Knife maker Bill Wiggins grinds a blade.
Knife maker Bill Wiggins grinds a blade.
This is about the knife that I seem to use for everything except what it was designed for.
The knife that I am writing about today would probably be referred to by most people as a “hunter”, or “hunting knife”. I have not used it for any “hunting” related chores but I have used it for a myriad of other things.
The 4 7/8” blade is forged from 1084 carbon steel and the tiger maple handle is separated from the blade by a stainless steel guard. It was made by American Bladesmith Society board member Bill Wiggins as a demonstration piece. Since it was a demo knife, and time was limited, Bill didn’t rub the blade out and it was left with some grinding marks, perhaps what makers might call a belt finish. “Belt finish”, “working finish”, and “forge finish” are terms that some makers use when describing blade finishes. Often, although not always, knives with these terms attached to them appear to my eye to simply be “unfinished”. Not that any makers care how I interpret the wording they use in describing their knives.
But, to get back on topic…..The lack of a rubbed blade out blade finish doesn’t bother me in this instance; I use the knife on a regular basis and fruits and vegetables don’t take long to patina carbon steel. Although this knife would be much more at home as a hunting or general use belt knife around camp, I use it to prepare food, open or cut down shipping boxes, and many other daily cutting chores in my house.
Before you say it, I know that it is not the ideal box cutter or kitchen knife, and I do possess those types of knives, so why do I select it over its better suited relatives for those mundane tasks? It’s simple really; the knife holds its edge and is very, very comfortable in my hand. But I suppose the best thing about it is that I like Bill and it’s a pleasure to use something that he made.
copyright Bill North 2014
James Batson Scagel folder recreation
One of the things that I enjoy about custom / handmade knives is the people that I meet because of my interest in the knives. Actually for me personally, it’s probably the thing that I enjoy the most.
I was not able to attend the Blade Show in Atlanta this year but when Bill Wiggins got home he had a knife to deliver to me. It is a recreation of a Scagel 3 7/8” single bladed trapper that Jim Batson made for me. One side of the tang is marked with a Scagel type kris and the opposite side of the blade is marked “James Batson / Bladesmith”. The blade is just under .080” at the thickest point of the spine and is thin behind the edge. I touched the edge up on a Spyderco stone and it is now really, really sharp. Its traditional look appeals to me and I am proud to own it. Thank you Jim Batson.
As far as I can see there are two main ways that custom or handmade knives are referred to. They are “stock removal” and “forged blades” or knives made by bladesmiths. But to be accurate both types normally require stock removal to some degree. There is some dividing line between the two types, at the Blade Show in Atlanta these two types are separated from each other in the room as if to avoid contamination. Why this division exists within the custom knife world I don’t know but imagine that it has to do with egos, jealousies, insecurities, old hard feelings, etc.
When it comes to cutting, slicing, or chopping anything that most of us cut, slice, or chop, there are probably plenty of reasonably priced factory made knives that will do the job just fine. The fact is that relatively expensive custom or handmade knives are not needed by most of us to perform the tasks we normally use knives for. We don’t need them, we just want them.
Most of the custom knives that I have purchased over the years have been made by bladesmiths, and recently I began wondering what is it that draws collectors to the forged blade? I suppose that a lot, maybe most of it is the romance and historical aspect of the forging process. Perhaps the collector thinks that he is getting something that requires more skill or that more work is involved. Maybe he is attracted to Damascus or laminated steel. The collector might believe that the forged blade is a better blade when it comes to performance.
As to the last sentence in the above paragraph. I don’t know of any published, scientific tests performed by an independent laboratory that show a forged blade to be a better blade than a stock removal blade when it comes to cutting or edge holding. Claims are easy to make, proof is apparently not so easy to offer. Besides, the majority of expensive custom knives receive very little hard use if any use at all, and this fact is not unknown to makers.
When it comes to the amount of skill or work involved in creating the blade itself, I would say certainly that more work is involved because the forging process creates another step or steps, and it’s fair to say that additional skills are required to properly accomplish the forging phase. When it comes to Damascus steel, San Mai, or the carbon/stainless laminates that are popular today even more skill is required on the part of the bladesmith.
Collectors or users should probably keep in mind that most bladesmiths do their own heat treating and the better, more experienced among them probably know what they are doing. Often times though the maker has very little in the way of accurate temperature controls in his shop or a lot of experience under their belt. The processes of forging, laminating, or making pattern welded steels, and then heat treating them offers opportunities for things to go wrong. All knife makers including bladesmiths come in all levels of skill, experience, and aptitude.