Monday, January 16, 2012

Rules of Engagement

Had a chance to talk to two different military men on temporary leave from Afghanistan at the gun show this past weekend.   They didn’t know each other but they each told the same interesting story.

We’ve all heard about rules of engagement.  They define when a person can open fire in a war zone.  The rules are designed to help the military create goodwill with the population.  

Some make good sense:  Only women can search women.  Our police try to follow that rule as well.  Other rules, well, I can only shake my head in confusion.  For example, troops can fire at an insurgent if they catch him placing an IED but not if insurgents are walking away from an area where explosives have been laid.

Given these complex rules, you can imagine many Afghanis know how far they can push it with impunity.  

Traveling in the bazaars or between locations you’re likely going to be confronted.  The Afghans know when you can and can’t shoot, but you don’t know how far they want to take it.  However the rules say nothing about being cut with a knife.

“The sound of a switch blade opening alarms them,” the first told me.  “If you want to protect yourself and not get into a fight carry an auto knife.  They hear it and most of them will back off.”

Worth its weight in gold

The other said the same.  “They come up to you and put their fingers in the muzzle of your machine gun.  They know your limits from the rules of engagement.”  The second man shrugged.  “But take out your Beretta or knife and they’re not so sure.”  He gave me a wolfish grin. “See, the rules don’t say anything about knives.”

So if you’re heading to Afghanistan, get a quality automatic knife to carry with you.  You might want to add a good fixed blade.  A fixed blade will always be faster, surer and stronger, but it’s silent out of the sheath. 

Sub hilt fighter - custom made by Torson

There is nothing like the comforting clack of your auto locking open on a dark night.

Benchmade Auto Rift - doesn't look like an auto, but pull back on the axis lock....

Of course, you’re in harm’s way so you may have to use it.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

New Edges and Observations

Speaking of sharpening….

I picked up an Eze-Lap diamond hone for work.  I use a rubber mill knife to cut rubber hoses and belts at work.  Many of these products have Kevlar fabric which can be cut but ruins the knife edge.  My co-worker has been using a cheap ceramic pocket sharpener in which he has ground a flat spot.  The diamond hone works better, but I noticed a “thunk” at the end of the sharpening stroke.  Of course, when you work with microscopes it’s easy to take a look. 
I found a small bump at the edge of the hone.  I don’t think it will affect the sharpening, but it gives me the shivers every time I make a stroke.

Eze-Lap coarse with bump at the edge

A new Spyderco has arrived.  It’s the Balance.  The closed knife resembles an equal arm balance, the favorite of classical analytical chemists.  That’s not me, but still it speaks to me.   
Spyderco Balance

Open, it’s a mini- gurkha knife or khukuri.  The knife is less than 3 inches closed and weighs 1.4 ozs.  That’s less than two first class pieces of mail!

The handle is carbon fiber and the steel VG-10.  The small clip can be moved to any of the four positions: tip up, tip down and right or left.  

If you look at it and ask what’s it’s for, well sorry, but you’re not a knife person.  Sometimes they are just for the heck of it.  Other times you have a specific need that a knife fills in a specific way.

I had a knife on sale on eBay, a byrd Meadowlark from Santa Fe Stoneworks in spiny oyster.  
byrd knife with Santa Fe Stoneworks spiny oyster grip
Somebody got a very good deal, but that’s beside the point.  It didn’t want to sell here so it sold somewhere else.  The thing is, the winning bid came in the last 12 seconds.  Was it sniping software, fast reflexes, or just good timing to get the bid in so late that nobody could counter bid?  

As a seller or buyer, I’m not sure I approve of sniping software.  But if you really want something, bid your maximum in the last 15 minutes.  eBay will auto bid to your max against incoming bids.  You’ll either get it or not at some price including your maximum.  But you will not fall victim to a sniper while trying to get a deal.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Sharp Conversation

After dinner she put down her glass and looked over to me, “How often should I sharpen my knife?”

I looked at her and then over to my wife.  We had just finished dinner and I was sharpening our guest’s pocket knife at the dinner table.  Clearly some sign was needed before I carried on.  I got it.

“If you wait until it’s dull, you’ve waited too long.  It’s always easier to touch up an edge than to bring a dead edge back to life.”  

“What about electric sharpeners?”  She asked a good question and I had half an answer.

“Depends.  Some people press too hard, leave it in contact with the rotating stones too long and heat the blade up too much.  That will damage it.”

There’re really only a few things to remember about tempering and steel.  Tempering is actually a softening step.  The martensite that forms from austenite can make steel so hard as to be unusable.  Tempering allows other softer structures to form and make the steel usable.   Too much tempering, too soft to hold a good edge.  Too hard and the blade snaps too easy.

Almost all the structures that give steel its incredible properties are diffusion based.  Diffusion is driven by time, temperature and moderated by distance.  Heating a knife blade at the thin edge will affect the steel more than heating the spine the same amount.  And the effects of heat cycles are cumulative. 

So how often should you sharpen and how?

I believe you should sharpen when the edge seems to be getting dull.  If you’re butchering a deer you may want to touch the blade up often.  If all you do is cut string and open paper envelopes, you can go a long time.

In the kitchen you should touch up the blade of your chef’s knife before you use it.  The sharpening steel doesn’t sharpen the edge, it draws the wire edge out.  That’s a good thing, as the wire edge is the really the source of sharpness.
You’ll find it easier to keep a sharp knife sharper than resharpen a dull knife.  And I learned that the hard way.

Last summer was a time for “trench warfare.”  I was running underground cable to my soon-to-be-built garage.  After it was up I got a lot of help from my friend Rick with wiring the garage.  With all the cutting and trimming my favorite work knife, a CRKT Crawford Kasper folder, became very dull.

How dull?

So dull it refused to cut anything.

I could have taken it to a professional sharpener and had it re-edged, but as penance and hard luck lesson, I resharpened it myself with my Spyderco sharpener. 

Spyderco Sharpmaker

 I’m still working on it.  I get it sharp, but as soon as I need it for some job it slides toward dull.  I haven’t been able to spend enough time to push it from sharp to very sharp, which is where I prefer my knives.

I also use the Lansky system.  The ability to hold each progressively finer grit stones at the same angle is a gift from the knife gods.   
Lansky system

The downside: it’s a lot of work to set up properly just for a little touch up.

Benchstones. I’ve got more than a few.  The key to good benchstone sharpening is reproducibility and cleanliness.
Gunk up the natural pores in the stone and it will not sharpen.  So use a good oil and clean it off when you’re done.

Holding the knife edge to the same angle through each stroke is critical for a sharp edge.  We can all get better at it, but some people are gifted at it.  I’m not one of them.

Years ago I bought a Buck Honemaster to help me sharpen my knives.  
Buck Honemaster  You can see a dull strip of metal towards the edge sitting on the wood.  That's metal wear from sharpening blades.

 It clamps on your blade and holds it at the angle you select.  The angle isn’t very reproducible between sharpenings, but you can get a fine edge with it.  Of course, as you wear metal from the knife edge, you wear metal from the Honemaster.   It’s a strange sensation knowing you’re destroying the means of making a great edge while you’re making a great edge. 

Buck Honemaster holding my Commando Cutlery on the fine side of a benchstone

On the whole, sharpen your knives before they get dull.  They’ll work better, faster and easier.  A sharp knife reflects well on its owner.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Christmas Knives

Christmas knives are often new, exciting slivers of steel and polymer (yes, Virginia, unless you have stone or bone handles, it’s a polymer) that catch our attention for a few moments around the tree. 

“Oh! Helen,” he said, over the sound of wrapping paper being shredded.  “It’s a hand-made tactical friction folder from Frantic Forge!  It’s just what I wanted.”

Her comeback was not entirely unexpected.

“Oh, John!” She managed to be heard over the kitchen timer and the sound of bubbling pots.  “It’s just what I wanted!  A hand-made bread knife combination turnip carver from Kitchen Dungeon Forge.”

This scene is played out in front of Hanukkah candles and Christmas trees all around the world.  Trust me, I’ve had a few of these moments myself.

While we’re lost in admiration of our newest knives, there’s a few knives from Christmas past still hanging around.  If, like Marley, I’m forced to drag a chain of knives with me through the next world, I hope these are attached.

Electric carving knives, one of mankind's most enduring inventions

That’s my brother-in-law carving a turkey.  He’s mastered the art of carving a bird.  When I try that my results look like I used a hammer.  I always enjoy watching him make short work of a bird.

If I had one knife to symbolize family and friends it would be a knife like this.

What would a holiday be without family and friends?  I’m sure countless men and women in our armed forces could tell us from past experience.  It makes my eyes water when I think of all of them overseas, so far from family and friends with only their comrades near.  It’s an imperfect world, but I believe the Man Upstairs has a special mark by each of their names in His Book of Life. 

God bless and keep ‘em safe.

The Cold Steel bread knife:  good for cutting bread and fighting ninjas

My wife loves to bake bread.  Could there be anything more fundamental to the human condition than bread?  We break bread with friends.  We welcome new members to communities with bread, and we give bread to loved ones departing on long trips.  “I packed you an extra sandwich,” mothers used to say to sons, daughters and husbands when they departed on a journey.  It’s something I miss.

Christmas spirit – the short version

Whether or not you believe in Christ as Redeemer, can there be any question that his message of peace, love, harmony and forgiveness has value for men and women then and now?

Everyday we hear the Siren song of the modern world.  For a few days at Christmas be like Odysseus’ sailors and pour wax in your ears and ignore the material world just a little.  Enjoy the real Christmas values: Peace, Home, Family, Friends, Harmony, Love and Forgiveness.

Merry Christmas to Everyone!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Bread Knives and Knife Rights

The Dexter Bread Knife

My wife has acquired a new bread knife.  She has a short story about it, but it is more of a precautionary tale than a story about a knife.   You can read it at

There’s also a link on my sidebar.

Knife Rights under Attack
It’s not often I recommend an article about knives in an NRA publication.  Some of you may see a distinction between the knives you own or collect and a handgun.  There really isn’t one.  Knives can be used in a very deadly fashion.  Just watch any Cold Steel video as they slice and amputate with single strokes of their knives.  Knives can be clearly more dangerous than handguns. 

Our government’s response to anything is to pass laws.  It is the only thing, other than spending your money, they can do.  Few laws are passed for one specific reason.  The bill, its supporters and the author may tell you it has only one purpose, but there’s always more.  We are way too complicated to do much of anything for one single reason.

For example, Boston is considering requiring businesses that sell knives to be licensed.  It was pointed out to the city council that stores operating in Boston are already licensed and regulated by law.  They are restricted from selling any knife with a blade 2 inches or longer to anyone under 18.  This made no impact on the city council because “The modern way of approaching these issues is to go after the source of the items rather than the criminals themselves.”  Remember, we’re not talking about drugs or white slavery, but pocket knives.

That do you think? Is Boston interested in protecting you or raising money and making businesses more easy to manipulate?

Knife laws are passed not to protect you, but to control you and make you dependent on the government and its agencies.  I have a blog about the British government telling Boy Scouts not to carry their scout knives when in uniform ( .  Seems those friction lock knives with can opener and awl are just too dangerous.

New York has declared war on any knife that locks open, can be easily opened, and clips in your pocket.  England lost their knife rights through the usual tactics of separate, divide and conquer.  

Read “Will Knives Fold?” in the NRA’s December 2011 issue of America’s 1st Freedom and you’ll see a history of those tactics continuing to this day.  You’ll find it on page 38.

You may not like the NRA, but they will tell you a different side of the story.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Benchmade Auto

The knife business isn’t all edged steel and handle choices.   There’s a lot of basic business involved.  Determining demand, placing orders, overstock, profit margins and, of course, dealing with mistakes.

A Benchmade Auto-Rift (9555SBK) arrived the other day.  I have a customer who has been waiting quite some time for it.  Unfortunately Benchmade shipped my wholesaler the black serrated blade, not the black plain edge he ordered.  The wholesaler just assumed it was the right order and shipped it to me.

Benchmade Auto-Rift  Model 9555SBK

 I was so happy to see it, I didn’t check it either.  My wife caught it right before we finished packing it up.

I checked with the customer and I’m ordering him another knife.  I can send it back to my wholesaler, but I’d really like to save myself from jumping through flaming hoops to return it and get all my shipping back.

I’m going to try to sell it locally.  It’s a nice knife and the picture in Benchmade’s catalog doesn’t do it justice.

Want to find out more about the Auto-Rift?  Here’s a link:

I just keep telling myself it’s all part of the adventure of life.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Reflections on Veterans Day

By the end of the War-to-End-All-Wars, the cream of Europe’s best was ground into hamburger and the Spanish flu pretty much ended any nation’s ability to field men.  To celebrate not having any more men to kill, the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 was declared Armistice Day.

Following the war, President Woodrow Wilson celebrated Armistice Day by inviting 2000 soldiers to dinner at the White House.  The main course?  Ravioli, the canned fad food that was sweeping the nation.  Hey!  It was 1920 and canned food was so new and novel, it was almost as good as the second coming.  Woody’s meal started the now forgotten tradition of eating ravioli on Nov 11.

Sweeping changes don’t always start on the west coast or in trendy New York discos.  Alvin King, the owner of a shoe repair shop in Emporia, Kansas, was the epicenter of Veterans Day.  

“Why not,” I imagine him thinking, “remember all veterans on Armistice Day?”  Alvin did more than just think about it, he acted.  The following year President Eisenhower, a veteran himself, signed a bill May 26, 1954, making Nov 11 Veterans Day and a Federal holiday.

Since Ike, world wars have been called police actions and I can’t begin to recount all the places American service men and women have been stationed at and therefore died in.  Despite their sacrifices the theaters of war have expanded.  It was called total war and now we call it asymmetric war.  But it means the same; each of us has a stake in the outcome and duty to participate.

Clausewitz codified most of it in the 1830s.  Clausewitz observed that conflict causes an erosion of separation between the military and the civilians.  He wasn’t the first and he isn’t the last.  The battlefield has arrived and is living in our parking lots.  The woman in the bunker with an M-16 has only a few degrees of separation from the woman pushing the grocery cart down the store aisle.

Law enforcement, in all its facets, is only one degree.  The average citizen who picks up their phone and drops a dime on suspicious behavior is another.  The fireman who goes into a burning building looking for victims or the postman who notices mail building up at the home of the elderly and acts, all soldiers of the conflict.  They are all part of the total war.  Our national character forms from our behavior and willingness to be involved.  Each of us sacrifice some, some sacrificed all.

It isn’t a perfect system.  We let strangers feel us up at airports for the illusion of safety.  Politicians pimp to voting blocs.  Citizens sell their votes and freedoms to the empty promise of safety and security in an unsafe world.  

So if you sit down to an Italian meal tonight, enjoy your ravioli. Spend a second remembering all the veterans, who have, are, and will stand up and be counted.  Think about how every day we need to act to preserve our freedoms and way of life.