Damascus steel and fossil mammoth ivory knife made by Bill Wiggins of Haywood County, North Carolina.
Damascus steel and fossil mammoth ivory knife made by Bill Wiggins of Haywood County, North Carolina.
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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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
When I was a boy we lived in a rural setting, and there was a gravel road that ran up the hill behind our place. I say it was gravel, but most of the gravel had disappeared into the North Carolina soil, and so the road was a little gravel, a lot of dirt, and all wash board. The neighbor boy and I used to ride our bikes up the hill of that road, and down the steep other side.
At the bottom of the steep hill the dirt road formed a “T” intersection with a paved road, and on the left side of that intersection stood a building that housed a welding shop which was operated by a crusty old man. Welding is not the cleanest of occupations, but I can clearly remember that his coveralls always looked as though they hadn’t been washed in weeks.
The building was of masonry construction and may have been painted when it was new, and that was probably the last time the windows were washed also. It had big, swinging, wooden barn doors, and a dirt floor. The exterior was surrounded by all sorts of rusty metal things, plows, automobile parts, bars of steel in racks, pipe, pieces of steel plate, and much, much more. There was so much of this rusty metal collection that the swinging barn doors of the building would only open about halfway before being stopped by the piled up scrap metal.The interior was just about as cluttered and had a partially clear, central path running the length of the building.
It seemed that the old man was busy most of the time. Since it was a rural area there was plenty of farm equipment needing repair, or a piece made. And not just farm equipment either, in those days people repaired things instead of going to the big box store for a new one. Both the neighbor boy and I had overheard adults quietly talking about the old man making moonshine stills. This of course made him a much more interesting character to us, and elevated him way above mere welder status.
I had been inside the shop building several times on various errands for my father, leaving something to be repaired or picking something up. I remember to this day that it was a dark environment, with most of the things covered with years of grinder dust and soot. I didn’t find it particularly interesting in there, except for how the bright arc from the welding machine lit the building interior and removed the gloom temporarily. At the very back of the cluttered room, there was an area that that did interest me though. In that area, under a window was a long workbench with a couple of bare lights hanging over it. On the wall at the rear of the bench and under the window, was a wooden rack that held files of varying shapes and sizes and a small tool box held other hand tools. There was a vise mounted on the bench, and at the other end of the bench was a shaft mounted in pillow blocks. The shaft had buffing wheels mounted on it. It was powered by a belt that ran to an electric motor under the bench. This was the area where the old man made knives.
Nearby the bench was a drill press and further away was a big electric grinder. Of course these tools were used for many things other than the old man’s knife making efforts. The grinder was an important tool when it came to knife making, it was used to shape every knife he made I imagine. With it he profiled the blade and ground the bevels.
Under the work bench were boxes overflowing with worn out files, pieces of saw blades, and other odd pieces of steel that the old man thought might make a good knife. Looking back I believe that most of the knives were made from pieces of saw blades. I can remember seeing large circular saw blades with knife shaped pieces cut from them with an oxy acetylene torch. Smaller saw blades provided the steel for paring knives and moderately sized kitchen knives. He had some pieces of new, high carbon flat stock that he had gotten somewhere, and was very proud of that steel using it only now and then. I assume that it went into knives for those buyers that were willing to pay a premium.
I can remember him using aluminum, antler, plastic, bone, and wood for handle material. When he made a hunting type knife he would make a leather sheath for it. I imagine his leather supply was scraps from the local harness shop and the same is probably true of the rivets that he used in making the sheaths.
Sometimes when we rode our bicycles by the welding shop and could see through the big open doors that the man was working at his knife making bench my friend and I would go in and he would let us watch provided we stayed out his way and were quiet. I was fascinated by the parts of the knife making process that I witnessed. I remember him spending a lot of time at the grinder, dipping the blade in water every few passes to keep it cool. The grinding wheels were two different grits, one coarse, and the other fine. Often he would take out some of the grinder marks using a slurry of emery powder applied to hard wheels on his buffer. Usually some remnants of the grinding marks remained. These were not highly finished knives but they looked great to me.
After the grinding and polishing was done he would attach the handle. Usually the knives were full tang and had slab handles held on by pins that he made from scraps of brass brazing rod. The pins went through the slabs and the tang of the blade and then were gently hammered to form a head on each end assuring the handle slabs stayed in place. Sometimes the knife would have a stick tang that ran all the way through the handle material coming out the end. Then the protruding end of the tang was peined over a washer on the butt of the knife thus securing the handle and blade together.
The last thing he did to the knife was sharpen it on a big oil stone that was sway backed from many, many sharpenings.
Across the road from our house was an area of fields and then woods that went up one side of the mountain and down the other side. It was the perfect area for the “camping trips” that my friends and I went on. One of the most prized and envied pieces of equipment that any of could have on these trips was a knife made by the old man that ran the welding shop.
The neighbor boy and I earned our knives by sweeping out the welding shop once a week for four weeks. Our new “hunting knives” were actually more like paring knives with sheaths for carrying on our belts. Paring knives or not, we loved them and put them to good use at vital outdoor tasks like cutting sticks for roasting hot dogs and marshmallows.
Recently I had occasion to drive through that area. The house where we lived then has been replaced with apartment buildings and the woods and fields where my friends and I camped have been removed and paved streets packed with houses that all look alike have taken their place. That gravel road is paved now, and where the old man’s shop stood is a vacant, overgrown lot with no indication that anything was ever there.
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.
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.
Bill Wiggins hand rubbing a blade
Bill Wiggins can be reached at email@example.com
copyright Bill North 2013
I saw quite a few “blacksmith” or roughly forged knives before I ever heard the phrase “Brute de Forge”. These knives were for the greatest part unsophisticated and homemade in appearance as opposed to the better brute de forge knives by skilled makers that we see today.
Today the more refined brute de forge knives that we see may feature forged in finger guards, file work, silver wire inlayed handles, and engraving. Some areas of the blade are usually left with an as forged surface.
Joe Keeslar is an ABS Mastersmith and the chairman of the American Bladesmith Society, he is also known for his brute de forge type knives. I believe that it is safe to say that the example pictured here is typical of the style as done by Joe. Overall it is 9 13/16” and the clip point blade is hollow ground. The tiger maple handle slabs are decorated with silver wire and pins and the spine of the blade is file worked. The bolsters are engraved and the file work on the spine is enhanced with engraving.
The forged in finger guard is wide and a smooth curve making it comfortable to the fore finger. This is an area where many other knives of this type that I have seen have fallen short. The balance point is just behind the finger guard and the knife rests comfortably in the hand.
copyright Bill North 2013
The internet becoming so universal and easily accessed almost anywhere has changed many things in the custom knife world just as it has in many other areas. There are many types of knife forums, dealer websites, organizations websites, manufacturers’ websites, etc. Today knifemakers can have their own websites, blogs, or forums much, much easier than ever before. Many makers are taking advantage of what the internet offers them, the degree of this advantage taking varies from a little to a lot.
It is very difficult for me to imagine why any maker that is able to access the internet and is serious about his knife making, does not make use of the internet to whatever degree is best for him. Maybe I have just answered my own question…perhaps the maker is not serious, or maybe the maker thinks that it is best for him to not make use of the internet, although I can’t make sense of that thinking.
The various knife related forums can be a great place for a maker to show off his work, draw attention to his own site, announce shows he plans attending, post work in progress, etc. Well established, popular makers more often than not receive warm receptions on the various forums, not so well established or lesser known makers may or may not get the same reception. The forums are a keen edged sword that cuts both ways, the makers image can easily be enhanced or just as easily damaged.
It goes without saying that makers posting on forums should show their best work, and one would think that it also should go without saying that makers should be careful about how they come across on the faceless internet. Of course no one likes to have their work criticized, but if a maker posts his work he has to accept that everyone might not give it the glowing praise he hoped for. Getting sucked into arguments, becoming defensive or even worse losing one’s temper needs to be avoided like the plague by makers. Lots of potential customers may be watching.
The internet and having a website in particular not only allows makers to show off their work but can assist them in taking orders and selling knives. By doing these things the maker’s website potentially reduces the number of shows that the maker feels that he must attend, and thereby expenses are reduced. A maker can use a blog in many ways to maintain interest in his work, and they are simple to have and maintain as well as being free in many cases.
If the maker does have a blog or website it needs to be updated and not allowed to go stale. Most of us will soon tire of visiting a site that does not have new content over a long period of time. This morning I looked the blog of a certain ABS Mastersmith and could not help but notice that it has not been updated in 3 years and 10 months. You read correctly, I am not exaggerating; there have been no updates to the maker’s blog in almost FOUR YEARS!! All I can say is that it is truly baffling to me why the maker does not grasp that it would be better to take the blog down than to appear so lacking in focus and organization.
As usually is the case with this blog, the above is just my opinion based on what little I know and my own experiences.
copyright Bill North 2013