Damascus steel handmade knife by Bill Wiggins

Damascus steel and fossil mammoth ivory knife made by Bill Wiggins of Haywood County, North Carolina.

A new custom pocket knife

 

 

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Mother of pearl handled Daddy Barlow by American Bladesmith Society Journeyman Smith Mike Christenson. This is a big folder, 8 ¾ inches open and 5 inches closed. The flat ground blade is made from 154 CM and is .091 thick at the ricasso. Workmanship is excellent; the blade has a half stop, and is perfectly centered when closed. The bolsters are cut at a 45 degree angle for a matching bevel on the handle scales to fit under. The knife weighs 5.4 ounces. Mike is a friend of mine and lives in the same mountainous area of North Carolina that I do.

Joe Calton Paring Knife

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In looking at Joe Calton’s website www.caltoncutlery.com I was struck by the utilitarian appearance of his knives and the emphasis that he seemed to place on performance. I set about finding one to test and was able to obtain an unused Calton paring knife to evaluate. It is made from 1095 and has a handle that I believe is lacewood.

The knife is 7 ½” overall in length, blade about 3 5/8” long and .728” in height. The flat ground, carbon steel blade is thin, .071” at the spine and .026” – .027”, measured .235” back from the edge. The knife weighs 1.83 ounces. When it comes to cutting, thin wins, so at first look I was pretty certain that the knife was going to be good at the kitchen tasks that it was designed for.

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The handle is ovoid in cross section and the slabs are secured to the tang with two Corby bolts. It measures about .632” wide and .755” in height at the largest point.

The knife arrived very sharp, and examining the edge under magnification it appears toothy and not polished. The cutting edge as received would easily shave arm hair, push cut post-a-notes, and cut tomatoes as thin as wanted.

Kitchen knives are different animal. Their thin blades create grinding issues that their thicker relatives don’t have; and their very thin edges must be heat treated just right.  They probably will be used, and so customer will be able to see how they perform as compared to factory kitchen knives that the user already owns and has experience with.

I spoke with Joe on the phone and have corresponded with him by email. In speaking with Joe I got the impression that he has done quite a lot of testing and has determined what works best for him to get the performance that he wants from his blades. He was very generous about sharing information regarding his methods of manufacture, testing, and sharpening the knives he makes. I told Joe that if I owned the knife I would test the edge for flex over a brass rod, but since it wasn’t mine I would forgo that. He said that he had performed that test on this knife, and I believe that he said that he performs that test to all knives that leave his shop. According to Joe the knife is triple edge quenched 1095.

After cutting over a hundred feet of cardboard shipping box material using the same area of the blade, the knife was very (and I stress very) slightly dulled but still easily sliced thin, cheap printer paper. Some resistance to starting a push cut in the paper was noticed, and in cutting tomatoes very little, if any difference at all was noted from prior to cutting the cardboard. I would think that the knife would hold an edge for a long time if only food stuffs were cut. I touched the edge up using a medium Spyderco stone and it would easily slice thin phone book paper.

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Overall, my opinion is that Joe’s paring knives offer excellent value at the price he charges. And, if this knife is any indicator, his other types of knives offer the same value. Anything negative that I might say about the knife has more to do with personal preferences as far as ergonomics and visuals go, rather than performance aspects. This knife is an excellent performer at the tasks for which paring knives are normally used in my kitchen.

This is not a highly finished knife in that the blade is not hand rubbed but belt finished, but a slick finish is not required for it to be an excellent tool. Joe explained to me that offering “belt finished” knives allow him to offer knives at a price that his customers seem to like. And I have to say, looking at his website; his knives are very reasonably priced.

Joe Calton’s website www.caltoncutlery.com

Cliff Stamp has done some interesting testing of Joe’s knives and has posted videos on YouTube.

 

©Bill North 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bill Wiggins demo knife

 

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.

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 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

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.

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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.

Bill North

 

 

R P hollow handle survival knife

Recently I was talking about knives to a friend of mine who is a knife collector and the subject of R P (Robert Parrish) hollow handle survival knives came up. To the best of my knowledge these knives were made in the 1980s at Mr. Parrish’s shop in Hendersonville, NC.  I remarked that I was sorry that I had not purchased one when they were available especially since I knew Mr. Parrish and had visited his shop in the 80s. Over the years I have lost touch with him and I don’t think that he has made knives and offered them for sale in quite a few years.

RP survival3 copy blogR P hollow handle survival knife and sheath

Several days later I stopped by to see the same friend and he said that he had something he wanted to give me. Opening a bag he took out a R P hollow handle knife and handed it to me! He said that he had two and saw no reason that I shouldn’t have one of them. It was a very generous and unexpected gift from an old friend that took me completely unaware. It is something that I will remember.

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At my age it is extremely unlikely that I will ever have any practical use for a hollow handled survival knife but this R P knife now holds a special place in my collection. As far as I know these knives were made in 5”, 6”, and 8” blade lengths. This knife is the 8”X1½”X ¼” blade version and is made from 440C I believe. The metal handle is knurled under the neoprene sleeve and the knurled, threaded butt cap is fitted with an O-ring and lanyard hole. The knife has a bead-blasted finish and the serial number and maker’s mark are on the front of the guard. The serial number indicates that the knife was made in August of 1986 and it was the 628th 8 inch knife made. In addition to the maker’s mark on the front of the guard the ricasso is also marked “RP”. The nylon sheath has a liner of hard plastic that protects the sheath from being torn by the very sharp saw teeth on the spine of the knife. The knife is 13 3/16” overall in length and weighs 20.4 oz.

RP survival copy blogSaw teeth on back of R P survival knife

This is a very well-made knife by an excellent craftsman made during the 1980s “Rambo” hollow handle survival knife era.

Postscript: Amazingly after all these years, I was able to track down Robert Parrish while he was on a road trip, and he told me how to decipher the date and serial number. He also mentioned that he was glad that I was not dead. I’m glad that he’s not dead either. Text and photos copyright Bill North 2013