Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Photographs


I’ve started working on a new writing project involving Boker’s Yurco.  It’s a nice self-defense knife and I like the its lines and feel.  An additional plus is I’ve met Mickey Yurco.  He's a member of a local knife club, so I think that will add another dimension to the article.

It’s a phobia of mine.  I always photograph the knife first.  Then I evaluate it, cut with it, carry it, sharpen it and test it.  This way if the blade or handle picks up scratches, discolorations, or other damage, I’ve got good images for the article.

Taking the photos isn’t always fun.  I don’t have a dedicated photographic studio so using guidelines from Knife World and ideas from Eric Eggly’s DVD, I cobbled together my studio.

Photographing a knife at my studio
It’s sort of the photographer’s perspective of Bismarck’s comments on making laws and sausages.

It isn’t pretty and I hate spending all the required time setting up, ironing backdrops, trying to find wedges to stick under the knives to get the angles I want and then cleaning up.  But it does work.

   

Innovation Theory of Knives

I subscribe to the 'Tupperware theory'* of knives. That is, descriptions and names of knives are made by manufacturers.  Knife use is defined by the purchaser.  Just because it’s called some type of knife doesn’t mean it can’t be used for other purposes.

I once pitched an idea for an article to an editor.  He indicated since it was a bushcraft knife the article had to be about using the knife to make snares, fires and other survival activities.  I wanted to talk about how the knife worked on a daily basis.  Did it create hot spots and blisters after a few hours of cutting?  How did it resharpen or clean up after cutting meat for dinner?  And could I use it for self-defense?  We never did come to terms.

Some knives are constructed in such a manner they can only be used for a limited task.  TOP’s California Cobra is a great example of that.  

A hand full of Cobra from TOPs
Other than angry, what else could you say?
Sure you could open a letter with it, and maybe make a fire stick with it, but the best description of it came from a customer of mine.  “It’s an angry looking knife.”

So I guess it should come as no surprise that my wife found that cutting her roll-up Christmas cookies was a dream using her ceramic food preparation knife.  

A Stone river ceramic knife
Stone River ceramic knife.  Note: she's using a plastic cutting board.  Always use a plastic or wood cutting surface with a ceramic knife ~ if you want to keep an edge.

Previously she had confined it to slicing vegetables, thin enough to read a newspaper through. 
   
Who would have thunk it?



*My wife learned years ago that just because Tupperware calls it a 'bread keeper,' that doesn’t mean it will not work for ice cream, cookies, etc.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Swiss Army Knife

Not every knife I own is a tactical blade.  I actually own at least two traditional pocket knives.  They were from different companies which are now the same.  I, of course, refer to the famous Swiss Army knife made by Wenger and Victorinox.  More about these companies can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swiss_Army_knife

(What would we do without Wikipedia?)

It is interesting that before the turn of the 20th century both companies were aware of the power of advertisement and the impact of negative ads.  They agreed to share the Swiss Army Knife business and branded themselves as Wenger the Genuine Swiss Army Knife and Victorinox the Original Swiss Army Knife.  If only modern politicians could get along so well.


Swiss Army victorinox and wenger
The red is my older Wenger and the silver is the Victorinox.  Two great Swiss Army knives.


A number of years ago these two companies combined under one management to sell both brands.  Recently it has been decided that the Wenger brand name would be sacrificed to the pressure of global manufacturing.
   

So, soon there will be no more Wenger, only Victorinox knives.

I bought my scarlet handled Wenger over 40 years ago in preparation of a Canadian fishing trip.  It seemed like a sensible thing to do.  The knife contained cork screw, tapered metal spike, primary blade, fingernail file, a saw blade, bottle opener/straight edge screwdriver, and can opener.

Wenger Swiss Army knife showing blades
Eight functions, not counting the lanyard.  MacGyver would be proud!


I really wanted just the blade, can opener, bottle opener and saw.  A second blade would have been welcome and I toyed with the idea of sharpening the nail file. 

I’ve got to admit this can opener is one of the worst designs ever incorporated into a knife.  It requires you to press the opener up through the metal lid of the can.  The problem was inserting the point into the can initially.  I almost instantly collapsed the opener into my finger creating a nasty cut.  I’m not the only one.  Within a few years the can opener was replaced by the older, more traditional press through the metal lid type.

worse can opening on left and the more traditional on the right
Even with the little diagram on the Wenger on the left, it's a terrible can opener.  The newer Victorinox has a much nicer can opener.

The main blade is only 0.5 mm thick.  That’s half the thickness of a dime.  I bent my tip years ago.

the victorinox has a thicker blade as compared to the wenger
The Victorinox on the left has a thicker blade than the Wenger on the right.  That thin blade has some advantages if your're cutting the right things.  I sold several to a hunter heading for South Africa.  The thin blade makes it easy to cut the thorns you pick up in the brush out of your skin, so he claimed.
I got my Victorinox after a beer camp in which I was always looking for a bottle opener.  One of the beer tasters gave it to me.

Beer Camp?
 
That’s an easy one.  Several of us got together and made a long weekend at a cabin at a state park.  We brought many, many different brands and types of beer and sat around the table with munchies and tasted beer.  (I wonder what happened to the notes we took?) We’d open a bottle, pour a little into everyone’s glass and taste.  We only had one rule.  If you didn’t like it you had to pour it down the sink.  That’s where I discovered I didn’t like German smoked beer.  Yuck!!!

Victorinox showing off its blades
MacGyver might not want this knife with it's selection of tools, but its not bad for camping or even lost in the woods.

The Victorinox has a shiny checkered aluminum handle and sports a blade, a can and bottle opener each with a different size straight edge screwdriver and an auger for leather or soft wood.  This blade is a healthy 1.1 mm thick.

The interesting thing is the two knives weigh the same, 70 grams.

Do I have a favorite?  Nope.  They both come with a set of memories that still make me smile.  It’s seldom I have them both together.  Most of the time one’s in a shoulder bag and the other in a car.  You never know when you might need a bottle and can opener.

Even the term Swiss Army knife has come to mean compact do-it-all.  I bet if we ever land a man on Mars he’ll have a Swiss Army knife on him.

On a more personal note. 
A distant relative was struck down in the prime of life leaving a wife and two young boys.  Funerals for old men and women are sad, but the survivors console themselves that the departed had a full life.  Not so much when the person is only 43. 

I stood in line waiting to speak to the widow and as customary the parlor played an endless loop of photos of him.  He never smiled.  Never.  The best was a micro smirk.  I felt bad for his boys and wife.  They don’t have a picture of their dad and husband smiling.

So, make an effort to smile more as you go through life.  You don’t have to stand in front of the mirror and practice.  You’re not the next king of England or a next hot leading man.   We just have to have a natural smile that we display. 

We never know, but the best memory of us might be of that smile.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Different as Night and Day

I had a chance to pick up two knives recently.  They are as different as you can get.

I have a friend who is getting up in years.  He’s had an interesting life, but remember, interesting isn’t always good.  He is from that generation of Americans that built bridges, marched across France to kick Hitler in the nuts and saw his children and friends beat him to the Pearly Gates.  Two years ago he organized a program to send knives to our men and women fighting in the Middle East.  I think for an old guy he’s pretty cool.

Despite everything going on in his life he still buys a knife from me once in a while.  He has often remarked he needs to sell his collection because there isn’t anyone to leave it to.  I asked him to let me know when it was time.  I wanted to buy a knife he no longer needed to remember him by.  Well he dropped one off.

Queen red bone trapper
It's a nice friction folder.  I like the long blade, red bone handle and the silver shield.  That shield shape always reminds me of  keystones.

It’s a nice Queen Cutlery single blade trapper (041811) in red jigged bone.  He even had the original box.  I’m very happy to have it.

Queen is an interesting company. According to the 12th Edition of Collector Knives by C. Houston Price, Queen Cutlery was a sub rosa company at Schatt & Morgan.  Following WWI, six senior foremen started pocketing knife components during the day.  At night they assembled them and sold them under the name Queen City Cutlery.  Schatt & Morgan, who by the 1920s was having financial problems, realized they were a house divided and quickly fired the six foremen. 

Brass liners on queen 041811 trapper
I'm not a huge fan of fiction folders, but I like the way this one is made with the brass liners. Everything is flush, tightly fitted and deep red jigged bone is spectacular.


The loss of these six experienced men was like submerging a submarine and leaving the hatches open.  In 1931-32 the six bought the S&M building and equipment and moved into their old workplace, Schatt & Morgan was out of business.  It’s like Jonah swallowing the whale! 

Queen still makes knives in the old factory.  If you like the more classic lines of friction folders, check out Queen Cutlery.

I wasn’t able to find out much about this knife.  Fortunately Queen’s historian, Mr. Dave Clark, (http://www.queencutlery.com/Queen_Historian.html) was able to help me out.  

The tang stamp shows a 92 indicating it was made in1992
The Queen tang stamp has changed over the years making the knives more collectible.  The addition of 92 shows it was made in 1992.  Thank you Mr. Clark!

The 92 stamped into the tang indicates it was made in 1992 and since 1980, Queen has been using 440A stainless steel.  Mr. Clark believes the Rockwell value is around 56-57.  While softer than many blades on the market, it’s not a bad value for an everyday friction folder.

I was surprised about the 440A stainless.  I had expected a 1095 carbon steel.  The truth is 440A is a low cost stain-resistant steel with excellent corrosion resistance.  The carbon level is only 0.65-0.75 % but when hardened properly, it will give you good, solid everyday performance.  Can’t ask for much more in a pocket knife, can you?  And frankly, few of us need ultimate, life-or-death performance from our knives.

The other knife is a NIB Heiho from CRKT.  I bought it from a stranger walking the last knife gun show who had a very good price on it.  It’s another knife I really like.

CRKT Heiho Tactical folder by James Williams
I'm more comfortable with blades that lock open.  I just think they are simply safer!
The Heiho is a James William design aimed at the tactical office worker.  With the manual LAWKS system, the folder is billed as a “virtual fixed blade.”  

The 8Cr14MoV stainless blade is one of the newer Chinese steels that is well received in the steel community. The worst I could find about it was “a steel used by quality knife companies in their budget lines.”  It’s a little insulting, but accurate.  
the back of CRKT Heiho Tactical folder
The clip is mounted so the knife sits deep in your pocket.  I prefer the tip up especially with an assisted-opener.  I wear these things with the blade pressed tight against the back of the pocket where it can't open.

The knife utilizes a coin opener and is assisted-opening.  The blade has a Rockwell hardness of 58-59.

The polished G10 handle has a left/right reversible clip and the knife is carried in my favorite mode, tip up.  Engraved in the G10 are two Kanji style characters.  Oriental characters, in general, always worry me. 

I assume they are Japanese.  I assume they don’t mean, “when two men love each other, you are the one who catches.”  Of course we all know how to break out ass-u-me.

To my surprise the CRKT catalog does not explain the meaning of the characters.  


Are these Japanese figures engraved in the CRKT Heiho Tactical folder?
While I really like the way the fabric shows through the G-10, the Kanji characters worry me.  Could they mean 'fried rice' or something more sinister?

At this point I’m hoping they stand for something innocent like 'fried rice.'  Other websites indicate the 1st character means soldier or military (hei) while the 2nd pertains to technique or strategy (ho).  

Combined, they signify heiho, or method of the warrior.  That’s much better than fried rice.


Friday, November 1, 2013

Trick or Treat

Halloween has arrived and departed.  It’s one of the holidays I greatly relish because it has no significance.  It’s not like Easter/Passover or New Year’s or Independence Day.  All those holidays have deeper and more meaningful significance.  Halloween, with its rich traditions of pagan rituals, celebratory bonfires, the opening of graves so the dead can walk in the world of the living, is so out of place in the modern world.  Halloween now has become an excuse to dress up and extort candy from the neighbors.

And I love it.

For one, it’s acceptable to visit with the kids who come to your door demanding a candy tribute. That’s not anything you can do at the mall or a city playground without looking for trouble.  You can joke with strangers who walk up your driveway and laugh with them about their children. 

The older kids, whose costumes consist of their ordinary clothes and a plastic bag, smirk when they get their candy.  They think they are putting one over on you.  Little do they know we’re wise to them and did the same thing 50 (!) years ago.  The joke's on them if they think they’ve discovered something original.

It was suggested I should dress in a ghillie suit with a sniper rifle (toy, of course) to hand out candy. 

Why?

That way when I get the challenge “Trick or treat!” I could choose trick and offer to give them a head start with the advice to zig-zag. That seems a little too aggressive and probably not scary to kids raised on handsome, shirtless vampires.

Man in ghillie suit hidden in weeds
I don't know about you, but I find this pretty scary!!


Best of all, I get to carve a jack-o-lantern.  I described my idea to my wife and got the old, “He’s just flapping his gums again.”  I don’t care.  We joke about pumpkin guts and draw sketches on the newspaper work surface of the eyes we want  before we select one.  It doesn’t matter how little carving talent you have, the pumpkins always seem to turn out properly spooky.

This year I turned to my S&W HRT Team knife (trust me, no HTR uses this knife) to insure my jack-o-lantern turned out right.  I didn’t carve with it.  I stuck it in its ear.  Anyone who asked about the knife, I told ‘em “Yeah, that’s my team knife.  I won’t need it until later tonight so I thought I‘d get a little use out of now.”  Most of them left wondering about that.  Nobody returned their candy, so I guess I didn’t scare anyone too much.

HRT Knife in pumpkin ear
Ouch!  That's going to leave a mark.
My pumpkin carving is highly dependent on three things: a black magic marker that can be scrubbed off with Goo Gone, a stout pewter sugar scoop my wife doesn’t use for sugar, and her father’s Marttiini fish knife. 

Marttini knife on catalog
There's nothing like a thin blade for cutting a face into a pumpkin.

I’ve tried other cutting implements, including a potato peeler and chain saw.  The peeler worked so–so, the chain saw not at all.  It was, however, remarkably therapeutic and satisfying to use the chain saw.  I recommend it to any of you after a tough day at work.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Kydex

I’ve been working on building a Kydex sheath for my little South African dagger.  I’m using two different colors to make a black and blue sheath. It isn’t that I like the colors, it’s the ease of molding I like.  The black Kydex is 0.06 inch thick and the blue checks in at 0.04 inch.  That small difference really lets the blue Kydex mold detail so much better.

Having played with these materials in the past I decided to mold the belt loop as a continuous part of the sheath.  I cut out a piece of each to the same width, giving myself a lot of extra room.  I made the black backing four inches longer to be folded later into the loop.  Surely that’s enough I thought.  The belt loop template was fabricated by cutting thin Masonite into strips 1.75 inches wide and 3 inches long.

I wanted a drain hole molded in the Kydex and I got the idea of cutting a groove down the center of a small dowel rod and taping it over the blade tip on the central axis to the blade.  It also occurred to me it would create a reference mark when I assembled the two sides of the sheath.  It worked well for those purposes.   

I taped the edges with blue painter’s masking tape and started molding.  The thinner blue Kydex took nice sharp impressions of the little dagger. The thicker black material provided a nice flat back with just a hint of the knife impression.

The Kydex pieces weren’t perfectly matched, but I had cut them oversized so I was able to line up the two halves.  Between the heat gun and the toaster oven I was able to wrap the excess Kydex around the Masonite without affecting the previous molding.  I used a couple of pop rivets and washers in the corners of the excess Kydex to align the two halves for drilling.  I wanted to use small black 0.3 inch eyelets to fasten the two sheets together.  They were the right diameter for the size of the sheath.

Everything went well until I was drilling my last hole.  The drill bit grabbed the Kydex, ripped it out of my hand and boogered the hole.  The eyelets would no longer fit.

Well.  I just decided to pretend I had that planned and used a Chicago screw and o-ring as a compression screw to alter the sheath tightness.
My first Kydex sheath for my South African dagger
The compression screw would work better higher up on the sheath, but it's hiding an oops!

Back: showing the belt loop as a continuous part of the thicker Kydex material
back of the sheath

But I knew what happened. 

I called the first one a prototype and then went to work on another one.  This time I decided I would mold the belt sheath separately so the under construction sheath would lie flat flatter on my drill press and have less chance of hanging up on the bit.

That worked.  With the aid of a set of French curves I trimmed the sheath with my band saw and fastened the belt loop.  A little sanding on the bench sander (that’s why I make everything a little bigger than I need) and I had a relatively nice sheath.

Second Kydex molded sheith.
This worked out nice.  The image is a little nicer than the actual Kydex sheath, but I'm happy with it.

What to do with the first one?  I had a can of textured tan paint from Rustoleum and thought ”Why not?”.  The paint took a while to dry but I like the effect.  The paint gives it sort of a desert sand/camo look.

The second one I decided to leave black and blue.  I’m learning to leave well enough alone!

Both sheaths
I'm not sure which shape I like more, the painted Kydex or the two-tone job.  I'll have to get some black or gray Kydex and repeat these sheaths.
Everything was great.  At least until I suited up with my new knife sheath.  The belt loop fit like a glove, but the loop is so tight the sheath can’t move up or down when I sit.  It also catches on jackets and long coats.

So now I’m thinking about attaching a larger belt loop with a pivot (most likely a Chicago screw) so the knife sheath can move on the belt as well as rotate.


Still, working with Kydex has been fun and I have more than a few knives I want to re-sheath.  I’ll keep you informed.

Monday, September 16, 2013

It’s Kydex Time!

I’ve started fooling around with Kydex again.  I bought some thicker Kydex at the Blade Show and made my first knife sheath out of it.

I’ve owned an original DPX HEST designed by Robert Young Pelton for several years.  I like the knife.  It’s a nice size fixed blade knife: a three-inch carbon steel blade with a four-inch handle.  The knife has a built-in bottle opener and pry bar as well as a small compartment in the handle for survival gear, like folded twenties or fish hooks.  Hey, you survive your way and I'll survive my way.

Kydex sheath that comes with DPX HEST
DPX HEST Original sheath.  Laughing skull in ball cap is Pelton's trademark. 


The original sheath doesn't have a belt loop.  What it has is paracord you use to lash the sheath to your belt.  I was never comfortable with that.  It’s better than simply slipping it in your pocket, 
Other side of knife
Reverse side of knife and sheath.  The washer is to undo the screws in the handle.  Clever, huh?
but it always seemed like an easy way to lose the knife.  Maybe that was the Pelton’s idea.

In the fictional world of Matt Helm, Matt explains to the readers that most undercover agents don’t carry a sidearm in a holster.  Why?  Because you can ditch a gun fast enough, but it might be a little hard explaining why someone claiming to be a harmless tourist is wearing an empty holster.

Maybe the same thing applies to this knife.  Imagine you’re traveling through areas of the world where every other mile another thug claims to be the Supreme Warlord and National President-Elect-for-Life and he has no use for the papers and visas you’re carrying.  If you have to, slip the paracord loose and the knife falls away from you and it becomes easier to convince this or the next warlord you are completely harmless.  No difficult sheath to explain.

Still, I need to hang on to my knife a little longer, so I got out the Kydex and spent a few hours re-learning how to do it.  It’s not perfect, far from it.  
My first attempt in Kydex this year
I got some thicker Kydex and started to work with it.  I just got all black Chicago screws that need to be cut to length and then I'll replace the bright aluminum screws.
The belt loop fits an impossibly thick belt.  I've got to get a thinner form.  Most of my rivets, grommets and Chicago screws are too short.  I just squeaked by with what I have.  The 0.1 inch thick Kydex has a larger radius of bending as compared to my thin blue stuff, so most of my forms don’t work.  It’s also a lot stiffer, so most of the methods I use to lock a knife in a sheath don’t work as well.

I need to work on a thinner belt loop
The thick kydex bends differently and I need a thinner form to shape my belt loops.
Still, I’m happy with the results.  The set of French curves I bought last year really helps in setting out the cut and grind lines as does my band saw and the new-to-me belt sander.  I’ll continue to make sheaths.  I’ve got a sweet little South African dagger that needs a sheath so I can carry it.



Tuesday, September 3, 2013

What's a Collection?



About a year ago I wrote about box cutters.  I had bought an older box cutter from W.T. Rogers Co.  It cleaned up nice and I also had a box cutter I used in high school so I figured the two of them were worth a few hundred words. 

 
collection of box openers
Rogers box cutter, the start of my collection

While I was attempting, much in vain, to discover a little bit about the Rogers box cutter I remembered a cutter I had gotten at Lincoln Electric.  That made three.  That left me with a nagging suspicion I had a collection of box cutters.   

We’ve all read about people with the collecting bug that can’t seem to find a niche.  One day their heirs find that they had 2 of these and 7 of those and a couple of everything else, but not one complete set of anything.


So how many of anything makes a collection?


Can we assume it takes more than one?  How about two?  Two is just a pair at best so it’s got to be more than two.  Three is right at the edge of collecting, especially if there is some geographical or chronological difference among all three members of the proto-collection. 


Four.  It takes four objects with something in common to start a collection.


It’s official!  I took the plunge and bought a fourth box opener.  I’ve transitioned from being an accidental collector to purposefully collecting box openers.  


I was at a flea market and saw one in a box of stuff.  It said Jim Beam on it.  The red coloration on the sleeve was in good shape, no nicks from being carried with pocket change or being dropped, and the metal blade holder had a small touch of rust that cleaned up nicely.  (See, I’m already using jargon like sleeve and blade holder, a sure sign of collecting!)

The addition of this red box openers made my collection a real collection
Jim  Beam box opener. Now my collection is on firm ground.

Unfortunately the Beam box opener is completely sterile.  The box opener is completely void of the name of the distributor, manufacturer or any other identifying marks.  Zip! Nada! Nothing!  Clearly a covert box opener!  If it was black it would be tactical.

There may be a database out there somewhere, but I’d hazard a guess it doesn’t exist.