Earlier in the month the annual Blade Show came to town. This year I was accompanied by my friend Doug who had very little background in knives, but a lot of curiosity. This is my fifth Blade Show visit and its become something of an annual ritual. I reserve the show date on my calendar and warn friends and relatives not to burden me with any responsibilities on show day. To me the show is like a second Christmas, and my family knows enough to not spoil it for me.
This year I didn't have an agenda - I wasn't on the hunt for the newest interpretation of the Bowie knife, or the best bushcraft blade, or the latest offering from Buck/Cold Steel/A.G. Russell/etc. This year was more about wandering around with Doug, introducing him to the finer points of knife design and execution and admiring the work of many of the individual makers. Doug is smart and showed a lively interest not just in knife design and manufacturing, but he also got interested in what I'll call the psychology of knife collecting.
So let's hit some of the highlights.
The show was packed. This was easily the largest crowd I've seen at a Blade Show. Our first clue as to the size of the crowd came when we were looking for a parking spot. The show venue, the Cobb Galleria, has plenty of parking, so when it took us 20 minutes to find a spot I knew it was going to be packed. The second clue came when we entered the arena. The place was jammed! Just a few years back vendors were complaining about low show attendance. The poor economy and a general malaise seemed to have kept folks home. This year things seemed much improved and it was great (though sometimes annoying) to see the displays and tables packed two and three deep
Buck's presence at the show was much subdued. They had a smaller than normal booth, weren't doing any sales and didn't seem to be drawing the crowds. I don't know if this was a reaction to the recent passing of Chuck Buck or just a general business decision to reduce their presence at the show. It was sort of sad to see. I did check out their new Selkirk fixed blade. This is a Chinese produced (something the Buck rep seemed a little defensive about) fixed blade made out of 420 steel. Overall I was impressed. It's an excellent design with a one piece blade and integral hilt and pommel and a very comfortable grip made of what seems to be Micarta. The street price is also well below $100.
Folks gripe about Chinese made knives, but producers like A.G. Russell proved long ago that if proper quality control is applied the Chinese can turn out excellent blades at astonishingly low prices.
|Ethan Becker (right) holding court at the Ka-Bar booth|
While at the Ka-Bar booth I mentioned to Doug that besides being a knife designer, Ethan is also a professional chef. Doug walked right over to Ethan and asked, "In your opinion, who makes the best kitchen knives?" Without hesitating Ethan shot right back, "Al Mar, but don't tell them I said that!" Classic Ethan.
The Italians are coming! The Italians are coming! I don't think I've ever seen this many Italian manufacturers at the show. Perhaps it was because their wares never really caught my eye, but this time I found something to like. The folks at the Maserin booth were showing off their wares and one of their locking folders caught my eye
Maserin's little 'Birdland' folder seemed extremely well done. I'll admit that it was the orange handle scales that caught my attention, but once I got to handle the knife I realized what a great little package it is. Slim, a very nice blade profile, it locks up tight, has a good 'walk and talk' and the blade is well centered in the blade well. This is the first Italian-produced knife I ever considered worth putting money down for.
About this time I lost track of Doug and eventually found him bugging the Browning Knife guys...
|Doug, on the left, peppering the Browning guys with questions|
A new (to me) maker that caught my eye was White River Knife & Tool from Coopersville, Michigan up near Grand Rapids. What got my attention were the examples they had on-hand from their Classic Series. These blades are extremely well done using profiles that hearken back to the classic upper midwest hunting blade designs from Rudy Ruana and Bill Scagel. But two things really set White River's designs apart. First, their generous handle sizes. There's a prevailing line of thought in knife design that says little blades need little handles. This often translates into small fixed blade knives with handles too small for the average adult male to get a good purchase on. White River makes sure even their smallest fixed blades sport generous handles. The handles are slim but well proportioned and provide enough real-estate for a good purchase. Next is blade thickness. Another prevailing trend in outdoor knives is thicker is better - the sharpened pry-bar approach to knife making. This trend has resulted in a generation of blades that are simply far too thick for their intended (or likely) use. White River uses blade stock of the proper thickness for its intended use. This results in larger fixed blades that are light, handy and easy to maneuver.
|White River Classic Series - very nicely done|
Here's a gratuitous shot of one of the Case knife displays. I've freely admitted to my Case knife addiction in the past, and Case's show displays don't help with the problem. It's like a drunk walking into a liquor store that's offering free samples. All I'll say is that it's a damned good thing that Case doesn't do sales at the Blade Show.
|Case knives. Crack cocaine. What's the difference?|
As Doug and I were making our way around the show floor we ended up in the collector's corner where the Buck Collector's Club, the Randall collectors and other similar groups were set up. Doug became fascinated by the George Herron knife collection owned by R. Duncan out of South Carolina. This is where Doug got into the psychology of knife collecting. He peppered Mr. Duncan for over 20 minutes with questions about knife value, perceptions, motivations and what keeps a collector going. I think Duncan only put up with Doug's line of questioning because Doug told him he was a Citadel grad. Doug came away with a far better understanding of what drives knife collecting, and I think something clicked (more on that in a bit).
|Doug peppering George Herron knife collector R. Duncan with endless questions|
|Some of the exquisite Herron-made blades in Duncan's collection. This whole|
collecting thing absolutely fascinated Doug
So after learning all about knife collecting, and having admired some of the custom work on display on the tables of individual makers Doug wandered over to the Buck Collectors Club display area. The Buck Collectors Club displays are always the 'mac-daddy' of knife collection displays at the Blade Show. It's row upon row of collections of all the various blades and styles made by the Buck family since the mid-20th century. Buck collectors are extraordinarily devoted to the brand and the club gets a lot of support from the company and the Buck family. Doug was clearly impressed by the vast array of Buck products. Before this all he knew about Buck came from the few products he'd seen for sale in the PX. Then we made the mistake of wandering by the Collector's Club information table in the display area. Doug intermediately spotted a Model 110 for sale as a fund raiser that had been re-worked by David Yellowhorse - resplendent in sliver and turquoise handle inlays and delicate file work on the blade. Doug went back to the table two or three times, each time getting closer to pulling out his wallet. Finally he asked me to lead him away and to never let him go back by the table while we were still at the show.