Sunday, July 31, 2016

Tactical Folders (Part One)

Knife types have a cycle of popularity. 

In literature, we see cycles through the different knife genre.  I remember reading about the drunken pirate/seaman character with his “wicked clasp knife” and watching the Sharks and Jets with their switchblade (automatic) knives.  We still talk about the Swiss Army style camp knife and the Rambo-esque survival knife.  In the electronic media knife types change weekly.

Even the knives we carry on a daily basic reflect that cycle.  Many of us still carry friction folders while others carry only knives that lock open.

So what is a tactical knife?  Let’s visit a few sources and find out.  (Any mistakes in content are my editing.)

Sgt Don Paul (Everybody’s Knife Bible) served as Green Beret and later described a survival knife as one that helped you survive.  It doesn’t take a great jump of imagination to see him describing a tactical knife as one you that assists you in being tactical. 

Our electronic fount of modern knowledge, Wikipedia, traces tactical knives to utility knives which were pressed into combat.
“Fighting knives were traditionally designed as special-purpose weapons, intended for personal or hand-to-hand combat.  This singularity of purpose originally distinguished the fighting knife from the field knife, fighting utility knife, or in modern usage, the tactical knife. 

“Utility knives with stone or flint blades were undoubtedly used in personal combat since Paleolithic times.  The first early Bronze Age daggers featured Beaker copper blades, probably done with hand held stone tools.

“In 1984, a Beaker period (ca. 2500 - 2000 BC) copper dagger blade was recovered from the Sillees River near Ross Lough, Northern Ireland, that had a remarkably modern appearance.  The flat, triangular-shaped copper blade was 6.75 inches long, 1.65 inches wide, and 0.078 inches in maximum thickness, with beveled edges and a pointed tip, and featured an integral tang that accepted a riveted handle.”  

Armed men and women have always need utility knives.  The Egyptian Khopesh (shaped like a shepherd’s hook) or Turkish Kilij (a sword with an up-hill bend) wouldn’t serve to trim rope, stab your share of the evening’s meal or cut leather to repair clothing. 

 If you doubt this try spreading mustard with an American Civil War sword on a hot dog at your next family outing!  What is needed is a utility knife that could act as a last resort weapon!

This is reflected in the introduction of Dietmar Pohl’s photo essay “Modern Knives in Combat.”  

“Even in the days of modern warfare, knives and bayonets remain indispensible items of equipment for the soldier, whether as tools or edge weapons.  …most soldiers also carry a second, usually smaller, knife which meets their needs.  Quite often the knives officially issued … are simply unsuitable for everyday task as they were designed as combat knives.  … (carry knives are) primary work knives, with which one can open a can or package…”


utility knife
The Buck 110 folder, perhaps one of the great camp/hunting utility folders of our time, but missing several of the key features of a tactical knife.
These knives are typically folding, or short blade fixed folders.  

Wikipedia continues to elaborate:  “Folding knives are rarely if ever designed primarily for use as fighting knives or combat knives. However, many armies and military organizations have issued folding "utility" knives that were not intended to be used as weapons, but which had tactical features that appealed to military personnel as well as civilians.   Many civilian folding knives also have been privately purchased by both civilians and military personnel for use as general-purpose utility knives.

“The earliest production company to make a tactical knife was Al Mar Knives with their SERE model designed for the military with input from Special Forces Colonel James N. Rowe in 1979.”

It appears the modern tactical knife was born as an field utility knife and had a good publicity agent!

Knife maker Bob Terzuola is credited with coining the phrase "Tactical Folder."  In his 2000 publication ”The Tactical Folding Knife,” Bob addresses the question  “What is a tactical knife.

Bob first rules out fixed blade knives with the title “The Tactical Folding Knife.”  He further states “…(should) be using the term tactical/utility knife because the vast majority of knife owners will never use a knife in combat…”  

Addressing combat, Bob goes on to say “the best knife to have in a knife fight is the one you have on you at the moment.”

With this in  mind, here’s what Bob considers the defining characteristics of a tactical knife.


  • Blade should be approximately 3.5 inches long and both legal and comfortable to carry.
  • The knife should be capable of dealing both a penetrating and cutting blow.  Both sharpness and blade geometry affect his.  The geometry should make the open knife easy to maneuver.
  • The knife should be easy to open rapidly and easily, i.e.: Spyderco hole or Terzuola thumb disk (coin opener.)
  • The handle should be comfortable and provide some protection to the fingers (from its blade!) while being secure in the hand. 
  • The knife should be convenient to the user in the carry position and capable of a fast draw.
  • The blade should lock open when it is opened and remain open until the user unlocks it.
  • The knife should be robust.




Tactical folder from Buck
One of several bucks showing tactical folder properties: Can be opened with either hand, locks open and the clip can be moved to four different positions so the knife will stay where you put it.  This is important as the two positions near the pivot make the knife low profile
Bob doesn’t at this point define steel type or handle material.  It seems reasonable that knife with a brass blade or glass handle would have such serious drawbacks nobody would consider it for a utility/tactical knife.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Re-sharpening

masking tape tricks
You can barely see the serrated steel edge, the rest is protected by the masking tape
I don’t normally cover the side of a knife with tape to protect it from touching the sharpening stone.

This is a little different case.  It belonged to my mother-in-law who no longer needs it and my wife isn’t sure where it’s going.  She has one and is quite happy with it.  Most of the relatives have one.  Yeah, we gave them as Christmas presents.  She may want to sell it as a used knife. 

I don’t have any problem selling used knives, especially one I know its history of use and abuse.  This bread knife needed a little touch up, and I wanted to ensure a nice appearance. 

Most serrated knives are a chisel grind.  The serrations are cut into one side only.  Sometimes you’ll find only a tiny bevel to remove the wire edge.  When you sharpen a serrated knife you end up with a wire edge along the straight side.

This is easily removed by drawing the knife flat over a fine stone, if you don’t mind the surface scratches.  Enter stage right, masking tape on the blade right above the top of the curve forming the serration.

Since I use a Spyderco Sharpmaker, removing the wire edge calls for me just lifting the blade from flat on the edge of the fine stone a degree or two and back stropping.

I got a nice resharpened edge and protected the finish.  I recommend this to anyone who needs to resharpen a dressier knife.

More 2016 Blade Show news:
By now most of everyone should know Spyderco is one of my favorite knives.  They were the first ones I carried.  The one my wife first carried.  I published my first article about a Spyderco.  Not only that, but I think for the money they are great knives.

I understand Spyderco is coming out with an all new line of kitchen knives.  New steel and new handles, it sounds pretty radical.  My friend at Spyderco tells me she is thinning out her kitchen drawers to make room for the new knives.

Also spied in their prototype display were two throwing knives.  I’ve never seen throwing knives at Spyderco.  I suspect, if throwers come to be, we will not see them until January at the 2017 SHOT Show.  2016 is half over and they and everyone else is still delivering and promoting the new 2016 product.  Most of the magazines already have articles lined up for the rest of the year.  To introduce something so radically new might be missed completely by busy editors and layout demands.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Day 2 blade 2016

The calendar retired people use works remarkably well at the Blade Show.  There is only yesterday, today and tomorrow.  By the end of the second day you’ve seen just about everything and plunked down your hard earned cash, at least I hope you have.  There will be no bargains on Sunday, Day 3.
Esnyx paid $500 to have an empty table for half the show.

By noon Saturday Busse was down to 2 knives and 1 tomahawk.  Microtech has only the knives nobody wants and many of the custom knife makers have sold all their knives. 

 Some manufacturers don’t sell at this show.  Neither Spyderco nor CRKT sell, partially to prevent their retailers from taking it on the chin, partially to reduce the shipping problems.  There are some nice discounts from vendors.  It’s also a lot to pack, ship and return to the main warehouse.  Benchmade does it, but then they only sell to brick and mortar stores.

Empty counter
Busse and empty counter by noon on day 2


Shipping has its own risk.  I overheard Emerson Knives ‘lost’ all their custom knives they auction off.  They just disappeared in transit.  Of course it doesn’t take much to look at the label and read Emerson Knives Co. and Blade Show and realize there’s a lot of easy-to-convert loot in that box.
James Knife, a relatively new company with very modern and clean lines, reported that two of their knives disappeared during shipping.

At some point, after the 150th table, you realize that for most knife blades (let’s exclude the art and fantasy knives) form and function are bound into a tight circle.  There can only be so many variations of a blade.  You’ll soon find yourself only noticing the handles.  Here the range of materials, finish, shape and combinations give the artist more latitude.  Don’t believe me?  Entire displays are devoted to just dyed wood.  But there is a cure for this.  Visit Mickey Yurco’s table.  He has a table of innovative blades and impact tools that is actually joyful to look at.  He’s always one of my favorite stops.
Sandy Brady, the scrimshaw artist, had her work on display.  She had several CRKT turtles (now discontinued) in which she replaced the original plastic shell with scrimshaw ivory.  They are just wonderful.  She’s also very active in the effort to prevent the ivory ban.  It’s not that she hates elephants, it just very little of illegally poached ivory finds its way to our country.  Most ends up in China and other Far East countries.  Banning ivory from animals that died between 1980 and 40000BC has no impact on today’s conservation efforts.

Micky always has a fun table!

engraved scrimshaw
Sandy's wonderful artwork


I bought a few things as did my wife.  I’ll have pictures later. There is an old parable about packing.  It says lay all your clothes and money out on the bed before packing for vacation.  Leave half the clothes and double the money.  It is so true at the Blade Show.  While there are few bargains, they aren’t cheap.  I purchased a handmade auto.  The handle is specially laid-up carbon fiber.  The maker uses a double strength steel coil spring for positive opening.  All the load bearing points are stainless steel imbedded in the carbon fiber.  The opening button is oversized and requires a spring loaded safety to be retracted before it functions.  Each knife is numbered with its own unique serial number.  Most of these knives are made for two government contracts, the FBI being one.  I suspect the eight he had to sell were contract overruns and he offered a great deal.  Still they were not cheap!

The aisles were filled with people, and it seemed attendance was up.  This year the new products were labeled ‘no photos.’  The new product area is where companies display some of their newest products which they hope will be award-winning world beaters.  I guess Blade got tired of having bloggers releasing images before they could.

I went to hear Murray Carter talk about sharpening knives.  He’s an interesting person.  He claims to have sharpened 125,000 knives all by hand.  He uses two water stones for basic sharpening, a course and a fine. 
Hand sharpening
Murray and his elaborate sharpening system, a bucket, board, towel and a stone with two grits

With these two stones using a seven step method he gets razor sharp knives.  He believes that all knife blades should be thinned and the only acceptable grind is a flat grind.  Grind angle?  Don’t make him laugh.  The best angle is the angle that works the best for your purpose.  Since it only takes him a few minutes to resharpen, he’ll try one angle then another and see which works best.  Sort of suggests having a pocket full of knives with different purposes written on each.  He’s very pragmatic about sharpening, but he has the reputation for it.

I stopped at ZT.  They make amazing factory knives.  I picked up one which has both a flipper and a thumb stud.  The flipper worked fine, but using the stud I couldn’t get the blade to move.  Now, I don’t know why the thumb stud is present, as it doesn’t work.  Maybe, at least in my imagination, there is a legal reason.  “Yes, your Honor/Officer/Boss, it has a flipper that lets you open it lightning fast, but it also has a thumb stud so this knife cannot be an auto/dangerous ordinance/ballistic/forbidden by the Geneva code of ‘civilized’ warfare.”

ZTs!
So I asked one of the sales reps about why it doesn’t open with the stud.  He seized the knife out of my hand, muttered some words indicating I didn’t know if my ears were bored or punched and dug his thumb deep into the space between the stub and frame.  With a mighty effort that turned the knuckle of his thumb white and caused me to move out of the way of the debris that would surely result from his exploding joint, he couldn’t could get the knife to pop open either.  And with finger speed and dexterity that would only be seen with the top tier of prestidigitators, he managed to roll his thumb over onto the flipper and pop the blade open.  He muttered a few words about grit and discovered something else somewhere else that needed his immediate attention.

The knives at the Blade Show are amazing, but it’s the interpersonal interactions that are so much fun!
Here’s a few photos!


Blade show 2016



Big time Buck collector!



Knives from Painted Horse



Friday, June 3, 2016

Blade Show 2016 Day One

The first day of the Blade Show came off without a hitch, at least from my perspective.  By the end of the day I got a lead on a new article for Knife Magazine, and found out my Benchmade article will be published in the July issue, so that’s all good.

I purchased a tactical tomahawk from the Australian company Hardcore.  Since the story from 9/11 of the window washer who battered his way through a plaster wall to save himself, I’ve been wondering what I would do.  This is even more significant because of work.  In the almost five years I’ve been there, they have never had a fire drill and when I asked about where my department meets for a head count following a disaster, nobody seemed to know.  I think self rescue should be my middle name.

We lined up about 10 o’clock for the opening at noon.  Two guys (women have more sense) lined up at midnight the previous night to be the first in.  Men 3 and 4, it was reported, lined up at 2am.

What was the rush?  There are many answers.  Microtech has some very good deals on autos you could cash in on if you got a couple thousand set aside.  Same with Busse.  They have a huge following.   There are quite a few custom knife dealers with high end prices and only a few knives to sell.

I could not get to see any Microtech knives, the line to buy was too thick.
Many of these knives will re-emerge on the resale market in a few days.  The prices will be higher and many will disappear quickly.  It’s hard to believe the following some knife companies have.

At noon they started letting us in the main door.  You had to have either a VIP pass or pay an additional $20 to get in early.  We had passes.

Shadow Tech has released their first folder.  Right now they are all made by hand and have an interesting construction.  John wanted special components togive it more strength and improve on its performance and he’s got a pretty nice knife.  I expect a few modifications over time; nothing is made perfect the first time.  His karambits are very interesting.  The large handle maybe bigger than many other manufacturers, but it feels solid and locks open when you hold it.  John and Dave have designed several interesting ways of snapping them open during the draw.
The new Shadow Tech folders


I was disappointed by CRKT last year.  What a difference one year has made.  They have some very exciting new knives which should be reaching the market soon.  CRKT always over-engineers their knives and I didn’t see any change in that.  This could be the year you should buy a CRKT.

I stopped off at a new company called James.  They have two ‘gentleman’ knives they are offering.  The lines are very modern and the knives are very nice.  The name reflects their belief that this is the style knife Ian Fleming’s Bond (not the movie ones) would carry in the casinos at Monte Carlo.  They are design engineers and not machinists, so it’s been an interesting adventure for the two of them.

James Folders
We stopped long enough to see one knife from Popl Custom.  It was quite lovely and a table auction starts at $5000.  That’s dollars, in case you were confused.  I didn’t even touch it to get a better picture.

It is a crappy picture, but I was afraid I touch it and the handle would fall off, I'm not buying that thing!


No Blade Show is complete without demos and classes.  I sat in on one by Abe Elias on machetes as bush knives.  While I’m not ready to rush out and buy one (I already have one in the basement) it’s amazing what you can do with one.  Abe talked about proper cutting, safety and showed techniques to accomplish many of the basic cutting techniques.  It was well worth the hour.

I also paused long enough to watch a short demo of knife grinding with a Burr King grinder.  It was like the 4th of July as it shot sparks everywhere.  The really impressive thing is how smoothly the demonstrator moved the knife grinding the edge.



More Blade tomorrow.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Boker vs Godzilla


I just got a new Boker Plus knife in to inspect.  Unfortunately for me, it’s for sale.  The Boker Urban Trapper is a great looking knife.  It’s very lightweight, partially due to its thin slender blade and partially due to its titanium and G-10 handle. 

Dress knife
The knife has a nice hand feel and good balance.  

The knife uses a small flipper to open and it depends on an IKBS ball-bearing pivot for its smoothness.  Not familiar with IKBS ball bearing designs?  Man, have you been hiding under a rock?


The design is so ingenious and so simple that most home hobbyists could make one.  Since they act like ball bearing races they let knives glide open.

So lets talk specifics:
Length open
7.75 inches
Blade length
3.5 inches
Blade thickness
0.1 inch
Steel
VG-10
Blade
Hollow ground clip point
Handle
G-10 over titanium
Handle thickness
0.4 inches
Weight
1.9 oz or the weight of a double rye whiskey, neat

VG-10 steel is one of the darling steels of the knife industry.  Originally marketed to Japanese chiefs, VG-10 was quickly adopted by the knife culture as a potential super steel.  It’s lived up to that promise. 

If you want to make some yourself, start with nice clean iron and add 1% carbon, 15% chromium, and 1% vanadium.  Add 1.5% cobalt and a pinch (just a 0.5%) manganese.  Mix well and allow to cool under precise conditions.  Ingredients are easy, cooling and heating are the key.  Just buy a Boker Urban Trapper.  It is already razor sharp!

The knife utilizes a frame lock to lock the blade open.  Titanium has wonderful properties, but excessive springiness isn’t one of them.  The G-10 scale limits the outward motion of the titanium frame lock.  It’s a clever solution to prevent over extension of the lock.

The removable, but sadly non-reversible, pocket clip also looks like titanium.  The knife is set up for right hand, tip-up carry.  The pocket clip provides for deep carry both to help retained the tool as well lower its visual profile.  I like to carry in my right side pocket, but drop this knife in any pocket and it will work well for you.

I don’t own this one, but I should.  This thin knife has a dressy business look that will work in the office, at urban play and more formal activities like funerals, weddings and board meetings.  It’s not the knife I’d pack away for elk hunting in Canada, but I’d carry it as a back-up when I was hunting.

It’s a good knife but VS Godzilla?  Well, it just my sense of humor, but several years ago there was a short cartoon video called Bambi VS Godzilla.  It showed Bambi standing alone when it was suddenly crushed by a giant lizard foot.  If Bambi had an Urban Trapper the cartoon might have ended differently.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Happy birthday Ka-Bar!


Fixed Blade Ka-Bar
Nice sheaths!  Leather doesn't make any noise when it catches on a thorn or bramble bush.
It’s been pointed out to me that this is Ka-Bar’s 118th anniversary.  In a world where planned obsolescence is the goal, it’s hard to believe any company could last so long.

It was a Thursday, April 29 1897, in Pennsylvania, that a small company called Tidioute Cutlery came into existence.  That was the birth of Ka-Bar.  Several years later its assets were sold to start another company.

The buyer, Wallace R. Brown was the grandson of JR Case.  As with many of the traditional companies, Ka-Bar started with a different name and changed hands many times.  Starting as Union Razor Co., friction folders were made stamped with “Olcut” or “Keenwell” as well as “Ka-Bar”.

Almost all knife collectors have read or heard the story of the semi-illegible note received from some mountain man trapper who “kil a bar” with his knife.  The trademark KA-Bar soon became so famous and in such demand that the Union Cut Company changed their name to Ka-Bar.  During WWII, fighting knives were in demand.  With a little advice from the Marines and a little retooling, KA-Bar won a contract to make a general utility/fighting knife. 

Sargeant Dave E. Werner at Phu Bai.  Note the unstrapped Ka-Bar on left shoulder.  

The big beefy blade was attached to a rattail tang, which became the backbone of the stacked leather washer handle.  Even today, hunters of men and animals swear a leather washer handle works the best when your hands are covered in blood.

During WWII, I’m told, the knife had detractors claiming if you slapped the knife sideways you could snap the blade free of the rattail tang.  These detractors fail to mention we were also making ships that suddenly cracked for no apparent reason.  Metallurgy was just starting to make progress with metal processing and heat treatment and was still poorly understood.  They also don’t mention the relative short expected life span of the newbie in combat.  The cost accountants in the government were not about to give a $25 knife to man with a 12-minute life expectancy.  If you lived long enough you could always get a new knife off of someone who wasn’t a fast learner.  Today’s metallurgy turns 1095 carbon steel into a tool you can depend on when life is on the line. 

If the Buck 110 folder is the quintessential American locking folder, the Ka-Bar fighting/utility knife has fills that role for a fixed blade. 

You should own one.  One with a leather sheath, because it is quieter in the bush.

Aside:
Over 20 years ago Soldier of Fortune claimed you could safely conceal 12 inches of fighting knife in your waistband under a sport coat.  Might be time to start thinking about that again.  



Monday, April 18, 2016

Spyderco Spydercard


the open Spydercard
It's a funny looking knife, but it inspired the designers of other wallet hide-out knives.
I recently came across a Spydercard( C01).  They were very popular and people still collect them partially because of their scarcity, partially for the story associated with the knife designer.

First the knife. 

The Spydercard is the size of a credit card and 0.2 inch thick.  That’s about the thickness of 4 credit cards.  Designed to slip into your pocket or wallet, this 3.4 inch long knife opens to exposé a 2.4 in cutting edge.  The handle lock, like that used on the Square Head, secures the blade in the open position as well as the closed position. 

The AUS6 steel it is made from, was at the time, an entry level steel.  To keep costs down and provide reasonable performance, many knife manufacturers used AUS6.  This steel is comparable to 440A with a little extra kick.  The kick is vanadium.  This element forms tiny particles of vanadium carbide at the steel’s grain boundaries increasing hardness and edge retention.  The 14% chromium not only forms carbides but also forms an important transparent thin film of chromium oxide that protects the steel from oxidation or staining better known as rust.

Spydercard’s most popular blade configuration, as I remember it when I sold them, was the partially serrated.  On a small blade, especially with a hard-to-hold handle, increased cutting performance is critical.  This isn’t the sort of knife you pack for hiking the northwest Cascades, but you might pack it if you thought you might have to cut something to escape.

Wallet size knife
That's my wallet, a little over stuffed for my taste, but I could lose a few cards and squeeze that knife in.

The Designer
I wasn’t able to find much about the designer, Eduard Bradichansky.  He is described as a Russian Jew who immigrated to Israel, I assume, to escape the repressive Russian government.  He has been described as a gunsmith and jeweler who later worked with Spyderco designing what became known as the Spydercard and the Shabaria (C59).  He was apparently killed in a Hamas attack so brutal that identification was made based on dental records and the presence of Spydercard and Shabaria prototypes.  Sounds mysterious doesn’t it?

Well, I’m not going to ask Spyderco what really happened and wasn’t it just too convenient he had the prototypes on him.  I’m not into conspiracies.  I’ve always found that any conspiracy involving more than two people breaks down over time.


Look at those serrations!
A little better look at the Spydercard's serrations



You know what they say, two can keep a secret especially if one of them is dead.