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 21, 2012

A Becker Encounter

Bill and I were out fishing early this morning on Lake Kedron.  Since water levels are way down in the lake we didn't think fishing from the docks would be worth the effort (Kedron has a very nice set of fishing docks).  We decided to make this an early morning canoe/kayak outing.

We had the weather glass.  The morning was overcast with only slight breezes.  Not a bad day at all to be on the water.  I decided to put in with my 13' Grumman.  It is an ideal canoe for still waters - stable, fairly comfortable, easy to paddle and can carry a ton of gear.  It is one versatile little hunk of aluminum.  However, it can be a bit 'piggy' when you need to paddle fast or far - the flat, virtually rockerless hull sacrifices efficiency for stability.  My 15' Grumman weights fully half again as much as the 13 footer but has much more rocker and displays better hydrodynamic efficiency, even when paddling solo.  Still, the old 13' Grumman was just the canoe for today's adventures.

'Miss Piggy'
An old 13' Grumman that makes a nice fishing platform.
That's Bill in the background.  Right after I snapped this picture he tagged a nice bluegill.
Another shot showing just how low the lake is.  My guesstimate is that
it's at least 5' below full pool.  When the water level is down shoreline areas are
exposed that provide nice places to beach your canoe and stretch your legs.

We spent the better part of two hours paddling and casting.  The bite was s-l-o-w, but that's to be expected this time of year.  The lake water was like bath water and the big fish were holding deep.  Since we were throwing fairly small weighted flies the deepest we could hope to get down to was two or three feet.  Still, we had a bit of success.  We each tagged a few small bass and some really nice bluegill hiding in the weed beds along the shoreline.

As we were taking out we struck up a conversation with a gentleman and his two boys were were rigging their kayaks and fishing gear to get out on the lake.  I just happened to notice the fellow was wearing a familiar knife around his neck.

Yup, a Becker BK-11 with a wrapped handle!  It's rare to see someone wearing a neck knife, let alone a Becker.  His son did the handle wrap, and did a pretty darned good job of it.

Overall a great morning.  Some fishing, some canoeing and a surprise encounter with another Becker fan.

Stay sharp!


Monday, July 9, 2012

Fort Benning

On Saturday Scott and I spent the day down at Fort Benning. I like going to Fort Benning. For me it's like going home. Strange, considering that I was an Engineer officer and the only time I served at Benning was for a few weeks in August 1977 earning my paratrooper wings. But you take your comfort where you can get it, and Fort Benning is the closest Army base to us these days. And after all, it is the home of the Airborne and that means a lot to me.

Today Fort Benning is no longer just the home of the Infantry. A few years back the Army shut down Fort Knox and moved the Armor school to Benning. Fort Benning is now the home of the 'Maneuver Center of Excellence'. A very pretentious name. (Hey Mother Army, can you tell me where the 'Second-rate Maneuver Center' is located?)  Still, this move met a crying need. Since before WWII the Army has realized that Armor and Infantry must operate together as a mutually supporting combined force. An Armor/Infantry task force is a formidable opponent, but an unsupported Armor task force is a sitting duck. Armor needs Infantry because only Infantry can seize and hold terrain and defend Armor against dismounted infantry attacks. It's been proven time and again, from Kasserine Pass to Fallujah.

The problem was that the officers and NCOs of both disciplines trained seperately - the Armor at Fort Knox and the Infantry at Fort Benning - and only came together to train as a team once they left the schools and were assigned to Armor or Infantry divisions.  I know the Army has wanted to combine these schools for decades, but money, wars and politics prevented it until about 2006 when the Department of Defense under Donald Rumsfeld announced the move under the Base Realignment and Closure study.

This triggered a huge infusion of cash into Fort Benning and the Columbus area.  The old, familiar Home of the Infantry started to undergo dramatic change as old buildings were torn down to make space for new facilities to support the expanding school.  Perhaps the most dramatic change was the tear-down and reconstruction of the old Infantry Hall (Building 4).  This building was viewed as the symbolic home of the Infantry by the hundreds of thousands of Infantry officers and NCOs that passed through its classrooms since it opened in 1964.  It was rebuilt as the new Maneuver Center school and now shares space with the Armor school.  Omar Bradley must be spinning in his grave.

Scott and I started our day at the National Infantry Museum. If you have never been to the new National Infantry Museum you need to carve out the time to go. It is inspiring.  The display galleries are divided up by historical period.  For us the centerpiece was the WWII gallery, which covered the build-up to war and the eventual world-wide commitment of the Army.  Two period galleries are unfinished - early America and the Civil War and westward expansion (the museum needs more funding to finish out these galleries, so if you visit give generously).

After the museum we toured the post, having a look at the new Maneuver Center building and the old Airborne field with the 34' and 250' towers, sawdust pits, swing landing trainers, the Airborne training company barracks and the static displays at the graduation area.  It's interesting how little has changed in 35 years.

But this is a blog about knives, so let's look at a few from an unconventional perspective.

The famous Infantry 'Follow Me' statue in front of the Maneuver Center.
This is a copy of the original, which used to stand at the
entrance of the original Infantry Hall.
The original now stands at the entrance of the National Infantry Museum.

Can you spot the knife?  Hint - it's stuck on the end of the rifle.

The new Cavalry Trooper statue stands at the opposite side of the
main entrance to the Maneuver Center, representing the Armor branch.

This is the new Cavalry Trooper statue at the main entrance to the Maneuver Center.  It's well done, depicting a charging trooper holding a Colt Single Action Army revolver, a Sharps carbine slung across his chest.  But where's the knife?

There it is, the cavalry saber.

It was a great day.  Stay sharp!


Sunday, July 8, 2012

Brain Droppings

It was over 95 degrees in the shade today.  Again.  For like the 14th damned day in a row.  Temperatures like that have a serious impact on your day.  You've got a two, maybe three hour window in the morning to get outside stuff done, then you go into hibernation in the coolest locale you can find.  Your habits change.  Dogs get walked in the early morning instead of the late afternoon.  There's no sense in going fishing - the fish long ago abandoned the shallows and are hiding in the deep, dark pools of the lakes and streams, struggling to just survive by sucking every available oxygen molecule out of the warm, fetid water.  The last thing on their minds is eating.  Hiking or just walking local trails is no longer a pleasure even in the early morning hours.  The nights never really cool off so even at 0600 it's like walking in a sauna.

We dropped about fourty three hundred bucks last week on a new air conditioner system.  In light of the temps we've been having it was money well spent.  I can sit in cool, air conditioned splendor, surrounded by blades and write to my heart's content.

I have not done much with this or my other blog over the past few months out of a mixture of distraction and sloth.  Work has been busy as we struggle to set up a new server infrastructure and get set for new software releases.  This would normally be a one or two week job, but because I work in a large local government organization that enjoys the world's worst IT department a two week job has turned into a multi-month ordeal.

The other distraction has been a first grandbaby.  All the things people say about how great grandkids are is absolutely true.  I got to rock her to sleep the other night while her mommy and daddy cleaned up the post-4th of July kitchen mess, and it was wonderful.  She nestled into my shoulder, gave me a contented burp and passed out.  What more can you ask for!

So instead of focusing on one topic I'll just hop around on some short outdoors-related issues that have piqued my interest in the past month or so.

Let's begin...

Bowie.  The man and the knife continue to fascinate me.  I'm working my way through several biographies of the Bowie and his times.  It is clear to me that of the three famous characters at the Alamo in 1836 - Bowie, Travis and Crockett - Bowie was by far the most complex and fascinating personality.  Ruthless, violent, opportunistic and driven, yet possessed of a deep sense of honor and duty and tied to the San Antonio region by blood and marriage.  Crockett and Travis could have ridden past the Alamo and not given it a second look, but for Bowie it was home.  Of the three, Bowie had the most to lose in the fight with Santa Anna and his presence at the Alamo was was all but inevitable.   

Chinese knives.  In the past few years I've bought a good number of name-brand knives that were made in mainland (i.e., communist) China.  These range from the CRKT line of traditional pocket knives to a series of Buck folders to a large sowbelly trapper produced for A.G. Russell out of Arkansas.  I have to say that these knives are good.  Damned good.  The fit and finish on the CRKT knives and the A.G. Russell knife rivals the best work coming out of the shops of some of America's top makers like Case.  The fit and finish of the Buck knives rivals or surpasses the work being done in Buck's own factory in Idaho.  This proves that stringent quality control and a skilled workforce can turn out high quality at a reasonable price, regardless of their political leanings.  Now, not everything coming out of China is top-notch.  China can turn out some real crap.  But then so can Germany.  And England.  And Korea, Indonesia, Taiwan, Japan, Spain and any other cutlery producing nation, including America.  It all comes down to quality control.  I've gotten over my deeply ingrained dislike of Chinese cutlery.  As long as an American company is calling the shots and the quality is high, and I can't find the same thing from an American manufacturer at a similar price, then I no longer have any qualms about laying down my money for a Chinese made knife.

Bushcrafting.  The current bushcrafting craze is fascinating to watch.  Bushcrafting is a back-to-basics fieldcraft movement that emphasizes traditional skills and eschews the uber-lightweight backpacking craze that seized the US in the 1960s.  It's not that bushcrafters reject 50 years of technology advances and product improvements in hiking and camping gear, it's more of a rediscovery of traditional ways that still have value. Sort of like Boy Scouts on steroids. For me the bushcraft movement is a reaffirmation of all the stuff I learned as a kid by reading the works of Townsend Whelen, Brad Angier and Calvin Rutstrum. The current dean of buscrafting is a soft spoken Englishman named Ray Mears.  He counsels and teaches without all the theatrics or dramatics of a Bear Grylls.  For a Brit he's surprisingly realistic about the need to hunt and trap as part of a successful survival strategy.  None of this "Don't hurt the little bunnies, you can survive just fine without meat" crap.  Ray is more like "Survival depends on protein intake and one of the best sources of protein is the little creatures of the forest.  Let's go kill one."  I love it.  You can catch a lot of Ray's videos on YouTube but it's a moving target because folks are posting copyrighted videos that often get pulled down as quickly as they get put up.  His series about the Hudson's Bay company and the fur trapping Voyageurs should be considered a classic for those of you who have any interest in canoeing and the early fur trade.

Zombies.  It was old 10 years ago and it's still old today.  There hasn't been a good zombie movie since 'Shaun of the Dead'. Nobody needs a big knife or gun to kill zombies cuz' there ain't any. Let's move on.

Vampires.  See Zombies (above).

Knife Sharpening.  There are three things I'm absolutely convinced I'll never master before I die.  The first is Olympic dressage.  The second is differential calculus.  The third is knife sharpening.  Of the three it is knife sharpening that keeps me awake nights.  I've got dozens of knives and almost as many sharpening gizmos. Steels, stones, wedges, clamps, sticks.  If there's a knife sharpening fads the odds are I've bought into it.  Yet I still can't get a decent, consistent edge on any of my blades.  YouTube is stuffed with videos of guys putting shaving sharp edges on the leaf springs off of Mac trucks with just a few swipes on the newest, most revolutionary sharpening gizmo yet all I'm able to do is get an edge good enough to pry open a stuck drawer. I'm a failure. 

Canoes. I have a pile of aluminum sitting in my back yard that when untangled become two very capable but very unused Grumman canoes. I desperately want to get back on the water. Not necessarily to fish, but to just paddle. Oh, September can't come soon enough!

That's all.  Stay cool


Sunday, July 1, 2012


Just got a new Ka-Bar/Becker BK-16 in the mail a few days ago.  About damned time.  I've been waiting for it for almost a year.

Becker BK-16

I've discussed Becker knives a bit on this blog but have yet to fully admit my man-love for these blades.  It all started about two years ago as I was taking a look at the Ka-Bar USMC combat knife and comparing it to current knife designs.  I stumbled on the Becker BK-7, which Ethan Becker designed as a replacement for the USMC knife.  Its beauty is in its simplicity - a sturdy full-tang design, well balanced and with a well shaped clip point and an extremely comfortable handle.  I was immediately smitten.  At the time I declared that it was probably the best reinterpretation of the classic USMC knife and a worthy successor.  My opinion still holds.

The Ka-Bar/Becker BK-7.
We'll discuss this knife in a later post
Over the past two years I've managed to accumulate about nine different Ka-Bar/Becker models, but there was clearly something missing in the Becker lineup.  Seems Ethan Becker designs either small skeleton handled knives suitable for slicing salami or dicing carrots (among other things Ethan is a professional chef and editor of the 'Joy of Cooking' series of books) or large, heavy bladed knives suitable for chopping down Sequoias or field dressing Oldsmobiles.  There was nothing in between in his lineup - no smaller fixed blade belt knives suitable for more delicate tasks like skinning a deer or cutting up tinder.  With Becker blades you had two choices - either really big or really small.

It's not that Ethan doesn't like smaller blades.  Apparently he just never got around to getting serious about designing them.  In interviews Ethan talks about his early fascination with the classic Puma White Hunter and when he finally got his hands on one how disappointed he was in its performance.  He had always intended to design his own version of a lightweight, versatile sheath knife but just never got around to it.  That all changed about two years ago when Ethan and Ka-Bar (which manufactures all of Ethan's knives) announced that Ethan had designed a series of smaller sheath knives that fit in the lineup between his small skeleton knives and his big choppers.  Naturally these were labeled the 'tweeners' by Becker's fans (affectionately known as Beckerheads).  The waiting and speculation began as Ka-Bar produced a series of prototypes and released them for limited testing.  Ka-Bar is one of several knife manufacturers that not only listens to its customers but participates actively in discussions about its knives in on-line forums.  As the tweener designs matured Ethan and Ka-Bar made sure that members of the Beckerhead community got opportunities to view, use and comment on them, and they participated in on-line discussions about them.   

After a long gestation period the knives were formally announced at the 2012 SHOT show and retailers started selling them soon after.  Early production sold out overnight and none of my usual on-line retailers had them in stock.  It wasn't until the 2012 Blade Show here in Atlanta that I got excited all over again about the BK-16.  I stopped by the Ka-Bar booth and they had one on display.  I was immediately impressed.  Lightweight, well balanced and with an extremely well shaped and comfortable grip.  I HAD to have it!  To my utter disappointment the Ka-Bar guys wouldn't sell it to me.  It seems they brought along a healthy stock to sell at the show but within just an hour or two on Saturday morning they were all gone.  What was left in the case was their display model and that had been sold, too.  I walked away dejected (but not too dejected - I managed to choke back my tears long enough to pick up a nice Kraton handled USMC combat knife and one of the new handle sets for the Becker BK-14 from the guys at the booth).

A few weeks after the Blade Show I checked with one of my favorite on-line Ka-Bar dealers, Tomars Ka-Bars, and was delighted to see he had the BK-16 back in stock.  I ordered one and a few days later it showed up in my mail box.  I've had it a few days now and my initial Blade Show impressions have been reinforced.

The BK-16 follows the same general blade shape that was pioneered by the Becker BK-2, a drop point utility profile.  Ethan has used this same blade shape on several other knives, including the BK-11 and BK-14.  It's a good general purpose blade shape.  The BK-2 is Ethan's best selling design and it's a big, heavy, no-compromise knife.  That means it's thick, almost 1/4" of blade steel.  And heavy - too heavy to be a practical belt knife unless your name happens to be Paul Bunyan.  The BK-16 brings that great blade profile to a smaller, thinner piece of steel.  This makes it a more practical all-around knife.

Here's a comparison of the two:

BK-2 (on top) compared to the smaller BK-16
By the way, I changed the handle scales from black (seen above) to brown.
Ka-Bar includes both sets with each knife.  I think the brown
makes for a nicer contrast.

A dramatic difference in blade thickness.
This makes the BK-2 heavy and somewhat unwieldy
while the BK-16 is light yet still plenty sturdy enough
for routine chores
So the next stop for the BK-16 is the deep, dark woods (aka, my back yard) to test on some simple wood processing chores.  No, I won't be batoning the thing through seasoned oak timbers like a lot of YouTube idiots try.  They make axes for that kind of foolishness.  Instead it'll get used for chores more within its design envelope - cutting small branches, cutting rope, slicing the odd stick of pepperoni, gutting and skinning roadkill, stirring my coffee, etc.

So stay tuned and stay sharp!