Sunday, May 29, 2011

Is and Isn’t: Memorial Day

May 30 is a grass roots holiday.  It was first started in Boalsburg, Pennsylvania in 1864 when local people decorated the graves of Civil War soldiers.  The trend spread and soon became a “ritual of remembrance and reconciliation.”  Following the War-To-End-All-Wars, Congress included the dead from the First World War.

Now the reality is that it honors all our brothers and sisters who served, many of whom died in service to our country.  We call it Memorial Day.

It never was meant as a sales promotion for Mega-Mart.

It’s a time to reflect on the sacrifice the living and dead have made for our country and, by extension, us.

It isn’t just a day off to mark the beginning of summer.

It is a time to have family around you.  The death of each of these men and women ended a family line of possibilities.  Who knows what other friends and family would gather with us if these lives were not cut short.  Their sacrifice makes us their spiritual descendents and we should honor that every day.

It’s not a time to catch up on house or yard work, but it may be a time to tend to forgotten service mens’ graves.
Use Memorial Day to celebrate your freedoms any way you want including the sale at Mega-Mart.  Just remember that someone paid the price for that freedom.  Spend it wisely.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Unintended Collector

At what point do a couple or three things become a collection? Two birds don’t make a flock. Three people enjoying a couple beers aren’t necessarily a party. So when does a couple of cheese knives become a collection?

I think the question is better defined if we assume a collection has variation. Six identical steak knives isn’t a collection. It could be the beginning of a party, but it’s not a collection. The degree of difference is also an important component.

I have a friend who has a collection of Peterson’s “Field Guide to the Birds.”   Each copy is essentially the same, but one is hard cover with gold leaf edges. Another is a limited printing bound in leather with uncut pages. Others are the 1st through 5th editions, while others are mud stained from use and the last is the large print edition. It is the variation among the books that makes it a collection.

I can speak from experience: I have a similar collection of Sherlock Holmes books in my possession. Sherlock’s knife connection? Holmes uses a jack knife to fix his correspondence to the fireplace mantle. In modern England, he would be hard pressed to find a legal knife to pin his correspondence anywhere.

One day my wife realized she had a nice little cheese knife collection growing in the kitchen drawer.

The Arthurian cheese knife plunged into a block of cheese reads FROMAGE, or French for cheese. No surprise the blade is marked “Le Chef Sympa”. We bought that one on our way to the Finger Lakes region in NY. (Wineries were not on our tour, but the Corning glass museum was and is still an excellent destination.)

Knife number two is unknown; the blade is stamped with a simple “Stainless – Taiwan”. She got it from her mother, but it is not by any stretch of imagination an heirloom.

Knife number three is all plastic and we think we bought it at Cheese Haven in Port Clinton. We were on our way back from Camp Perry and I needed to stock up on fermented cow’s milk.

The fourth knife is another all plastic mystery knife. We bought it at a kitchen store on a trip to somewhere. Kind of tells you how impressed we are with it.

The last knife is made by Rada. It has a brushed aluminum handle which gives me the shivers every time I pick it up. It’s a little gruesome looking. If the blade were a little thicker you’d swear it was designed by Klingons for interrogating prisoners.

Which knife cuts the cheese the best? (Actually I wrote all of this so I could use that line.) The honors go to the untouchable Rada and mystery knife number 3.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Old and New Friends

I’m looking forward to seeing old friends at the Blade Show.

Santa Fe Stoneworks will be there and their work is hard to beat. I own several and I can’t bring myself to use them. They’re made to be used, but they are just too nice. I’m not one to carry an unusable knife. I recently cut my lawn and pondered the growing dandelion population. I don’t like to use weed killer, but I do. Unfortunately bad weather prevented me from dosing the lawn. My pocket knife let me cut the subsurface roots and remove the weeds. That made the blade butter knife dull. And that’s okay, 'cause they’re tools I use and I can resharpen.

Of course my favorite knife company Spyderco will be there. I like these people. I like their products, and I have a sweet spot for them. After I wrote my first article on the Bob Lum (green) Chinese Folder they mailed me a congratulations card for getting published. It meant a lot to me.

Ka-Bar is another company that has helped me and I look forward to seeing them. John Benner from TDI is a classic and I recommend his school to everyone. I hope he’s at the Ka-Bar booth. Both my wife and I look forward to seeing him.

There’s a few companies not listed that I’ll miss. Blind Horse Knives doesn’t have a table or booth, nor does James Pengov. I met James at a gun show, admired his engravings and helped get him a table at the yearly WRCA Show. No, I didn’t pull any strings. I just lent him my cell phone and encouraged him to call and reserve a table. His work does the rest and I have no question about his success.

I’m not a dedicated collector. I buy, save or use knives that catch my eye, fill a need or a concern. Because of this, it’s doubtful I ever have the type of collection relatives will fight over. I take a perverse sense of pride in this. So it’s interesting to see a new venue at the show.

This year’s Blade Show, sponsored by Tactical Gear Magazine (tactical = $$$ + black), will also be the Tactical Gear Show. Your Blade Show ticket is good for the gear show which runs the same time. If you are confused about the connection between knives and tactical (I’m not, but some of you may be) check the equation above.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Blade Show Count Down

I’m thinking Blade Show.

Of course you know when it will be, right? In the days before June 10 through 12, a migration of edge lovers will converge on Atlanta, Georgia. There are great knife shows all over the country, but excluding the industry-only SHOT Show, the Blade Show is the premiere knife show in America.

I’ll be blogging about my second trip to Capital of Cut, the Empire of Edge, the Satrap of Steel. I hope you follow along. I never know what will happen. I’m staying at the same hotel as the show so I may have a better chance of interacting with the attendees.

A schedule has been released of presentations, all the better to plot your course. Of course there are a few conflicts and hidden reefs. Everyone wants to hear Ed Fowler, so the conflict between his presentation at 11am and the 11:15 demo of renaissance swords and fencing in the courtyard remains unresolved.

I’m not a Buck collector so the conflict between Jens Anso’s “How to Texture Knife Handles” and the Buck Collectors is a non-issue.

Despite my interest in Loveless knives, anytime I can hear Ernest Emerson talk, I’m going with Ernie. No question on that. He’s an interesting character (I don’t think he would mind being called a character) and a good speaker. He preaches the gospel of self-reliance and self-protection. I’m on board for that.

World War II Randalls at 11:00 sounds interesting, but I just don’t know. I just can’t get my mind around collecting Randalls, much less paying what seems like stupid money and then waiting 5 plus years to get a custom factory knife. So Practical Knife Sharpening with Ed Fowler is going win that conflict.

Surprisingly, the knife cutting competition last year was not well attended, at least from my perspective. I expected a larger crowd. I’ll be there again, but I cannot help but wonder about the practicality of it. It’s a highly specialized sport that tightly regulates the knives used. This shifts the competition to the luck and skill of the knife wielder. Most of the time that’s a good thing, but… Is the Blade Cutting Contest like Indy Car racing?

Supporters argue that the lessons learned from making 500 miles of left turns (tells you where I fall in this argument) have value to modern tire, auto body and engine design. I know a little something about Indy tires and they have no relationship to the tires on your car.

So, do the lessons learned about steel, tempering, grind and grip needed to win the cutting contest have any relationship to the knife in your pocket? I just don’t know.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Glass and Steel

One outcome of a recent trip to Florida to visit my parents was my father giving me his father’s pocket knife. The knife has come full circuit. My grandfather passed away by his own hand when I was in eighth grade. He was very sick, suffering from emphysema and was chained to a large green tank of compressed oxygen. I always felt I understood his actions as tragic as they were.

I didn’t know my grandfather very well. Relations between these two grandparents and my family were strained and I never knew what was the cause. I still don’t. It’s in the past, buried and dead.

I do remember he used to give me old foreign coins. He delivered soda to bars on Chicago’s south side and he used to find foreign coins that people tried to slip into the soda (?) machines. I’m still a little surprised about the prevalence of soda vending machines in the 40’s and 50’s. What do I know? I remember he was a junker, a collector of copper wire, lead and newspaper for scrap sale. Like many Americans he was green before the concept of recycling. At the time it was called making ends meet. He liked to make elaborate bird cages of wire that he slipped through holes he carefully drilled in little wooden bars. The cages were all painted silver and always reminded me of castles. I’m sure the birds weren’t impressed by their cages, but I was.

My father gave me the knife after the funeral. It was a three-bladed folder, with one broken blade, two excessively sharpened blades in a beat up handle. It was a crap knife then, but it meant something to my father so it meant something to me.
Where's the rest of the blade?
 When I moved out to my first job, I gave the knife back to him. I didn’t know what my life would be like, but I knew I’d lose grandpa’s knife. Since it meant more to my father than me, I knew he should keep it. And he did. Some thirty years later he brings it out. The warm moist Florida air hasn’t been kind to the knife.

“Here,” he said. “Take your grandfather’s knife back home with you.” I’m glad he still remembered it.

the little pen blade - gone!

It must have been a nice knife at one time. Brass liners, a nice metal shield in the white handle and silver colored bolsters. Grandpa sharpened the blades past usefulness and somewhere snapped the pen blade. I touched up the base of the two remaining blades, but I can’t see a maker’s mark on either blade.

Sic transit gloria mundi!

I’m cleaning out my garage and ran across several old glass knives. Oh! They aren’t what you think. They look like little glass triangles.

Used glass knives....

I used to make them by scratching a thick glass bar and breaking the bar first into a square. A second diagonal scratch and a split turned the square into two imperfect triangles. If you did it right you got an incredibly sharp straight edge on each half.

Glass knives and a little bar stock
You could do it with a carbide scribe and glass pliers, but it’s easier to use a machine. The machine? It’s called a glass knife maker, of course.

The broken glass edge is so sharp you can’t find anything sharper, but it’s fragile, very fragile. What are they used for? Despite their fragility, glass knives are used to cut frozen tissue so thin you can look through it. I used these knives to cut transparent sections of tires and to shape resin blocks and samples for the cryo-microtome. With a cryo-microtome you can cut samples so thin you can shine electrons through them. That’s very thin.

A few problems with that edge. It was brittle and dulled quickly. Left overnight, the edge (from absorbing moisture) would be dull and useless. Bump the sample into it a little too hard, and the edge would explode glass shards in your face.

Still, if you wanted to cut tissue, rubber tires, plastic and so many other things so thin you could see, literally see, through your section, you needed a glass knife.