Thursday, March 18, 2010

Edging into Trouble

It’s all a bad mistake and it’s getting worse. You got off at the wrong exit, the bar wasn’t what you thought, and the address said north not south, the neighborhood changed. There are a thousand reasons you’re in deep sh*t, but all you want is to go home in one piece.

They wanted more than your money and you knew they‘ll kill you and get your address and keys. While you were toe-tagged John Doe, your wife and daughter would be desperately checking hospitals. They would never know until too late the mad dog predators stalking them.

So you ran from them. They split up and chased you and by now you’re surrounded. Safety lies in the direction you came, but at least one thug is following you, driving toward the rest. They’re smart, organized and vicious.

You have a plan too. It’s not your best plan, but it’s your last plan. You’re going hide behind the dumpster with your closed knife in your hand and hope they pass. If not, you’re going to lure one in close. It’s important he doesn’t see the knife, so it’s got to be closed. When you stepped over toward the closest one you’d hold your wallet up and step even closer.

Your last move would be a surprise. A fast step, grab the thug and pump the blade in and out of his stomach eight or ten times as fast and hard as possible. If there was a second thug, you’d turn on him with the blade. It’s a terrible plan. It’s all you have.

Trouble is; your cold, bloodless fingers can’t hold the side opening auto knife without dropping it. And forget about the assisted or manual openers, fine if you can open them before you need them, but what if the person in the alley isn’t the thug? Did you really want to step out of the shadows with an open blade? What you need is an OTF.

I saw nice, clean out-the-front Piranha Excalibur at work. It’s a cool knife. A fellow could hold the knife firmly in this hand wrapped around it and push the button to open it. The double edged blade flies out the front. You don’t hold it with a partial grip like the ProTech out-the-side autos. Heck, that grip is already half way to losing the knife.

My opinion: A real combat knife needs to be either fixed blade or out-the-front auto. Assisted openers and manuals have their role in CQC, but out-the-front has them beat.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Guess What I Have In My Pocket

I was at a gun show this week-end and heard the best reason to own more than one knife:

“I carry a knife everyday and I get tired of the same one.”

Of course what I mostly hear is: “I’ve carried the same knife for forty years. And I don’t understand….” They always reach into their pocket and pull out –
(Choose one)
A- a one and on half inch long two bladed Schrade trapper with 50% of each blade sharpened away;
B- a dull Victorinox Classic which has never been sharpened and has a bent blade from trying to cut string.
C- a small bone-handled Italian stiletto switchblade with a bolster release and a carefully polished razor edge.

“…why I can’t find another good one like this for $12!”

Answer: I’ve never see C, but variations on A and B are common. These are the same folk who don’t understand that a $12 knife when gasoline was 35 cents a gallon is roughly equal to an $85 knife to day.

Well, I hope I live long enough to be like them someday.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

WRCA: Knapping One Edge at a Time

At first thought it’s hard to see the connection between a flint knapper and a knife show. The differences are obvious. Knives use modern metals, plastics and production processes. Knapping flint arrowheads calls for rock, antler and another rock which you press together. Total different. Right?

Still, I’m sure the second, maybe third tool man ever used was an edgy rock. I think the first was the hammer stone. It seems obvious to me. Pick up a rock and smash something. The tie for second and third place goes to fire and sharp edges. I suspect it was sharp edges followed by fire.

Inventing knapping went something like this:

She: “My sharp rock is dull again. Go find me another one.”

He: “I just got you that one. Those things don’t grow on trees.”

She: “Well, unless you want fur on your meat, you better find me another one just like this one.”

She passes it, he butter-fingers it and the stone tool breaks on the cave floor.

She: “Now you’ve done it!”

Picking up the damaged stone tool he cuts himself on the newly sharpened edge and an idea takes root.

He: “Here. I’ll be outside talking to Uglar. Call me when supper is ready”. He walks off acting like he had planned it.

The seed of knapping was planted. You can chip stone to create a sharp edge.

The knapper holds the stone in his left hand and strikes it with a copper bar with his right.  It's art in motion, a skill once in great demand now on dispay at the Western Reserve Cutlery Association's Knife Show

I had a chance to watch a flint knapper explaining his art to during the Western Reserve Cutlery Show. He explained how flint has very fine grain. We call it cryptocrystalline and it has no cleavage planes. When force is applied with a soft tool, like an antler, or rounded copper nail, a conchoidal fracture, called a Hertzian Cone forms and material flakes off. By skillfully applying this principle the knapper can flake off material to form an incredibly sharp edge.

That’s the connection. Knife, sword, axe, and arrowhead: It’s all about sharp edges.
He explained that he wasn’t using flint but chert. Flint is a rock that forms in chalk deposits. Chert is a sedimentary rock that forms in any deposit.

Chert? Sounds like what a Rocky Balboa bird would say: “Hey! CHERT!”

Monday, March 8, 2010

Western Reserve Cutlery Association Knife show

I had a lot of fun at Western Reserve Cutlery Association annual knife show. This year it was held at the Dover Armory. Nothing can beat the atmosphere of the Warther Museum, but the Armory had a lot more space.

Parking was crowded, but at lot of us parked down the street and walked back to make more room for customers.

I meet a young man who bought a Boker ceramic bladed folder with a Titanium handle at a flee market for $10.00. It’s a little worn, but the new list price is $285. He was hoping to find a good deal at the show, I doubt it , but you can never tell.

Surely, there must be a treasure in this display.  Actually there was.  I fould a spatula knife marked "Arthur Thomas Co." (A famious name in scientific equipment)  At $80 it was out of my price range.

The hall was packed with vendors and potential customers, as well as a few tire kickers. I sold quite a few Rough Riders, chiefly Sunfish and Elephant Toenails as well as CRTK new Ken Onion design Ripple. I was planning to keep that one, but someone wanted it too badly.

                                                                 My favorite table

I’ve heard a lot of questions over the years. “Who makes that knife?” “What’s the steel?” “Who are they? I never heard of them before?” One I hear and dread is “Where’s it made?” For many people it is less of a matter of the company reputation as it is not-made-America. I usually remain polite, but I stop trying to help the customer.  They are usually after inexpensive non-existant American knife.

Of course, American made knives tend to be expensive.  Benchmade is now made in America as more and more of Buck. The prices go up. High prices aren’t epidemic only to made-in-American companies. Spyderco, who I think has some of the best knives around, come from Seki-City Japan. They are excellent quality but the prices are hitting new highs.

It’s not often I can be surprised, but I heard a question I never heard before. The vendor next to me sells only high end knives. He had a custom made knife from South Africa, with warthog ivory inserts and an anodized blade. The prospective customer heard Africa and wanted to know if a black man made the knife. I’m still amazed by that question.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Are assisted openers passé?

I sold a lot of them several years ago, but the trend seems to be tailing off. The number of prospective customs asking about them is down. I don’t carry an assisted opener. My Spyderco or SOG opens fast enough for me. And somehow, despite the quality seen in Buck, SOG, CRTK and so many others they feel delicate to me. I guess the CDI* factor is cooling off.

I haven’t noticed manufacturers reducing the numbers of assisted openers made, but I suspect they often lag behind everyone else. It takes time to bring a new knife on line and while closing a line is easy, you got to have something to replace it.

Assisted openers are illegal in Canada and knives are just about illegal in England. The scarier trend is seen in Spyderco’s new catalog. They have been making for a couple years that they call slip-its, non-locking pocket knives. But now they are making small blade slip-its. This is in response to cities, like Cleveland and Chicago; they have laws against knife blades longer than 1.5 inch. Of course these laws only apply to non-criminal.

By the way…Benchmade is making all their knives in the USA. I found only one or two Harley brand knives identified as imports.

* Chicks Dig It

Monday, February 15, 2010

Forcasts: Weather and Economic

The federals report the economy is picking up, but the knife index say not yet. I don’t know about you but I trust knife index better that anything the fed puts out.

What is this index? It’s difficult to explain as Lucy use to say to Ricky. It’s a complicated formula that looks at the amount of quality knife sales ($25 bucks and up) minus the square root of E raised to the power of cheap knife sales (under $25 bucks). This sum is divided by the sum of linear inches of knives re-sharpened. You look that number up on the T-A chart factoring outside temperature and total number of attendee to the knife show and well, there it is.

And right now it doesn’t look to great.

I think knife sales are a great indicator. Most people have one or two. Most people don’t mind adding another one to the collection if they have a few extra bucks to spend. So depressed knife sales points to a depressed economy.

A couple weeks –ends ago I went to a show outside of Pittsburg. We took a chance; the forcast was for light dusting of snow. My wife and I arrived just in time to settle in to the Red Roof Inn befor the dusting grew to clumping. We woke up to 21 inches of show, a semi plowed parking lot and no electrical power. At least my knives were safe. They were at the show where they had electricity heat and guards.

The hotel had one cracked snow shovel that the 20 or 30 of us had to use to dig out our cars. Finally the motel, in response to out pathetic cries for help, broke out their ultimate snow removal tool: a long handled coal shovel. Woo Hoo! Now we’re making progress. I’d shovel until I got tired and pass the shovel to the next guy, who would shovel until he got tired and passed it on to the next guy.

It was one of the few times I was convinced a bigger knife would not have helped me.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

People Watch

I had a chance to watch at people at a gun show. I was busy at my knife table, but I took a little time to watch people. Despite the business of selling pocket knives, I’m not really a good observer of the public, but three people caught interest.

It was his badge that caught my attention. It was hand lettered and had his name and the title “Captain.” Being hand lettered, it wasn’t official and he had that retired look. He kinda reminded me of Hank Hill’s father on “King of the Hill”. I wanted to ask him captain of what?




Salvation Army?

Charter boat?

Or just self appointed?

I never got a chance to ask him. He buzzed by on some important mission and I never saw him again.

The next two guys who stopped by later were quite a team. The gun show must have been their Saturday entertainment. It would not surprise me to discover their wives open the door on Saturday morning, plant a foot on their backside and with a sharp push tell’em “Don’t come back before dark!” This of course is followed by the door shaming shut and the sound of several dead bolts clicking into place.

The two of them open and closed and reopen every knife on the table while asking the other “You like this one?” They’ll ask the price, which they pass back and forth misquoting it and attaching it to the more expensive knife while their monologs occasional collide on some mutual point of interest.

If it appears you’ve drawn too fine a bead on one the other will ask “What’s steel is this?” I, of course, try to keep up with the conversation while correcting the price and determine the steel. For variety they season the mix with “What country is that from?” While this is going on they convey the sense they are going to make a purchase, if they find the right knife. They never find the right knife. My wife watches them like a hawk!

One of their favorite ploys is to ask if you’ll trade knives with them. Most of the time they will offer you an older or discontinued Spyderco or Cold Steel in exchange towards something else. Some times it’s a real stinkeroo! In fairness, the knives they offer to swap are always in excellent condition with factory edges.

I use to feel sorry for these guys. They clearly are in the retirement age range, they dress like ordinary Joes and seem to be careful with the bucks. I use to suspect they had limited funds and were liquidating previously purchased knives to have the chance to own a newer and out-of-reach expensive knife. At lease I did until one of them showed me his Spyderco Rock Lobster which retails over $300.00!

I hadn’t seen them in a while so I asked how they were and commented they haven’t been around for a while. One lipped off that his buddy just got out of jail. In retrospective, their knife table manner reminds me of the bill changing confidence scam. You ask for change for a hundred and keep changing the denominations and passing money back and forth until the mark gives you change for $120.

Maybe his buddy was telling the truth.

Let’s not even talk about the older woman in the micro mini-dress, fishnet stocking three inch stiletto heels and her escort who thinks he’s George Custer! You’ll have to experience that for yourself!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

I hereby resolve.................

New Year Resolutions 2010

Do you do New Year resolutions?  Most of the time I don't.  They tend to fall into big unobtainable classifications.  You know, get a 12% raise, be nice to the office rat in the next cubical.  They are just plan  unobtainable.  This year I picked 3 REACHABLE goals, so hear goes....

 I resolve in 2010 to do the following:

1 - - I’ll stop rotating through my knives just because the one I’m carrying is getting dull. I rotate through my carry knives because I enjoy having different ones on me. I’ll sharpen each one goes dull. No more big batch sharpening sessions for me!

2 - - I’ll oil my knives more frequently. This includes all the pivots and moving parts as well as wiping down the blade. I’m careful with my knives and I do clean and oil them when they get wet or dirty but they are tools and have to work for a living. But I’m going to do a better job of it this year.

3 - - I’m going to stop asking my co-worker if he wants to borrow a knife when he’s trying to “key” open a taped box. Next to a domestic partner, I can’t think of too many other things more personal than your choice in a knife. He’s an adult and he can figure it out on his own.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Edging into Knife Videos

Knife and Edge Videos

To see the power of the Internet one only has to look at YouTube. The extensive collections videos take the expression “God only knows!” out of the providence of hyperbola.

One can find anything from trivial to the profound. I am reminded of the expression I use to hear in the ivory tower related industries such as physics, chemistry and medicine: “See one, teach one; publish.” YouTube seems to satisfy that dictate.

Even so, there remains a wealth of information to assist us in reaching if not masterly, certainly competency. A word of caution, assumptions are made with every article and video.

I watched Murray Carter grind chips and sharpen blade edges with Japanese water stones, but he doesn’t talk too much about blade-stone angle and nothing was said about how to hold that angle constant More importantly, there’s no internet oversight committee that assures the validly of what anyone, including this knife fancier publishes. That’s what we are all doing, publishing.
Still, there’s a wealth of information about blades, edges and living with your edge.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Gift

Merry Christmas Everyone.
Christmas Eve found me cutting up a pheasant for Hungarian paprikash. Naturally I was using a knife, my wife’s santoku. It’s not restaurant quality, so in the spirit of complete honesty and disclosure, I was also used a poultry shear to supplement the knife.

Pheasant is one of my favor game birds, even if you buy it at the super market. The bird tends to store fat under the skin and paprikash should not be oily. This made skinning and removal of the rich yellow fat was a key step in the process. Its times like this you appreciate non-slip handles! Just one of many attributes of a good knife.

A good knife is always a treasure and yet can be considered a bad gift. My wife’s grandmother was horrified about giving kitchen knives as a wedding present. They could only be a harbinger bad and unhappy times, maybe even death!


Merry Christmas!

My background is central European and a gift of knives was always bad, so traditionally gift knives were given with a small coin like a penny. The gift receiver would return the penny to the giver, turning a bad omen into a purchase. I guess there was no omen attached to inexpensive knives!

I tried to introduce this custom to my wife’s family, but it was like pulling teeth, also a bad omen. The younger crowd looked at me to say “whatever” and the older patriarchs assured me there was no such tradition. So much for my traditions. Still I have a few of my own blade and bullet traditions that seem to be catching on.

I got into a conversation with a stranger about knife traditions (you meet some really nice people at a knife table!). He told me that from his Native American traditions a knife was a high girt and an honor to receive.

I liked that a lot. I still get a warm and fuzzy feeling when I think about the knives I have been given. But in all honesty, it was the people who gave me the knives that I feel good about.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

They say the heart of rock and roll is the beat...

“They say the heart of rock and roll is the beat...” Huey Lew and The News

I was thinking about that that song other day. So what would be the heart of a knife?

All knives have common features, handle, blade and edge. The handle and blade are easily decorated, but not so much the edge. If you turn a knife into an object of art, is it still a knife? I want to say yes, but if its form over whelms its function does it retain it’s core identity. Perhaps it’s the potential. The objet d'art knife still can cut or stab, but doing so would ruin its appearance and function.

I was at a knife auction and several lovely stag handled Hubertus autos were auctioned. The blades were engraved and etched; they were absolutely beautiful. I didn’t bid on them; the blades didn’t have an edge. That’s right, unsharpened blades, or if as I prefer call them, spatulas. I’m not sure you should even call them knives. No edge, no knife, seems simple enough.

So the edge is the heart of the knife? I think so, but it isn’t the soul. The edge depends on the steel. Companies have developed many proprietary steels like ZDP-189 or Sandvik 12c27 for special purposes and niches. Other steels like 1095 and W-1 have been around for years. Any knife discussion group will have their share of steel junkies, all of which are jonesing for another fix of some steel reported to have mythical qualities. Kind of like a doper in search of the ultimate high.

What gives most steels the strength, hardness and flexibility is carbon. After forging or casting steels can become so hard, so brittle they are tempered. Tempering softens the steel at little by allowing a little carbon to go back in to solution.

It’s complicated. Carbon dissolves in molten iron like sugar in hot water, but let the steel cool and on the way to room temperature iron forms austenite and ferrite. These are different crystals of carbon and iron. Ferrite holds very little carbon and austenite a little more. But austenite hates itself and wants to change. Some time, most time it changes to martensite. It can hold more carbon than ferrite, but it’s brittle. Very hard, but very brittle, so brittle that the knife blade can snap. By tempering or heat treating the blade some of the martensite can changed into our old friend ferrite. The extra carbon? Even thro it has paid its bar bill, carbon has been reject by first ferrite, then austenite, then martensite and again by ferrite. Who would blame it if it develops a complex? The rejected carbon forms tiny ceramic-like clusters with a few iron atoms hanging around the property line called cementite. Don’t feel sorry for cementite, it forms the microscopic small teeth that let the blade cut.

I started thinking carbon was going to be the soul of the knife. I’m wrong; heat treatment is the real soul of any knife.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Name an American Knife

Think of France and the laguiole with its bee shaped locking catch comes to mind. Who would draw an image of the Argentina gaucho without his caronera? Let someone show you classic bone-handled stiletto and you can almost see Naples and fields of ripe olives.

Could there be any other knife associated with the United States other than the Buck 110 hunter?

The man standing in frount of my table wanted an American knife to take home to the Orient. I showed him Spyderco’s Native made in Golden, Colorado, I showed him Kershaw’s Leek also made in the states. Those weren’t American enough for him.

I showed him a Buck 110 hunter and his eye lit up. That was his idea of an American knife.   Mine too!

I bought mine 40 years ago. I’ve used and abused that knife. Carried it daily and faithfully for years, it was a part of who I was. Why? Because my Buck 110 never let me down when I needed it. It cuts, stays sharp, cleaned-ups well and went back in its black leather belt sheath without any trouble. I’ve semi-retired it for thinner, faster opening, clip it in my pocket knives, but I still can’t imagine leaving the sidewalk for the dirt path without it.

It’s not a perfect knife. The brass bolsters react with the fatty acids in sweat and leather to produce a green goop you have to clean. The knife is clunky, but that’s not necessary a bad thing. The steel holds an edge, but it takes time to sharpen it with the double bevel edge that gave it keen sharpness and strong staying power. More an a few hours were spent with an oilstone and strop making the perfect edge, only to miscalculate and have to start over. The lock is reliable only if it was kept clean and all knives need a drop of oil.

Al Buck’s gift to knife world was realizing that big knives, clunky knives would sell, if you didn’t have to put them in your pocket. The safety of the locking blade and oversize handle that gave you something to grab, found a home on the belt. I knew people who wore a belt just to hold up their Buck knife.

It is the American Classic.