Monday, December 14, 2009

Precision Grips from Halpern Titanium for the Spyderco Mule Team Knives

Halpern Titanium manufactures Precision G-10 Grips for the Spyderco Mule Team Knives.

Halpern Titanium, of Three Rivers Massachusetts a long time partner of Spyderco, met with the Spyderco Team in Golden Colorado some months past. At that meeting the Halperns were asked by Sal Glesser to turn their expertise in precision manufacturing to the task of building handles scales, or grips for the Spdyerco Mule Team Knives. And Halpern Titanium decided to offer a Mule handle scale, as it was a great opportunity that fit with their manufacturing strengths and represented another great way to collaborate with Spyderco.

Knowing nothing of this, I saw Sal mention that Halpern Titanium were looking into making grips, in a thread at BladeForums and as I have a deep interest in such things, I contacted them. Their response was swift and communicated a real enthusiasm for the project.

Within a couple days, they announced on their forum at the Usual Suspect Network that they would be making grips for the Mules. This announcement was met with real interest, as to date, they are the only company making a 'production' handle scale for the Spyderco Mule Team Knives. Within a short period, a sign-up for 20 sets was announced and sold out.

A few weeks passed, until an opening in their production schedule came around. Then, the announcement was made that they would be offering two different grip options. Option 1, dubbed, 'Ready to Use', are grips and hardware that allow the owner of a Mule, to buy handles for their Mule, install the grips in a couple minutes and then be onto the serious business of enjoying their knife, fully functional with handles. Option 2, dubbed, Do It Yourself, are grips machined for hardware, and with the perimeter or 'profile' cut, but allowing the customer to finish them in a any shape or texture that they would like. Announced at the same time, that they had decided to manufacture more than 20 sets, because they wanted to be able to offer the grips to the wider market.

Then came the day of their arrival....

We had a decent snow here, so it was a bit like Christmas. I woke up, and looked outside to find my mailbox full and my yard covered in snow. I made myself do the responsible thing, and shovel the walk first, then I could sort through the mail.

Just as I thought, the Mule Grips from Halpern Titanium were there.

And upon opening the box, I found all the contents very nicely wrapped and packaged, you could even say that they were lovingly packaged, with double bubble wrap, just to make absolutely sure that they arrived safely.

And, after separating the grips from the packaging, I was ready to go find everything else....

So, I assembled all the tools necessary, my favorite being the Husky Tools Torx Driver with all the different sizes. I also, dug through boxes to find my Spyderco CPM-M4 and ZDP-189 Mules.

Assembly went well, after just sort of going at it, I figured out that it was easiest to fasten one screw to each spacer, line one grip up with the holes in the Mule, and push the spacer with attached screw through. Then, I could hold the grip on, while placing the second grip on the other side, over the spacers. Then it was simplicity to finish the job by adding the last screws.

But, then, when I went to place the grips on my ZDP-189 Mule, I found that there was small amount of slag in the hole, that kept the spacers from going in with hand pressure, so for the sake of images, I just put those scales on my 9Cr18Mo Mule, which proved no challenge.

Later, I spoke to one of my brothers, who is much better with tools than I am... He suggested I use a hammer, and try to coax the spacers through the holes. He has a great deal of experience with such things, as he is a mold cleaner and process tech for the plastics industry. Having been given good advice, I was still a bit hesitant, because the ZDP-189 Mule is know for it's high hardness. But, starting by placing the Mule on a towel, I got the spacers into the holes with the hammer, taking care to keep the force low. Then I went out to the shop, and placed each spacer, one by one, over a hole in a piece of wood, and applied the hammer. Worked like a charm. Then, a small session of grip swapping began.

As people have seen and read more about this run of grips, there has been some concern raised about the fact that the grips do not extend out to the edge of the tang, that they are not the same size as the tang of the knife. My opinion is that given the manufacturing options Halpern Titanium was faced with, the solution they chose is a fine alternative, perfectly functional, and quite a bit less expensive than a custom-fitting.

In this situation, there are three choices a manufacturer of after-market handles for a full tang knife can make.

1. They can try to match the contours of the model as perfectly as possible, but given natural manufacturing tolerances, the grips will not match exactly. This is due to the fact that both items, the grips and and the tang of the knife can vary. This makes for a very inconsistent looking product.

2. The grips can be made larger than the tang, but then, the purchaser has to 'fit' or modify the scales to fit his knife. This makes the product a DIY project, which is the not the purpose of this option. Many customers do not want a DIY project, they want to bolt grips on, and use their knife. Honestly, I prefer a bolt-on and done product to one I have to modify before I can use. Some people are prepared to modify a product before they can use it, but I would hazard a guess that most are not.

3. Or, they make the grips smaller than the tang, which gives a finished appearance, and makes the product ready to use. This method has a strong following in the industry, being used by Chris Reeve, Benchmade and others.

I have found that having the tang proud of the handles is really no pain. The quarter inch thick scales fill the hand, and generally mute the effect of the tang sticking out. Ironically, a friend of mine came over, and I was filling him in on what was going on, and the new grips from Halpern Titanium. He picked up the knife, and said... "Oh, this is really nice. These new handles feel really good. Phenomenal!" Then, I pointed out that the handles were not flush with the steel. He had to pick the knife back up, look at it again, and said "No, what? These are great, I didn't even notice, with the way these handles fill your hand. In fact, I like the way these look. The way you can see the steel around the edges of the handle scales, really sets the handle scales off."

When they arrived, the grips were a bit pale in color. I believe this is partly due to a lubricant used in machining. Also, as a surface effect, grips such as these made of G-10 or micarta, tend to look a bit better when oiled. A common practice among knife-makers is to oil micarta, for a slightly darker appearance. This also happens naturally, with exposure to the oils of hand, with use, over time. Note - In a later conversation with Marianne of Halpern Titanium, she confirmed that it is common to oil the handles, and makes for a richer color.

As I have handled the Mules, and they have darkened with use, I really have to say that I like the color. I had expected the Strider Ranger Green to be a bit darker, but I like it.

I am very pleased with these grips. I find them to be functional in every practical way. Halpern Titanium has succeeded in providing an inexpensive and practical production handle scale option for the Spyderco Mule Team Knives.

And when you consider value, they are quite an attractive option. The least expensive Mule was $20, but the average cost for one of the Mules, has been $56, which makes the G-10 grips from Halpern Titanium pretty cheap at $25. And, with the grips being inexpensive, it makes it attractive to order an extra pair for future Mule knives, remember, we are just getting started with these Mules. I wish I had purchased a set of the Coast Guard Orange scales, as well.

If you are interested in purchasing a set of grips, in either option, please contact Melanie of Halpern Titanium at 413-283-8627, as I understand it, they have grips in stock, shipped for about $30. They had planned on making only 20 sets of handle scales, but they decided to expand the run.

And finally, just for fun, I took a group picture of all my Mules, with their handles.


PS - If you are curious about the hardware that these grips are mounted with, I have a couple images here.....

Part II

Oil your G-10 grips for best appearance.

As you may have read in my review of the Halpern Titanium G-10 grips, I mentioned that they were a bit pale in color at first, and that over time, with exposure to the oils of the hand, they would darken up. I also reported that some customer makers oil their G-10 and Micarta with Mineral Oil.

Here I have borrowed an image from my review, for this this article. It shows the pale color of the surface.

After reading my review, Marianne Halpern of Halpern Titanium confirmed that the grips would benefit visually from an application of oil, and she suggested a product called LPS TKX or the old standby WD40.

So, I decided to get some oil, and see how it worked. At the time, I was anticipating the arrival of a pair of Coast Guard Orange G-10 Grips from Halpern Titanium. I had not bought a pair of the orange, and then they were sold out, and I decided I wanted a pair. Then, a Forum member, by the name of David, told me that he had bought a set of the orange, but that he was willing to part with them. And so, a deal was struck, and I waited for their arrival.

But, while I waited, I went looking for Mineral Oil.

First of all, I knew that Mineral Oil has in the past been used as a skin softener or conditioner. A jaunt over to Wikipedia will show that it's use is far more common than you might be familiar with, and that it is a close relative of white petrolatum.

So, I went to a couple stores, and after spending far too much time hanging out in the health and beauty area of my local market, stuck behind women gossiping about plucking, hair color changes and what they were to wear at their upcoming Christmas festivities, I was diverted to hardware, where I had to explain that while mineral spirits may have the word mineral in common with mineral oil, that was not what I was looking for. Strike One for Marion.

Then the day after Christmas came, and my wonderful partner and soon to be wife, needed to go shopping for supplies for our upcoming celebration. And among our adventures, I had some time at Wally World. After wandering through hardware and picking up a few things, I got focused, and headed over to the area around the pharmacy. There I found the staff very helpful, and I found a bottle of mineral oil, and at a very fine price.

Fast Forward to my return from the country, to my home, where I discovered that my Halpern Scales were waiting for me....

And, even more so than the Strider Ranger Green or the Black scales which I had already, the Coast Guard Orange grips were in need of a bit of oiling, being pretty pale, and not very rich in color.

Soon, I had very soft hands, thanks to mineral oil. And my Mule grips are wonderfully rich in color...

And images with a flash, for a bit more of the story...



And finally, the best part of using mineral oil for this purpose is that it is, by all indications, non-toxic, and seemingly odor-less. Neither of which qualities are in abundance among oils and lubricants. Further, you can always use it soften your skin or stay regular.

Enjoy your Mules,

PS - I think white petrolatum will work for this purpose as well. But, as of yet, I have not tried it. M

PPS - The Strider Ranger Green and Black have also benefited from their exposure to mineral oil, not as greatly, as they already had some oil on them, but they did improve in richness of color. And a secondary benefit of the mineral oil could potentially discourage corrosion under the handle scales. M

Part III

New Colors and Slim Grips....

So, these have been out awhile, but I have simply been too busy to do anything but put fires out.... Hopefully the fine folks at Halpern Titanium are not machining pitchforks.....

Some time back, Halpern Titanium added Pink, Gray, Light Brown and Earth Brown to their line-up of Green, Black and Orange.

In addition to all the quality and precision exhibited by the grips I have previously reviewed, these new scales remedy the most common complaint about the first offering, as they now come very close to the edge of the scales.

And, they are also offering a Slim Grip, and the gray set of grips in my images represents that offering.

So, I will go straight to the images, and I will add some information as we go...

The new colors...

The new colors next to the old colors sans the black.

And some "stylish" images showing the an old color vs a new color, and the tang coverage difference.

And an image showing the two Browns in comparison to the Ranger Green.

An image showing the differences in thickness between the Slim Grips, and the full thickness grips, which are similar to the first offering.

Showing the old and the new side by side...

And a stand-alone image of the Gray Slim Grips, which of the new offerings, is the one I prefer.

That's all for now, and feel free to ask any questions you might have, on one of the threads I will start.

And remember, if you like what you see, you might think about buying the scales of your choice before the next run of Mules is released, else they may not be available when you want them. Grips go fast when the Mules are let to run...

Thank you,