Monday, April 24, 2017

Spring Sharpening

With the arrival of warm weather my grass has redoubled its effort to make my yard an uneven carpet of green.  Before getting the lawn mower out I needed to resharpen the blade.

I’ve stopped taking it to a lawn or garden center and getting the blade resharpened.  I bought a little attachment for my Dremel tool.  The attachment screws on to the front of the tool and come with a special diameter grinding stone.  A guide helps me hold the blade angle and lets me grind out the really dull and damaged

sharpening the edge
Start your sharpening!

 On my electric lawn mower the blade rotates at 3600 times a minute.  A rounded edge will cut the grass by tearing it, but cleanly cut blades make for a better lawn.  Better looking grass without significantly increasing my work load is my goal, so sharpening the blade makes sense.

I clamp the blade down on a sheet of plywood and run the Dremel grinding stone over the old edge several times until the old discoloration is gone and so are the majority of nicks and gouges in the edge.  I use the plastic guide to hold the angle, but perfection isn’t required.  A fine dry stone pulls the wire edge off the other side.  I should mention my mower blade is a classic chisel grind.  I test the sharpness by shaving the edge of the plywood board I use as a work station.

sharpened grass cutter blade

The last step before reinstalling the blade is to check the balance.   If one side of the blade was significantly heavier, the mower would vibrate and damage itself, perhaps even break a blade.  The heavy side just gets another pass and a second balance check.  Repeat as required.

Since I was in sharpening mode I got out my Ken Onion Work Sharp blade grinder and sharpened my hatchet. 

As you know I recently discovered my SOG camp hatchet was extremely dull but luckily my friend Derrick brought his Gerber hatchet.  Having a fire in the fireplace as part of the evening’s entertainment and as a back-up to winter storm power failures is a nice luxury.  The price you pay for this is splitting wood into suitable burning size.  A sharp hatchet is required and mine needed a good sharpening. 

Every fire deserves a sharp hatchet

 I selected the course belt and an angle of 25 degrees as a starting place and ran a black marker pen over the edge.  The marker helps me see what I’m doing and where I’m taking metal off.   A couple of passes and I had removed the entire marker pen.  I flipped it over and did that side. 

dull SOG camp hatchet
Before sharpening, note nicks in blade

The blade looked good so I changed to a medium grit.  That took a little more off and I was satisfied.  But how you really tell if your axe is sharp?

I decided performance was the only way.  I grabbed a section of a landscaping tie and a length of pine 2X4 and tried it out.  I was less than impressed.

The hatchet didn’t cut the wood fibers, but crushed them.  Definitely not sharp.  I changed the angle to 10 degrees and repeated the process.  This angle worked better. 

bye-bye nicks!

While I was touching up the edge I noticed the cutting edge wasn’t centered in the blade’s secondary bevel.  This typically happens when one side of a blade is sharpened more than the other.  I played with it for a while and discovered one side the bevel is flat ground while the other is slightly convex.  This bevel asymmetry is the cause for the non-centered edge.

I worked on the edge a bit more and called it finished.  It’s not perfect, but it’s sharper than it was.  Chopping pine boards may not be the best material to judge hatchet performance.  I’ll look around for actual logs to try it out.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Wandering Thoughts

Let's go meandering!

I just had another person ask me if my Spydercos were real. 

I’m getting tired of this.  I am an honorable knife dealer and would not sell you a knife you didn’t want, just to make a sale.  Nor would I sell you a counterfeit or broken knife.  I buy from one of the largest wholesalers in the country and they buy directly from the knife makers.

I’m going start telling those asking me that question, “If you want to buy counterfeits, you’re going to have to go elsewhere.”

This is a growing problem.  Last January, Spyderco sued the Kittery Trading Post for selling counterfeit Military and Paramilitary identified by Kittery as Spyderco clones.  Now maybe you think it’s cool to own a counterfeit, after all you paid $35 for a $100+ knife.  Until it fails, breaks or you find you have to sharpen it all the time.  Maybe you trade that counterfeit to a buddy (who you really don’t like, otherwise why would you take advantage of him?) for something they have or to settle a loan.

But you know, you’re hurting the knife community.  You’re making a statement about what kind of person you are and what kind of people you want as friends…  I hope you eat shit and die on your birthday.

Thread Vs Tread
Thread means a fine cord made of two or more twisted fibers. 
Tread means to trample on or crush underfoot.  It’s also the part of the tire contacting the ground.
Language changes, so I looked  them up in the Encarta Dictionary just to make sure I knew the differences..

I just saw the back of his sweatshirt.  It had a very nice libertarian statement about being race, religion, and gender blind and emphasizing a true patriot loves his country but not necessary his government. 

I agree with many of the things sweatshirt stated.  It ended with the famous quote from the Gadsden Flag that even non-history buffs surely remember.

But the real quote is “   tread on me.” and not as his sweatshirt stated, “…thread on me.”
Perhaps it’s a quote from a historic group of embroiderers.

Kydex continues to rule in the knife sheath and gun holster world.  It has a lot of advantages and a few disadvantages.  It doesn’t stretch out of shape, rot from exposure to water or corrode brass fittings because it doesn’t have leather’s fatty acids and it’s strong and difficult to puncture.  I really like the puncture resistance aspect.  A fall in the outdoors can be dangerous enough, but cutting yourself because the knife split its leather sheath can be fatal.

Having said that, leather is quiet and doesn’t make a scratchy sound when brambles brush across it.

I saw a kydex worker at the last Medina gun show and he had an interesting partial solution to the holster/sheath dilemma.   You know what that dilemma is, don’t you?

The problem any holster seller has is never having the right holster or sheath and too many of the ones nobody wants.  Add the problem of color or design and it’s a small wonder anyone wants to sell holsters/sheaths. 

This maker had several large clamshell-like wooden crates on wheels containing his kydex press, sander, band-saw, buffing wheels, jig-saw and heat source.  It was like bringing your factory to the show.  Next to him he had a table with several previously made holsters for some of the more common guns.  He had just finished making a knife sheath when I came by.  He also did a very nice, compact holster for a Sig with a light on it.

I didn’t ask prices, but it can’t be cheap to make holsters/sheaths during the show and have to transport all that equipment.  Still it’s an interesting development.

I suspect the real answer to custom-fit holsters/sheaths will be a laser scanner interfaced to computer driven 3-D printer.  You read it here first!

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Axe And You Will Receive

I recently spent an extended weekend in a cabin in southern West Virginia.  It is beautiful country filled with rugged trails and incredible views.  The cabin had a brick lined fireplace and a wood pile was available, so I made use of it.

In anticipation of chilly nights and warm fires I packed my SOG hatchet.   It didn’t work very well.  Despite the small amount of cutting I did several years ago, my hatchet was dull.  Using that axe really brought out the true meaning of the expression, “Firewood warms you twice.  Once when you cut it and again when you burn it.”

Fortunately my nephew brought his hatchet, a smaller and much sharper Gerber.  It didn’t take too much work before I realized that my SOG made fast work of splitting quarter logs in to eighths, but was crappy for making the thin pencil-like sticks need to build fires.  The Geber made nice pencils of wood but failed to impress the larger quarter logs.

Two hatchets
The Gerber is noticeable lighter and compact than the SOG

The two hatchets would complement each other (after I re-sharpened the SOG), but you really can’t completely interchange them.

The Gerber has a small head resembling a flat grind Regular Wisconsin while the SOG has what appears to be a modified double bevel Virginia. 
axe head
Gerber hatchet head

Don’t be confused, think of grind the same way as you think of knife grinds.  Axe head style defines the shape and appearance of the axe head.  Historically, some heads worked better than others for specific jobs.  What worked for splitting long logs into quarters or fence rails, wasn’t the best design for log bucking.   Some axe heads just develop a regional interest and became known by that name.

SOG axe head
SOG hatchet head

My cutting experience indicated the Gerber might be a great hatchet for backpacking.  It weighs in at 22.4 ounces and is 14 inches long.  Not a bad combination for carrying in a pack.  The small size limits its practical use.  Need to cut a tent pole or cut down branches into small burnable size?  Great!  Quarter a four inch diameter log, not so hot.  Typically, after you drive the hatchet into wood, you would pull the handle to one side or the other to rotate the metal head to act as an expanding wedge.  This action causes the crack to propagate down the wood.  The short handle made it feel like I couldn’t produce enough torque to turn the axe head and the split wood.  The handle is a fiberglass composite and I felt queasy about using it as a lever arm.

My dull SOG weighs in at 33 ounces and is 16 inches long.  The steel is a 1055 steel.  It is too heavy for very much backpacking.  Car camping, sure bring it along, but why not bring a three quarters length axe and really chop wood?

The SOG’s weight and steel handle gave me confidence I wasn’t going to break anything but the log when I twisted the hatchet handle to pry wood apart.  The dullness made it difficult to cleanly split the wood into pencil size kindling.

The SOG camp axe has a RC hardness of 50-55.  Not bad for a hatchet, but I noticed that after several days of chopping wood the edge had several dents.  Clearly a sharpening stone or file should be this hatchet’s constant companion.

Pick the right tool for the right job!

All I could find on the Gerber was that it has been replaced by a new and improved version.  The hardness wasn’t published.  But I wouldn’t be afraid to carry it into the woods.

So, I learned I need to look after my hatchet better and that proved what I already knew: the right tool makes any job easier!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

About the Show

The last Medina gun show was a little trippy.

Right off the bat two guys comes up to my table and point at the Benchmade knives and asked “Are they real?”

Wow, what an existentialist question!  Plato thought that everything was an imperfect copy of an ideal object.   Somewhere there is the perfect knife which displays all the attributes, all the knifieness that a knife should have and in perfect portions.

Astrophysicists suggests that all matter is a hologram of an information trapped in the event horizon of a massive black hole.

I really didn’t know how to answer them until I realized they were asking if my knives were counterfeit.  It was a little insulting and I should have told them to fuck off.  I usually only come to that conclusion sometime later, so I told them what I know and suggest that if they buy a $200 knife for $50, something isn’t on the level.

One of them asked if his Spyderco Civilian was a knock-off.  Frankly, in many cases, it’s almost impossible to tell without doing both destructive and non-destructive testing.  They bought it for 50 bucks off a guy who thought it was a counterfeit.  I think they got what they paid for.
After a few sales I realized the main advantages of not buying from the internet.
One: you can pick it up, hold it and compare it to similar object and decide which is the best for you.
Two: you get it right now.
In the gun side, I was surprised to see a lever action cowboy rifle with a bullseye type peep sight fixed to the top of the receiver.  In retrospection I don’t see why not.  Most guns are more accurate than we are, I just don’t think of a lever action as a 500 yard gun.
I was filling in for my friend John, who needed to make a pit stop.  John sells ammo among other things.  So I was surprised when someone asked if the one ounce novelty pennies were gold.
“No sir, just copper.”   I said.  Especially since they are on sale for 5 bucks.

I get similar questions about a line of Marttiini fixed blades I carry.  People what to know if they are made from the laminated steel they have read about.  Again a simple examination of the prices revels they don’t sell for the $500 plus that Fallkniven asks for their laminated steel.


We had a little bad news on Sunday morning.  We arrived just ahead of the opening bell and found out our neighbors had an S&W watch stolen.  They covered their table and were one of the last to leave.  Only a few other vendors and security was left behind.  It means someone:
       Knew it was there,
       Waited until the place was empty,
       Walked around to the back of the table,
       Lifted the cover cloth and stole it.

You expect a small amount of theft from the general public but not from the other vendors.  (We had a inexpensive CRKT knife lifted from the table during a show.) It wasn’t an expensive watch, but now I have to wonder if someone will do that to me?

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Check out the Observer

I just got a knife from China.

Too bad, you respond.

Nay, nay I say.  It’s a Real Steel fixed blade called the Observer.

Real Steel Observer
I've seen that blush on steel before, but the best I can find out is it's an affect from heat treating. 
Real steel is located in Hanzhou City on the east coast of China and has been making knives as a contract manufacturer for the last 15 years.  In 2013 they launched the Real Steel Company.  China doesn’t allow the sale of folding knives with locks on the mainland, so Real Steel has focused on external sales.  This, in my opinion, has made Real Steel quality conscious. (Interesting note on the sale of lock blades in China.) 

The Observer is 8.25 inches in overall length with a 440C steel blade 3.5 inches long.  The full tang knife has a grooved G-10 handle and comes with a kydex sheath and adjustable belt clip.  The blade is 0.197 inches thick.

440C was one of the standard knife steels used by the knife industry.  You’ll still find plenty of knives with this steel.  It has the highest carbon content of the 400 series family, 0.9 to 1.2% carbon.  The elevated levels of chromium, 16 to 18% provide small, hard chromium carbides that anchor and stabilize the steel grains.  This level of chromium also provides of a thin, self-forming layer of chromium oxide that makes the steel resistant to staining.  Still, a little care is required.  Remember, it’s stain-less, not rust proof.

Real Steel Fixed Blade knife handle
The machined G-10 scales are removable.

440C steels can be hardened to around 58-60 RHc.  I’m good with that.  These levels of hardness allow for a little flexibility in the steel.  After all, a bent knife can be sharpened and used.  A cracked knife is just junk.

Look, it’s a basic fixed blade knife with a nice working length.  It feels good in your hand and you can resharpen it with ordinary stones.  No complicated or advanced sharpening systems are needed, always a plus in the field.  You can remove the handle for cleaning if you want.  All for under $69. 

It feels good, seems well made and looks good.  It’s for resale so I can’t test it, but reviews I have seen make this knife seem like a good deal.  If I was still camping and hiking I would carry this knife.  Let me remind you, it’s not the country of origin that establishes quality but the workmanship of the company.

Real Steel also makes some very nice folders.  You can find better for more money, but these seem to have the best value for the price.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Book Review - Primer on Folding Knives

I don’t do too many book reviews, but I’m going to do one now. 
Let me recommend “A Primer on Folding Knives” by Steven Roman.  I think you’ll enjoy this book.  I know I did.

Who is Steven Roman?

He’s a mathematician, currently Emeritus Professor of Mathematics at California State University, but don’t let that scare you.  He’s also a wood worker, pen turner, knife collector and a knife sharpener.  He also likes to write.

The book covers many knife-related topics, like knife companies, opening and locking mechanisms, blade finishes as well as handle materials.  That’s a partial list of chapter one.  Chapter two deals with the complex subject of metallurgy.  As best as I can tell, he’s on pretty solid ground for basic metallurgy.  If you want to find out what elements stabilize austenite or the difference between cementite and aged bainite, you’re going to need a more advanced guide.

Chapter 3 is an intensive look at sharpening. 

Face it, knife sharpeners and knife fanciers come in two varieties: those interested in a working edge and those who want the ultimate edge.  We all fall somewhere on that spectrum.  For my barbecue knife I want the ultimate edge.  It’s never going to be used, just shown off.  But the blades I carry, well, they need to be a compromise between sharpness and durability.  Sharp enough I can cut, but not so sharp the first cut dulls the edge.

Steven suggests trying different edges for different steels and working them to see which edge stays sharp the longest.  By matching edge geometry and sharpening against steels you can obtain the optimal best edge for your use.

Most of us will not do that.  It requires a lot of work, standard cutting tests and plenty of notes about observation on your part.  Most of us don’t take the time or make the effort.  That’s okay.  All we want is a sharp knife.  But if you want the best working edge for a particular knife, you need to put forth the effort.

Oh, just because it’s about folding knives, it doesn’t mean its sharpening ideas don’t apply to fixed blades!

Find a copy of Steven’s book, “A Primer on Folding Knives” and read it.  I think you’ll enjoy it.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Around and About

The Western Reserve Cutlery Association had Wayne Hensley custom make a sub-hilt fighter to celebrate their 40th anniversary.

Anniversary sub-hilt fighter
Wayne never meant for us to carry this one, it didn't come with a sheath.

I have to admit 40 years is a funny anniversary.  It’s a multiple of the 10th celebration, but it’s not 4 times more fun than the 10th anniversary.  Still, an anniversary is a good reason to buy a custom knife.

I’ve always been interested in sub-hilt fighters.  The most noticeable feature is the extra hilt or “trigger” as some people call it.  I understand this design was developed by Bob Loveless in his “Big Bear Classic.”  I suspect other people had previously devised this type of handle/hilt, but for whatever reason it never took off.  The last really “new” thing I ever heard of was logarithms and that’s way off topic.

The upper edge of the Hensley sub-hilt is semi-sharp.  As I think of a sub-hilt fighter, the upper edge should be razor sharp, making the knife more of a dagger.  For me that makes the knife a little less useful as I often find myself pressing on the back edge to get more force into the cutting stroke.  Try that with a dagger and you’ll get more get more cutting all right, but not where you want it.

The Hensley sub-hilt blade is 4.5 inches of sharpened ATS34 steel and an ebony hard wood handle with bird head butt.  The stainless steel guard was to be stamped/engraved/etched with series number.  WRCA had ordered 15 for their members, but through some mishap all the knives got marked “1/15”.  I guess that is true enough, any one of these knives is one of the 15 made for the club.

We had requested a plaque or shield in the side of the ebony handle, but somehow that too fell through the cracks.

We’re also in the process of selecting a club knife for 2017.  These are often, but not always folders.  They are, almost exclusively, boring “old man knives.”  That of course is my opinion.  Two and three bladed friction folders don’t really ring my bell, but other club members love them.  Frankly, I think it’s more of a cost function.

I understand it.  I remember when I could by a Spyderco for half the current cost.  What I also remember is I used to buy gasoline for a half a buck and I was making $2.57 an hour then.  Scale the cost of that folder you bought in 1953 by fuel cost and you’ll find modern knives are still a bargain.

WRCA is also getting ready to launch the 2017 Knife Expo at the Knights of Columbus in Massillon, Ohio.  The show will be May 20 and 21, 2017.  I drove out there to see the building and found it in the middle of a residential neighborhood.  I was depending on my GPS to get out of there, so I followed its instructions and after a couple of blocks it informed me I was off roading.  Well, I was making such good time I didn’t want to stop.  Fortunately, I got to a major intersection, rebooted the darn thing and it showed me the way to go home.
I wish we could find a nice stable place to hold our show, but it doesn’t look like it will happen any time soon.

At the last gun show in Medina (that’s a local community not too far from me) I picked up an Arno Bernard fixed blade with sheath.  Arno Bernard is from Bethlehem, South Africa, and he uses some rather interesting and exotic materials for handles and sheaths.

Scavenger series Wild Dog
It's a classy knife and it's never been used.
This knife is one of his more plebeian issues.  It’s from his Scavenger series called the Wild Dog.  It available in several interesting handles, but mine is G-10.  His website is a little apologetic about using G-10 but as he claims, customers ask for it and it’s damn near indestructible.  The sheath is water buffalo leather and very interesting.

Water Buffalo sheath
I like the deep sheath which retains the knife in brush.  There is more than one American manufacturer who could make deeper sheaths.

He uses N690 steel which is similar to VG-10, but with a bit more chromium and cobalt and a little less vanadium.  My research indicates N690 can be hardened and tempered to 58-60 HRc. 
Bernard started making knives in 1979 and it’s a family run operation with the kids and their wives involved.  I’m always impressed with how one person can start something that grows to supports their family as well as other families in their community. 

I’m not going to keep this knife and you’ll find it on my table next year.