Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Knives - The Next Generation

Well it was kind of bound to happen. As I seem to be on a journey to learn basic life skills, and have also developed a hobby of collecting and appreciating knives, so it is somewhat natural that these two things have collided. The result of this collision was a weekend knife making course in Canberra at the Tharwa Valley Forge. It was quite expensive, and was a birthday present to myself.

To cut to the chase, I made these two knives ...

Which I have to say I'm quite proud of, for my first attempt! These knives took two days of fairly hard work to make. The first part, where the blade was forged out of a steel bar was particularly hard for me, and I lost arm strength when in the last stages of the bowie (lower one). The hammers become super heavy after swinging them around for an hour or so.

The top knife was based on a book I read during the weekend on Bob Loveless, a classic american knifemaker. I really like his knife designs, for their simplicity has great functional beauty. The book also told his life story, and it was interesting in itself, but now ended as he has recently died. So my homage to him was the deliberately finer of the two knives, with a "less is more" approach trying to copy as many of his design elements as I could. The spine of the blade was supposed to be level with the guard, and it's close, but not quite right. I have since sanded it down a fraction more.

Both knives are pretty close to the design I did in on the first night, actually, as this shot shows. Note that I did the design in pen, which is fairly stupid. The bowie was not supposed to have such a large ricasso, but there are so many times that I just had to say "Well, it's not perfect but in the time I have, and the skills I have, it's the way it is, so move on!".

The steel has been properly heat treated, and due to it's thickness I believe will last a long, long time with proper care. The wood used on the Loveless is Jarra (dark) and Applebox (lighter), on the bowie is Mulga. The mulga is heavier, harder, has a nice glow to the wood and has nice grain. The black part of the bowie is in fact a plastic material used in kitchen benchtops, and has a slight fleck to it. The yellow metal is brass, which over time will tarnish if it's not polished of course.

I really enjoyed making these knives. The course was well run, friendly, and informative. The sense of achievement at the end was uplifting. It was also exhausting, and sleeping was no problem after each day!

What's next then? Well, I could make some more blades, but I do not have a burning desire to do that at the moment. I think I could do a better job of creating the knives a second time around, BUT on the other hand I don't have all the equipment nor a friendly and skilled teacher to save me from major mistakes (like not making the blade straight, for example...). I have developed a deep respect for well finished hand made knives. I now know, first hand, how hard it is. Mass produced knives have made us expect perfection, and in a hand made world, this is a very tall order.

Instead then, I am motivated by an outstanding need -- what I need to do is make some leather sheaths to hold the knives. They need a home, and a way for me to carry them should I want to. This is another skill to learn, one I want to learn as much for the sake of completeness than anything else. I do like the creative element of leather work, so perhaps I will really groove to it once I try it, I don't know yet.

I am also not quite happy with the sharpness levels on these knives. The bowie is the best of the two, and I de-boned a leg of lamb a few days ago and it did the job better than any other knife we have in the kitchen. I already have some sharpening tools, but I'm not really happy with them or the results I have gotten so far. Again, I am learning a skill here, but I think I might not have the right tools for the job yet. So... I have invested in another eBay purchase, this time a Lansky sharpening system, which should keep the angles sorted and hopefully enable me to get a really fine edge. My goal is to make them shaving sharp.

If I create a really nice sheath, and get them good and sharp, there is one last step to make them completely "done". That is, getting them engraved with my mark. I have already scoped that out with an engraver (I won't do it myself) and there is a moderate cost involved, so I may or may not go that extra step.

The journey continues!


I was going to write a really long post about this, but I can't be bothered.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Knife review : BEE L05-1

I now have a collection, which I started only about a year ago, of about 30 or so folding knives. This collection is partly discussed in my posts

Knives - Part 1
Knives - Part 2
Leatherman Squirt P4 vs S4 vs PS4

My collection has brands such as Buck, Kershaw, Benchmade, Spyderco, CRKT and others. Today I want to brain-dump a bit on a different knife however. This one.

As this post title suggests, it's the BEE L05-1 model, which is etched on the base of the blade. It's a fairly large knife, filling my hand with the handle when open. The blade is full flat ground, almost 9cm long, with a liner lock and wood scales. A nice touch is that the top back of the blade has been rounded off, so that it does not jut out when the knife is closed.

I really love this knife, it's by far my current favourite. The main reason that I want to pick up this knife all the time is it's opening action. The ergonomics for my hand are just perfect - my thumb falls into the right place below the stud, and a gentle flick of it and the blade comes out. Now that I have used this blade for a while I realise that the others I have used are cramped in this area.

I should mention that this smooth action is not quite the way it came to me. It was a little stiff in it's action, and felt like there might have been some sand or grit in the mechanism. What was worse was that the liner did not engage the way I wanted it to - it only just caught the back of the blade, and sometimes not much at all. This represented a safety issue, and I wanted a reliable lockup each and every time.

So I took the knife apart (which is fairly easy, having torx screws holding it together). Once I had the blade out I used my bench grinder to take off a fraction at the back of the blade, being careful to keep the slight angle it already had. I was somewhat cautious about doing this, as too much off would make the lock travel all the way across the blade and introduce blade play. So keep in mind when doing this -- too much is a disaster. I briefly sanded the blade on 240 grit paper. Then I re-assembled the knife, adding in some globs of grease to the bushings. There is one bronze, one plastic (teflon?) - worth noting which way these go before you take it all apart.

I was very happy with the result of my tinkering. I managed to take of exactly the right amount off the back of the blade so that the liner is fully, but just, engaged every time. This was probably good luck more than skill, but I'll take it! There is plenty of wear left on this knife. Also, the lubrication had the benefit of making the opening action super smooth. I was able to adjust the tightness of the pivot screw so that it was easy to open, and the blade was still almost centred. This is why it's such a joy to open - it's easy to flick open, and locks up tight when it does.

An important part of a liner lock knife is not just the lock up, but also what it's like to unlock the knife and put the blade away. This is also really nice on this knife. The liner is fairly easily pushed away, and the blade can be pushed back one handed. Now here is an important thing : the choil (the semi-circular cut out at the base of the cutting edge, near the pivot) is generous and means that you are not in any risk of cutting your finger as you close the blade. The choil hits your thumbnail if you don't get it out of the way fast enough. Also, when opening, if you fumble and it weakly opens and doesn't lock, you can push on this choil area to engage the lock.

The other positive about this knife are that it feels nice all over (good shape, good materials), and it looks good. The knife steel is the standard Chinese of 8Cr13Mov, which is good enough. It's not great, but it's ok. One thing that I find amazing is that this knife cost me around $20! This is an absolute bargain.

Are there any complaints about this knife? Sure, well, firstly I should not have had to take it apart to get the lockup to be perfect. Mind you, this may just be my sample. It has no gimping on the spine of the knife, and the lanyard hole is not lined. It's quite heavy. The BEE logo looks like something right out of the 70's, which I find cute but you might not like. The screws which hold the belt clip on seem to have come loose a bit, I have re-tightened them, so I'm watching that issue.

Overall though, this is a knife I really, really like. So much so that I bought another one - so that I have one for work and one at home. I have also bought (but not yet received) the BEE L05 (not L05-1) which has the black G10 scales rather than the wood. It promises to be a great knife also. Do a search for this model on eBay and pick one up on the cheap, they are well worth it in my opinion. I have knives that cost me 10x as much as the BEE L05-1, but I use them 1/10th as often!

Update 2010-12-29 : I have now used several L05-1 and L05's, and they are great, great knives for the price or even triple the price. The lockup issue above was not repeated on any other I've handled (~8 now), although most came stiff and benefited from a take apart and light application of grease around the bushings. It's good to have two torx screwdrivers for this -- one for each side of the knife, or else sometimes one side just spins. I have given this knife away for Christmas presents, and they have gone down well. I have one of these by my computer at work and home, and by my bed. They also fit nicely in jeans pockets and carry well. I say : Get one!!!