Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Gate to all Mystery

Ever desireless, one can see the mystery.
Ever desiring, one can see the manifestations.

These two spring from the same source but differ in name;
this appears as darkenss.

Darkness within darkness.
The gate to all mystery.

--Lao Tzu, The Tao Te Ching, from One

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Fixed Blade Handle Upgrade or New Handle in Less Than An Hour

Fixed Blade Handle Upgrade or New Handle in Less Than An Hour

Sometimes, a knife you buy has a handle that is too slick, or does not offer enough traction. Or, in some cases, the knife has no sort of usable handle at all.

Well, there are all sort of solutions, some involve tools, like blowtorches and plungers and sockets....

But, there also solutions that don't require arcane skills of alchemy and an advanced degree in physics.

In fact, all you need is but a couple things, a knife you would like to improve, some bat tape, a small bit of cord, and a utility knife.

But, first let me tell you a story, about how these ideas came together....

It starts, in my experience, with Hockey.

You see, as a way of increasing friction, thereby creating a sure grip, hockey players wrap the handles of their hockey sticks with tape. And sometimes, they spin the tape into a sort of cord, and wrap it around the stick, with spaces between the 'strings' of tape, to create 'ridges', which they then cover with tape.

Well, I don't play hockey, and never payed attention to the Mighty Ducks movies, if there was a stick wrapping scene. But, I did own a Becker Knife and Tool knife or two. And I found them severely lacking when it came to grip security.

The general shape of the Becker handles is very smart, but the slick and smooth texture and topography of the handles is simply not suited to any grip security. By the way, when I say topography, I am using the word in the same way you would when speaking of a map, that is to say that topography is the shape of the land. And texture is to describe the small scale, for instance, the way molded handles will often have some sort of recurring shape molded into the surface, like the 'Gator' texture on some Gerber knives.

Or to use another example, let us think of knives wrapped in the popular Japanese silk wrap, like the Spyderco RJ Martin Kumo. The wrap itself is topography, creating valleys into which the flesh of your hand sinks. And the weave of the silk and the surface of the ray skin is the texture.

Back to the Becker, sometime later, I read, with great interest, that someone had experienced the same thing with the Becker handles, and had utilized their experience with hockey to solve the problem. They had wrapped the handle with 'strings' of tape, to create 'ridges', which they then covered Hockey tape.

So, this started me on a road that I will briefly summarize, before I describe the newest handles I have applied.

One of my first projects was removing the cheap cord wrap from the original SOG Vietnam Tomahawk handle, and replacing it with bat tape over mini-cord, which I found did offer a good deal of grip security, though I found the the cord under the wrap could cause hot spots.

Then I applied a wrap to an Americraft kitchen knife (a side line of Buck Knives). I used the shell of paracord, with spaces between the wraps, with bat tape over the paracord, and I was very happy with result. The bat tape offers a good bit of texture, and the valley and peaks of the paracord shell wrap creates lots of topography, like a silk wrapped Japanese handle, and the bat tape offers the texture and holds the whole thing together.

Before I describe my methods, and provide a mini tutorial on how I did my handle wrap, a word to materials.

Any small diameter cord can be used, the only concern being how will it feel or perform, under the wrap of tape. I have chosen to use just a couple of different cords. One is paracord, of which I am sure very few of my readers are unfamiliar. The other is a hard nylon cord which I call mini-cord, which is about 1/4 to 1/5 of the diameter of paracord. And as I have written, I have also used the shell of paracord, the core being removed.

And let us speak of tape. I am sure there are all sort of tapes that could be used, but I am familiar with two, of which I typically only use one. First, is hockey tape, which is less expensive, but it tends to have an adhesive finish when applied, which then gathers all sort of debris and dirt, not so bueno. Mostly, I use bat tape, which has some residual adhesive on the surface when finished, but which is much less than hockey tape. Also, the bat tape has a weave which provides a bit more friction, which I prefer.

So, how did I do it?

Well, having acquired two Spyderco Mule Team knives, one in 52100 and the other in CPM M4, I decided that until I acquire or make a more permanent handle, I wanted to apply a handle to them, so that I could use them, as I had opportunity.

To that end, I wrapped my M4 Mule in the shell of paracord, as I had with the Buck kitchen knife, though without the spaces, over which I applied bat tape. But, I found that the resulting handle was not of a sufficient girth to be really comfortable. I have fairly large hands.

Then, I wrapped my 52100 Mule with paracord, still containing the inner strands, and again placed bat tape over the top of it. And I like the feel of this combination for this knife.

So, for the purpose of this article and as a sort of mini tutorial, I removed the wrap of my M4 Mule, and took pictures as I replaced it with a wrap that I would appreciate more.

First, let me say this, I did not make safe the blade of the M4 Mule in order to wrap it without fear of cutting myself. Instead, I bulled ahead, and wrapped it, dangerously risking the shedding of blood. But, it does make for prettier pictures. So, my advice to you is to not be dumb like me, and to cover the blade, specifically the edge of any knife you intend to work on, to keep your precious blood inside. And while we are considering this idea of safety, let me say this..... You take my advice at your own risk. You hurt yourself, it is your fault, or at least it is not my fault, maybe it might be your hamsters fault.... Anyway...

Step 1 - Verify that you have chosen to do this in a safe fashion, and have made safe the edge of your knife. No image, see above.

Step 2 - Assemble your materials, and this will be a long and taxing step, as it will require the arduous task of assembling the knife to be wrapped, the cord to form the base of the wrap, and the tape to finish the wrap. Oh yeah, and another knife to cut the cord and the tape.

Step 3 - Wrap handle of knife with paracord, or paracord shell. I chose to start at the front of the handle. I started it by threading it through the first hole, and then wrapping over that little bit of cord with the first few times around the handle. I took care to keep the wrap fairly tight, and in this case, with little to no space between each succeeding revolution. Note - I like to have my knife and tape ready prior to finishing this step, so that I can easily cut the cord to length at the end of the wrap. And then, start taping the handle to keep the paracord wrap from unravelling.

Step 4 - Wrap the paracord wrap with bat tape. Bat tape is not particularly willing to stretch to fit the contours, but with a little coaxing and some patience, a satisfactory wrap can be had. I like to keep the tape tight during the wrap, and I also like to overlap the tape as I wrap. And I tend to wrap over the handle more than once, 4 seems to be the magic number for me. Note - Have that sharp knife handy, to cut the tape when you are done wrapping.

Voila! You have now created a handle, or improved a handle for your fixed blade knife.

If you choose to continue with this kind of modifications, the combinations of cord and tape can do more complex alterations. For instance, you can thicken a grip, by adding more wraps of tape, or thicker cord. Or you can even modify the shape of the handle, as I did with my Spyderco Hossom Woodlander.

I found the curves of the Spyderco Hossom Woodlander to be a bit fast, or shall we say, too curvy, great to look at, but not so effective for my hand. So I wrapped the index end of the grip with a couple extra wraps of bat tape, focusing on the smallest diameter section, to give it more girth. And I finished by wrapping the entire handle.

The resulting grip is really quite nice.

As a final note, if you were going to apply a handle in a fashion similar to the one I have applied, to a knife like the Mule Team, and were planning on using it with greater than average force, I would suggest a slightly different method. I would suggest that you intertwine the tape and cord, as you applied it, so that the adhesive of the the tape would anchor the cord to the surface of the knife handle. Or alternately, lace the cord through the holes in the handle, to lock the cord to the knife handle, so that it would not slip off. The former method would tend to be thicker, the latter thinner. The method I have outlined above could slip off, like a sock, if an appropriately large force was applied, or twist on the handle. And if you choose the 'cord through the holes' method, it could add some nice topography.

So, there you have it.

A way to create a handle for a knife that does not possess one, and a way to increase the grip security on a knife without sufficient topography or texture.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Spyderco Ralph Turnbull T-Mag Review

First, I have to confess that I wish I could have written this review before this knife had been discontinued.

But, I bought this knife, because it was sold at Spyderco.com for $49.95, after it had been discontinued.

Before I relay my thoughts on this knife, I would like to acknowledge the conversations and discussions concerning this knife. When this knife became available for $50, there were a number of posters to the Spyderco Forums who asked about the T-Mag, and what other forum members who had bought the knife thought. When the response came, the consensus seemed to be that the T-Mag lacked a functioning lock.

So, it was with quite a bit of anticipation and maybe a bit of dread that I waited for the T-Mag to arrive at my door. It is not very often that one can buy a knife comprised of Crucible CPM S30V Steel and Carbon Fiber for $50, and alternately, I was wondering if I had made a poor choice.

Immediately, I was drawn to the T-Mag. It's state of the art materials, precision construction and innovative design are simply artful.

For instance, I have never been an amazed fan of the modern choil, especially on folding knives. With fixed blades, I grant the usefulness of the choil for reasons of balance, but on folding knives, I have often found the choil feature to be my least favorite part of the design. Alternately, with the T-Mag, I found the choil to be very natural to use, in fact, I like the choil on this knife.

Further, from the first night, I found that I opened and closed the knife over and over again, in an almost compulsive fashion. I found that I was absorbed by the action of the T-Mag, it's smoothness, the sure sound of it's retention both opened and closed, and the subtle action of the magnet. This quality of a knife, the way it operates and sounds, is described by collectors and aficionados as 'walk and talk', and among those consumers, a knife that possesses a good walk and talk, is a knife to be prized. The T-Mag has a great walk and talk.

Next, I began to examine my experience of this knife versus my experience with slip locks, the 'locking' method employed on multi-blade folders of the Case or Schrade variety. And, without a question, despite the lower retention value of the magnet, my experience of the knife was better. Why? Because I am never in fear of the the retention being suddenly released, as I am with a slip lock. I know that the magnet offers no real retention, and so I don't expect it to lock, the way some have come to expect a slip lock to lock. I immediately appreciated the subtle action of the magnet, which holds the T-Mag open, sufficiently to accomplish all sort of tasks.

Let us examine the issue of suitability. Is the T-Mag and it's retention, capable of performing work in a safe fashion? Yes, without question. The retention is sufficient to keep the blade from flopping around, and in a non-locking folder, that is all that is required.

And I have used the T-Mag for the kind of tasks that one associates with a gentleman's knife of this kind. It has cut string and cord, it has opened letters, it has cleaned my fingernails, it has opened packaging, and it has picked splinters. And it is well capable of cutting meat, carving wood and all other sort of cutting tasks.

An easy parallel is drawn in my mind between the T-Mag and the traditional puukko of Scandinavian design. To the uninitiated and novice, the puukko style of knife seems dangerous and poorly designed. But to the fan and regular user of this historic and highly developed pattern, those features that the detractor indicts, the aficionado praises as providing the function and differentiation of the design.

Does the T-Mag require a bit of mindfulness? Yes it does. But, that mindfulness is the mindfulness that should always be present. And with a moment of thought, a solution can be formulated that allows one to utilize the T-Mag in ways that might involve more force and greater work. One way that is immediately apparent is a side hold, with the thumb positioned on the side of the blade and all the fingers out of the way of the blade travel should it close. And if that is not sufficient, the T-Mag is very comfortable to hold inverted, with the thumb pushing against the blade in the choil region of the knife.

In short, this knife is not meant to assist one in combating black clad ninjas, in 'tactical' circumstances. Instead, it is meant to do the sort of everyday cutting that we often have need of accomplishing.

So, how do I square my positive experience of this knife with the discontinuation of the model?

Well, as in many things, the answer is complicated.

I think the first and most obvious thing is that the 'lock' did not meet many buyers expectation. Of course, the T-Mag was never meant to lock, but our vocabulary concerning these sort of things is limited.

Spyderco says this....

"Thank you for purchasing the Spyderco T-Mag, non locking folding knife. Please use care when using the knife, making sure that the forefinger is placed in the finger choil to prevent the knife from accidentally closing when being used."


"It houses a powerful Rare Earth (Neodymium NdFeB) Magnet, mounted internally in the knife’s spine where the blade and handle join. The magnet performs the same function as a notch- or slip- joint, holding the blade open when used and closed when pocketed by way of magnetic pull. Gunmetal gray carbon fiber handle scales, and Titanium liners, have a pronounced finger choil that places the index finger behind the cutting edge further blocking the knife blade from closing when you’re cutting. "

So, we have a clear message, about the lack of a lock, the method of retention, and a safe method of use.

What gives?

I think the T-Mag is a victim of the delicate balance between innovation and expectation.

The T-Mag represents and embodies one of those steps forward that all technology and industries make.

These steps forward are often met with resistance, simply because it takes people awhile to modify their thinking to a new reality or a new perspective. I surmise that very few of the regular knife public collect knives just for their novelty, as I do. How many collect knives for their unique operation, or their unusual assemblage of common structures, or just because they offer something that strays from the beaten path?

To summarize....

The Spyderco Ralph Turnbull T-Mag is a state of the art knife, possessing high end materials and modern precision construction that result in a lightweight and refined gentleman's folder. It's design is centrist, demonstrating cleanliness of line while boldly stating it's place in the lineage of Spyderco design.

The Spyderco Ralph Turnbull T-Mag is a new and interesting concept that will be referenced by the cutlery industry for years to come.

I do not see this as a knife that did not succeed, but as a design that is way ahead of it's time.

The Spyderco Ralph Turnbull T-Mag is a piece of cutlery history.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Two Very Different Knives

The Spyderco Ralph Turnbull T-Mag and the Spyderco Warren Thomas Karambit.

How different can two knives be?

One is built with absolute focus on strength and durability in a wicked self defense knife. The Spyderco Karambit is so focused that it lacks much use for anything else. But, it shines so bright in it's purpose as a self defense knife, that you have to respect it. Stainless steel handles for strength and durability, a Reeve Integral Lock for superb lockup, and a super sharp, super acute point to pierce and rip. Ouch.

The other knife, so much different. The Spyderco Ralph Turbull T-Mag is built light, and refined, so that you barely know it is there, until you need it, then it steps in, with a deft touch, to cut some stray thread, or to clean your fingernails. Carbon fiber handles for a very lightweight handle, a magnetic lock, for a clean operation, smooth and fast, with a great walk and talk.

Anyway, I took this picture, and it got me thinking.

Not a Taoist, but there is Truth here....


Thirty spokes share the wheel's hub;
It is the center hole that makes it useful.

Shape clay into a vessel;
It is the space that makes it useful.

Cut doors and windows for a room;
It is the holes which make it useful.

Therefore profit comes from what is there;
Usefulness from what is not there.

--Lao Tzu, The Tao Te Ching

Upcoming Review....

I am working on a review of the Spyderco Ralph Turnbull T-Mag...

Eye on Cutlery, Opening Post...

Good Day,

I shall be blogging here.

I will blog about cutlery, knives, their design, construction, use and whatever else I happen to have rolling around my brain....

Until then...

God Go With You as You Go,