you asked him who he is, he would tell you he’s a fighter. He’s trained his entire life and continues to train. He just happens to own a knife company. He’s got a lot of good stuff on his website. Check out his must read book list. I’m proud to tell you I own several of his recommended books and I agree with his ideas on preparation and readiness.


 I met with Joyce from Spyderco and got to talk knives with her. Big changes in Spyderco knives are on their way. Most of them will pass unnoticed because Spyderco constantly improves. They call it C.Q.I. or Constant Quality Improvement. Frankly, having worked at three major international companies, you can take it from me, you either continue to improve or you will wither on the vine.

Here’s a partial list:
  • Flat grind blades for Delica and Endura, with colored handles,
  • Manix2 as a test platform for new steels and more precision manufacturing,
  • Improved Para-Military 2 with better opening smoothness and top lock,
  • So many new designs, the Spyderco collectors better warm up their credit cards.


Two of my favorite Blade Show ladies:
Karen from Knives and More and Joyce from Spyderco.

PS: Keep your eyes open for the Spyderco Balance. I know people who have fallen in love with it at first glance.




Ed Fowler has been both an anchor and windsock in the knife industry for 30 years. When knife makers need help and find themselves adrift, they turned to Ed. If you want to see the direction custom makers are headed, well you should also look to Ed.



Ed Fowler, one of a kind. A modern cowboy.  And no, he's not holding a spare hat!

Ed spoke about the need to see and understand the needs of the customer and reflect them in the knives you make for them. Every new steel or change in manufacturing should have destructive testing associated with those changes. How far can I bend a knife and will it break? How much force does it take to bend? Will it chip if I drop the knife tip first on a concrete floor? He sees every knife as a survival tool. It may be chopping a hole in an ice covered lake to refill your canteen or chopping through a plaster wall to escape a fire. I like that philosophy. Knives are tools and while many, many knives are great works of art, at the core, a knife should be a tool.

The show ends tomorrow.  I have two more days of  "On the road..."






Friday, June 4, 2010

On Road to Atlanta: Day Three

The VIP check in window opens at 10 AM and we’re in line at 8:30.

“Excuse me,” I say to the three people standing at the edge of the booths. “Are you in line?They were and now the line has five. We were soon joined by two more in back of us and the line was seven. The five people around us formed a Busse fan club. I have to admit, they had some unusual knives. Busse designs and produces specific lots of knives, swords and hatchets. And then they are done! Finished. Never to come again!

They will, however, revisit, tweak, alter and modify the design, steel or handle. The five around us were real fans of Busse; it was their favorite topic of conversation. It’s the tweaking that makes the knives so collectable.

By 9:30 we spy the WRCA contingency. Mikes actually finds us and walks up to say hello.

By 10:00 we got our passes and the advance opening is at 12:00. I’m trying not to get caught up in Busse fever, but it’s not easy.

The doors opened up at noon to VIP pass holders. If you didn’t get a VIP pass you paid too much and they were almost as common as mosquitoes in summer.   By 2:00 we had covered almost a third and by 4:30 two-thirds of the show was done.
Initial impressions? There are a lot of custom knife makers and frankly, after awhile the knives all start to look alike. Yes, I know it blaspheme, but they do. The really distinctive knives, the art knives were out of reach for many of us. They are the pearl of great price for which you will sell everything to buy. I’m just not will to give up everything for one knife.

Private collection, but for the right price, well everything is negotiable
$1000 for a knife? Yes it beautiful. I suspect it will hold its value, and yes you better get insurance on it. Still, it’s stupid money range. If you have it to spare, hey, go ahead and spend it and pump up the economy. I did my part. I bought a giraffe bone handled dagger from Bossie knives for under $200.

Daggers, not just stabbin' olives any more

Do you know these people? I found them hanging around the entrance to the show.

They look happy now, but wait until the end of the day when their shoes are off and their feet are up in the air. I know, ‘cause I stopped early and put my feet up.

I ran into Grant and Gavin Hawk. I’ve watched them for years and I got to see their new prototype knife with the Hawk lock. It’s incredible. The knife opens so smoothly and the lock, accessed through an opening in the side of the handle is so smooth. It’s incredible. Am I repeating myself? I should, it is the most ingenious design I’ve seen at the show. I would have bought the prototype in a heart beat, but it was already in near stupid money range.

Proto-types - before any of the knife mag get 'em
Rumor has it that Kershaw will be factory producing them. When? My sources tell me that a prototype has not been delivered yet, so it may be a while.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Road to the Blade Show: Day 2

“Sir,” the Georgia State Trooper said standing carefully behind me. “Do you know why I stopped you?”
“Well, Officer, when I saw your lights in my rear view mirror I looked down at my speedometer and saw I was doing 73. Isn’t this a 70 mph zone?”

“Exactly, sir. (We both knew “sir” stood for simpering imbecile retard). I also noticed you using your turn signal, moving out of the way for merging ramp traffic and surrendering the passing lane to faster traffic.”

I wasn’t sure where this conversation was going. I was quite certain he wasn’t about to issue a good driving certificate.

“Your driving is confusing the other drivers. I had to stop and help a driver who drove off into the median strip after you used your turn signals to signal a lane change. You left him totally confused and mesmerized. Since you’re from out of town, I just going to issue you a warning this time, sir. Stop driving with caution!”

That was my introduction to Georgia traffic.

I arrived at the Renaissance Waverly Hotel, HQ for the Blade Show. The show is actually north of Atlanta. The advantage of staying at the hotel is the close proximity to the exhibitors. I don’t have to move my car; I can return to my room anytime, and I don’t need to get up at the crack of dawn to be here early.

The rooms are arranged around the perimeter of the hotel so that each has a walkway in front of the room door that allows you to stand and look down to the first floor. A bank of glass-sided elevators whisks people between floors.

By 8:00 pm the lobby is filled with people, glasses and knives

From the birds-eye view I can look down on people and watch them show off their knives to each other. I see a lot of large fixed blade knives, but I can’t recognize the types from the twelfth floor. Should this occur in any other hotel, I’m sure hotel security would be asking those people to leave or marshalling the troops in anticipation of a knife brawl.

I can sign in tomorrow morning at 9:30. I expect the line will be rather long. I wonder if anyone is going to camp out to be first in line. I don’t think my wife would let me be that guy.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

On the Road to Atlanta: Day One

The Blade Show starts Friday, 4 June. I’m somewhere in Kentucky held up for the night. I may or may not have wireless connectivity. A bad storm has passed through the area and I’m lucky to be somewhere that has power.

I’m excited. The Blade Show has national and yes, international publicity and appeal. I’ve been to the Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade (SHOT) Show which is also an international show, so I’m no stranger to large crowds surrounding little nuggets of famous people.

The Blade Show is a little different. It’s all about knives. Mostly custom knife makers, but the big knife companies will be there.

I’m looking forward to several seminars. Ernie Emerson on dealing with the mindset of surviving battle. Titanium blades are well known in the diving community, especially with divers dealing with magnetic sensitive infernal machines (magnetic mines for those of you not use to the purple prose of yesteryear). But they don’t hold an edge very well. New (?) techniques to introduce carbides to harden and stabilize the edge which are applicable to other steels will be introduced.

There will be cutting, fencing/dueling and forging demos. I want to see it all, but can’t. I’ll report back on things I see and do.

A lot of knife related activities and opportunities to cover in 2.5 days. Now all I have to do is find internet connectivity.