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!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

What The H...?

Lately I've been eager to get a new camp stove.  Now, I'm neither a backpacker or a car camper.  My wilderness camping days are all but over - 23 years in the Army pretty much beats the 'camping bug' out of you.  However, I do very much enjoy being in the outdoors, hiking, fishing and just spending a day getting away from it all.  Part of that enjoyment comes in just sitting quietly, heating up a cup of coffee or a small lunch and enjoying the surroundings.

Of course to do all that heatin' and cookin' you need a stove.  Not a monstrous Coleman 3-burner, but a simple lightweight single burner unit that can be easily carried in a day pack.

I've owned or used almost a dozen small camping stoves over the years, everything from Sterno stoves to an uber-lighweight-yet-powerful-enough-to-melt-pig-iron MSR, and lots in-between.  But I've always had a weakness for the classic all brass Swedish camp stoves, the types made by Optimus and Primus.

These stoves received a broad introduction to American hikers through the writings of the dean of American backpacking Colin Fletcher and his classic book 'The Complete Walker'.  Fletcher waxed poetic about his little Swedish Svea 123, almost like he was describing an old friend.  He discussed the ritual of getting it primed and running, how the roar of the burner was a reassuring sound after a long hike in cold, damp terrain, how it was beautifully simple and a wonder to behold and how its utter reliability and ruggedness made up for its extra weight and bulk.

An Optimus Svea 123 at full roar!

As a kid Fletcher's works captivated me.  Not just 'The Complete Walker' but his epic 'The Man Who Walked Through Time' about hiking the length of the Grand Canyon in the early 60s.  In fact, I credit that last book for spurring me on to study geology in college.  Alas, dramatic vistas are few and far between in northwestern Ohio (one of the flattest places on earth - literally).  I had to contend myself with day hikes along the Maumee River or out to the many regional parks in our area.  To capture something of Fletcher's experience I went out and bought myself a Swedish backpacking stove.  I couldn't find one of his beloved Svea 123s but I did manage to locate a Optimus 80 at one of the local sporting goods stores.  I was delighted to have it.  It was a real.  Swedish.  Stove!  It exhibited all the fine qualities that Fletcher talked about - it was messy to prime, dangerous to pre-heat and while running roared like a jet engine.  But man, it gave off heat!  I loved it!

A 1950's vintage Optimus 80.
 Mine was considerably newer, but not much changed.

I used my Optimus stove right up through 1990 when, after taking it with me when my unit deployed for Desert Shield/Storm, the US Customs goons forced me to leave it behind in Saudi Arabia.  Only official issue gear that had contained gasoline was allowed to be brought back.  I was forced to give the old gal a burial somewhere just west of Dammam on the Arabian coast.  An ignoble end for a noble stove that had given great service around the world.  After that my focus shifted and I found myself buying a series of rather pedestrian single burner stoves, most of them Coleman.  They worked, but none of them had the grace, simplicity and personality of my old Optimus 80.  I always had it in the back of my mind that someday I would replace the Optimus with an identical model.

Fast forward about 22 years to today.  I recently got re-bitten by the Swedish stove bug.  I blame this damned website.  I decided it was time to go get myself a new Optimus 80.  Hah!  Little did I know that things had changed a bit in the Swedish stove industry.  Many - most - of the old shiny brass models were gone, done in by a raft of competitors that catered to the uber-lightweight adventure crowd with their feather light, whisper quiet titanium stoves that can burn everything from cow farts to bunker oil with CO2 emissions in the negative numbers.  Who wants a smoky, sputtering brass anachronism that was first produced when Henry Ford was in knickers when you can have something so Green that even the grizzly bears applaud (just before they eat you).

Only one classic brass stove survives - the Svea 123.  But alas, the realities of modern production economics have caught up with even that fine holdover.  It is no longer manufactured by stoic Swedes lovingly hand fitting each part while dreaming of lutfisk and reindeer, but by faceless hordes working somewhere west of Seattle.  I fear that there are no more classic Swedish stoves made in Sweden.

Still I had to push forward.  Dammit, I wanted a classic Swedish stove, even one that wasn't made in Sweden!  As always Amazon was ready and willing to entertain my desires.  Three days after I placed the order the stove was sitting in my car port.

The word on the various outdoor oriented forums is that these new 'eastern-made' stoves are good performers, perhaps every bit as good as the originals.  My experience with China made goods is that as long as proper quality control is exercised the Chinese can make some excellent products.  Think Apple iPads.  In fact, I've commented in this blog about the outstanding quality of some Chinese made knives.  It all comes down to production standards and quality control, and the Chinese have proven themselves more than capable of cranking out good products.  With this in mind I had high hopes for this 'Swedish' stove.

It certainly looks good, with 'Sweden' (not, you will note, 'Made in Sweden') and 'Svea 123' roll-marked on the shiny brass tank in pseudo hand engraved style.  The burner tube is just a little cockeyed but I've seen that on other Swedish stoves.  Firing up one of these little wonders is like riding a bike.  You never forget but if you haven't done it in a while you can be a little wobbly.  Dribble a little gas in the priming bowl, light it up and let it heat up the burner tube.  Once the burner tube is warmed up open the valve to let out some fuel, light it off and wait for the jet of flame to settle down into a nice, rolling roar.  Easy.

As this little stove was roaring away I noticed a ring of red material where the burner tube enters the fuel tank.  It looks like pipe dope or sealant.  It may have been put there to ensure a tight seal of the burner tube into the tank.  What was disconcerting, however, was that this red material was actually bubbling under the heat generated by the burner tube!  At first I thought the bubbling might be vaporized gas escaping from the fuel tank, setting the stage for a potentially dramatic stove flare-up (a gentle term for a fireball).  I shut the stove down and after it cooled I didn't detect any gas odor coming from around the sealant, but it was still a concern.

See that red stuff?  It was actually bubbling while the stove was running!

I posted my observation and concerns out on several camping and stove collecting forums and the general consensus is that nobody's ever seen this issue before.  Or at least nobody has ever noticed it.  Most feel that the original Swedish stoves didn't use a sealing compound.  The tapered brass fitting where the burner tube enters the gas tank provides a good enough seal.  So what's with the red stuff?  What the hell's going on with this stove?

I've got an information request submitted with Optimus.  Until I hear something back this thing will sit idle.  If Optimus' reply isn't some version of "Don't worry, that's just  how we build 'em these days.  It's safe to operate" then this stove goes back to Amazon and I start haunting eBay.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Realtree Ain't Got Nothing On Mother Nature!

On her way to work Roberta spied this little fellow crawling around on the hood of my truck...

Check out the camo job!
Realtree, Mossy Oak, etc. are all pikers compared to this guy!

And finally, for those of you who watched too many 1950's sci-fi movies about giant bugs devouring mankind -

Here's looking at you, kid!
Stay sharp!


Sunday, August 5, 2012

No Free Time But Time For This

I'm procrastinating.  But it's high summer and high summer is peak procrastination season.

But we have a few things going on in Das Blade Haus that I'll touch on an provide in-depth reviews later.

First is sharpening.  Last month I lamented that I'll never get the hang of sharpening a knife.  After writing that I had an epiphany.  Why continue to suffer?  In this day and age there is no reason to put up with dull or less than shaving sharp blades.  Man is the tool-maker and he's made some great sharpening tools designed specifically for dullards like me.

So I went out and bought myself what looks to be the premiere non-powered sharpening system available - the Apex by EdgePro out of Oregon.  So far I've only tested it on a few blades, a badly nicked Buck 105, a Buck 402 folder and a Becker BK-16.  The system works as advertised - it is fairly easy to get a good, consistent bevel on a blade (consistency has been my big failure in sharpening).  However, there is a technique to it all and it does require a bit of practice so I'm still in the learning stages.  The real test will be putting a usable edge on my Becker BK-2.

New knives.  New knives continue to trickle in and I'm behind in photographing them.  Again, blame the weather.  I do all of my stock knife photography on my deck using a tripod mounted digital camera, and I like to do one set-up and photograph a series of knives in one session using the same background and lighting conditions.  But when it's 80 degrees in the sun at 0700 my motivation just ain't there.  I'll wait for cooler fall mornings to get all this done.

But like I said, new knives and accessories are trickling in.  Some are new designs that caught my eye, some are just to round out my collection.  Two interesting new arrivals are a Buck 124 Frontiersman and a Cold Steel Lone Star Hunter folder.  

The Buck Frontiersman is a knife I've wanted for a very long time.  In fact, I used to own one until, decades ago, some SOB mover stole the duffle bag that held my small knife collection.  We were moving from Fort Bragg, NC to Fort Belvior, VA to attend the Engineer Officer Advanced Course.  This was back in 1983, and at the time I had more important things to worry about than replacing an expensive knife.  I always intended to replace it when the time (and finances) were right, but not long after the knife was stolen the Frontiersman went out of production and the knife entered collector status.  Buck would do occasional limited runs of the knife for various retailers but it pretty much remained a tough to acquire knife.  Recently Buck put the Frontiersman back into limited production and I was able to grab one directly from the factory.  It is just as I'd remembered it - a big full tang chunk of steel.  We'll talk more about it in a later post.

Buck 124 Frontiersman

The Cold Steel Lone Star Hunter is one I just stumbled across.  I think I spied it discussed on one of the knife forums I haunt (more chronic procrastination).  I was impressed by it's elegant simplicity - a large (4") single blade lockback folder in a slim stainless steel frame.  I make no secret of my respect for Cold Steel knives.  A lot of folks are put off by their bombastic advertising (and it IS over the top), but the truth is they put out good blades at good prices.  The Lone Star Hunter is a surprisingly good knife.  It is a little cheesy looking with it's faux stag handle slabs, but everything is nicely fitted and finished.  A darned good knife for less than $50.

Cold Steel Lone Star Hunter

Last up, the BK-14.  More accurately, handle scales for the BK-14.  The BK-14 was originally designed as a skeleton handled knife and it works very well in that role.  However, Becker knife nuts can't leave well enough alone and started fashioning handle scales for the knife.  Ka-Bar, never one to let a good idea pass them by, decided the time was right to introduce a set of 'official' handle scales for the BK-14.  I picked a set up at the 2012 Blade Show here in Atlanta and I have to agree - they make the already great BK-14 a better knife.  The scales are made out of DuPont zytel and fit the knife perfectly.  I like that they are orange - the compliment the black blade very nicely and make it easier to find the knife when I drop it on the forest floor.  You actually get two sets of handle scales with each order - an orange set and a black set.  Lets you tailor the look of the knife to your current activity - orange for day wear, black for evening wear.  Nicely done Ka-Bar.  Now how about some orange handle scales for the BK-16?

Ka-Bar/Becker BK-14 with orange handle scales

Oh, and last, last, last (I promise).  Over on the Blade Forums I've posted so much garbage and drivel, particularly about Becker knives, that they have officially designated me Beckerhead #252.  I'm so honored.  I'll be signing autographs in the lobby after the show.

That's it.  Stay sharp!