Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Wood Duck

I’ve always admired wood ducks.   According to the ODNR they are sexual rabbits having two broods a year as compared to the rest of the waterfowl slackers.  That’s not why I like them.  They seem just too icey to me. 

Collectible knife and decoy

My friend Leonard had a wood duck decoy with a ‘collectable’ knife inside.  After I moaned and kvetched enough he sold it to me just to get rid of me. Thank you, Leonard!  Every day I look at that duck and it makes me smile!

Trapper, collectible knife, Wood Duck decoy

Inside is a United Cutlery 1993 Wildlife Series Limited Edition Trapper.  Limited to 7500, that is.  Mine is 2189.  It has the two typical blades found in a trapper, a spey and a drop point.  Under the clear plastic handles is a copy of original art by Larry Duke.

The knife, to my surprise was made in the USA.  Most of the UC knives are made somewhere else.  Frankly, I don’t consider then to be very high quality.

Wood Duck

There’s another on the market today, but the wood duck isn’t nearly as nice.  The knife?  Well, let us just draw a charitable vale of silence over it.

I have a little insight for you, but you know this stuff,  
One:  There is no regulating body, any police or force of law that prevents a manufacturer from producing a second limited production run of the same product.
Two:  Mass produced limited editions seldom have real value and market growth potential.

Having said that, I’m really glad to have my wood duck!

Thursday, November 28, 2019


It’s a competitive world.  If you can consistently sell the same product as your competitor for less money, you could drive them out of business and make yourself rich.  Companies look for ways to do this: better manufacturing efficiencies, automation, cheaper materials and lower overhead.

It’s the overhead that worries some knife manufacturers.  They have, essentially two main customers, brick-and-mortar (B&M) stores and internet stores.  They like brick-and-mortar.  They understand them and anticipate a large order once, perhaps several times a year.  That means a large transfer of cash which makes it easier for them to operate.  Internet stores on the other hand can have very low overhead.  They could be a couple people in someone’s basement with a website.  Your order to them could be bundled in a largish order and placed.  Even if they have stock on hand, the overhead is low, no building, or sales force, and fewer employees.

They can sell cheaper and that affects B&M.  Suddenly B&Ms find they can’t compete with some brother and sister in Arizona who have website and a garage to work out of.

Some knife manufacturers, worried about lower prices "cheapening” the brand and losing the lump orders, have gone to MAP, Minimum Advertising Price.  Vendors, both B&M and Web based, sign an agreement to honor that price and frankly, companies enforcement these agreements with a stick.  Too many violators and the distributor or dealer will be dropped from the manufacturer's authorized buyer list.

Here’s an example of a very nice little knife:

Case Stockman Burnt Gray
        Your Price XXXXXX

You don’t need to know the wholesale price, but MAP is what you’ll often see on a website.  They frame it as a sale price, reduced from the suggested retail price (SRP) but it is really the bottom price they can advertise.  It’s a playing field leveler.

Yes, they can sell it for less, but it’s always an in-store special, something web-based stores can’t do.  Remember when advertisements would say “POR” or Price-On–Request?  It became apparent it was too expensive to have employees answering the phone to give a price to someone who may not actually come in the store.

So everyone went to MAP.

So, why don’t we cut the crap, knife manufacturers?  Just make the Suggested Retail Price the MAP price.  Some companies are doing it.  Deejo does.  Their MAP is their suggested retail price.  CRKT’s Provoke has a MAP five cents cheaper than the suggest retail.

This MAP ‘sale’ is not quite lying to the consumer.  But it seems a little too oily to me.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Carving Fruit

Carved pumpkins,

The trick or treaters gathered in homes around Akron and the burgs in preparation for what is a yearly rite of passage, Halloween.  Routes are mapped, evaluated, altered and re-planned.  Last minute adjustments to costumes and provisions for rain are being made, cancelled and re-adjusted even as I press my keyboard.  Moms have programmed a route in their GPS.  Their SUV will pull up to the driveway, the door slides open and kids will pour out like an incoming tide.

We too are ready.  Two years ago we ran out at 400 pieces and had to sneak back into the house, turn off the porch light and pretend we weren’t home.  We’re ready this year with an excessive but undisclosed amount of candy.  Dentists around the city have been sending us thank you notes.  Yeah, we have a lot of candy.

Two of my favorite knives:  Mickey Yurko and a Russian Fisherman 

It’s also a two pumpkin year for us.  We always make the mistake of buying the pumpkin and then deciding how to carve it.  Some designs work better than others, but we try to sandwich our last minute inspiration onto a pumpkin not suited for it almost every year.  What the heck, it’s about having fun.

Proto artwork
I selected two knives to work with.  I have an orange and black handled Mickey Yurco in D2 steel.  One of the cool things Mickey does is he gives all his knives a unique number.  I have the 3407th knife he has made.  I bought it because of the blade and the handle.  It always reminds me of Halloween.  If a movie monster jumps me Halloween night, it is in for a bit of a surprise.  This knife cuts.

Russian Fisherman style knife, not a flay knife

The second selection was a Russian fisherman knife with a stacked wafer birch bark handle.  The blade is made from one of the Russian knife steels.  The Russians are doing some amazing metallography and developing interesting steels.  It is very much in the puukko style which has been interesting me more and more.   The long, simple lines of the blade are elegant.  But it is birch bark handle that attracts me.

Anyone who has carved pumpkins knows the biggest problem is manipulating the blade.  Too much pressure and the blade shoots through the fleshy pumpkin wall like magic and over shoots the endpoint.  Too little and the knife gets the idea that it is Excalibur stuck in the stone and you’re not King Arthur.

The two best tools

Look, I have knives.  There’s never a shortage of sharp edges around here, but in truth, do you know what works the best?

The thin bladed Victorinox kitchen paring knife and a dull, course saw-like blade made for children.  The saw gives you the most control shaping and cutting and paring knife lets you sharpen and open up features to make them transparent.

I’ve tried a lot of knives for carving pumpkins.  One year I tried to be edgy with a chainsaw.  It took me months to get the saw cleaned up.  Trust me; you'll be happier with the above recommendation.

I look forward to Halloween all year.  It’s one of the few times I feel comfortable talking to children I don’t know. 

PS:  It was rainy, cold, windy and we still had at least 300 kids.


Saturday, October 19, 2019


Making a knife doesn’t mean you have to start with a lawn mower blade and a forge.  A variety of steels in terms of grade and types are available.  Also available are knife kits which in which the blade is  pre-shaped and sharpened.  These kits also come in a variety of completion.  Some have all the components and you assemble your knife. Other require a little more effort on your part.

Woodcraft offers a variety of learning projects so I signed up for the knife making.  I wanted to see how they handled epoxying and pinning handles.  As you’ve seen on Forged In Fire, pinning handles onto your knife is one of the major stumbling blocks for contestants.  They need to drill through steel, align holes, hammer pin in place while the five minute epoxy is hardening. 

knife making
Basic kit plus wood handles

Here’s my kit and I’m using a light olive wood for the handle.  The first step is to turn a 3/8 inch thick slab into two slabs.  The second is to tape your blade with removable painters tape.  Use lots of tape to protect your hands from the edge.  Safety first.

kit making
Turning one piece of wood into two

We traced the handle on the wood blanks making sure a square end of the wood are in  complete contact with the bolster, then on to the band saw.  Removing excess wood is a time saver, but leave enough just in case your handle needs to be finessed a little.  But really, a hand coping saw would have worked just as well.  You could just sand it all away too.

knife kits
Taped, trimmed, ready for epoxy

After you assure yourself each side of the knife’s handle has the correct cutout, the pins fit correctly and you’re happy with everything, dry fit it together again.  Can’t be too careful!

making a knife

Now get the clamps out and mix your epoxy.  So, Bunkie, five or thirty minute epoxy?  The class used five minute because it is fast and we gave it a half hour.  I like the thirty minute or longer.  I want the longer time for fixing an “Oops!” and I believe longer cure epoxy is stronger.  While I have no plan to destroy an elk’s skull or batter the hood of a 1948 Ford pick-up truck with my knife, stronger always seems better to me.

After the epoxy is cured, it is sanding time.  Woodcraft has a variety of terrific sanders, rotary oscillators with different radius, belt sanders, disk sanders but all you really need is any sander you have and patience.  

Sanding in process.
Your plan of attack is different from anyone else.  I like a rounded handle with a palm swell and flat top.  Start removing wood, but remember the Golden Rule of carpentry:  It’s easy to take wood off, very hard to put wood back.

Keep handling your knife.  How does it feel to you?  Too thick?  Too rough?  Edges sticking up?  Keep working.  And while you’re striving to make your knife, remember perfection is the enemy of accomplishment.  Experiment with it.  Do you want an asymmetric “D” shape handle or maybe oval facets?

adventure with knives

When you get it to the shape you want, move to a finer grit paper.  Work your way down to a finish you want.  How about polishing to a 4000 grit finish?  The wood starts to come alive the more sanding dust you create.

The wood finally explodes to life with a finish.  You can stain it, wax it, linseed oil it, urethane it.  That’s up to you.  I used a coating of flax seed oil.  Just a fancy name for linseed.  That a drying oil, so I left it outside in the sun to help cross link the finish.

kit knife
Just one variety of the steel and blade shapes available

It’s not perfect, but the next one I make will be better.  I know what to look for and what to watch for.  And I know how much fun it was.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Flying with Cygnus

The Cygnus from Artisan Cutlery is amazing.  The carbon fiber handle is backed with a steel insert on each side for stability and to anchor the liner lock.   The blade is stone washed D2 steel and is fashioned as a reverse tanto saber grind.  There is a tiny false edge to move the blade’s center of gravity farther out from the pivot point.  This is assisted by three triangular openings in the top of the blade. There is mechanical advantage gained by having the acting center of mass extended from the fulcrum or pivot point. 

Cygnus knife

Enough of the physics, just know that when propelled by the flipper the blade flies open on ceramic ball bearings.  When the knife is locked open the flipper becomes part of the guard to keep your fingers off the sharpened blade.  I’m always appreciative of that!

Artisan Cutlery describes the blade as a drop point, but in my experience, drop points are curved and gradual.  This area is a downward slash and gives the blade its strikingly good looks.  The diamond cut outs add to its appearance.  It looks as if the open knife is already in motion even when it is standing still.

Back side closed

D2 is an excellent choice for a blade steel.  Not quite stainless, it requires a drop of oil now and again, but D2 tool steel is a versatile air-hardening steel with good resistance to wear from sliding contact with other metals and abrasive materials. With a HRc of 58-60 the blade will give you good edge performance and can be sharpened with ordinary stones.  

Here are a few more specifications for you:  The blade is 3.5 inches long, 0.15 inches thick and the open length of the knife is 8.5 inches.  The clip is reversible for left and right carry and a lanyard pocket is built into the spine.  The total weight is 4.23 ounces.  The Cygnus is worn tip up in your pocket, my favorite carry position.
I’m impressed both by the ease of opening as well as the stylish good looks.  You’ll get quite a few compliments with this knife.  Rub your fingers over the surface, look and touch for rough spots and mis-alignments.  I didn’t find any.  Feel the lock up and hear the snick when the blade closes.  The flipper is constructed to prevent the sharpened edge from dulling against the closed back of the knife.  There is a lot to like about this knife.

After you buy one, spend a few moments preparing for all the compliments you’re going to get.  Tell ‘em they can get their own at:
Artisan Cygnus is $69.99,  Don’t be left out.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Mack's Knife

Sherman, set the Wayback Machine to the mid-60s.

Buck Knife has knocked America and the world on its collective ass with the Buck 110 Hunter.  It’s not the first lock-back knife, but the combination of a solid lock, 420HC stainless with great heat treatment and a belt carry pouch occurs at the right point in time.  Everyone carries one.  My favorite literature hero, Matt Helm carries one; I sold a very nice German locking knife to my brother so I could buy one.

Cops, firemen, soldiers, outdoors men, scout masters all wanted to carry a Buck 110 Hunter.

Open Shark Tooth
Case's Shark Tooth

This doesn’t pass unnoticed by Case Knife.  Coming out of WWII Case remains a conservative company making knives the old fashioned way by hand with carbon steel blades.  Case wants in on this market share.  They just don’t want to compete; they want to send Buck home hungry.  By 1972 they have their world beater.  They call it the Shark Tooth.

The Shark Tooth is a spine locking blade with a palm swell to fit your hand better than the slab-sided Buck.  The 3-inch blade is backed with a finger divot so you can choke-up for fine work and still get the long blade reach.  The blade is stainless steel that holds an edge, but its identity isn’t revealed.  I don’t know why.  Both bolsters are brass, but the back one is cut on an angle to give it a streamline appearance.  This knife also comes with a leather pouch cause weighs almost a half-pound!  Too heavy or bulky to flop in a pocket.

The wood insert with the palm swell will be made from curly maple, but problems stops production.  The 1974 catalog (printed in 1973, I assume) has a picture of the Shark Tooth, but it’s stamped “Unavailable.”

Closed Shark Tooth
The back edge beveled for a more streamline appearance

Finally Case decides on replacing the maple with Pakkwood and on December of 1975 finally ships the knives to distributors just in time for Christmas.  That made Santa very happy.

The Shark Tooth stays in production until March 2009. 
It’s a milestone knife for Case.  It marks the first use of a blade made from a modern stainless steel with good tempered used in a Case lock back.  Several other types of Case knives are released with that steel, but those are stories for another time.

Despite the trouble Case had with the curly maple handle insert, it manages to make 1800 of these.  These are hidden in a vault guarded by the Case gnomes.  What a treasure that would be to Case collectors.  It would be a unique collector’s knife, wouldn’t it?  If only we could get past the gnomes.

Too late.  In 1977 Case released all 1800 curly maple handled Shark Tooth (Teeth?) to their distributors.   Fox Mulder is right!  They are out there!

Friday, September 6, 2019

Serious weight: CRKT Seismic

Just got my hands on CRKT’s new Seismic with the ‘Deadbolt Lock’ developed by Flavio Ikoma.  It’s a beast!  It weighs in at 6.3 ounces with a 5.5 inch handle holding a 4 inch blade.  I like knives with slightly over sized handles.  You need a big handle to hold and use a big blade. 

strongest lock, knife
CRKT's Seismic

Flavio Ikoma has become one of Brazil’s top knife designers.  Growing up he was fascinated with the varieties of Japanese swords.  Encouraged by his father and having access to the tools and materials in his father’s shop, he made edges.  This interest spurred him to learn metallurgy, work with other knife makers and become a knife innovator.

The Seismic sports his IKBS ball bearing system as well as what has been described at the strongest lock on the market, the Deadbolt.  There are always a lot of claims of the strongest lock and they seem to depend on the test methodology.  Still, the Seismic locks up with one hell of click.

Knife, Deadbolt, Strongest knife lock
The bowtie at the pivot point is part of the deadbolt lock

To release the lock you press the knurled ring around the pivot.  This pushes a large bowtie shaped bar of metal out the back of the knife and unlocks the blade.  Impressive!

Here are some more stats:
The 0.6 inches thick handle is G10 overlaid on a sketalized metal frame that.  The G-10 has a grippy feel to it, almost enough to give you the fingernails-on-chalk-boards feeling.  (Assuming you know about chalk boards.)

The blade steel is a ground slab of 1.4116 stainless steel 0.15 inches thick.  This steel is reportedly used in Swiss Army knives.  The blade is a drop point with a high shoulder, flat grind.  A shallow false edge decorates the blade.  The sweeping edge reminds me ever so slightly of a skinner.

This steel is reported to have a RHc of 55-57.  While many consider that too low to retain an edge, let me remind you of three things:
  • That hardness resharpens quickly with simple stones;
  • Steels in this hardness range tend to bend instead of snap when misused; 
  • Ernie Emerson once said a knife with a bent blade is still a knife, a knife with a broken blade is junk.

What’s in 1.4116 steel?  The composition is relatively simple, 0.45% carbon, 14.7% chromium, a sprinkle of vanadium at 0.17% and a smattering of elements common to modern steel manufacturing.  Reports from the field suggest 1.4116 steel shows good corrosion resistance.  That’s important to me as I’m a bit careless with my tools.

You can find your Seismic at https://www.crkt.com/seismic.html.  Mention this blog for blank stares and verbal “Huhs?”  The suggested retail is $150.00

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Zen Whittling

There are few simpler activities that are as rewarding as whittling.

I don’t mean carving.  Carving is an artistic endeavor to create something appreciated by both the carver and observer.  It is purposeful.  I’ve seen carved birds that I swear would take flight as I approached them.  People carve spoons both as a functional tool and as an object of art.

Shaving Wood
It's just cutting to enjoy the wood and the edge

As a whittler, the best comment you will receive is, “That’s a nice pile of shavings.” 

But we whittle for ourselves.  The feel of a sharp knife shaving long graceful cuts in wood is superb.  As the wood is removed, grain and color reveals themselves, often to the complete surprise of the whittler.  It’s a sweet sensation to discover the simple joy of exposing wood that is so fleeting it vanishes with the next cut.  I once cut into a pocket of amber colored wood that cut perfectly from any angle or direction and just as suddenly it was gone, now shavings at my feet.

Little goals present themselves to the whittler and we can challenge ourselves to achieve them.  How long of a single shaving can you cut?  How smooth of a surface can you achieve?  Can you erase that little nub where there was once a second branch?  Can you cut four square sides simply because you would like to?

It is a very Zen experience.  There is no Yoda commanding ‘do or do not.’  There is just perfect harmony of being.

You can use any knife
Whittling basics: Wood, Knife....

The tools are very simple.  A shady spot is selected.  You need a knife, preferably sharp, but any knife will do.  Then you need a piece of wood.  A stick will do.  Size matters only to ease of handling the stick and how long you want to whittle.  There’s no rule requiring you to finish this activity with a single stick or that you can’t save the stick for another. 

Approach the task with a stick in one hand and blade in the other.  Decide where the edge will first bite into the wood.  Perhaps the blade and wood fight each other.  Simply select a new beginning.  Perhaps the one or the other feels wrong to you.  Make a change and a new beginning.  Tomorrow they may seem right to you.

As you stop to admire your pile of shavings you will discover all thoughts of bills, the boss, your sick aunt Fanny, which pre-school gives the twins the best shot at Harvard, and any of the other problems that plague you were momentarily forgotten.  Do not be surprised if you discover you have a new perspective on all of these as well as the noise society throws at us.

It is the best way to kill a half an hour or more and it doesn’t require a battery.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Spyderco Three Way

There are few knives better known in the knife community than Spyderco’s Endura and Delica.  Introduced in 1990, they have always been in the top ten sellers at Spyderco.  But there is a new contender, the Endela.

Delica, Endela, Endura
A full serrated Endela flanked by a Delica and Endura.

Spyderco’s Delica was the first tactical knife I ever owned.  I owned lock backs prior to a Delica, but never one with a clip or engineered for one-hand opening.  The ability to consistently open a knife with one hand which would lock open was amazing.  From camping to community theater, in fact any daily activity, these knives made an impact. 

Police, fire and military all tended to carry an Endura or Delica.  They were strong, lightweight (compared to the other popular “tactical carry“ knife of the time, the Buck 110), easy to open and economical.  The steel retained its edge reasonably well and could be quickly sharpened with the Spyderco Sharpmaker, which I still use.  Both knives still retain the properties of strength, ease of operation and performance.

Long before 9/11 Delicas quickly found a home with airline travelers.  You simply dropped them in the tray with your car keys and pen, and they were returned on the other side of the metal detector almost always without a comment.  Even the partial serrations were not of any real concern.  I typically carried two while my wife carried her Delica.  I use to sit in mid-flight and cut open my in-flight snack.  That makes me feel nostalgic.

As a purveyor of edged steel, I am more than qualified to state the obvious:  No matter how well designed, no knife or series of knives is perfect for all users.  One only has to look at all the available glove sizes to realize that.

The Delica and Endura are the Baby and Papa Bear that drunk blonde, Goldie, finds when she breaks in to a fairytale home in the woods.  So what fills that middle spot?  Consumers asked for a bigger knife that was smaller than the Endura.  Spyderco found an answer, the Endela.

Daily lab chores, opening packages.  The blade was very controllable.

Let’s do a three way head-to-head with the new addition to this family of edges, the Endela.

Open length (inches)
Blade length (inches)
Blade thickness (inches)
4- position
2.5 oz.
3.1 oz.
Cost (MSRP)

As you can see, the Endela looks a little like the middle child.  The blade is about a half inch larger compared to the Delica, but 0.4 inches smaller that the Endura.  Blade thickness is pumped up by 0.03 of an inch, but its 0.01 inch thinner than the Endura.  You’ll see that trend in the other knife parameters too.  The Endela is a noticeable step up from the Delica, but almost a twin to the Endura.

Frankly, the Endela seems to be an answer in search of a question.

The Endela comes only as the flat grind blade, which seems to be super-hot on with consumers right now.  Both the Delica and Endure can be found with similar flat grinds.  Both the Endura and Delica can be obtained with a plain edge, a partial serration and full serration.  The Endela sports either a plain edge or a full serration.  

The full serration has amazing cutting powers.  Packing straps, seat belts, heavy rope all come clean to its power.  The little defensive edge training I have taken strongly suggests I don’t want to be cut by a Spyderco serration.

The Endela market, according to Spyderco, is for those of us who want a larger knife than a Delica, but smaller than an Endura.  Hence the mash-up.  Not the most original, but…..

opening packages, daily chores, sharp knife Endela

The difference is in the feel and use.  I like the Endela.  It feels good in my hand and if I was a first time buyer, I’d get an Endela. 

It will be interesting to see if it’s in the 2021 catalog.