Damascus steel handmade knife by Bill Wiggins

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

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Profile grinding a forged knife blade.

Knife maker Bill Wiggins grinds a blade.

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