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!

Friday, June 28, 2013

Orange Crush

I've got this thing going for knives with orange handles.  I'm not exactly sure why since as my lovely wife will tell you I tend to be a very boring earth-tone kind of guy.  But for some reason I've long been drawn to knives with orange handles.

Part of it may be my morbid fear of dropping a knife onto the forest floor and not being able to find it.  My nightmare scenario is this: I'm on the edge of survival.  It's just me and my trusty knife against all mother nature has to toss at me.  I'm doing just fine, thanks, since my blade helps provide fire, shelter, food and protection.  Then I stumble, the knife falls from my hand onto the forest floor and is lost in the confusing pattern of leaf litter, sticks, grass and vines.  I search frantically but the knife is gone.  Mother nature wins.  I die.

So to prevent certain death while out on day hikes along well marked trails and within line-of-sight distance to my pickup truck with satellite radio and air conditioning I carry an orange handled knife.  Or two.

I think it's great that more and more manufacturers and custom makers are offering knives with bright orange handles.  Modern synthetic handle materials like G-10 make it easy to produce rugged knives with colorfast handles that can take a lot of abuse.  While international orange isn't 'tacticool', I believe there's a strong argument in favor of carrying at least one knife that sports an orange handle.  It's a lot harder to lose an orange handled knife than it is to lose one with a handle made out of wood or other earth tone colors like green or black micarta.  This is even more important if, like me, you are even just a little bit color blind and you lack the ability to differentiate subtle color differences in the red-green spectrum.  At some point everything on the forest floor looks the same to me, even items that have deep red coloring (like the handle of a Swiss Army knife).  International orange, however, stands out like a bright blaze against an otherwise consistently drab and indistinguishable background.

There's two knives in the photo below.  Both are the same size and blade shape.  The only difference is the handle material.  One knife sports African Rosewood (bubinga) scales, the other orange G-10 scales.  Roughly the same amount of handle material is exposed for each knife.  Which is easier to spot?




Here's what you are looking for:

Two J.D. Davis drop point hunters

Of course screaming orange yellow handles put off the tacticool and mall ninja crowd, but for folks who take knives into the woods to be used and relied upon I think orange handles are a wise choice.

So here's some more great examples of orange handled knives:

Benchmade Triage on the left.  From top to bottom on the right:
Ka-Bar BK-24 in D2, Blind Horse Knives Small Workhorse in D2
and the J.D. Davis drop point hunter in CPM154

The ever popular Buck Folding Hunter in orange plastic scales

Here's the Buck Bucklite Max in orange (the Boone & Crockett model)

The Ka-Bar BK-14 with orange scales.  This model is
made of 1095 steel

A Case small Camper model with orange G-10 scales

Heck, I'll even let an axe get in on the act!

So, if you spend a lot of time in the woods and depend on your knife consider taking along one with a bright orange handle.  It might just save your life.  OK, a bit over dramatic, but for sure it can prevent you from leaving your dropped knife on the forest floor because you can't see it.

Stay sharp, and go orange!

Brian







Saturday, June 22, 2013

Switchblade!

The word conjures up images of Mafioso enforcers silencing family members who don't show enough loyalty, Sharks and Jets pirouetting and jabbing at each other beneath New York City overpasses, and jazz musicians battling for the attentions of sultry vixens in smoke filled music halls.  While I happen to think the images are darkly romantic and fascinating, to the weak kneed and weak minded the word switchblade evokes unnecessary violence, violence that can be and must be stopped by banning all switchblade knives everywhere.  Speak the word and Michael Bloomberg donates another few million to his anti-everything causes.  Sort of like a twisted turn on the "when a bell rings an angel gets its wings" fairy tale.

Yet the reality is much different.  There are no legions of inner-city youth carving each other up with switchblades.  Never were.  For a couple of reasons.  During the heyday of the hoodlum switchblades were mostly cheaply made Italian or Spanish imports that couldn't stand up to peeling an apple, let alone carving up one's opponent in a school yard fight.  No experienced thug would carry one.  They preferred stouter folding knives, fixed blade knives, clubs, baseball bats, guns - anything that would see them through the conflict from start to finish.

Automatic opening knives (switchblades) have been banned in most states and virtually all large cities since the 1950s.  This was a knee-jerk reaction to a flood of 'hoodlum' movies that hit the theaters mid-century and focused on the growing restlessness and violence being displayed by inner city youth.  The directors and producers of these movies picked the switchblade as a key prop device because they looked cool and, well, they thought that's what all self respecting hoodlums used.

Never let it be said a politician will let pass a chance to ban something "for the good of the children."  Anti-knife laws swept the nation in the 1950's driven mainly by the images presented in these movies.  Switchblades virtually disappeared.  Imports were banned and most domestic manufacturers making automatic knives abandoned that segment of the market.

But the switchblade soldiered on in one area that local lawmakers couldn't touch - the US military.  The military continued to purchase automatic knives for issue to pilots, paratroopers and rescue personnel.  The thought was that the automatic opening feature would allow an injured Soldier to open the knife one handed and cut himself free of his parachute suspension lines or harness.  In theory not a bad idea.

What we have to look at today is one of the more common US military switchblades as issued by the Army in the 1970s and 80s.  This knife was manufactured by Schrade Walden in New York and was issued to my good friend and fishing buddy Bill sometime in the 1980s.  Bill started his Army career flying Cessna O-1 Bird Dogs in Vietnam and ending his career flying the Grumman OV-1 Mohawk in the Army Reserves.  Somewhere along the way Bill was issued this knife and 'forgot' to turn it in.




Last year we were doing some float fishing and Bill pulled out this knife.  He had it clipped to his belt via the home make lanyard and it was his emergency bail out knife should his kayak overturn.  I hadn't seen one in years and he let me play with it for a bit.  The last one I saw was in a unit supply room back at Fort Bragg in the early 1980s.  Airborne units were allowed to purchase and issue them to jumpers for use during airborne operations.  Our supply room kept a few on-hand for issue to jumpmasters, but never had enough to hand out to the full company so they rarely got issued.  Of course they were considered 'sensitive items' just like an M-16 so were kept locked up in the arms room.  My impression of them at the time was that they were poorly put together.  The spring that opened the main blade was weak and barely got the job done, and there was a lot of 'slop' or play in the blade when opened and locked.   The knife had a high cool factor, but my impression was that a small fixed blade knife was a better option.

Bill reports that he carried it for years in the special pocket sewn into the inside thigh of the issue flight suit.  The pocket was sized specifically to fit this knife.  Since you have to have a specific place for everything inside the cramped cockpit of an airplane I guess this location made good sense.  It was out of the way of the parachute harness and allowed easy access.

One useful feature this knife incorporates is what is commonly referred to as a 'gut hook'; a hook shaped blade designed specifically to cut parachute suspension lines.  The design works very well and will slice through tensioned suspension lines like a hot knife through soft butter.  It's much more effective at this task than the straight main blade.


As represented by this knife the concept of the switchblade as an emergency tool doesn't inspire confidence.  As I've already mentioned, these knives are poorly fitted.  The blade deployment spring is weak and barely gets the blade more than halfway open.  The user has to finish the job with a flick of the wrist.  Several flicks of the wrist, actually.  The lanyard bale also frequently interferes with opening.  While the idea of one handed opening is good, this knife assumes that your good hand will always be your right hand.  It puts the opening button and slide lock just on one side  where only your right hand can get to it.  Here's hoping it's always your left hand that gets broken or crushed during the ejection or parachute landing because otherwise you're in trouble.

We do have to keep in mind that this knife is essentially a WWII-era design that was kept in production through the 1980s.  From that perspective it's not a bad design and reflects the best knife making technology available during the war.  As a purpose built tool, something designed for a single use during a specific event (to cut a downed flyer or paratrooper free of his parachute) it works OK.  For any other purpose it pretty much sucks.  I'd hate to have to go into a true survival situation with just this knife.  It would break the first time it saw hard use.

Since the 1980s folding knife technology has advanced quite a bit.  Manufacturers have designed and marketed fast opening knives that get around the silly switchblade restrictions.  Most makers incorporate an opening 'stud' on their blades to permit fast opening using the thumb.  Some manufacturers like Spyderco incorporated large opening thumb holes instead of studs.  All of these solutions are extremely effective and allow the manufacturing of more robust folding knife designs.  Today's high quality folding knives deploy faster than most switchblades, can be used in either hand and stand up just fine to real world use.

One direct response to the weakness of our switchblade is the Benchmade 915 Triage.  It incorporates an ambidextrous fast opening main blade with an extremely rugged locking mechanism and incorporates a gut hook that can be opened with one hand.


The Triage is an extremely rugged knife that can not only slice open your parachute harness but then go on to slice open the hood of a Buick.  That's what I want the next time I get into a scrape!

Stay sharp!

Brian

Monday, June 17, 2013

Low Down Dirty Thieves

This evening I was checking Facebook and got a note from Kletterwerks in Montana to check out an on-line gallery of nostalgic products on Outside Magazine's website.  These are products that have a high 'cool' factor and are still available.

Interested, I clicked on the link to the Outside Magazine photo gallery and was enjoying some of the product descriptions until I got to photo #4.  I about dropped my coffee cup:


Does it look anything like this photo?


Perhaps from this blog post:


By your acclaimed author?

As they say in Minnesota, "You betcha'!"

Now, I normally don't mind if people use my work as long as the use is appropriate, they ask permission first and they give proper credit.  But I guarantee you nobody from Outside Magazine bothered to drop me a line about using my work.

You can damned sure bet that if they caught me plagiarizing their work one of their army of lawyers would be using me as a punching bag.  But I believe in being civil and letting folks correct their mistakes.  Besides, I can't afford a lawyer.  Even the ones in the family say they won't charge.  Especially the ones in the family who say they won't charge!

So this evening Outside Magazine got a nicely worded email asking them to take the picture down.  We'll check back later to see if they paid attention.

Stay sharp!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Blade Show 2013

Just as each year the swallows return to Capistrano and the buzzards return to Hinckley, so must I make the arduous trek to the north Atlanta region to attend the annual Blade Show.  It is a journey I make and a risk I take for my devoted followers (all three of you).

This year was no different.  Braving some gawd-awful traffic on the north side (repaving work in I-285) that turned a normally one hour trip into a two hour ordeal my traveling companions Scott and Jason and I finally made it to the Cobb Galleria by noon.

The 2012 show had seemed somewhat anemic - fewer attendees than the 2011 show and fewer exhibitors.  The 2012 show seemed to only fill about 3/4 of the Cobb Galleria convention center floor.  I was concerned about how this year's show might indicate a trend of declining exhibitors and attendees, perhaps reflecting an overall drop in interest in knives.  Well, I'm pleased to report that this year's show was packed.  The convention center floor was jammed wall-to-wall and corner-to-corner with vendors, exhibitors and paying attendees.  When we walked through the convention center doors around noon I was amazed at the sheer number of people.  The place was slammed!

As usual I spent far too much time gawking and too little time taking pictures.  There was just too much to see.

Let's begin.

First, R. Lee Ermey (a.k.a., "The Gunny") was back at the SOG booth.  This is the second time I've seen him at the Blade Show, and I've seen him at other venues for Glock.  The guy is a prince.  He'll stand for hours signing autographs and posing for pictures, and he's always got a few minutes to chat with veterans.

Here he seems to be discussing new ways to make watermelons suffer:

"Let's see, if we stack 'em six high, bayonet AND machine gun them do ya'
think they'll get the message?"

Next, I sauntered over to visit J.D. Davis, a knifemaker out of Fruitland Park, Florida who did a custom knife for me back in 2011 and made a similar model for me earlier this year, this time in CPM 154 and with orange G-10 handles.  I arranged to pick the knife up at the show and he had it ready and waiting.  I was not disappointed!  I'll be doing a more in-depth review of this knife down the road after I get some use out of it.

J.D. Davis drop point hunter in CPM 154 steel and orange G-10 handle scales

A stop by the A.G. Russell booth is mandatory.  A.G. has been in the knife business longer than most of us have been alive.  Literally.  He started in 1964 selling Arkansas whetstones and built a knife empire by showcasing and distributing the offerings from many of the world's best custom knifemakers and manufacturers.  He's been a mentor to many and along with luminaries like Bo Randall, Bob Loveless, Jimmy Lile, Bill Moran and dozens of others helped trigger the post-WWII boom in custom and production knives.  He helped establish the Knifemaker's Guild to foster and support the craft of custom knife making, helped establish trade groups that have made the knife industry stronger and better able to push back against some of the stupid anti-knife legislation that gets thought up by state and local law makers, and helped establish increasingly higher quality standards for production grade knives.  If you want your products to be sold through A.G.'s catalog they had better be damned good, whether you are a custom maker or a volume manufacturer.

To the knife enthusiast he is The Lion in Winter.

A.G. Russell (right) being interviewed by Adam Francis from Equip to Endure
Of course a trip to A.G.'s booth meant I had to buy something, right?  You bet!  I'm a fan of his sowbelly trapper series so this year I picked up one of his clip point sowbelly folders with yellow delrin handle slabs (a favorite of mine).  These are outstanding knives made to A.G.'s exacting standards in China.  Overall a great blade.

A.G. Russell Clip Point Sowbelly Folder

In time I moseyed past the Condor Took & Knife booth and found Joe trying to carve a dugout canoe out of a green twig.  Clearly he needs closer supervision.

I've written about Condor in the past, both in this blog and on the knife-oriented forums I hang out on.  I have a soft spot in my heart for the company based on my time spent in Central and South America.  Condor is a brand name of Imacasa, an El Salvador based knife and tool company.  For decades most of their products have focused on the needs of their local customers - simple workman style tools for the day laborer - machetes, butcher knives, etc.  Nothing fancy, sometimes crude, but always a good value for the man who made his living using an edged tool.  Several years ago Imacasa decided to try to break into the US market by developing a line of products aimed specifically at the outdoor enthusiast.  They pay close attention to what their customers are saying and over time their product quality has improved and their line of products has expanded.  Their products are not made of exotic steels (they mostly use 1075 carbon steel), nor are they highly finished.  But they exhibit good design, are well made and are outstanding values.


Joe and Richard from Condor.  Joe is hiding the twig behind his back.
Like a fool I barged into the Condor booth and started swinging all the big blades.  I turned around to find I was the only one left standing in the space.  Hey, I was just checking for the all important 'balance point' of the machetes and parangs, OK?  One that immediately caught my attention was the Village Parang.  While it's a hefty bit of steel it's very well balanced and the handle is the most comfortable of the Condor parang-style blades.  Plus the leather sheath is exquisite, easily worth half the asking price of the blade.  I had to have it.  Richard was happy to sell it.  Now it's mine.

Condor Tool & Knife Village Parang

Let me spend a few lines talking about my overall impressions of the show.  As I mentioned when I opened this posting I was very heartened to see just how busy the place was and how many vendors there were.  It's a great sign that the knife industry is alive and doing very well.  The only obvious absences from the show were Cold Steel and Gerber, but I've never seen them at a Blade Show before anyway so they weren't much missed.

I also noted a clear reduction in the number of what I'll call 'tacticool' or 'zombie killer' equipment vendors.  I'm hoping the days of the zombie hunter craze are over.  This show seemed more industry focused, with a larger number of smaller displays from manufacturers that produce exotic steels, knife making tools and components.  There were still a few vendors selling cheap Chinese produced samurai swords, battle hatchets, throwing stars and other crap, but the number of those types seemed to be down.  I think the Blade Show organizers need to work to keep those vendors out.  Let 'em go sell their junk at the local flea markets.  Overall, however, the knife industry was very well represented.

Lots of vendors selling quality knife making components.
These folks had an impressive array of handle materials

Just about everything you need to start making your own knives!

One thing I did notice is that the individual knifemaker tables were really not getting the attention they deserved, and that included from me.  The small individual knife makers are really the ones taking the biggest financial risk in coming to the show.  They have to pay out of pocket for their travel, lodging and their table space in the hopes that they'll make some sales or pick up some future orders.  They all bring examples of their best work and put their heart and soul out on the table for all to see.  Unfortunately most of the attendees rush for the big manufacturer's booths and pass right by the gems sitting on the smaller tables.  I've resolved that next year I'll spend the majority of my time looking at what the little guy brings.

I've about come to the end of this posting, so it's fitting I highlight the one vendor I stumbled on towards the end of my time at the show.  Hidden away in the far left corner of the show floor was a display space occupied by a fairly new knife company called Southern Grind.  I had heard about them but never had a chance to handle their offerings.  Southern Grind is a business started by the musician Zac Brown.  Zac is a local boy who made good, and he pours a lot of the profits from his band's music and associated businesses into his charity, Camp Southern Ground.  The same goes for a percentage of the profits from his Southern Grind knife business.  (And yes, Zac is a big knife enthusiast.)  In talking with the guys at the Southern Grind booth I was surprised to learn they have moved their knife production to Peachtree City, GA, literally just a few miles from where I live.  I got to handle their 'Bad Monkey' line of liner lock folders and was actually very impressed.  So impressed I brought two home.

Southern Grind packages their 'Bad Monkey' line in these weird knife 'tacos'.

The Bad Monkey taco

Which unwraps to reveal this.

A knife, a leather drink cozy, a key chain and a paracord survival bracelet!
Can of V8 Juice is extra.

The knife uses the patented Emerson Wave knife opening notch.

Note the 'Bad Monkey' logo on the blade pivot pin


The 'Bad Monkey' is a great knife, and the fact that my purchase helps a great local charity makes it even better.

So that's it for Blade Show 2013.  There was lots more I didn't cover but these are the highlight.  It was a great show, we had a great time and I'll be back next year come you-know-what or high water!

Stay sharp.