Monday, July 13, 2015

Bidor Malaysia Parang Blanks Outdoor Dynamics

malaysian parang
I bought three of these blanks months ago, and forgot to write up a post about the one I actually got finished. So for anyone interested, I'll just start with how I got them. I contacted Outdoor Dynamics through their website and asked about the "Ray Mears" style Parang blanks. Now, my understanding is that Ray Mears likes the style of Parang common to this particular area of Malaysia and they just call them that for people interested in that specific style. I don't think Ray Mears has anything to do with their creation or marketing or anything else. I think that perhaps the style is common to Bidor, but honestly, I have no idea. In any case, that is where they are made and where they came from to get to me. At the time, and this might still be the case, there was no US distributor, and what's more, they told me that they are going to stop offering blanks. So, shipping ends up costing more than the blanks, and to make it come out reasonable, I ordered three.

ray mears parang
To pin or not to pin, that is the question. Unpinned handles, from what I can gather, are a common occurrence in the jungles where Parangs originate. And probably so are pinned handles. These Parangs have a short, but wide and pointed tang. They typically heat the tang and "burn in" the handle, essentially using the hot tang to melt a plastic handle or burn a wooden handle into place. Many are held by friction alone, others are glued and still others are pinned. I burned the handle onto mine by wrapping the blade with a water soaked rag and heating the tang with a torch, then forcefully pressing the handle on until it was where it needed to be. There was lots of smoke and hissing but in the end it makes for a perfect fit and is honestly quite satisfying. I then filled it with epoxy and in an attempt to learn something, I have done nothing else to secure it while I put it to use. Ultimately, there is probably no reason not to go ahead and pin the handle, except that in the world of primitive tools, a field repair is worth consideration. If the handle were to be damaged or loose then the pin could just cause more problems than it actually solves. I guess that has to be weighed against the likelihood of being in a situation where I am fully relying on the Parang, and can't just take it home to fix it in the shop. Eh, probably not likely, and I could probably just get away with wrapping the handle in something temporarily. Either way, I have had an opportunity to do some real bush whacking recently and put the Bidor Parang to the test.

It's a long story, but I needed to cut a couple paths through some thick brush, tall grass, sapling trees and woody shrub-like bushes. This is Parang territory. They are short machetes for the most part. I quickly learned the trick to the Parang when put up against human-hight grass, weeds, and sapling sized wood. You cannot fist-grip the Parang and use arm power to cut, especially grasses. It will just knock the grass over, which is fine, but it was so thick where I was cutting that if you didn't cut the brush down, you couldn't take another step. Each swing cleared one step and the material had to be moved out of the way to continue ahead. However, I believe the magic of the Parang is in the handle design and the access it provides to wrist action and follow-through. For cavemen like myself, the first notion is to deliver mighty swing power to the target, but I am evolved enough, moderately though it may be, to realize my initial approach was leading toward failure. Having watched some people who actually knew what they were doing put machetes and Parangs to use, I knew I had to try something different. My handle is somewhat unique I think, however, I got lucky and made it similar enough to the real thing that it works as intended. With far less arm power, and much more wrist flicking, the Parang laughed in the face of the grass, weeds and brush. It was a lot of fun and the weight to cutting power ratio of the Parang is a formula for reduced fatigue. My Thai E-Nep (seen in some of the pics) is so much heavier and weight forward that it is far more of an axe than machete. It has the power to tackle heavy brush, but would be more tiring when put up against light, thick brush that requires more swings.

That brings me to an important design characteristic of the Parang. I have seen them adapted to heavy brush, survival chopping machines with full tangs. I think they lend themselves to that role just fine. However, it is an adaptation, not an improvement and that is an important distinction. I have heard criticism of the partial tang, thinner blade stock, and the methods of attaching the handles. But, just like with the E-Nep, they are different tools and when a Parang is altered to have a thicker blade and full tang, it becomes something else. These Parangs are made from spring steel with the tangs and spines left annealed - they will bend long before they will break, in fact, they may never break. They are also perfectly balanced for the work described earlier. To add a full tang would alter the balance, and to offset that issue, more weight would be added to the blade, creating a much more fatiguing tool to swing. A thick, full tang Parang would be bomb proof, and a powerful chopping tool, capable of performing a variety of tasks that might be appropriate for your environment. However, this Parang is a remarkably versatile knife just the way it is. With a quick snap it effortlessly breezes through thumb size green wood and is plenty tough enough to tackle more. As my readers will know, I am an axe enthusiast and I think they are the original survival tool of the American landscape. Turning a Parang into a small axe moves it into heavier task territory, but it will never be as good as an axe, and it will come at the expense of all the things the Parang is so great at. This is the problem I see with most heavy, large outdoors knives. In the pursuit of the one tool option, we consistently get tools that are mediocre at everything and good at nothing. In fact, a hatchet, equal in weight to a large, thick knife, is a much more versatile tool (carving and splitting) and an equivalent chopper.

jungle machetes, parangs, bush knives, survival knives
And that brings us to the steel itself. Now that I've done some hacking with it and had a chance to put a real edge on it, about all I can say is that I am happy with the steel. The bush whacking I did with it seemed to have no effect on the edge. In fact, the grass and weeds were so thick that I couldn't see what was lurking amongst them and on a couple occasions struck metallic objects which had been discarded there. I think I might have also tangled with a large rock. When it was all said and done I found one miniscule dent in the edge, but overall no loss of sharpness. I would also add that I was cutting and slashing for maybe an hour, maybe less, in the rain. The Parang was wet, my hands were wet, it was pretty much like being in the jungle I think. I was concerned about losing my grip on the knife, but I never did and hacking away in the rain at 70 degrees always beats hacking away in the sun at 100 degrees. The whole adventure was impromptu so the edge was little more than workable at that point, just quickly honed so I could get to work. Once I returned home I put a nicer, sharper edge on it and with minimal effort. I had forgotten about the edge nick, but after sharpening there was no sign of it, after all it was very small. The bottom line is, these Outdoor Dynamic Parangs are excellent, simple, and authentic tools made by people who have been using them for countless generations.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Pocket Knife Pic Dump!

What can I say, these knives are just fun to collect and to tinker with - grind in a swedge or two, give the handles a little nicer contour, re-polish, just make them your own. They are very inexpensive and typically really well put together. Today we've got the Small Coke Bottle (pictured with my tweaked Baby Copperhead and Leatherman Wave). But, there is no room for chatter, this is a pic dump. Enjoy.
Rough Rider pocket knives, review, pictures
Leatherman Wave, Small Coke Bottle, Baby Copperhead

pocket knives

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Illusive Octagonal Knob-End Axe Handle is Reborn

By some freak chance, I came into possession of an old octagonal knob-end handle on a Keen Kutter with a forge welded bit. I have never seen, in person or in pictures, another one like it and I believe it's pretty old, early 20th century anyway. Octagonal handles are still available today, and I suspect they must have been, and even continue to be, somewhat popular but there is virtually no information about them with knob-ends. While knob-ends are not common alone, pictures can be found. However, when combined with octagonal flats they become a creature as illusive as any vintage or antique item gets. In my eyes, this is as good a reason as any to recreate one.

The handle as it came next to a 30"
Now, going back to the House Handle youtube videos, the handles come off the lathe with a big chunk of wood on the bottom below the swell. I can only presume then, this process prompted the invention of the knob-end. I have two theories on what thought processes could have been involved in the very first version. First, why cut or sand that chunk off when you can just reshape it? The knob would do a nice job of protecting the swell if the user should tap it on the ground to tighten a loose head, or perhaps act as a tamp of some sort. Second, the ubiquitous fawn's foot might have been shaped first and then the excess material removed. On a knob-end swell, the fawn's foot is still there and well defined, it just has more material attached to it. I can see someone looking at it one day and saying; why don't we just leave it? It could be that Keen Kutter originated the design and used it as a sort of unique feature to differentiate themselves in a wide array of competitors at the time. The bad news is, it appears House does things a little differently now. My rough handles come with the angle already cut on the swell. I can only surmise that the wood blanks go onto the lathe with this cut already made (or there are extra steps I'm not aware of) because there are tool marks in the end grain, marks that obviously couldn't be there if the handles were turned first and then cut.

The vintage octagonal knob-end
Regardless of the history, the goal was to make one, and I thought, if I had to just make one from scratch I would. I had this NE Old Yank head sitting around, but I only had 30" handles at home and the axe originally came on a curvy 28". In fact, it might have even been shorter once assembled and finished. This is a 3-1/4lb axe on a pretty stubby stick, and such a combination was a common practice during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Old Yank is marked 3-1/4lbs and still weighs 3lbs, 3oz, so even though it's deeply pitted, it's virtually unused. It has a forge welded bit, and considering that it originated in the east, presumably New England, and the style of the handle, it has to be an oldie. In an effort to give it a handle more like the one it came with from the factory, I ordered a rough turned 28" from House. As you've seen in the pictures, the 28s are a different animal and I was excited when I realized there was just enough extra at the bottom to make my knob-end. The pictures tell the rest of the story.
custom knob-end, octagonal axe handle

NE Old Yank vintage axe

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Traditional Tuesday on Wednesday Slipjoints Son

mini copperhead baby copperhead

 Have some pics. These are those little pocket knives that slip right into your watch pocket with blades thin and pointy enough to perform surgery, if you're into that sort of thing. The red bone is a Rough Rider 2 Blade Stockman #423. It has a spay blade on the other end so it is quite literally a pocket scalpel. The other two are variants of the Mini Copperhead pattern. One is a Rough Rider ... well I don't know the model number because I rubbed it off. I put the satin finish on it and in the process blew away the laser markings. Which is fine, Rough Riders have a LOT of markings but many of them are stamped. At any rate they call it a Baby Copperhead. I also added the swedge which just really dresses up a blade in my opinion. It doesn't have to be crazy and I only put it on one side. Case's swedge on the Mini Copperhead kinda makes it look like a bird's beak. I'm not sure if I like that or not, but there it is. This one happens to have a Wharncliffe blade, and I've talked at length about this knife in a previous post. I like these smaller knives. They are roughly 3-1/4 inches closed, only about a quarter to half inch shorter than your typical mid-sized slipjoint, but overall much more compact. I particularly like single spring variants like these, where both blades use the same spring on opposite ends. It makes for a thin package, adding to the compact nature. To me, this is a true pocket knife because it is about the only one I would carry in the bottom of a typical pants pocket. I believe that pockets were invented for carrying things, not for plugging your hands in, and I wish clothing designers would take this into consideration. I would much rather have multiple smaller pockets similar to the watch pocket, than have two hand sized pockets found on most jeans. And so, I carry any sans pocket clip knife in the watch pocket. At any rate, I believe traditionally single spring, two bladed knives like this were simply called pen knives, but they are a nice option if you're looking for an ultra tiny pocket footprint and versatility.

amber bone, red bone

EDC pocket knives

amber bone

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Budget Gear Review: The 2015 Kershaw Link with Aluminum Scales

USA made Kershaws with spectacular looks at $40? It's pretty hard to say no to that combination. I have commented on this revelation in the past when it comes to knife reviews, but, what else is there to say? There are some things you can only "feel" however, when it comes to knives, and I'm just gonna run through the things I have discovered about the Link while carrying it each day for the last month or so.

-It's not small, it's not huge, it's not light, it's not heavy. To be perfectly honest, it's like the most midsized, midsize knife there ever was. I think mine was 4.7oz on the postal scale. The liners aren't lightened in any way, but it's a lot of knife for weight. They got the blade to tuck WAY into the handle while closed, partly by putting a notch in the flipper where it contacts the stop pin, allowing it to close deeper. This goes a long way to reduce the pocket foot print and is a worthy bit of engineering.
-The flipper is a little stiff on mine. Just saying, it is.
-The aluminum is smooth, I don't care, you might, in the traction department. See the plastic handles for a solution.
-The swedge looks awesome, but for thumb press cutting it's not ideal. Painful in fact.
-Not something I would typically complain about but the pocket clip is stiff. I'll take stiff over the alternative, same as with the flipper/assisted action, but it's an observation. It can be good or bad.
-420HC. OK, it's whatever it is to you but the thing is, a guy used to be able to get a $40 USA Kershaw with Sandvik steel. That's all I'm gonna say about it from that perspective but here's the deal with 420HC in my use: a fine edge doesn't last. My Link came piss your pants sharp. This is my official designation for a blade which removes hair with a light touch and push cuts magazine pages with a satisfactory hiss. Lots of people say things like "razor sharp" or "scary sharp" or "shaving sharp". Well the only thing that can be razor sharp is a razor, if we're being straight, because the thin nature of a razor blade makes it cut the way it does. A knife this big can't, technically speaking, be razor sharp. And, vis-a-vis, cannot be shaving sharp. Sure I could have shaved with it, and got the worst shave of my life. Why? Because it's not a razor. And so, by definition, isn't the razor even scarier? I submit that it is, in fact. Anyway, what was I talking about? Yeah 420HC. It's fine, I whittled some hardwood with it during the last weeks and consequently had to sharpen it. Since Kershaw put a spectacular grind on it, I put about 5 minutes into bringing it back to RAZOR sharpness on the hard Arkansas stone. Kershaw puts out a Sandvik version, I know where I will be spending my next knife money.
-Black Wash. I don't like it. Sorry. Just give me a plain finish, thanks.
-Pocket clip design/placement is good, but just misses perfection. This isn't a complaint, why? Because this pocket clip IS done right. However. I kinda think the angle and orientation is a little bit goofy. I would have straightened it out a little.

The lines on the Link all flow together.

The blade grind line continues into the aluminum scales and the plunge matches the handle contour.

So that's my list of dings. Dings on a knife that is still spectacular. Why do we love the Kershaw Link so much? Here is another list.
-The appearance is sex.
-The blade shape is a popular one right now but hang on, it's absolutely awesome and practical. The "choil" is exactly how it should be for sharpening. I don't care what any knife maker says, I want that notch because I want the base of the blade as close to the handle as possible and I want to be able to get it on a stone. So called "finger choils" are pointless. The notch should be as small as possible so that no blade is wasted. The Link nails this hard. The blade to handle design is perfect closed and open, while at the same time getting the blade down really close to the handle during use. The designer put effort into making this happen with success that few knives of this size can claim.
-Lanyard hole placement - success. Lanyards are pointless, so when they get in the way of the pocket clip, I get annoyed. Not only is the Link's lanyard hole out of the way, it looks great. Nothing was an afterthought, nothing appears forced together.
-Fit and finish. Mine screams quality from every angle. End of story.
-Aluminum. Future color options. I'd put aluminum on everything. And, with the plastic backspacer, the possibilities for added character are endless. Well done, now if only they make it happen.
-Feel. It feels right, it feels good.

Bottom line for my idea of the perfect Kershaw Link. Colors, possible mid level steel variant, slightly improved pocket clip, plain finished blade. Kershaw uses a lot of 14c28n for their American mid level blades like the Knockout which I think is roughly $60 or $70. I'm good with a $60 Kershaw Link with Sandvik steel - I'd buy one today. As for color, I need to say that I really like the gray they choose and the way it looks - it's very well done. Let's go to the pics.

every day carry knife review kershaw link
Fit and finish? Enough said.

Kershaw Link review 2015
Blade centering, check.

aluminum handles anodized

Kershaw Link 1776GRYBW

kershaw link size
This picture is a filthy lie. I just think it looks bigger than it is.

budget EDC gear

That gray looks just right with the orange L3 Illumination L10C. Just picture an orange back spacer on the Link, or orange scales, or your favorite color. Kershaw, can you say sprint run?