The annual Blade Show at the Cobb Galleria is always a mix of the useful, wonderful and strange along with a good dose of useful seminars, demonstrations and vendors who sell bladesmithing supplies. Southern knife people are usually a friendly bunch, and it is not unusual to sit and strike up a conversation with a fellow enthusiast, talk about knives and soon exchange life histories as I did with a young Air Force vet who had returned from Afghanistan. He had purchased an Emerson clip folder and a Swedish belt knife with scabbard, fire starter and interchangeable belt clips. I showed him a folding German melon knife that I had a knife-making friend re-handle with mastodon ivory. This ivory was cut from a tusk that I had brought back from Alaska in the 1970s, when I was about the same age as the officer.
After the knife talk, I found that even though he was serving now and my service time was in the Viet Nam era, our feelings of “what the hell are we doing over there” were remarkably similar. Although there was a generational gap, the bonding of the two of us who had faced (or potentially faced in my case) the shared experiences fighting for people who hate us was quite similar. All the lives, money and time spent seems futile. The British had tried, the Russians had tried and now we have tried to bring order and stability to the country, admittedly with different systems and intentions. Both previous efforts had failed, and the odds are heavily weighted that our efforts will be no more successful.
My taste in edged tools runs very much towards the practical side. I am not too taken with “art knives,” although I do appreciate them, and the newest re-introduction of some of Case’s historic patterns, such as a single bladed teardrop design, are only of passing interest. Case did; however, also have their Muskrat and two and three-bladed Stockmen with camo scales that they will be selling in 2014. These knives would tempt me if I did not already have a hundred pocket knives.
Among the makers of high-grade examples of traditional designs of American knives is Canal Street Cutlery which is located in Ellenville, New York, in the traditional steel and knife making country of the Catskill Mountains. Each year they reintroduce an old American knife pattern. For this year it is a Swell-Center Jack, which is unique in that it has a heavy base so that it will set upright when the two blades are extended, has an enlarged center section for better grasp and is intended to be used for whittling or carving wood. In the South this design is more commonly called a “Coke-Bottle.” Among the company’s best sellers is a series of folding knives handled with the now-nearly-extinct American Chestnut, which the company recovered from the timbers of an old barn. You can see these knives at http://www.canalstreetcutlery.com. I have known Wally Gardiner and the other company officers since their first exhibition at the Shot Show in Las Vegas. They have kept true to their promise of continuing to offer bench made quality American knives. They have also expanded their line to include some excellent patterns of hunting knives that are produced to the same quality standards.
I have a deep respect for working knives and the people who use them. One such is Josh Fields who grew up in Texas. His dad made knives, and be became interested in leather work as a teen. His first interest was in carving scenes and portraits in leather. He soon discovered that he also needed to make the tools to do his art, and his dad served as a ready source of information, materials and knife-making skills. The mix of his artistic talents and practical experiences resulted in more than 30 different knife patterns designed for the leather-working trades. These go through thick cow hides like cutting butter. My primitive leather work has been restricted to easily cut deer leather, but these tough knives will work anything. The two basic classes of leather-working knives are those designed for cutting and for skiving (thinning the leather so that it can be sewn). The knife shown in the photo is a hybrid that has blades to do both functions. These are available in both right and left-hand versions with a variety of handle shapes. Because Fields makes his own knives, he can incorporate wood that you furnish as the handle or provide a selection. You can see his work on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/ARTKnifeandTool, E -mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at (817) 258-4497.
Josh is an interesting, fun guy, and I am attempting to arrange a trip to Texas to do a story about him and his knives. This trip may also be linked with a hog hunt to provide useful work for my Colt Super Walker in Col. Walker’s home country.
I have used knives made of stone, bone, copper, ceramics and plastic. I am always interested when someone introduces a new material to knife making as has been done by Travis Wilson with TW Brands Gear. These knives are made in a variety of patterns that are cut from a fiberglass/resin layered material formed in sheets under very high pressure. This material has more resistance to breakage than ceramic or stone knives and can take a sharp point and edge. I obtained a sample knife and will be using it during the next deer season. Because of the nature of the materials, these knives can be made in a variety of colors including a burnt-orange and black laminate which was my choice for a deer-skinning knife. The orange color makes is much easier to locate the knife if you put it down in near-dark conditions. For more information on these products go to http://www.twbrandsgear.com or call (407) 923-7862 .
My selection as Best of Show in design for an “art” knife was made by a member of a Japanese knife-making family. Unusual in Japan where regimentation often forces young knife makers to make traditional patterns, and woe to them if they do not, this knife by Dew Hara uses anodized sculptured aluminum handles that have smooth-flowing organic lines. This knife looks as if it might even swim. This is a knife that deserves to be in an art museum, and that may be where it will ultimately reside, having never cut anything more that a test sheet of paper. Knives made by his dad and other members of his family were also represented at his table.
Many ex-military knives from all of the world’s armies were represented at the show. One of the finest example was of a U.S. issue extendable folding machete in new condition complete with its original sheath. This knife was made by Imperial in Providence, Rhode Island. The blade not only folds into the handle, it is protected by a steel blade extension and is mechanically locked into place once the blade is deployed. Most often these knives are seen in worn and rusted condition. This knife will be included in an article that I will do for Knife World on knives with these types of extendable blades that were, and are, used as utility, fighting and hunting knives.
Not all edged things are knives and CRKT introduced two new tomahawks that were designed by Ryan Johnson of RMJ Tactical. These “hawks” are unusual in that one has a distinctively useful hammer head on the back while the other’s point could, woodpecker fashion, rapidly chip away at some serious wood if you needed to make a hole, say to push an air or water line through a wall in a rescue situation. The momentum of these heavy heads will tend to promote the tapered wooden handle’s flying from the hand, and I would drill these handles and wrap them with paracord to provide a better grip.
Spears are nothing more than knives with longer handles, and Bahram Khoshnood conceived of a hickory walking staff with a polymer grip which has an interchangeable saw, slingshot, fish gig and combo axe-spear point. This instrument will not only help you get to your camp but maybe feed you along the way and clear your camp spot once you arrive. The only improvement that I would make to his design would be to slip on a non-slip rubber protector on the bottom, as is often used on chair legs, or a metal end cap to protect the wood.
If your tastes run to things on the large size, among the collectors’ exhibits was this display of exhibition-size folders that were meant to be displayed at trade shows and other gatherings as practical advertisements for their maker’s products. These eye-catching knives have blades that are two, or more, feet long and contain all the components of the knife’s operating system expanded to a giant scale.