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, December 7, 2014

Gun Control

I've been thinking about writing gun reviews for a while now. In the past I avoided them because of the politically and emotionally charged nature of the gun discussions in this country, the fact that there's thousands of folks already doing gun reviews and my voice would be just one in a wilderness of gun review crap, and I had lots to write about regarding knives and felt that's where my niche was.

Well now it's five years on and guess what - I still feel the same way. But I'm still going to write about guns, occasionally at least. I dipped my toe in the waters with my recent write-up about Ruger 10/22 modifications and that got some good responses, so I'll keep it going with reviews of some of the firearms I've encountered down through the years and have caught my attention.

But first I think it's important for me to lay out for my readers just where I stand on the issue of guns and gun control. To begin, I am a staunch supporter of the Second Amendment to the US Constitution, which states (and the US Supreme Court recently affirmed) that the right to keep and bear arms is an individual right, not a collective or state right. Our Founding Fathers - smart, savvy men hardened by long experience - clearly understood that an armed citizenry is often the last thing standing between despotism and freedom. The right to keep and bear arms is the ultimate veto against a government that no longer serves the will of the people and refuses to stand aside. To men like Adams, Monroe, Jefferson, Mason, Franklin and Washington the need for the citizenry to retain arms wasn't some academic exercise in good government. They had experienced first hand a tyrannical government that took as its first step the seizing of weapons when its citizens began asking tough questions and demanding the right of self governance. The Battle of Concorde, the first battle of the American Revolution, was all about the seizing of arms to quell a rebellion.

But my stance on guns (and knives) derives from an even deeper perspective. I believe every person has a fundamental human right to defend themselves, their family and their property to ensure their survival. This right extends not just to American citizens, but also to the goat herder in the Sudan, to the farmer in the Ukraine, to the slum dweller in Venezuela, to the shop keeper in Israel and to the factory worker in China. All human beings have a natural right to life and freedom, and if this means they feel they need to carry a weapon to defend themselves and their loved ones then so be it. No state, no law, no political system should be allowed to override this most basic human right - the right to live. In my interpretation this means that any political system that seeks to deny or tightly restrict the right of self defense is an immoral system. I'm not just talking about places like North Korea. This includes political entities like Washinghton D.C., New York City, Chicago, and the United Nations.

Simply stated, I believe in and support the right of every single human being on the face of this Earth to defend themselves and those they love by whatever means necessary to ensure their survival in the face of violence and aggression. 

But this is a right of defense. The moment you take unprovoked offensive action you are giving another human the authority to act in his or her own defense and you deserve anything and everything that comes your way.

As is often said, with rights come responsibilities. We must adopt our defensive practices to meet the likely threat. We must also adopt to the society and the times we live in. If you are going to carry a firearm for self defense do it in a responsible manner that meshes well with societal norms and respects the citizens around you. In the US this means no M4 carbines slung over the shoulder while riding the bus to work or schlepping an AK-47 into a Starbucks just because you can. In the US during times of peace and normalcy the responsible approach to defensive carry of a firearm is concealed carry or non-threatening open carry of a pistol.

I am also a firm believer in training. I live in a state where the major pro-citizen carry organization espouses a firm belief that a Constitutional right must not be restricted by education or training requirements. I believe they are 100% correct. I also believe that every citizen who chooses to carry a weapon or own one for home defense has a duty and responsibility to know how to safely and effectively use that firearm. This includes regular shooting practice to ensure proficiency. Achieving just a moderate level of proficiency helps ensure the firearm owner can safely carry the weapon and effectively employ it should the need arise. In my case I practice regularly, often weekly, with the firearms I regularly carry for self defense.

I also respect the wishes of private property owners and the mandates of my employer. If a business or location states they do not want guns on their premises I will honor that and leave my pistol locked in my car. However, I will likely never do business with them again. If they don't respect my right of self defense then I will spend my money elsewhere. Work is a bit more complicated. My employer has a strict no firearms rule, and I respect that.  Why? Simple - because I chose to accept their offer of employment and their no-guns policy was well established when I signed on. I don't like the rule and hope that some day they will change it, but as long as I work for them I will respect and abide by their rules as long as they comply with existing law.

So in summation:

  • The Second Amendment to the US Constitution addresses the citizen's right to keep and bear arms as an ultimate recourse to an unjust government that no longer reflects the will of the people
  • Beyond that, all human beings have the fundamental right of self defense. This is a basic human right no government can grant or take away. This individual right is universal and always supersedes governmental authority and rights. Any government that refuses to acknowledge this right of self defense and/or works to subvert it is an immoral government.
  • The individual right of self defense is a defensive right - it can not be used to justify unprovoked aggressive acts against individuals or governmental representatives (to include police)
  • Rights come with responsibilities, and the responsibilities that go along with carrying firearms are heavy. You and you alone are responsible for ensuring the proper and safe carry and employment of that firearm. If you are unwilling to meet these responsibilities then do society a favor and leave the gun at home

- Brian

Sunday, November 30, 2014

No Weapons Allowed In The Atlanta History Center!

Yesterday Roberta and I took a trip up into Atlanta to visit the Atlanta History Center. I've only been there once before, a year or two after we moved to Atlanta. I took our daughters up for a special exhibition and to just get out of the house and give Mom a day off. By that time, having spent two years in the Atlanta area listening to all the self-indulgent whining generated by the grievance industry that rules Atlanta today, I wasn't expecting much out of the History Center. All I really expected were exhibits designed to bludgeon me into an elevated state of remorse over how my ancestors oppressed the ancestors of others (even though my grandparents on both sides didn't step off the boats from Europe until the early 1900's and settled well north of the Mason-Dixon Line).

However, I was delightfully surprised by the History Center. It had one of the best exhibits on Civil War history I've ever experienced (with lots of excellent equipment displays), a wonderful section on Reconstruction Era Atlanta, an interesting section devoted to folk art and crafts, and an outstanding section on the legacy of the famous Atlanta golfer, Bobby Jones.

The Atlanta History Center is where you go to see the other Atlanta history; the proud history of the city that predates the civil rights struggles that started in the late 1950s. I'm not implying that the history of the civil rights movement isn't important - it certainly is. However, visitors to Atlanta today only hear a narrative of the city's history that starts around 1960 and focuses tightly on only one aspect of what was happening during that period. Atlanta's history is much more than that, and the Atlanta History Center is where you can go to learn about it.

This second visit reinforced my impression formed a decade ago - the History Center is a great museum and well worth the time and cost.

When we arrived and went to the ticket counter to pay I notice a sign that stated 'No Weapons Allowed' and had images of both a knife and a gun with slash marks through them. I wasn't really surprised. Atlanta on the whole is pretty anti-gun. Remember, Atlanta is no longer a 'southern city'. Atlanta is just a city located in the south that's filled with people that either migrated in from other places that are known for their anti-gun attitudes (i.e., the Northeast) or people who's families have been here for generations but who's neighborhoods and culture have been ripped apart by gun violence. These folks are incapable of distinguishing between random, senseless gun violence sparked by illegal activity and lawful, safe carry and use of firearms by responsible citizens.

So it was with a bit of ironic humor that I noted the special exhibit going on at the History Center named 'Confederate Odyssey - The George W. Wray Jr. Civil War Collection'. The History Center cleverly describes the exhibit as a 'collection of Confederate artifacts'. Yeah, OK, but pretty much all of those artifacts are guns and knives - dozens and dozens of 'em! This is one impressive (and impressively displayed) arms collection.

But wait - guns and knives are banned at the Atlanta History Center. Oh silly me - just my guns and knives.

If you have an interest in Civil War era firearms and edged weapons this is an outstanding exhibit and I encourage you to take the time to see it. All I was able to collect were a few fuzzy iPhone pictures of some of the exhibits, but it give a sense of the scope of the collection. By the way, one of the most fascinating tidbits about this collection is that, as vast as it is, the owner George Wray kept most of this stuff squirreled away in his garage up in Sandy Springs before donating it to the History Center. He must have been a real popular guy ("Hey, let's go check out George's garage!")

And finally, since this is supposed to be a blog that focuses on knives, let's pause before leaving to view an impressive example of a Bowie-style Confederate bayonet:

And remember, if you do visit the Atlanta History Center leave your weapons at home. They have plenty for you to choose from should the Yankees return (oh wait...  there're here)!

- Brian

Saturday, November 15, 2014

True Grit

I'm a John Wayne fan. A huge John Wayne fan.

I should clarify that I'm a huge John Wayne western fan. I've seen just about every western he's made, even the pre Stagecoach B-movies where he cut his teeth as an actor and roustabout. In my opinion he never made a bad western. He's made some absolute classics (Stagecoach, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon), a few fun but middling flicks (McLintock, War Wagon, The Alamo), and his last movie, The Shootist is perhaps the best cinematic farewell ever made. If you understand what was going on in Wayne's life at the time he made the movie you realize that he is merely reflecting his real world anguish through the main character, John Books, who is dying of cancer and can't bear the thought of a slow, painful and undignified end.

John Wayne had an extremely prolific career and was a consistent box office draw right up to the end, but he only won one Academy Award, and that was for his portrayal of Rooster Cogburn in the 1969 movie True Grit. While this is certainly one of Wayne's best performances, the other lead cast members - Glenn Campbell and Kim Darby - are second-rate at best and drag the entire movie down. Campbell in particular gives a very stilted, wooden performance and I wince every time he comes into the frame. (An interesting historical 'might have been' is the fact that Elvis Presley was under serious consideration for Campbell's role but his manager blew the opportunity by insisting on top billing. Elvis was actually a pretty good actor and was desperate to grab more serious, non-musical roles to expand his film career. Sadly it was not to be.)

The lead cast from the 1969 version of True Grit - John Wayne, Kim Darby and Glenn Campbell

I put True Grit at second-tier status; a great story and a great performance by a leading actor but an otherwise middling piece of film making.

Then along comes 2010, and the Coen brothers remake of True Grit. The Coen brother's films are often so nuanced and so well crafted that I have to watch them several times before I fully appreciate them. I've watched Oh Brother, Where Art Thou perhaps a dozen times and I'm still marveling at the quality of the work and I'm still pulling things out of it that I hadn't discovered before.

I made a huge mistake when I went to see the Coen's True Grit in the theater. I went with the intent of comparing it to the original. I spent far too much time just listening to the dialog and viewing the scene construction and saying to myself, "Harumph, this is just like they did it in the 1969 version. Nothing new here." I left the theater under the impression that I had seen a good, solid remake that was perhaps a bit better than the original, but nothing really special. But I was wrong. I should have gone into the theater from the perspective that the 1969 movie had never been made and judged the Coen's work on its own merit. 

Since 2010 I've watched True Grit a number of times and now understand that the movie is not a reinterpretation of the earlier work, but instead is a reimagining of Charles Portis' original novel. From that perspective the 2010 version of True Grit stands as a classic western. It doesn't need the 1969 version to prop it up or to offer comparison, In fact, to consider the 2010 movie in light of the 1969 version is to do the Coen brothers movie a grave injustice. 

Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn and Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross in the 2010 version.
A far better cast in a far better movie

I'm confident True Grit will go down as one of the best westerns of the early 21st century.

- Brian

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A 10/22 Carbine Project

I've ignored this blog for far too long.  Two or three posts per year is just a sign of mental laziness. Time to put in more effort here.

I've hinted in the past that I like firearms. Actually, I'm fascinated by them and have been since I was old enough to hold a copy of 'The American Rifleman'.  Perhaps one of the reasons I joined the Army was the chance to play with an unlimited number of toys that go 'bang!', from pistols to rifles to machine guns to grenade launchers to anti-tank rockets.  I'm lucky to live in a state that takes a lessaiz-faire attitude towards firearms; as long as you don't act like a knucklehead with your guns the po-po pretty much leave you alone. I'm also lucky to be able to indulge my fascination with firearms (in a limited way) and be surrounded by friends and family who share the same fascination.

Of late I've been interested in the 22 calibers, from .223 and 5.56 to the venerable old 22 Long Rifle (22 LR) round. For almost the past five years 22 LR ammo has been all but impossible to find - a reaction to national politics that fueled an almost insatiable demand for anything that launches bullets. Firearm manufacturers literally could not crank out guns fast enough to meet the demand, and many of those guns were the relatively inexpensive models that shoot 22 LR ammunition. This in turn fueled an incredible demand for 22 LR ammunition. Ammunition manufacturers pushed their existing production capacity to the limit and added new capacity as quickly as they could, and still couldn't meet the demand. I had friends who had the ammunition delivery schedules for the local gun shops and big box stores synced with their smartphone calendars and would run off during lunch several times a week in the quest to pick up a box or two of 22 LR ammo. Sometimes they were successful, but often they showed up at the stores to find the ammo shelves empty and sales personnel singing the all-too-common refrain, "You shoulda' been here an hour ago!"

But it appears the five year drunk is over.  Gun sales have slowed (precipitously) and ammo of all types is becoming easier to find.  Military grade 5.56 ammo is available in near glut quantities and retailers are starting to offer some very good sales on bulk packages. I put this down to greatly reduced demand for 5.56 caliber ammo from the US military. We are pulling out of war zones, drawing down our military and struggling with budget restrictions, so Uncle Sam isn't buying as much 5.56 ammo as he used to. This means ammo manufacturers who ramped up to supply an almost insatiable demand for 5.56-caliber ammo during the Global War on Terror now find themselves with excess production capacity. Civilian shooters can finally get a break on 5.56 ammo supplies and prices.

22 LR ammo is also becoming more available. It's not in unlimited supplies yet, but it's becoming easier to find a box of CCI Mini-Mags here and there, and occasionally stores will get good supplies of bulk 22 LR ammo - the old 500 or 1000-round value packs that fueled many an afternoon of cheap fun popping off shots at soda cans, Neco wafers and spinner targets.

For years I've had 22 LR rifles and pistols in my gun safe, but during the ammo drought they came out only occasionally - I was afraid to burn through my limited stock of 22 LR ammo. But with the increased ammo availability I've become more and more interested in taking these fine old guns out to the range. A few weeks back some friends and I went to the range for an easy day of sighting in some rifles, trying each other's guns and trading old war stories. The 22 LR rifles and pistols were a universal hit, and with a couple of big 'ol 500 round boxes of Winchester ammo nobody worried about not having enough to shoot. It was pure fun, and reminded me again just why the 22 LR is so popular.

For some reason this range trip got me thinking about the potential capabilities of a low-end 22 LR rifle; just how cheaply can a reliable and 'accuratre enough' 22 LR shooting set-up be put together that would offer good shooting opportunities. I was interested because I've got an unused, bottom of the barrel Ruger 10/22 carbine sitting in my safe. This is the $200 Wal-Mart version - ugly wooden carbine stock, blued barrel, useless buckhorn sights. I stumbled into this rifle on a trade and wasn't really sure what I wanted to do with it (other than use if for future trading material). I figured what the heck, I'd use this as a test-bed rifle to lean some lessons about the 10/22 rifle.

The Ruger 10/22 Carbine in all of its low-end, big box store glory. Today they go for about $200 at Wal-Mart

Down through the years I've owned a number of Ruger 10/22s. In fact, my very first firearm was a 10/22 bought back in 1973. I was in high school, working as a stock clerk and wanted a good 22 LR for popping squirrels on some of the state hunting lands up in our area of Ohio. I wasn't 21 yet, so my Dad had to do the transaction.  I asked old man Cleland who owned Cleland's Gun Store out near the Toledo Express Airport order me a 10/22. What I got for my hard earned $98 was a very nice sporter model with a checkered factory walnut stock.  As a kid making $2.25/hour, and with college looming, about all I could afford was the rifle, an extra magazine and a box of inexpensive Winchester hollow points. The gray squirrels of northwest Ohio had nothing to fear from me - I never even tried to sight in the rifle, I just took it hunting as it came out of the box. I knew there were ways to gussy up this rifle, but things like Weaver mounts and scopes were way beyond my available resources. I had to make do with what I had. Down through the years that particular rifle was either sold or traded away, but 10/22s continued to flow through my hands as I traded things around. Today I've got two 10/22s in my safe, and one of those was about to become a test bed.

Let's take a quick look at the 10/22 before moving forward. The National Rifle Association's magazine 'American Rifleman' recently carried an excellent article about the history of the 10/22 so I'll just ask you to go out and read that article to get details on the rifle's history. The 10/22 has been in continuous production since 1964 (this is its 50th year of production), and the rifle has changed little since its introduction. It is the most popular 22 caliber firearm ever produced, with over 5 million sold. The reasons for it's success are many and varied. First, it's a Ruger, and the Ruger name means a lot to American shooters. Second, it's very well designed using a unique modular concept that makes it both easy to manufacture and easy to modify. Third, Ruger has been careful to not let the quality on these rifles slip. Now, these are not heirloom guns, but it's clear that, given the low price of the 10/22, Ruger still uses quality components and puts a decent amount of QC into the manufacturing process. Fourth, these rifles are reliable and reasonably accurate right out of the box.

The 10/22 has an almost mythical reputation among American shooters; for many it's the gun their fathers, grand fathers and even great-grand fathers used to hunt small game with. Many are passed father-to-son along with wonderful stories of fall hunting trips that are a deeply ingrained part of the American outdoor psyche. But to be honest, the 10/22 is a commodity item. It is the Chevy Nova of the 22 rifle world - inexpensive, rugged, reliable and a good (but not great) performer. And like the Chevy Nova it is very easy to customize the 10/22 and turn it into something its designers never envisioned. The 10/22 is a very good starting platform for fun and inexpensive projects, and that's what this post is all about.

Lately I've been reading about Project Appleseed and the Revolutionary War Veteran's Association efforts to foster a renewed understanding about the founding of our counrty. Part of this effort involves marksmanship training using standardized rifles which they refer to as the Liberty Training Rifle. The concept of the Liberty Training Rifle is an inexpensive 22 LR caliber rifle that can be used to teach marksmanship fundamentals. This sounded like a great starting point for my 10/22 carbine project. My goal is to end up with a light, handy, simple, reliable, inexpensive and accurate enough rifle that is fun and easy to shoot and is a good platform for teaching and reinforcing basic rifle marksmanship. Think of it as a 'mil-spec' carbine in 22 LR. I would look to modify or upgrade the stock rifle only where absolutely necessary.

Let's take a look at the 10/22 carbine as it comes out of the box from the Ruger factory to figure out what can be left stock, what needs to be improved and what needs to be replaced or added.

  • Wooden stock. The Ruger carbine comes with an inexpensive (read cheap) stained beech stock. Ruger is notorious for using soft wood for their stocks, and the 10/22 shock is no exception. The stock incorporates a plastic butt plate and a plastic barrel band. Yet the stock is well sized for most adults and, for me, it works just fine. We'll keep it as is.
  • Trigger. The 10/22 trigger assembly is a self-contained one-piece unit housed in a polymer 'box' that holds the trigger, hammer, hammer spring, sear, safety, bolt release and magazine release. A lot of people on the 10/22 forums gripe about the 10/22 trigger, and I guess if they are building a high precision target gun their gripes are well founded. However, as a stock 'mil-spec' trigger it's not too bad, with just a bit of take-up and a small about of creep before letting off at around 6 lbs. I've got triggers on AR-15's and other mil-spec rifles that feel worse. For me the Ruger trigger works OK

The stock trigger breaks consistently at just a bit over 6 lbs

Ruger stock trigger group showing the bolt release lever that will be modified to improve bolt function. The heart shaped hole circled in yellow will be modified (see below)

  • Bolt release. For some reason Ruger has insisted on a bolt release design that will not let the bolt go forward when the bolt handle is pulled to the rear and released. Letting the bolt go forward to load a round from a new magazine requires a two-handed fumble to simultaneously pull back on the bolt handle and manipulate the bolt release at the base of the trigger guard. It's actually easier for a left handed shooter to manage than a right-handed shooter, one of Ruger's very few concessions to southpaws. The fix for this is simple - remove the bolt release and do a bit of judicious filing to remove some metal in the hole where the bolt release rides on the bolt release pin. Yes there are inexpensive after market parts available to accomplish this, but in the spirit of this project (i.e., cheap) I decided to go the do-it-yourself route.

Modified bolt release mechanism showing the area that was modified to improve functionality. I used a Dremel with a 5/32" chain saw sharpening bit to quickly and easily grind away the material that needed to be removed

  • Trigger group sloppy fit. The trigger housing or 'box' is mated to the underside of the 10/22 receiver using two steel pins. This fit is sloppy, resulting in a trigger group that the shooter can wiggle around. While this poor fit doesn't seem to affect functionality, it is very annoying. As you'd imagine there's an after market solution - over sized pins. There's also a much cheaper recommendation; strips of thin aluminum tape run around the top edge of the trigger housing to acts as shims to tighten up the trigger group - receiver fit. 

Lining the upper edge of the trigger housing with aluminum duct sealing tape will snug up the fit of the trigger group to the receiver. Easy, cheap and effective

  • Safety. The 10/22 safety is a simple cross-bolt safety that works just fine for a right-handed shooter. Problem is, I'm a southpaw. This is one of the 'deluxe' upgrades I adopted - a Volquartsen 'big head' left handed safety.
  • Sling swivels. A 'mil-spec' carbine needs a sling, but the 10/22 Carbine does not have sling swivels. This means installing them yourself. The good news is that a set of sling swivels and mounting hardware is cheap - Uncle Mike's 10/22 sling swivel set will run about $15. However, most folks will need to buy the specialized swivel stud drill bit set, and those actually cost more than the sling swivels themselves. Plus in involves drilling a carefully located hole on a rounded surface. OK, I'll say this - if I can do it, and do a halfway decent job, you can too. A few minutes of careful measuring and drilling and the rear swivel stud was installed and ready to go. The forward swivel mates with the barrel band, so no drilling is necessary. What about the sling? For me the answer was simple - I already had a nice M1 Carbine sling sitting in my spares box.
  • Barrel. Ruger makes good barrels. They are one of the largest barrel makers in the business and they long ago figured out how to make quality barrels for 22 caliber rifles. The 10/22 Carbine comes with a good barrel and there's no need to upgrade.
  • Sights. Sights are the single biggest (and most expensive) upgrade I undertook. The best thing that can be said of the factory 10/22 sights is that they are there. The good news is that there's a company called Tech-Sights that makes an excellent 'mil-spec' replacement sight set that follows the classic M-16A1 design. These sights are the single best upgrade any 10/22 owner can install if he/she wants to stick with iron sights.

The Tech-Sights mimic the M-16A1 sight design, both front and rear sights

The rear sight is adjustable for windage

The front sight is adjustable for elevation

So what do these upgrades cost?

  • Sights - the Tech-Sights are the single biggest cost at $59, but they are absolutely necessary. 
  • Aluminum tape to shim the trigger group - bum 6" of duct sealing tape off of your local HVAC guy and you'll have enough tape to shim half a dozen 10/22 trigger groups.
  • Safety - this is something only 10% of the shooters would need, and clearly it's not 100% necessary, so I'll leave it off of the tally.
  • Sling swivels - $15 for the Uncle Mike's 1" 10/22 set. Try to find a shooting buddy who has the specialized drill bit set.
  • Sling - a good quality M1 Carbine sling copy will run about $15 from one of the major firearms parts suppliers like Brownells. You might be able to find one cheaper on eBay.

The cost of these upgrades adds an additional $89 to the base cost of the rifle ($200), but you end up with a very handy, reliable,and rugged little carbine.

Nice looking little carbine!

But how does it shoot?

I've had the rifle to the range just once so far, shooting standing off-hand at 10 yards. The light was poor, my eyes are old (and astigmatic) and the fool in the lane next to me was blasting away with a 44 Magnum. Not the ideal test conditions. Still, the little rifle managed to keep most of the rounds inside 3'. Not bad, and with practice I'm confident those groups will tighten up nicely.

This has been a fun little project, I can guarantee that this little rifle will be making a lot of trips to the range and it'll get a lot of quality trigger time!

- Brian

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Your Great-Great Grandpa's Army

Here's an Army I would have liked to have been part of:

This is one of several postcards I've picked up lately showing Army live in the early 1900s.  The other postcards dealt with mapping topics, so I've got them posted over on my other blog.  Since this one doesn't deal at all with mapping but it still offers an interesting snapshot of Army life around the turn of the 20th century I thought I'd host it on this blog.

Unfortunately this card is unused and carries no postmark, so I can't put a precise date on when the photo was taken. But there are some good clues in the photo itself.  Blue-gray shirts with khaki pants, leggings and a creased narrow brim hat all indicate the picture is of a cavalry unit taken post-Spanish American War, right around the turn of the century.  There are pistol holsters visible on the hips of several Soldiers in the foreground, all of them carried in the cavalry butt-forward style.  They probably carried the standard issue 7.5" barreled Colt Single Action Army revolver.  Within a decade this venerable sidearm would be replaced by John Browning's masterpiece, the M1911 semi-automatic .45 caliber Automatic Colt Pistol (45 ACP).

I don't think this shot was taken during roll call.  Roll call tends to be a more formal activity conducted while in formation.  It's more likely these Soldiers were ordered to 'break ranks' and gather around to receive their daily assignments.

While I don't see any evidence of sheath knives on the belts of any of these Soldiers, you can bet that virtually all of them had a bone or ivory handled folding knife in their pocket.  It was, and still is, the indispensable Soldier's tool.

Stay sharp!


Saturday, March 8, 2014

Yet Another Stupid Administration Ruling

This issue has been bubbling on the internet for a few weeks now, but I thought I'd toss in my two cents worth.

The Obama administration has proposed new rules regarding elephant ivory (and rhino horn) that will effectively ban the import, sale and transfer of ALL ivory that is less than 100 years old.  But here's the fun part - the 'provenance' requirements in the new ruling for proving and documenting the age of the ivory are so onerous and restrictive that they are all but impossible to meet.

Before going forward let me state for the benefit of any vegans out there that I heartily support efforts to shut down the trade in illegal ivory.  The slaughter of elephants to harvest their ivory tusks is a despicable practice. However, not all ivory should be considered illegal.  Here's a reality that many PETA members just can't grasp. Each year thousands of elephants die from a myriad of natural causes - old age, disease, injury, predation, starvation.  In addition, each year hundreds, if not thousands, of elephants are legally culled because of over-population, overly aggressive behavior towards humans, disease and other factors.  Dozens of elephants in captivity (zoos) die each year.  There is simply no reason why the ivory from animals that die of natural causes or from legal culling can't be sold on the international market to support further conservation efforts.  When you think of the millions of dollars that could potentially be recouped for conservation efforts through the sale of legal ivory you begin to understand how stupid a ruling like this really is.

Here's another factoid that our current administration choses to ignore.  The vast majority of illegal ivory is disappearing into Asian countries and the Indian sub-continent.  Very little is gets into the United States because of the lack of demand and effective enforcement.  This new rule will do nothing to impact the global trade in illegal ivory; it is little more than a 'feel good' ruling designed to placate a specific constituency.

So what does this have to do with knives?  Ivory has been a traditional knife handle material for hundreds of years.  Ivory has been used as a decorative material since pre-Roman times, but once large supplies started to become available in Europe as far back as the 14th century ivory has been a preferred knife handle material for both fancy and work-a-day blades.  There were times when ivory glutted the market, and ivory handled knives were priced cheaper than similar models sporting fancy wood or exotic stag, or precious material inlays like mother-of-pearl, jade or silver.

This means that there are tens of thousand - probably more like hundreds of thousands - of antique knives in the hands of collectors and users across the United States that have some ivory incorporated in the handle.  It can be the handle slabs of a tiny, delicate woman's pen knife or the grip of a ceremonial sword.  Ivory handled knives are ubiquitous.   Under these new proposed rules the owners of these knives will have very limited options.  They will either have to establish an extensively detailed provenance that proves to a nameless and faceless bureaucrat that the ivory on the pocket knife that belonged to their great, great grandfather really is 100 years old, or they can be buried with it.

Did grandpa give you his grandfather's nice old ivory handled pocket knife?
Sorry bub, but unless great grandpa kept the sales receipt you're screwed.
Try to sell it and you're an instant felon.

There are other nuances to this proposed ruling that will directly impact knife collectors and knife makers. Many knife makers have small stockpiles of ivory of all types they've legally built up over the years to meet customer demand for ivory handled knives or to build showpieces for competition.  What becomes of their stockpiles if the paperwork they have doesn't meet the exacting demands of this new ruling.  Right now it appears their only option is to destroy thousands of dollars of previously legal ivory just to satisfy the whim of a Washington bureaucrat.

This is yet another example of an administration run amok.  What's next, declaring stainless steel illegal because it contains chromium, which is classified as a toxic material?

When I close a post I usually end it with the admonition to 'stay sharp!'  Today I'll close with something a bit different...

Stay vigilant!


Sunday, January 5, 2014


Folks who know me know I'm fascinated with firearms.  Just as much as I'm fascinated by knives.  Always have been, always will be.

However, I generally keep discussions about firearms out of my blogs, for a few reasons.  First, guns are a highly charged, emotional topic, even in my own family.  No need to poke the bear.  Second, guns of all types, gun issues and gun culture are already well covered on other blogs; there's only a few blogs that focus on knives but there's hundreds (perhaps thousands) of blogs (and websites, and YouTube channels) focused on guns.  I see no need to rehash what's already been hashed and rehashed elsewhere.

But I am fascinated with guns (did I already mention that?).  And I really like Glocks.  My affection for Glocks came late in life and was born out of frustration.  I went through several small 9mm pistols from other manufacturers that proved unreliable.  Not 'fails to fire every few hundred rounds' unreliable, but 'hiccups on damned near every other round' unreliable.  Since I was on the hunt for a ultra reliable pistol that I could carry concealed (God bless the State of Georgia and her concealed carry laws) I was very frustrated by the performance of the pistols I had tested.

Then one afternoon I stumbled into a gun store that also happened to be a Glock Law Enforcement dealer.  I ended up telling my tale of woe to the guy behind the counter and after listening for a few minutes he asked, "Have you ever looked at the Glock 26?"  I made a sour face.  To that point all I thought about Glocks (if I thought about them at all) was that they were overpriced tactical Tupperware.  The sales guy pulled out a Glock 26 and let me handle it.  I have to say that, right off the bat, I was not impressed.  The Glock 26 is a fat, stubby, ungainly looking little gun.  The frame is so short that I could only grip it with two fingers.  It did, however, point quite nicely.  The sales guy looked at me, looked at my haircut, and asked, "Are you law enforcement or military?"  I told him I was retired from the Army.  "Well then, you are entitled to the Glock Law Enforcement discount!"  I asked him what the price of the Glock 26 was and was surprised at the number he tossed back to me.  I looked at the gun in my hand and figured heck, at that price if I don't like it I can always sell it for more than I paid for it.

Eight years on I still carry that Glock 26.  From the first day at the range it has been 100% reliable.  Not '100% reliable with most types of ammo', but 100% reliable, period.    By my count I've put over 2,000 rounds of ammunition through it and the pistol has never failed to feed, fire and cycle any of the ammo I've fed it.  Not once.  And I've fed it some pretty crappy ammo.

Since then I've become a big fan of Glock pistols.  I bought or traded into several other models (a Glock 22 sits on the shelf next to me as I type).  I even got the opportunity to attend the Glock Armorer course at Glock's American headquarters in Smyrna, Ga.  When you tear apart a Glock and understand how it works, then compare its design to many of its competitors (Smith & Wesson, Springfield Armory, Kahr, SIG, H&K, etc.) you begin to understand the genius of Gaston Glock and his design.  Many firearms manufacturers have caught up with Glock in terms of design and reliability, but Glock was there first, and was there decades ahead of most of his competitors.  When a gun company introduces a new polymer frame pistol the first thing it's compared to is the Glock.  In most cases the design is simply a re-engineering of the basic Glock design.

But this blog post isn't really about Glock pistols, at least not directly.  It's about a fascinating little book written by Paul M. Barrett titled 'Glock - The Rise of America's Gun'.

You would think that the history of Glock is pretty straightforward - Austrian entrepreneurial genius produces a groundbreaking pistol design, captures the American law enforcement and sports shooting market and lives happily ever after.

Nooooooo....  The history of Glock, particularly the history of Glock in the US, reads like a juicy soap opera. We have:

  • The reclusive Austrian genius who thinks Americans are stupid, especially those that unintentionally shoot themselves with his 'perfect' product
  • The fast talking company president who got his start selling machine guns out of the back of his van
  • The slick corporate lawyer who becomes the master of trapping liberal politicians in their own hypocrisy 
  • Slimy left wing law enforcement leadership bad mouthing 'plastic pistols' out of one side of their mouths while arranging sweetheart deals with Glock out of the other
  • A strip club that hosted so many Glock 'business meetings' that it became a defacto corporate annex
  • Company employees buying pistols and magazines at huge discounts just before federal bans are enacted only to start selling them out of the trunks of their cars at enormous profit once the ban was in place
  • Lines of vans rolling up to Hartsfield Airport in Atlanta to offload weekly shipments of thousands of guns and tens of thousands of magazines to feed an almost insatiable demand for Glock products
  • Shady deals with large police forces in major cities that put Glocks in the holsters of police officers at essentially zero cost
  • The 70 year old company owner delivering a bare knuckled ass whipping to a would-be assassin who was was hired by one of his own executives to beat his head in with a rubber mallet

You could take the characters from the Sopranos and insert them into this storyline and all the personalities would fit!

How Monty Python-esque is this story?  Here's a sample: when Glock set up its booth at the shooting industry trade show (SHOT Show) in Las Vegas back in 1990 the 'gun babe' they put in the booth to demonstrate the features of the new Glock 20 pistol was actually a stripper from the infamous Gold Club in Atlanta.

Folks, I can't make up stuff this good!  Hell, Jimmy Breslin couldn't make up stuff this good!

The author Paul Barrett is an assistant managing editor of Bloomberg Businessweek (yes, that Bloomberg) and as such he's no supporter of guns or the Second Amendment.  But he's written a mostly fair, honest and often hilariously revealing story of the Glock company, focusing mainly on its US operations.  At the end of the book Barrett invariably slides into familiar liberal talking points territory, asking the reader, for example, if it's really necessary for civilians to have a pistol magazine that holds more than 10 rounds, or if a citizen really needs a cartridge like the .40 S&W that "delivers more destructive force" than the more 'reasonable' 9mm round.  And of course the NRA and Sarah Palin get bashed six ways to Sunday.

But in the end it's the fascinating story of an industry changing pistol design that has thrived despite all the foibles, seedy drama, missteps and outright screw-ups of the humans that designed it, manufactured it and successfully marketed it to make it the most successful line of handguns in history.

It's a fun story.  If you have any interest in firearms, the firearms industry or Glock in particular I highly recommend this book.

Stay sharp!