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

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.
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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.
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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.
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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.

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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.