Thursday, April 23, 2015

Production Knife Design and the CRKT Ripple

modern production knives and design
I'm gonna pick on the Ripple in this post, but it's nothing personal, it's just for illustration purposes. For me, but maybe not for a lot of other people, the CRKT Ripple is an example of doing so much right that if something is wrong, it hurts a lot more than it would on a less impressive design. So the Ripple is old news, and I've written about mine in the past, AND it's very popular. What I want to do is break it down into its individual components and talk about my disappointment with virtually all production knives available today, and in particular, knives under $100. I am disappointed. I can't find a single knife I want to buy with excitement. I probably am impossible to please - to the point where I have seriously considered just making my own.

aluminum handle pocket knives
Buck Spitfire - successful execution of features and design.
First I think I should talk about my personal guidelines for value. Because, the Ripple represents an amazing value in design, more so than materials, and I believe that is an important distinction. Exotic and semi-exotic materials, for me personally, add little to no meaningful value to a knife that gets used. Titanium is widely used, widely held to be a high quality material, and cherished, apparently, by knife owners. To me, it's expensive for nothing more than the sake of being expensive - a solution to a problem that doesn't exist. There are no meaningful strength or weight advantages involved with titanium that haven't been matched or exceeded with far less expensive materials. Additionally, titanium can be anodized and yet, we rarely see production knives offered with interesting colored accents beyond a few basics. Titanium hasn't become common place among sub $100 production knives like aluminum, and while aluminum can be anodized, the knife world is still not particularly colorful. Exotic materials are fine, but they belong on more expensive knives and when production manufacturers go chasing them, we pay the price in design.

edc knives, budget, affordable, high value
So where does design value come in and how does the Ripple represent it? Just like exotic materials, manufacturers also chase exotic designs, and when that happens we pay the price in materials, and design both. How do we pay the price in design when a brand uses a well known knife designer? The designs have no practical value, they only have appearance and in fact, form often impedes function where knives are concerned. Being a car enthusiast, I have to make an automotive metaphor or something is seriously wrong. You can take two of virtually any car, even the most mundane, and apply quality craftsmanship, materials and details to one of them to make it far and away better looking, maybe even better to drive, but without a doubt a car can be dressed up from good to great without significant modification. But, under it all, the other car is the same car, same body panels, shape, overall design. Craftsmanship and materials are the same things used to make an Aston Martin, or Ferrari, but beautiful, well made cars aren't automatically useful in ways that a comfortable sedan is. The CRKT Ripple manages to give us some high-end, functional design in an inexpensive package by utilizing practical materials. Aston Martin design, sedan functionality, practical materials.

Let's start with the most obvious, the ball bearing pivot, because it illustrates the idea here. I don't want to get into whether it's practical or not, the point is that for a low cost knife, it's there and it is nice. This is essentially a list of features, that are individually value adding, but don't necessarily make a good knife.
-Ball bearing pivot.
-Aesthetic design. It's attractive looking.
-Functional design. It is a useful knife.
-Rounded blade spine which is also polished.
-Aluminum version with inset steel liner. It adds complexity to manufacture. Can be anodized.
-Steel version frame lock. Still comes in colors even though it can't be anodized.
-Size variants.
-Blade material options.
-Design variants.
-Colors.
-Well executed flipper and associated detent.
-Attractive pillars.
-Hidden, internal blade stop pin. I like that the stop pin holes aren't fully through the handles.

everyday carry blades
Rounded, polished blade spine and jimping details.
That's a pretty long list, to include features that aren't especially common in the Ripple's price range. In fact, I would say that we rarely get all this stuff in knives at this price and I would like to see a lot more of it. The design is functional, attractive and practical. Like the sedan or the sports car, they simply have different purposes in life and knives are no different. The Ripple manages to strike a good balance. At its heart, the Ripple is truly a simple, even classic design, but dressed up, like the car metaphor. The rounded blade spine, for instance, is attractive yes, but in my opinion, a largely overlooked functional feature of a knife. In two handed cutting, pressing on the spine is most comfortable when it's smooth and round. If I were making knives, a rounded spine would be a standard, even mandatory feature.

knives, pocket tip up tip down
That pocket clip.
But, that doesn't mean it's perfect. The bottom line is that the pocket clip on the Ripple is horrible. It violates two of my principles of design. It is ugly and looks like an afterthought, and functionally is annoying. I feel the clip in my hand when I use the knife, in fact it's almost pointed at the end so it can really dig in. Fortunately I don't really full-on fist grip a pocket knife for extended periods of time. I won't criticize it for being tip-down only, but let's face it, from a business perspective, it should have had options for tip-up. But in this case, because of the way they (or Ken Onion) just sort of forced the pocket clip into the design, it doesn't work well in the pocket. The flipper is actually exposed and because the spine of the blade now faces into a wide open pocket it can snag and open. Luckily the strong blade detent mostly prevents issues, but they don't stop there. I don't personally see the point in deep carry pocket clips, but I do find a problem with having too much solid metallic stuff sticking out of my pocket banging and snagging on things. I can't help but wonder if the pocket clip is tip-down less out of purposeful design than necessity. The pointless lanyard hole wastes all of the real estate at the rear of the handles, and then having an internal stop pin forces the clip to be shoved off to one side. Basically, my opinion is, even with a known designer, they couldn't overcome the pocket clip problems that arose from the rest of the design, leaving it muddled in however they could get it to fit. The solution of course is simple. Lose the lanyard hole, increase the size of the nested liner at the back end so that it can have threads tapped and design a pocket clip that looks like it belongs. The Ripple pattern might have to be altered with a flat area on both sides (for left or right carry) but that could easily be made to look like part of the design. Fix the clip, sell more Ripples. It's that simple to me. I would buy the steel frame lock Ripple, with a steel upgrade, if it weren't for the pocket clip.

Chasing all these features and spiffy design ultimately, and all too frequently, results in a knife that just doesn't generate any excitement for me. And, I believe it also prevents greater success for the brand. While the knife may be successful for them, they are missing out on that next level where variants could be produced more often or much sooner. CRKT could step into a wider range of variants if the Ripple were selling better now, and the really deep product lines, full of boring designs that will likely get discontinued, would no longer be necessary. Rather than designs destined to fail, I would focus on improving the successful ones instead.

Tip-down, with a little too much knife sticking out of the pocket, including the flipper.
Nice pillars, but closeups show that the finish isn't spectacular on the aluminum handles. You can also see the liner and where it doesn't extend into the furthest rear where the lanyard hole is, and where the pocket clip should be.


Monday, March 30, 2015

The Mighty Jersey Pattern Axe

It's been a long time coming, but I have myself a Jersey, an icon of American axes, and while it isn't rare or necessarily old, it's in almost unused condition and that means a lot more to me than a worn out head with special markings. The head has actually been sitting around for months but now it's ready for action ... just in time for winter to be over. Oh well. The handle started as a rough first pass handle from House, seen in previous posts, thinned to size with octagonal flats applied. Then, using the sludge in the bottom of my vinegar vat, a little leather dye and lots of boiled linseed oil, I applied a patina to the wood. I just like that the handle doesn't look as brand new as it is with the vintage steel hung on it. Here comes the pics!
plumb cruiser axe, double bit, woodsman tools
Some of the collection!

jersey pattern vintage axe
Axe head alignment is key!


vintage axe restoration refurbished
tree felling tools, vintage tools, wood working

rehanging an axe, axe collection

perfect axe handle hickory





custom hung axe handle



hanging old axes

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Knife Clones, Counterfeits and Hypocrisy

I'm doing that thing where I write a post just off the cuff without giving you visual content. Sorry. I'm not sure why I've been in a ranting mood lately. Today I am talking about those Chinese brands like Sanrenmu, Ganzo and Enlan, but also pure counterfeits that look absolutely identical to the knife they mimic, to include the box and logos and whatever else. There is a gray area as well. It's well known that several of the Chinese outfits use the patented axis lock used by Benchmade. Many will argue that taking a patented design, then using it without permission or license is illegal and therefore essentially the same as counterfeit even when the knife isn't infringing on any other protected properties. I think that I agree. That aspect of that knife is in fact counterfeit whether the rest of it is or not. We're talking about China though, not America, and just because we do it here, doesn't mean any other countries care. The argument then progresses into morality because you can choose not to support these brands and that by purchasing their wares, you have crossed some moral line.

Fact is, that's all probably more or less true. Some people like to call it arguing semantics (ironic connection to one of my other rants) and others make a distinction between clone and counterfeit, and I do as well. But it's really not about semantics or morality. It's about hypocrisy. Benchmade, Spyderco, CRKT, Kershaw, Boker, Buck, the list goes on and on, and every single one of them uses or has used Chinese factories to increase their margins, and in fact, some of these very same factories. If you can argue that one Chinese company and their products steal business from one American company, then I can argue that every single Chinese employee making goods for American companies steals jobs from every single American company with an entirely American payroll, thereby stealing business from thousands of American companies and prospective companies. It is the policies of the Chinese as a nation that allow these practices to happen, so you don't get to draw convenient distinctions between one company and another. To say that you are morally superior to someone because you refuse to buy one counterfeit product makes you a raging hypocrite. You drive a counterfeit product, you wear counterfeit products, you have a house full of counterfeit products. As a nation we're in bed with China, as a consumer YOU are in bed with China, and these very same companies you so vigorously defend are in bed with the very same factories you condemn. There are two choices really. Get over it, or accept that you are a hypocrite. There is only one way to get around these two choices. Never buy another foreign made product again, and throw away every single one you own now. Let us know how that works out. You aren't going to do what it takes to really make a change in America, so save your self righteous hypocrisy.

Counterfeits are a real thing, Americans buy them, and there is a distinction between a counterfeit and a clone. The water does get muddy when a product typically considered a clone illegally uses a patented design and you're welcome to choose not to purchase that product for that very reason. It is entirely possible that pure counterfeits can be very bad for reasons beyond the obvious. The factories are unknown, the money could be going places that none of us would want. It's hard to tell and the unknown nature of these businesses is cause enough to avoid them. I can't, and won't argue with that and I don't personally have any interest in buying a purely counterfeit anything. But when it comes to places known to produce goods for US companies, any high horse attitude just isn't going to fly.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Traditionals Tuesday Axes?

trade axe large eye curved single bit handle
Both Collins, the Trade pattern at the bottom.
Do axes count? They're old traditional tools. OK so maybe Traditionals Tuesday isn't going to become a thing. Here we have the Collins Legitimus 3lb Connecticut pattern from last Tuesday in progress. My rough turned handles had showed up the week before that, and some nice weather came with them that Saturday, and I couldn't wait to get started. Some of the pictures show the handles rough, as they come from House Handle so that you can get an idea of how much material is removed to fit them. One thing I want to mention in this post, because I've talked at length about rough handles as well as reshaping off-the-shelf finished handles, is the 3-1/2lb Collins Trade pattern depicted in some of the images. This is the only one I have experience rehanging but the eye is unusually large on them. It may just be that the eye is larger on the heavier heads, but I don't know for certain. It could very well be that if you got a 3lb version it would also have the huge eye - I'm just not familiar enough with them to say. However, if you have one in hand and you're stumped about where to source a handle, I was in the same boat and a rough handle like these will work. The rough, or first pass handles are large enough and you will need to ask for one special from House Handle. I don't see a ton of these heads around, but hopefully a few people will find this post and at least have one option.

rough turned single bit axe handles
Here are the handles as they came to me.

A finished handle next to a rough handle shows how much material is removed.

That Connecticut finished, but not sharpened yet.

Tried a few fancy lines around the shoulder of this handle that turned out pretty nice.

Notice the handle on the right had been chucked in the lathe off center so one side has a flat. I didn't want to remove material just to make the other side match and it doesn't affect feel in the hand.

The eye of the Connecticut pattern. Notice how narrow the eye is on them.

handles for trade pattern axes
And here you can see just how huge the eye is for the Trade pattern.

Again, the Trade axe eye is longer and much wider.

restoring vintage axe heads
Here you can see that having extra material really allows you to get a perfect fit.

3-1/2lb collins legitimus trade axe
I also applied octagonal flats to the Trade axe handle.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Semantics, Yeager and Negligent Discharges

I like youtube, and I watch videos all the time, but I don't really keep up with any particular channels or the people behind them. Sometimes I miss months or years worth of videos from people who I have "heard of" and one of those people is Tex Grebner. I know what you're thinking if you are familiar with him - wow, you're late to this party. That's true, and I had heard about his ND when it happened, but I honestly didn't care much for anything he was doing and never even bothered to watch the video. What's more, I'm not really talking about his ND necessarily, it's just the thing that got me to thinking about this post. The reason the title starts with "semantics" is that I often roll my eyes when I hear a firearms instructor say things like, we don't call this or that the same thing that other people call it. I'm always wondering why it matters what we call it, when we're talking about the same thing. That's called semantics, and in my mind it really makes no difference what you call something if everyone understands exactly what you mean regardless of the term. But, James Yeager has an older video out about Negligent Discharges and he talks semantics briefly. He asks people what they look for when they unload a gun and check the chamber. He says that he frequently hears "brass" given as the answer. James insists that this is the wrong answer and that you should be looking for an empty chamber. Anyone answering that question with the word brass probably understands that looking for brass is to suggest that if you see brass, you have the opposite of what you're looking for in an empty gun and that is their intent. To me, normally, to say that "brass" is the wrong answer is simply arguing semantics.

But it isn't. And I realized why as I thought about my answer to James' question and thought about what I do when I perform what he calls "dry practice", not "dry fire practice". Again, semantics, right? My answer to his question is, I look for an empty magazine well, I look for that black hole into the barrel, when there is a magazine in the gun I specifically look for the follower, and I even look for the feed ramp. I will often cycle the slide on an empty magazine just to be sure it locks open. It's not that I look for these things, but I look at them. Now we're really arguing semantics. But the point is this. It isn't about what you call it, it's about how your brain conceptualizes what you're doing. It's the act of purposefully looking at the specific parts of the gun to know with absolute certainty that you're being safe. I realized that the reason I call it semantics is because I never call anything anything. It's the difference between simply following the rules, and living by them. When you perform a procedure a certain way, for no other reason than it's the safest way, without thinking about a list of rules, then it makes no difference what you call it. But I had never realized that about my own thinking. Sometimes you have to argue semantics in order to get people to change their way of thinking.

Why is it even important? Besides preventing accidents that anti-gunners love to use against us regardless of their rarity, or causing yourself or someone else serious injury or death, it's important because shooting is all about repetition. It's about muscle memory. It's often about speed. When you do something fast, without thinking about it, it'll happen before you know it. And I realized somewhat suddenly, that's a scary notion. Suddenly I understood why I feel so much anxiety when I come across an ND video. Most of the time I can't even watch them and to be honest, I don't watch them. Yes, I believe in facing fears and reality and I think that a mindset based in reality is vitally important. With that said, I have forced myself to watch scary things and I just don't see the benefit in torturing myself repeatedly. It's terrifying, but it should be. Dry practice in my opinion is extremely beneficial, particularly for people who can't afford thousands upon thousands of rounds of ammunition. Becoming fast, and proficient, building muscle memory, and efficiency are all part of becoming a good shooter but these things can also lead to what some people consider the inevitable ND. I'm not suggesting that you assume an ND is inevitable, but why not treat it as if were? It's not that an ND is inevitable, it's that one mistake can have very horrible consequences.

Why am I talking about this today? Well, it goes deeper than how I personally approach safety. It gets into why and how safety was ingrained in my mind in such a way that I would begin to treat the terminology of safety as insignificant. I grew up with guns and I think that is absolutely key. It is a key every single anti-gunner completely misunderstands and maybe can't even conceive. Whatever it is in your life, if you have the understanding of it from childhood, it becomes ingrained. We start learning as children, we learn best as children, we can be given learning scars as children. I began considering this long ago, wondering how my father and my family had burned all these lessons into me, yet I don't specifically remember "rules" to strictly abide by. I couldn't have even given anyone the four firearms safety rules, but I lived by every single one of them. So I think, the safety rules are simply words used to describe behavior and semantics become more important when you think of it that way.

A couple things have caused me to think about all of this in depth though. The first are videos of shooting "fails". Like ND videos, I don't watch them, but I have watched what I consider enough of them to learn from. I see one theme that persists. Someone will put a gun into the hands of a completely inexperienced shooter, often a gun with violent recoil, knowing the new shooter will get abused by the gun, all to have a good laugh. The people who do this sort of thing are dangerous and harmful to the shooting culture. They are part of the problem. When someone knowingly creates an unsafe gun handling situation, they risk lives in the name of fun. To me, that is mental instability and a picture of someone who shouldn't even be considered for firearm ownership. If you are a new shooter, never ever allow anyone to pass you a firearm until you are completely certain of how to handle it safely and what to expect from that firearm when it is fired. In fact, I would leave the situation all together. I like to think of myself as a control freak. As a life rule, I never put myself in a situation where I am not in control of my safety with a complete set of realistic expectations for that situation.

The second reason I have this topic on the brain, is teaching. I recently saw a few videos in which an experienced shooter introduced a complete novice to firearms in a very safe and effective way. I found this to be very encouraging because it tells people who did not have the opportunity to grow up learning firearm safety, that some people genuinely want to share and teach, which helps demystify firearms, alleviates fear and anxiety, and generally promotes the culture in a positive way. I have been in the presence of two NDs in my life. Thankfully no one was injured. I am glad that mine wasn't the finger on the trigger, however, I feel like the first one was my fault. At the time, I thought I was doing the right thing, but over the years I have learned from the situation and I place a lot of blame on myself. I was helping a new shooter, and what I failed to do was provide a good representation of expectations to that new shooter. At that time, I didn't understand how I should have conveyed expectations or for that matter, technique. I was completely unprepared as a teacher. The gun was fired once, successfully and safely, but because the recoil was more surprising than the shooter expected, the second round was fired unintentionally. It was an ND because safe trigger finger discipline was not adhered to and the shooter did not intend to fire the second round. The new shooter actually ended up dropping the gun after the second shot, which made a further unsafe situation. As I recall, there were two rounds in the gun and there should have only been one. That was probably a decade ago or more. Today, I think of just how much really needs to be covered in order to give a novice what many of us received in a lifetime of shooting from childhood. A lot of new shooters, particularly female shooters are entering the wide and sometimes intimidating realm of firearms, and a lot of experienced shooters are tasked with sharing knowledge. I can't count the number of videos I've watched of new shooters who are getting safe instruction from knowledgeable people, but not necessarily effective instruction. I think it's worth considering how long it took to gather knowledge before passing it on to someone who hasn't had that benefit of time and experience to learn from. There is a lot of information that has to be delivered and it cannot be absorbed in a short time. How we teach is a matter of safety in itself, and we are responsible for delivering knowledge in ways that promote the 2nd amendment, not damage it.

The bottom line is, it's not about the words, it's about how you think. I have always disagreed with the idea where by changing the words, you can change perceptions and I still do. However, when you think of it in this context, as a teacher, you develop the perceptions through your teaching, the way James Yeager probably does, and you adhere to terminology that mirrors the curriculum so that the perceptions are referred to in the same way they are practiced. Be safe. It is our refined familiarity with the firearm that can lead to negligence. The higher standard of responsibility associated with firearm safety directly correlates to the higher standard of responsibility held by the firearm owner. A more responsible American citizen is a better American citizen.