Awww geeze, not another blog!

Welcome to A Fine Blade!

This blog will focus one of my lifelong passions and one of man's most basic tools - the knife!

As time and events permit we'll tiptoe into other territory where we can use the knife as a metaphor in discussions about current events and have a little politically incorrect fun.

Because you see, knives rank just below guns as the most politically incorrect subject on the web today.

Guns & Knives = Bad. Gay Marriage & Recreational Drug Use = Good

We'll see if we can't have some fun with that.

So stay tuned, and welcome aboard!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Is That a Knife In Your Pocket Or Are You Just Happy To See Me?

They say the best knife for the job is the one you have with you.  There's a lot of truth in that statement.  However, it also helps if you make sure what you are carrying is a truly useful design.  So we'll kick off today's discussion with the concept of the Every Day Carry (EDC) knife.

Like many of you I am very restricted as to what I can carry with me at work.  In fact it's a fair bet that my employer doesn't want me carrying anything with an edge on it.  And yet, a knife is still needed for the myriad of cubicle combat chores that pop up every day - slicing open boxes, cutting string, cutting packaging tape, slicing up a Subway sandwich. Heck, I even had a co-worker ask to borrow my knife to cut a donut in half.  In the theater of cubicle combat a blade has to be versatile and ready for any high risk operation.

But in this environment it helps if the knife doesn't look like a knife, or at least looks friendly, comforting and earth-friendly.  No big honkin' tanto-style folders with skulls and crossbones etched on the blade.  That's too upsetting and it tends to trigger the Political Correctness Violation Alert System (PCVAS) that is hard wired into the building I work in. Instead, something you'd find in the pocket of an Earth First tree hugging terrorist would be just fine.

I've found that a traditional 3-bladed pocket knife meets all of my EDC requirements without triggering the PCVAS.  It helps if the handles are made of stag or bone.  Although those materials can trigger the PCVAS (after all, something had to die to provide me those handles), they make the knife look old-timey and non-threatening, almost comforting.  As one full-time PCVAS monitor at my office recently commented as I was slicing open a particularly defiant banana, "Cool, my grandpa used to have a knife like that!"

I've found you can also mute the PCVAS alarm by observing that any other handle material would necessarily be made of a petroleum-based plastic.  Since we are a Green workplace any petroleum-based products would count against our carbon footprint. And besides, nobody intentionally killed the animals that provided the bone or stag for the handles. They lived in a PETA approved and monitored free range game preserve and died of old age in a loving hospice environment, surrounded by Greenpeace communicants, Yanni music and evergreen scented candles.  Their body parts were harvested as specifically directed in their living wills and the profits from the sale of said body parts were put directly towards research into the medicinal uses of hemp.

So you see dear reader, carrying a stag or bone handled pocket knife is actually a very Green activity!

For the past 25 years or so I've been toting a sweet little three bladed stockman-pattern knife made by Schrade Cutlery under the Uncle Henry brand name.

Schrade Cutlery Uncle Henry Model 897 Stockman
The classic stockman-pattern pocket knife

This knife is, in my opinion, the finest example of a stockman-pattern knife ever produced by a volume knifemaker.  The blade sizes, styles and grinds are perfect, the fit and finish of the knife is first rate and it rides very comfortably in the pocket.  It has an excellent 'walk and talk'; the blades snap open and closed smoothly and with just the right amount of tension.  It is the example against which I evaluate all other stockman-pattern knives.  Many are found wanting.

I call this my 'lost and found' knife.  Although I've owned it for some 25 years I've only known where it is for about half that time.  I'd drop it in a jacket pocket, in a backpack pouch, in a fishing bag or in a duffle bag and forget where it was.  Weeks, months or, in one spectacular fit of forgetfulness, half a decade later I'd find it where I left it.  It was always waiting patiently for me to rediscover just what a great little knife it is.  It is also one of the cleanest knives on the planet; Roberta reports washing it at least a few dozen times (I'm not real good about emptying my pockets before dropping something into the laundry basket).

Sadly, Schrade Cutlery went bankrupt in 2004 and production of this fine knife ended. When I figured this out recently I panicked. What if I lost this knife again? What if the TSA came to my house and confiscated it as a preemptive measure? What if the PCVAS monitors caught me at work and confiscated it for doing battle with mailing envelopes and bailing twine? What if... Oh hell, what if I simply lost it?  Again?  I had to find a suitable replacement!  But could anything measure up to my beloved Uncle Henry?

Well I'm happy to report that the answer is a resounding, yet somewhat troubling, yes! The search for a replacement took me from knife maker to knife maker and included a trip to the 2011 Blade Show in Atlanta, a visit to one of the quirkiest yet fascinating knife dealers on the east coast (more about that later), to in-person visits to the 800 pound gorillas of outdoor retail - Cabela's and Bass Pro, to local hardware stores, surplus stores and even to WallyWorld. Along the way I discovered some really great knives like the Case blue bone stockman.

Case Model 6318 Stockman 

Lordy, that's a beautiful knife.  Case pocket knives sparkle like Christmas!  It's just too damned nice to drop into a pocket full of keys, loose change and the other debris of life I end up carrying.

The Buck 300 series of folders looked promising.  From a distance.

Buck Model 303 Cadet

Now, I love Buck knives and own a fair number of them, but Buck really can't make a decent multi-blade pocket folder at any price. Buck seems to follow the Soviet model of pocket knife design and execution - build 'em big and heavy and square and make 'em as aesthetically pleasing as a T-34 tank.  Sure the knife rates high on the utilitarian scale, but so does a 5lb sledge hammer.

Moving on...

Next I thought I'd give one of the Victorinox Swiss Army knives another look. The Swiss make good knives, and the Victorinox brand are the best of the best. Not only that, these knives held great potential to earn me brownie points from the PCVAS monitors. After all, Swiss Army knives are made in (wait for it)... Switzerland!  Yes!  The land of entrenched neutrality, the Red Cross, golden alpine meadows, pampered cows and, let's not forget, where half of the population speaks French!

I've got several possible candidates in my accumulation. (I hesitate to call it a collection. The term 'collection' implies direction and purpose. I ain't got any of that.)  One of my long time favorites is the Pioneer model.

Victorinox Pioneer

While a great knife, and one I would certainly choose if I was back in uniform again, it is a bit too bulky and has too many tools that don't serve any purpose in cubicle combat.  Now that Vienna sausage cans have pull tops there's not much need for a can opener and since they've canceled the lunchtime leathercrafting series at work there's not much need for an awl.  And of course they killed the two beer lunch, so the bottle opener wouldn't get much use.

Then one day I was nosing around a favorite surplus store and spied a nice looking little folder sitting in the display case.  The salesgal let me handle it and I was immediately impressed.  It was a three blade stockman built on the same pattern as my Uncle Henry. It was very nicely finished and the blades had an excellent 'walk and talk'. The manufacturer was Columbia River Knife and Tool (CRKT), a company I'd heard a lot about but I never had cause to buy one of their knives.  The asking price in the store was OK, but I knew I could do better on-line.  Some quick research revealed this knife was part of CRKT's new Pocket Classic line.  I immediately ordered one up from Amazon (for about $30) and waited anxiously for its arrival.

I was not disappointed.  In fact, I'm amazed at the level of fit and finish this knife presents at this price point.

CRKT Model 6063 Stockman

The blades are flat tapered and ground thin, and are razor sharp and hold a good edge. The bolsters are stainless steel and are very nicely and evenly rounded.  The handle scales are jigged bone and the liners are brass.  All the way around the fit and finish are first rate - everything is precisely joined and well polished.  In fact, it is polished to an amazing level even deep down.  The inner faces of the springs - something you would normally never look at - are polished mirror bright.  And as I've already mention the blades 'walk and talk' with authority and are perfectly centered.

Now here is the troubling part of my observation. This knife is made in China.  In fact, much of CRKT's production is done in China. While China has never been known for its quality cutlery in the past decade or so a number of US manufacturers have moved all or part of their production to China to take advantage of reduced labor and material costs. This includes many 'traditionally American' knife makers such as Buck, Gerber and Ka-Bar. The Chinese have proven to be quick learners. They learned how to make excellent cutlery steel and developed a skilled workforce capable of producing high quality knives at high retail volume. This CRKT stockman is a reflection of this coming of age for Chinese knife production. It meets and in some cases surpasses the level of quality put out by American companies like Case, but at around 2/3 the retail price.

So here is my dilemma. I'm an All American kind of guy. I honestly and deeply believe that Americans can make the best of anything, whether it's pocket knives or space ships. China is our economic and military rival and every penny they get from us helps strengthen their position in the world. But CRKT is an American company and they are merely using China as a production source. Do I commit patriotic sin if I buy a knife made in China for an American firm?  Perhaps, just a bit.  But sometimes American companies just can't meet the need.  The best example is Buck Knives.  Nothing in their pocket knife lineup comes close to the level of design, fit and finish this CRKT knife presents.  Case makes excellent knives but they are more collector pieces than daily carry items.  I need something that I feel comfortable carrying and using day in and day out.  This CRKT stockman fits the bill perfectly.

Let's end on a high note.  CRKT has several different knife styles in their Pocket Classic line.  In addition to the stockman, they offer a whittler, a trapper and a toothpick.  I wanted to check and see if the knife I bought was a fluke - a singularly good example among an otherwise mediocre run of knives.  I purchased one of their whittler models and I have to say this knife too is superb.

CRKT Model 6065 Whittler

It is clear that CRKT is putting out excellent pocket knives at an amazingly low price.  The little stockman is now my favorite EDC knife.  I feel somewhat naked and unprepared for the day if it is not in my pocket as I head out the door.  My faithful Uncle Henry has been pulled from active service and now enjoys a well earned retirement, nestled away comfortably where I know I can always find it.

My final concern is that a Chinese produced knife will set off multiple PCVAS alarms and if I'm ever found out the PCVAS monitors will have me locked up for life.  Let's see, China spews millions of tons of pollutants into the air every year, dams up river gorges and executes Tibetan monks.  On the other hand, the Chinese do like calligraphy, opium and Al Gore.  Maybe it all balances out.  Like ying and yang.


1 comment:

  1. Really enjoyed your article. The irony was very amusing, sad but also amusing. Plan on reading a lot more of your work and who knows; I just may be # 4!