A poor rhyme

 

Knife makers struggle and yearn for the P

P as in publicity

There’s a maker that wants to be unknown

Signing his work just makes him groan

A strange duck is he, seeming to want anonymity

 

Advice is futile, especially from you

He has his cake and he eats it too

He makes ‘em big, he makes ‘em little

But ask him to sign, and he’s non-committal

To tell it true…he makes what he wants, that’s all he’ll do

 

It’s odd that he won’t sign his work

I suppose it’s some sort of quirk

So back in the woods, in a shop on a hill

There’s a knife maker that does what he will

I’ll quit now and not be a jerk, just in case he should go berserk

 

 

Below are two unsigned knives by the unknown knife maker. The sheaths are by Bob Wiggins who does sign his work on the back, although in VERY small letters.

 

ABS Mastersmith Dan Warren pocket knives

Two slip joint pocketknives by Dan Warren, American Bladesmith Society Mastersmith. The handle scales are mammoth ivory and the larger knife is just over 7 ¼” overall when open.

Bill Wiggins Paring Knife

Stock removal knives and kitchen cutlery represent a departure from the forged hunters and choppers that Bill Wiggins usually makes. The example of Bill’s stock removal knives that I am currently using is a paring knife. It is made from carbon steel with beautiful stabilized maple handle scales.

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The knife is 7 3/16” overall in length, and weighs 1.98 ounces. The 1084 blade is 3.375” long, .780” high, .063” thick at the spine just ahead of the handle scales, and .028” thick when measured .250” back from the cutting edge. That geometry tells me that the knife should work well in the kitchen.

The handle is coffin shaped, and the scales are bonded to the tang as well as being secured by two stainless steel pins. The handle is .597” high at the front and .980” at the highest point. It is .478” thick at the front and .627” at the rear. The sides are gently rounded and there is a flat that runs around the perimeter of the handle. The handle is very comfortable in use, and the flats provide excellent indexing.

I tested the knife for edge holding by cutting cardboard packing box material, some of the areas where I cut had glue laminating two thicknesses of the cardboard together and in other places there was packing tape to be cut through. Without going into specific numbers of feet cut, this knife cut as many feet of cardboard as any knife that I have tested this way. When I stopped the knife was still cutting but there was a small area of the blade dulled. It was the area that had performed most of the cuts. That area of the blade would no longer start a cut in thin paper.

While I was doing the cutting I did not notice any “hot spots” or discomfort caused by the handle shape. But to be fair I was wearing Kevlar gloves to protect against accidental cuts to my hands and the glove might have provided some cushioning effect.

Re-sharpening was very easy. A few strokes on a medium Spyderco Stone to eliminate the dull spot and then stropping on compound loaded leather did the trick. The knife was back to shaving arm hair and slicing telephone book paper.

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Overall, I think that these knives offer excellent value. The three people that I know personally who are using them, are very happy with these little paring knives.

Currently Bill offers these knives in several versions which include 1084 or damascus steel, “belt finished” or “hand rubbed” blades. Prices start at $70.00.

In addition to paring knives he is making other kitchen cutlery as well. Bill can be contacted at wncbill@bellsouth.net put “knife” in the subject line.

Disclaimer: Bill and I are friends but the views that I express here are my honest opinion and not colored by our friendship.  

copyright Bill North 2015

 

 

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.

RP survival2 copy blogR P knife with 8″ blade

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

Jerry Fisk bowie with Mother of Pearl

Jerry Fisk is one of my favorite knife makers. He is not only an excellent craftsman but a pleasure to be acquainted with because of his insight and well developed sense of humor. He is an ABS Mastersmith and has been named a National Living Treasure, hence the “NLT” engraved just behind the guard.

Each year Jerry has what he calls “A Micro Show” at his shop in Arkansas. Jerry made and engraved the knife shown in today’s post for this year’s micro show. I like the style of the knife and am partial to pearl.

I’ll let Jerry describe it in his own words:

“This is my version of a simple California style bowie. A+ grade thick Mother of Pearl framed handle, deep relief engraving on the stainless mounts with a bit of gold work. Dog star pattern Damascus blade is 8 5/8 inch long.”

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In his description he uses the word “simple, I would disagree with that because to me there is way too much knifemaking sophistication displayed here to be called “simple”.

Jerry’s website is www.jerryfisk.com

Bill North

Knife related pictures from a few years ago

I have started organizing the knife related pictures that I have taken over the years. Here are a few:moran shop 2005 800wideA visitor in front of Bill Moran’s shop in 2004

moran 2005 blogBill Moran at the Blade Show in 2005

fisk 2004 blogThe man his own self Jerry Fisk doing an edge geometry demonstration at the Moran hammer-in in 2004

adam cuts 2005 800 blogAdam DesRosiers removing the tops of water bottles in the cutting competition at Blade in 2005.

reggie cuts apple 2005 copyReggie Barker cleanly halves an apple in 2005

A little Wade Coulter friction folder knife

DSC_6223-2 copyWade Coulter friction folder

This melding of knifemaking skills and folk art by Wade Coulter is only 5 ¾” overall when open. The antler handle is slotted for the blade which opens and closes smoothly. The pretty little Damascus blade is file worked on the spine and the spine is stamped “W C “.

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I’m not sure that this knife would be classified as a “goblin” folder but the butt of the handle is carved with a grotesque face.

DSC_6233 copyCarving on the butt of the Wade Coulter knife

My little knife came back home

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My little Bill Wiggins knife

My little knife came back home from its trip to the makers shop for refinishing.

Over a year ago Bill Wiggins, who is a friend of mine and a knifemaker gave me a small, fixed blade knife that he made. Since that time it has been used for many of the chores that I regularly use a knife for. These tasks include cutting food, opening and then cutting down shipping boxes for recycling, cutting cord, tape, rags, opening prepackaged items, cutting small sticks, etc. Its small size makes it ideal to carry in a pocket sheath instead of carrying a folder. The blade of the knife is made from 1084 steel and the handle slabs are English walnut. The overall length of the knife is just 7 1/16 inches and the blade at the ricasso is .094 thick.

“If you have only had it about a year why did it need refinishing?” I hear you asking now. I suppose that you think that I must be pretty rough on my knives but that’s not so. What is so however is that I like to sharpen my knives, and sometimes I sharpen them whether they need it or not, and very infrequently I slip and scratch the knife were scratches don’t belong. And that’s what happened to the smooth, hand rubbed sides of my little knife. I asked Bill Wiggins if he would mind “slicking” my knife up a little, and he graciously agreed. What’s more like the gentleman that he is he didn’t rag on me for scratching the blade. Well actually while looking at the scratches he did say “Oh, that’s a bad one.” I did my best to look remorseful, and it must have worked because he left it at that.

Bill is the treasurer of the American Bladesmith Society and a Journeyman Smith in that organization. He is an avid outdoorsman and using knives as tools in the outdoors has helped form his opinions as to steel type, hardness, and blade geometry. One of the things about this knife that I like is the blade geometry; it’s thin at the edge helping it be a good cutter.

Many custom knives are for reasons unknown to me too thick behind the cutting edge, at least that’s my opinion. A knife designed for chopping needs to have a well-supported edge to stand up, a small knife that is used for cutting and that is not abused can, and should have in my opinion much thinner blade geometry. Look at well maintained kitchen knives, most of them are thin and they cut and slice things well. Trouble usually only comes when you use them as a screwdriver or pry bar. So far in my seventy one years I have not been forced to use my knife for prying or turning screws to the extent that the knife was damaged.

Anyway last night the little knife came back home from its trip to Bill Wiggins shop for refinishing and it looks all slicked up and spiffy. I’m glad it’s back.

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Bill Wiggins hand rubbing a blade

Bill Wiggins can be reached at wncbill@bellsouth.net

copyright Bill North 2013

The full time, custom knife maker’s balancing act.

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 Ivory handled knife by Tai Goo

In order to be successful, a full time custom knifemaker the maker must maintain a balance between art, craftsmanship, and business acumen. Those three things are like the three legs of a milking stool, if one leg is far out of proportion to the other legs the foundation becomes unsteady. In my experience those makers that seem to me to be accomplished in all three areas are far fewer in number than those that are not.

A knifemaker that naturally has an inclination or understanding of the art, craftsmanship, and business sides of the craft has a tremendous advantage over much of his competition. Many makers seem to be strong in one or two areas and weak in the others. I have known many skilled craftsmen that that were adroit at the craftsmanship aspect and/or the art aspect but sadly lacked at the business side of the endeavor. As a result they were unable to make a go of it, and having to seek some other source of income either left the craft entirely or nearly so.

My experience has been that the business side of knifemaking as a commercial undertaking is where most makers are weak. Makers that have someone to help them with that aspect are fortunate. Without good business practices, no matter how nice the knives, the venture probably does not have a bright future, at least as a full time occupation.

Once again the above is just my opinion based on my observances and experiences.

To see more knives by Tai Goo visit his website at http://www.taigoo.com

copyright Bill North 2013

The custom/handmade knifemakers pie

The big pie of custom/handmade knife makers can probably be said to divided into three segments or wedges of unequal size. There are probably sub groups or wedges as well but for today I will talk only about the three main groups or wedges of the pie.

Group 1: This is the smallest wedge of the pie and often although not always the best and most desired makers come from this group. These are full time makers that get up every day and work at the business of making knives and these makers deserve respect for their strong work ethic, and the skills that they have acquired and honed. It is their profession. Their knives are for sale. In my experience knives from the top level makers in this group sell well in the aftermarket, often at a profit. The best and most successful makers have a good grasp on the three legged stool of art, craftsmanship, and business concerns; they are able to keep the stool level.

Group 2: This is a large wedge of the pie. These makers are part time makers and often they have other jobs or additional sources of income. They don’t rely on knife sales to buy groceries and they make knives when they have the time or when the spirit moves them. Many of these makers are skilled and make very nice knives. Often their production, limited as it may or may not be is for sale. Some of them are able to sell almost everything they make and others not so much.

Group 3: This huge portion of the pie is made up of knife enthusiasts that want to a make a few knives for fun, for the experience, to learn more about knives, or to fit into a group of like-minded people. In my experience few makers in this group ever become highly skilled because they don’t for whatever reasons devote the time necessary to learn, to practice, and to actually complete projects. In my opinion it is unlikely although not impossible that a knife purchased from a maker in this group will appreciate much unless the maker moves up the ladder of wedges of the pie.

I know that sometimes makers in group 1 are concerned that their sales are damaged by makers in groups 2 and 3 pricing their work much lower than group 1 makers think is fair or correct. I doubt there is much validity in that thinking. A part time maker is unlikely to be able to do much damage to the sales of the best known full time makers providing that the full time makers are good business people. What will more likely than not damage sales are poor business practices and not moving forward with the business as it changes.

I don’t have any actual numerical data that supports the above. Like much I have written on this blog it’s just my opinion based on what I have observed. So if you disagree or think I’m full of it that’s fine; you can and should have your own ideas.

copyright Bill North 2013