Category Archives: Knives

Messes, Frustration, and Fun on Maintenance Day

I spent the day making and cleaning messes and making things both better and worse. That’s what Maintenance Day is all about.

Knives:
I started with knives. Although I do some basic, regular maintenance on our kitchen knives, every few months I break out the Bar Keeper’s Friend, the stones and the strops to do serious maintenance.

First I scrub the knives clean and then I remove the edge and all the damaged metal and then start, in theory, resetting the apex. This step in the process involves swearing, frustration and the eventual admittance that the low grit stone I own is crap and (and concave) and is keeping me from forming the apex. I quickly move to a higher grit stone and eventually form an apex that actually cuts. I then strop it lightly a few times and call it done.

This leaves it clean and sharp until the next time I do all this.

If I did this more often I’d be better at it, but knife sharpening is one of those things I’m glad to have done but don’t always enjoy doing. This time there was an added twist: even though I don’t do this level of maintenance very often, I can see the cheap blade is starting to wear down to the point that it needs to be replaced and I totally didn’t do this on purpose and this totally isn’t an excuse to go knife shopping. No. Really. It isn’t.

Fountain Pens:
I also used today to do maintenance on various fountain pens. This involves washing them out and, if I want to change ink, soaking the nib and feed. Today, though, all I did was refill pens, which is a lot easier. I still managed to make a mess, though.

First, one of the pens has an odd leak around the ink window that is about to see it relegated to Garbage Reserve after its replacement arrives. (And after I review it on this blog.) This meant I had ink on my hands before I’d actually started refilling pens.

This turned out to be an omen I should have heeded:

I refilled five pens, and managed to get five different shades of ink on my fingers and, oddly, on the back of my hand. I look like a guy who got the ultimate drunken tattoo. I told the tattoo artist “Make it say LOVE and HATE on my” (drunken belch) “fingers.” The next day I discover the tattoo artist was also drunk and wrote the words JAKE and ELWOOD on my finger tips with a permanent marker and he is now passed out on my couch.

This is part of the fun of fountain pens, and part of their curse. You wear the ink as much as you use it even when you’re trying to be careful.

And I still can’t figure out how the tattoo artist found my apartment.

Customer Service in Various Forms and Speeds

Today is the story of two customer service experiences. One was oddly slow, one was surprisingly fast. One unfortunately necessary.

The Prodigal Knife Returneth
I’ve mentioned before the tale of The Phantom Knife and how I was dreading making an international call to find it. In the end, instead of calling, I made one last ditch effort to use the company’s website contact form. I kept my temper when writing (at least in my heart I believe I did) and whatever I wrote finally got a response.

They claimed they had some trouble with my email and had been trying to contact me. I do not believe this, but having been in Japan as long as I have, I didn’t make an issue of it and instead apologized for any trouble. They told me the old knife, a Benchmade Mini-Ambush couldn’t be replaced (it’s discontinued and they no longer make the parts for it) but they still would honor the lifetime guarantee and would be happy to send me the modern equivalent of that knife as a replacement if that was okay with me. I was like, well, um, I don’t, well, yes, that would be perfect.

A couple weeks later I received the replacement, a Benchmade Mini-Griptilian and it’s such a step up I almost feel guilty about accepting it (well, at least I would have if it hadn’t taken four months for them to answer an email). It’s already one of my favorite pocket knives. I like it better than my larger Griptilian (long story behind that one).

Once More Into The Mail
I’ve also mentioned before how the TWSBI Diamond 580 Black Rose Gold became my new workhorse pen and how I wasn’t a big fan of the TWSBI Mini, especially after having encountered two different quality issues with it.

Well, about a year after it was delivered and put to use, the new cap on my TWSBI Mini broke in almost identical fashion to the original one. (A crack around the top of the cap.) I emailed TWSBI about a possible replacement and they responded in about 20 minutes with assurances that a new cap would be sent. The next day the factory contacted me to let me know the new cap had already been sent.

None of this will cost me a single yen.

Blistering fast customer service, but it does pose a conundrum:

Is it better to have blistering fast customer service or is it better not to need it? (Answer: Yes.)

Although I still like the TWSBI 580 and, knock-on-wood, haven’t had any problems with it, I can’t recommend the TWSBI Mini for people looking to move up from cheap fountain pens or looking to try a smaller, more pocket friendly fountain pen. For the same money there are better choices.

As for me, I’ll probably clean the Mini up and try to sell it. At a used price, and with a brand new cap, I might be able to interest someone in it, at least for a year or so until the cap breaks again.

 

Something I Can Do Even When I’m Not Prepared

When I was at the in-laws last week I had one of those chances you get every now and then to prove yourself either worthy or completely useless. The legitimacy of one of my hobbies was also involved.

I’ve mentioned before how the earthquake and tsunami in 2011 indirectly rekindled my interest in knives. Because of this one of the things I notice, especially at the in-laws, is the knives people use at home.

What I noticed about my in-laws’ knives wasn’t that positive

They have a couple Usaba-style knives that looked as if they’d been left out in a field for a couple months. They were rusted (common with the carbon steel in the blades) and were dull. Oddly, one of them was chipped badly enough that it kind of, sort of worked as a bread knife, if you didn’t mind a glaze of rust on your toast.

In the past I’ve mentioned to She Who Must Be Obeyed that “next time we visit” I’d bring some cleaning stuff and a couple sharpening stones and fix up the knives for them. Every “next time” though, we’d always set off without the stones and, except for a couple “next time” promises, I never got a chance to work on the knives.

This time, though, Mother of She Who Must Be Obeyed complained enough that She Who Must Be Obeyed mentioned my promise to her.

Because of that mention, I suddenly found myself in the middle of a  “put up or shut up” moment. The conversation went something like:

SWMBO: Can you sharpen these knives?
Me: Um, er, uh, yeah, sure.
SWMBO: Put up or shut up.
Me: Um, er, uh, yeah, sure.

A couple diamond sharpening steels suddenly appeared. They were about as badly designed as possible for the job at hand. The had six inch steels that were shaped like daggers. They were flat on one side and round on the other and were clearly intended for mower blades and oddly shaped tools. They were not intended for 7 inch blades.

However, because I was trapped, and had an audience, I had to perform which meant the dagger-shaped steels were perfect. They had rubber grips, though, which mean I had to hold them with one hand and sharpen the blades with the other. The tricky part was keeping the blades at the proper angle on steels without cutting off parts of my own body. (Which would at least prove how sharp the knives were.)

In the end, I took steel wool and cleaning powder to the blades to clean off the rust. I removed as much of the chipped edge as possible and got the edges where they could at least cut paper and not just rip it to shreds.

Mother of She Who Must Be Obeyed reported the knives were very good and gave me a compliment for doing a good job.

The problem is, now I’ll have to do it again next time I’m at their house. Now that they know what I can do, they’ll expect me to do it.

 

Sharp But Not That Sharp

I headed down to Tokyo for the annual Ginza Blade Show and this may be the first time I was underwhelmed. Mind you, it didn’t stop me from being tempted by a couple items.

Luckily, although the humidity approached liquid, today wasn’t mercilessly hot which meant I still had some energy by the time I reached the venue. I got there right before opening time and, because I’ve been to enough shows that I may now officially be a mascot, I was able to walk in as if I belonged there. This gave me a chance to survey the room before it started filling up.

The usual suspects were there and although I was tempted to buy a knife from one of them, that was part of the problem. All the same faces with all the same knives and all the same prices.

The most interesting knife had a handle made from old computer mother boards and acrylic but the rest weren’t that interesting.

This knife is really cool and only six-hundred dollars.

This knife is really cool and only $600. The handle shape makes it easy to grip, but I’ll bet it’s slippery when wet.

That said, there were a few interesting new trends.

First, a lot of the tables seemed to have discovered carbon fiber. Two of my favorite knife makers had knives with carbon fiber handles that looked great and were surprisingly light. I had a nice–albeit short–chat with Toshiyuki Miyamae who survived the Atlanta Blade Show this year.

(Note to the uninitiated: The Atlanta Blade Show or “Blade” is roughly the equivalent of Mecca to a knife knut, er, nut. Everyone must go once.)

Miyamae had a double bladed slip joint folder with heat anodized titanium bolsters and hand carved liners that probably cost well over two-thousand dollars. I’m still surprised he let me touch it. (He also let me take a picture of it that didn’t turn out very well. Sigh.)

The second new trend was accessories and knives made from interesting materials. There were sheath makers and a leather worker who also made leather bags and leather covered guitars.

The final new trend was women. This show had a lot more women than usual as it appears a lot of men brought their wives. I do not think this was an attempt to convince the women to buy and enjoy knives. Rather, I think it was an attempt to connect human faces to the knives. “Honey, if I don’t buy this expensive knife, that nice friendly man who just gave you some butterscotch will starve to death and die.” (Something like that.)

I’ll have to ask about that before the next show in October. If it worked, I might have to plan a day trip for She Who Must Be Obeyed.

This is early in the show, right as it started to get busy.

This is early in the show, before the women arrived and it started to get busy.

 

The T-Kawai Lockback Prototype–It’s a Mystery

Early last year I bought a knife. I don’t know much about it except that I’d like to know more about it.

I got the knife at the second knife show I attended. It’s a lockback folder made by T-Kawai. It has orange G10 handles and a 3.75 inch (9.5 centimeter) hollow ground drop point blade made from CRMO-7 steel. The overall length when opened is  8.67 inches (22 centimeters) but it is light for its size. It weighs only 3.42 ounces (97 grams) which means I have pens that weigh more than this knife.

The T Kawai partially opened.

The T-Kawai partially opened. You can see the damage/scratch at the top of the ricasso.

The CRMO-7 has high chrome content and polishes up nice. As I understand it, it was intended for use in razor blades but has become popular among fishermen and kitchen knife makers in Japan. When I tested the knife, I cut boxes until I ran out of cardboard in the house and it held its edge well and didn’t show any damage other than a few scratches. (For the steel geeks out there, it is usually compared to ATS-34 steel.)

Because it’s light, though, it feels kind of flimsy at first. Also, Japanese lockback folders don’t have that satisfying solid snap that most Western lockbacks have. That also makes it feel flimsy. That said, after my testing, I didn’t notice anything starting to come loose.  The blade didn’t shake open despite my best efforts to make it come open.

The long handle is well sculpted and I didn’t feel any obvious hot spots as I cut wood and other random items with it.  The handle may be a bit long for the blade (fully open it looks vaguely like an airplane fuselage)  but even people with large hands would have little trouble holding it comfortably. For its size, it’s comfortable to carry in the pocket.

A close up of the blade.

A close up of the blade to show the polish T-Kawai put on it. You can see the damage on the top right.

The big mystery is the knife maker, T-Kawai. When I bought the knife it was on sale for 90 dollars because it is a damaged prototype of a design he never brought into production. (Note: his regular knives sell between 180-300 US dollars.) There are scratches on top of the ricasso and the blade is off center. Even as I was buying it he dropped another ten dollars off the price.

I like the knife enough that I’m considering getting another. Even if I don’t, I’m interested in learning more about the knife maker. The problem is he didn’t have a business card at the time and he hasn’t attended any more knife shows. He was friendly, but he seemed disinterested by the entire knife show. He was scheduled to attend the last knife show I went to, but his table remained empty.

I don’t even know if I met the actual knife maker or just a salesman. Either way I’d like to tell him that even his damaged prototypes are terrific knives.

Tales of the Phantom Knife

I sent a knife to the USA for warranty repair (because that’s the only place it could be done) and now the knife seems to have disappeared.

This wouldn’t be a problem except that the company, despite having an email contact form and a promise to replay to emails in four days, never actually answers any emails.

A little research on knife forums has convinced me that I’ll have to call them. This, however, bothers me for two reasons: 1) I hate dealing with such things on the phone and 2) the only times I can call are the middle of the night.

Combine those two things and the results are incoherent sleepy babbling (as opposed to just regular incoherent babbling) and lots of hastily assembled notes that have to be carefully organized and referred to on the fly and not always in the order they’ve been organized.

Then there’s the problem of hearing things correctly:

Them: What’s that tracking number again?
Me: LE22VB3359JP
Them: What?
Me: LE22VB3359JST
Them: What?
Me: Just answer your f@#king email.
Them: What?
Me: Lima Echo two fiver Victor Bravo Tree Tree fiver niner Juliet Sierra Tango
Them: Well why didn’t you say so?
Me: Foxtrot Uniform Charlie Kilo You.

That latter sentence is another problem. Because I don’t like making such calls, I find I have very little patience during them. If I don’t get an immediate positive response I usually end up having an angry response. This is especially true when the knife arrived three months ago and I didn’t even get an acknowledgement that it had arrived. All I have is information from the tracking number saying it had been delivered.

Eventually I pick a Monday, get up early and try the phone call. Until then I need to practice meditation, deliberate breathing and counting to 10 before I speak.

Granted, none of that will make me less angry, but it might keep me from swearing, at least for a little while.

 

cKc Victorious–When a Lock is Not a Lock

I’ve mentioned Kyley Harris of cKc Knives before and how he seems to enjoy solving problems that aren’t actually problems. Today I’d like to talk about his non-locking folder that comes with a lock.

One of the things Harris set out to solve is the problem of friction folders. For those who have interests other than pointy stabby things, a friction folder is a knife that doesn’t lock into place when the blade is open. Instead it relies on friction and/or the hand of the user to keep it open.

The problem with friction folders is that over time they lose friction and don’t stay open. Users have to be careful when using them, lest the blade close on their fingers. The other problem is that they traditionally have an extended tang that sticks out when they’re closed allowing the blade to be opened more easily.

A Japanese Higonokami friction folder. You can see the extended tang off to the left.

A Japanese Higonokami friction folder. You can see the extended tang off to the left.

Harris spent a few months experimenting with designs and consulting with fellow knife makers in order to create an updated friction folder that had a lock that didn’t count as a lock. At one point he even tried magnets and rods on lanyards that could be inserted and removed as necessary.

In the end he came up with the cKc Victorious. It has a small sliding bar built in the blade that can be slid into place. Because it holds the blade in place but doesn’t actually lock it, I prefer to call it a “restraint.” It adds a level of safety if, for example, the blade gets stuck during a cut. As you pull back, a regular friction folder will try to close on your fingers, but the “restraint” prevents that.

cKc Victorious. You can see the sliding restraint and the slot for it at the top left.

cKc Victorious. You can see the sliding restraint and the slot for it at the top left.

The design itself is terrific. The blade is nine centimeters (3.5 inches) long and made from AEB-L Stainless. Open the knife is 20 centimeters (7.87 inches). The handles are anodized titanium.  The blade shape is almost a wharrencliffe but has a rounded edge (perhaps making it more of a sheepsfoot). Fully open and restrained, it looks great. Harris has rounded the handles and off set them from the blade so users can slice without dragging their knuckles across the cutting board.

 

My full cKc collection. The Victorious is third from the top. You can see the great handle shape and the closed restraint.

My cKc collection. The Victorious is third from the top. Note the great handle shape and the restraint. (knives list below)

The other safety feature is the choil where the index finger rests. If the blade tries to close, the index finger will act as a blade stop. This is good because, as always, Harris has sharpened the blade into a scary sharp convex. Although the handle is metal, and Harris prefers a rough, unfinished look to his knives so that people won’t be afraid to start using them, there are no sharp corners to play havoc with your hands. The knife is a lot of fun to hold and cut with with.

I only have two minor complaints about the knife. First, it’s heavy. It weighs 124 grams (or 4.37 ounces) which makes it too heavy to carry in the pocket. Also, the look is slightly ruined by the random hole at the top. This is a legacy from the early days of experimentation.

As I’ve said before, Harris is leaving knife making for more secure work. He will fulfill the last of his orders and then make a few personal knives and then retire from knife making. Those of us who admire his knife making skills and his sense of design will miss his work and we all hope he changes his mind.

Note
Here is a complete list of the knives in the picture, top to bottom:
–3″ Utility
–Slipjoint
–Victorious
–Streamline 2.0
–EDC
–Bait Utility

 

WC Knives Woodlore Clone and Woodcarver–Down Home Custom Knives

A couple years ago, on the recommendation of a guy I’d only seen on YouTube I sent money to another guy I’d only seen on YouTube. Oddly, I think I got my money’s worth.

The Knife Maker:
As part of the tithing I’ve talked about before I ordered knives from a writer and knife maker named William Collins the founder of WC Knives. Collins is based in Texas and at the time I ordered my knives had only been making knives for about eight months. (He began in December 2012.)

One of the interesting features of sending him your money (he insists on partial payment up front to cover materials) is that he sends you frequent videos of the progress of your knives. This includes his mistakes–he made one on mine which slowed things down–and the answers to any questions you may have.  He then includes the videos as part of the package he sends with the final product.

In my case, his charming nature actually helped sell the purchase to She Who Must Be Obeyed. I was mostly impressed that his workshop seemed to be mostly outdoors.

The Knives:
I ordered two knives, the WC Knives Woodlore Clone and the smaller Woodcarver.

The Woodlore Clone (top) and the Woodcarver with their sheaths.

The Woodlore Clone (top) and the Woodcarver with their sheaths.

The knives have single bevel or “Scandi” grind drop-point blades and are made from 1095 steel which sharpens easily, holds an edge reasonably well and rusts at even the mention of water. They have hunter orange G10 handles with black G10 liners, brass pins and brass lanyard holes. The Woodlore Clone has a 4 inch blade and is 8.67 inches long over all. The Woodcarver has a 3.16 inch blade and is 7.16 inches long.

I chose Kydex sheaths with leather loops. Collins gives you a choice of sheaths, although it’s also possible to get them without sheaths.

For a new knife maker Collins did a terrific job. There are a few flaws: the “Scandi” grind is uneven on both knives–annoying mostly because it affects cutting–and the lanyard hole is partially blocked on the Woodlore Clone as if the G10 liner slipped after it had been drilled.

I’m also discovering I’m not a big fan of “Scandi” grinds, but that’s not Collins’ fault.

A close up of the blades.

A close up of the blades before any use.

The best part, though, is the handles. Collins does a terrific job producing beefy handles that don’t seem to have any hot spots and there are no gaps where the handle material meets the tang. They are easy to hold barehanded or with gloves and are so comfortable you actually want to go out and cut stuff with them. (Meaning I need to repatriate them to the USA so I can actually use them more.) I’ve used them as much as I can around the house and used them enough on wood and cardboard to dull them but they are really meant to be used outdoors.

I like them enough I’m considering another purchase. Until then, I can’t recommend his knives strongly enough. He’s always coming up with new designs and tests them on his YouTube channel. Lately he’s been working with better quality steels which has driven up the price some, but he’ll make whatever you order.

He’s also an avid hunter who’s not afraid to use one of his knives to butcher a squirrel or pig on camera. He will also show you the time he spent in the woods without getting a deer.

That said, anyone interested in ordering a knife should know that he has a large backlog and that he takes deer season off until he fills his tag.

Detail of the WC Knives logo, which he hammers in with a sledge hammer and the G10 handles.

Detail of the WC Knives logo, which he hammers in with a sledge hammer and the G10 handles. Note the thumb grooves in the handles.

cKc EDC–An Awesome Solution in Search of a Problem

I own a knife that solves a problem that probably wasn’t a problem. It’s still an awesome knife, though.

First some background: After I started renewing an odd interest in knives, I discovered cKc Knives. cKc Knives is run by Kyley Harris, a part-time knife maker in New Zealand who made videos that were one part humor, one part profanity and one part awesome. (In one great video, he proved a metal ruler could cut paper as part of a response to ludicrous claims from another YouTuber.) He also had one of the greatest sales videos I’ve ever seen when he proved his awesome sharpening skills by slicing a computer manual in half as easy as cutting warm butter.

He also approaches knife making from an attitude that’s best described as a mix of scientific curiosity and “why the hell not?”

As such, his knives don’t look like anyone else’s and have features that seem more like responses to other people’s claims. To prove that the shape of handle matters more than the handle’s material, he made a knife out of a material that’s slipperier than Teflon.

My favorite knife (although just barely) is the cKc EDC framelock. It was his first framelock and it was his attempt to make a lock that wouldn’t fail.

Note to non-knife people: One of the favorite past-times on YouTube is to take a folding knife and slam the blade spine on a table to see if the lock will fail, causing the knife to close on the user’s hand. The theory being that if it fails like that it will fail and close on your hand when you’re whittling a stick or opening a box you got in the mail. (Something like that.)

The cKc EDC from the side.

The cKc EDC from the side.

The cKc EDC, though, has a lock that’s designed to never fail. Harris designed the lock with a groove that, in theory, will act like a catcher’s mitt and catch the lock bar. He tested it by locking different knives and the EDC in a vice and hitting them with a broomstick. He sheered a piece of one knife but the EDC didn’t fail.

The problem is, though, that it’s unlikely anyone would ever hit the back of a knife like that unless I was, for some inexplicable reason, using a folding knife to hammer a nail. As such, the lock on the EDC solves a problem that’s not a huge problem on most knives.

Also, the trade-off is that the lock design leaves the knife with a slight rattle. To allow for the groove, the blade has to move a little. This goes away when you grip it and start using it, but it’s still a bit disconcerting the first time you shake the knife and it rattles. I bought it used and had to take it apart and clean and oil it a bit to make the blade open smoothly.

That said, I like everything else about the knife. The ELMAX steel holds an edge well, although, because I live in Japan, I haven’t had as much chance to test it out as I’d like, and the titanium scales and handle shape are surprisingly comfortable. It has a 3.1 inch blade (8 cm) and is 7.4 inches long (18.6 cm) it’s the prefect size to carry around the house.

Unfortunately, Harris has taken a hiatus from making knives. However, if you’re interested, check out his shop on Gearbastion, where you can also find a lot of other new knifemakers, from the USA, the UK, Australia and New Zealand.

I hope he starts making knives again soon. Until then, keep watching Gearbastion.

 

 

 

Crowds Damascus Steel and Almost Cut Faces

I almost cut a woman’s face off today.

In my defense, she was behind me and she was holding the knife too close to her face.

Today was the Japan Custom Knife Makers/Japan Knife Guild Custom Knife Show in Ginza. As always, I froze my credit cards in blocks of ice and headed down to the show.

This year’s show was crowded and I was pleased to see lots of women who seemed to have an interest in knives and that lots of knives were being marked SOLD.

Soon after the doors opened. It's already getting crowded. Not everyone is set up.

Soon after the doors opened. It’s already getting crowded and not everyone is set up yet.

I’ve been around the shows enough that people are starting to talk to me. I’ve even discovered a few English speakers. One guy asked if I was a distributor and I went “No, I’m a, wait, if I say I’m a distributor will I get a discount?” Suddenly he forgot English.

The other trend this time was Damascus steel. Almost every knife maker had a version of their knife made with Damascus. The man who asked if I was a distributor was famous blacksmith/steel maker Kazuo Nomura. His most impressive knives were mix of aogami super steel and different shades of copper. The problem was they were only sold as a set of 10 and the set was $10,000. They also had hand made maki-e handles to help justify the price.

The three on the left are part of the set. The one on the right is extra.

The three on the left are part of the set. The one on the right is extra. Would you really bone chicken with these?

Close up of the damascus steel. This would be a pain to clean and keep dry.

Close up of the Damascus steel. This would be a pain to clean and keep dry but it looks cool.

A different knife maker's version of Damascus. These are only $125.

A different knife maker’s version of Damascus. These are only $125.

Although everyone was friendly, I think it’s time to move the show to a bigger hall. As the show got crowded it got hard to move around in the small room. At one point, my Canadian friend pulled me away from a woman I was about to bump. When I turned around she was holding an eight inch Bowie knife up to her face to read the logo or check the polish.

Also, it would be nice to see knife-related goods like sheaths and sharpening utensils. There are already a couple vendors who sell knife parts for knife makers they should also start carrying some Japanese waterstones.

Despite the Damascus trend, there was a better mix of knife types than some of the earlier shows I’ve attended. They makers had flippers, lockbacks, fixed blades of different types and a even a few novelty knives that were kind of fun.

This is sharp and way too small for my hand.

This is sharp and way too small for my hand.

It made me look forward to the next show, which doesn’t always happen. I’ll have to keep my credit cards frozen though.