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 want 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?

Saturday, May 16, 2015

SWFA SS 1-4x24 Tactical 30mm Riflescope First Impressions

review, overview, first impressions
SWFA SS 1-4x24 in their SSALT mount.
I only recently discovered SWFA and I think maybe it is because their products fall just at the top end of what is considered "budget", and so fewer people talk about them when inexpensive optics are the topic of conversation. While digging for reviews and general interwebs trolling, I just don't think I ever came across an SWFA optic. I probably did and just dismissed it for whatever reason. It seems there are a handful of go-to budget friendly optics in the 1-4 magnification range, particularly with the popularity of 3-gun in recent years, and those offerings get all the airtime. A few months ago I also discovered TiborasaurusRex on youtube and let me tell you, you don't have to watch his channel long to realize that he knows just about all there is to know about optics and long range shooting. TiborasaurusRex talks about SWFA SS optics in a couple videos but he has one in particular discussing how they're made, and just exactly what makes them one of, if not the, best choices available. There isn't much point for me to try to explain it, just click the link and watch, but the bottom line is that you are getting a lot of features that matter at a very good price point. It seems there is a group of people sort of "in the know" when it comes to SWFA and the release of this particular optic was apparently highly anticipated and they sold quickly. I ordered mine when they were out of stock and just got it a few days ago, after waiting for the ETA, which I might add, was accurate. Either I have bad luck - entirely likely - or no one delivers on their promises in the manufacturing world, because any time I order something on back-order, the estimated time of arrival isn't even close and I wait around itching to furiously post a negative review.

UTG bi-pod review
So, first thing that needs to happen, is lay out the framework for this review. My framework is kind of like cobbled together in a back alley garage with duct tape and stolen parts. I've shot and hunted all my life, but I'm not saying it was correctly, you know, if I was going to be honest with myself. Shooting for me has always kind of been an organic or natural sort of activity and while I think it does come naturally for me, I'm not saying that. I'm saying, more of an art and less of a science. Bird hunting and point-shooting has always been more my speed and so moving from the hunting realm of shooting and into the realm of action shooting I took more to pistols than rifles. I know I'm speaking broadly here, but we're talking about going from the traditional to the modern tactical. It's a whole lot of words to say, I've only had my AR variant rifle for a few years, and in that time, I just haven't spent a lot of time shooting it. Without a doubt, a healthy dose of human error is going to be apparent in the results throughout this post.

review, budget optics, SWFA
What I have done though, is spent a lot of time changing optics and trying to figure out what optic is right for me. I started with a 1-4x, then switched to a micro red dot, then shot iron sights for a little while, and now I'm back to 1-4x. What I realized about the Primary Arms 1-4x I originally had is that it didn't provide any opportunity to employ or learn precision shooting techniques, and a variable power magnified optic is too heavy not to provide more flexibility. The micro dot took care of the weight issue, but I still felt my gun should wear more hats and I wanted to learn at least some basic precision shooting fundamentals. If the gun was going to be heavy, I decided it should be flexible and I should have access to all of its potential. And on the subject of potential, there is only so much of it available in the equipment. You're looking at a chrome lined, 1:7 twist Del-Ton upper with their heavy barrel and a 5.56 chamber. The lower is a PlumCrazy from before the company turned into New Frontier. I don't know how it will hold up over time but what I do know is that I can't really complain a lot about the trigger. There is almost no movement before the break. You apply five or five and a half pounds of pressure to it and the gun fires. The reset, therefore, is brief with an unmistakable and audible thunk, as plastic things move into alignment under spring pressure. I shot from prone with a UTG bipod and without a sandbag (and I will in the future) while testing inexpensive ammo not necessarily intended for precision. I recently put the Troy Delta rail on for the purpose of free floating the barrel. What it all amounts to, is not a sniper rifle. My point here is, this is the rig, the reader should understand that it's an inexpensive, general purpose rifle. In that regard, this is as much a test of the rifle and ammunition as it is the optic.

And with that said, let's get into it by talking about all of the parts as a whole, rather than the optic alone. I think the do-all gun is highly sought after, but difficult to achieve. However, with the 5.56 AR platform the main outer boundary seems to only be the cartridge's effective range. Its lethality has throughout history come into question as well, and many alternatives have come and gone, but I'm personally past that and I define do-all as general purpose, or multipurpose, in a less literal sense. Why? Because I think that is what the 5.56 AR carbine essentially is and always was. Undoubtedly a better, more multipurpose gun and cartridge could be made, but it won't be without significant alteration to the rifle and cartridge - a complete system, one made specifically for the other. So general purpose takes on new meaning for me as a civilian. What all can I get from one gun for my money? Can I hunt? Can I do some precision shooting? Can I put it into some action shooting? Can I use it in a defensive role? So today, we're talking about the precision aspect, and where a rifle might begin to take on a niche role at the expensive of versatility.

ZQI, Perfecta, Winchester, Tula, Colt, American Eagle
All 55gr FMJ, except the Colt brand in 62gr.
With six brands of inexpensive cartridges from four different countries in hand, I set to zero my new SWFA optic and find out what accuracy potential my gun possessed. As this is an introduction, and a violently stormy day here in Kansas, I only got into the basics at 50 yards. Out of the package the SWFA 1-4x24 looked and felt like a well made product. On one power magnification the front sight post is visible and I immediately noticed that the optic had to be very close to zero right out of the box given the reticle's position relative to the front sight, and it was. You will see in the pictures, after a quick bore sighting by eye, the first round hit just to the left of the target, maybe an inch or so. The second round was a dead center hit, both Russian Tula .223 55grain FMJs. At 50 yards, measuring mils is cake and the total windage adjustment out of the box was 1.7 mils. Now, I already know the Tula is not spectacularly accurate in general and not out of my gun. So I only shot two rounds to sorta zero it, and then began shooting groups of the other brands. Two points to really drive home there. No elevation adjustments, two rounds, and this optic was zeroed, firstly. And second, that dead center bull's eye was probably a fluke. I doubt very seriously if I had fired two or three more rounds that any of them would have been in the black. For reference, those are 3 inch circles and the diamond in the center is a half inch square. At 50 yards the center dot in the reticle completely covers a half inch square and the 3 inch radius of the target is equal to the width of the diamond in the reticle.

Knowing that I was looking at an effective range for .233 or 5.56 of 500-700 yards I couldn't justify spending a whole lot on a bi-pod and to be honest, the main feature I looked for in this unit was the QD mount. I just don't want that extra weight hanging on the front unless I am doing that sort of shooting so the ability to quickly remove it took priority over everything else. I have to say though, the UTG bi-pod, being a direct Harris knock-off, is more than sufficient for my needs. It only swivels and I know that's not good enough for some precision shooters, but I found it had enough play to lean into it, to load the bi-pod, and it seems very sturdy. The throw lever has no locking mechanism and I've already found the screw to adjust the lever likes to back out. I put some thread locker on it, and we'll see how that works out over time.

I don't have any experience with $1,000 glass, so all I can say is, looking through this optic is like looking through air. Bright surfaces in bright sunlight seemed equally bright through the scope as if the light were passing perfectly and completely through the glass. Nothing seemed lost. The eye relief is forgiving and while wearing prescription glasses always seems to be an obstacle with optics, it was less so in this case. Each time I look through a more affordable optic that has a reputation for having good clarity for the price, I wonder what else could I possibly need in that department, and the SWFA is another one of those. The reticle is sharp as a razor. I have begun to get the impression that the batteries included with these types of optics are half dead right out of the package, but the illumination wasn't visible during the times the sun actually reared its head today. I may pick up a fresh battery to try in it, but the illumination isn't an overwhelmingly significant feature for this sort of shooting.

L-R, Tula, Colt, Perfecta, Winchester, AE, ZQI
Now for the ammo testing part of the day. I think the big surprise was the Russian, Colt branded cartridge which I believe has a 62 grain projectile. I must have thrown the packaging away, but it's the stuff that comes in a blue box. It grouped as well as any, maybe as well as the ZQI, maybe better, depending on how much shooter error factored into each group. And there was plenty. Without a sandbag, prone in the grass, I could clearly see my heart beat moving the reticle. Additionally, my target choice wasn't among my finest, being about the same size as the reticle, making it difficult to achieve absolute consistency. I noticed that the Winchester grouped pretty well, but then opened up for the next group. Undoubtedly the blame there could be put on the guy behind the trigger. I only shot a couple Tula, because I have burned lots of it and I kinda know how it goes in my blaster, then the Russian Colt, Perfecta, ZQI, Winchester, and American Eagle. I shot 3 rounds of all of them (and failed to get a picture of only 3 ZQI rounds) then went back and shot 3 more. I did this because I just wanted to take a little of my own error out, or at least spread it around and see some more consistency, particularly with the Perfecta. Turns out, it didn't help with the Perfecta either. My gun just doesn't like it, or it just isn't that great. Now, it's important to note, the second string of fire was AFTER an elevation adjustment on the optic. So I shot 3 rounds of all, noticed they were consistently low, dialed in .3 mils adjustment, and shot the next 3. So you will notice all of the impacts are slightly higher and on the ZQI target, the top 3 are the second group of 3. I shot all 6 American Eagle at once. I also already knew it wasn't great through this gun, and it shows in the group. In any case, the ZQI promises 1 MOA right on the box, and the bullets actually do look different, and very consistent when compared to the others - just a bit more pointed I think. And it looks like they may deliver on the 1 MOA accuracy claim. I can only presume the 62 grain Russian projectiles are a little longer, possibly with a better ballistic coefficient than the others, but surprisingly good. If or when (hopefully when) I get to stretch my gun out, I will for sure consider them. In any case, the good groups you see on these targets are about 3/4 inch, maybe a little better. Considering the shooter and the equipment, I am happy with these results. At 100 yards, if I do my part, with a sandbag and without the hurricane force winds that accompanied the T-Storms today, I think 1 MOA is realistic.

In the top row, from the left, you see my first round of Tula off the target, high and left. The second shot is dead on in the black. That was my two round zero, making only the 1.7 mil windage adjustment, and I loaded up the Colt, ultimately shooting 3 rounds of each except the American Eagle - I shot all 6 of those at once. One thing to note is a bullet hole above the Colt target - that hole was already in the cardboard from a previous shooting session and in the lower image I put a mark through it so I wouldn't get it mixed up with anything. The dark spot at the top left and lower right on the cardboard are nails holding the target up - pretty sophisticated stuff here. Next, I made a .3 mil elevation adjustment and shot 3 more of each brand - lower row.

This image was an attempt to depict the group size - about 3/4 inch for each 3 shot group.

I added a target and shot 5 rounds of ZQI. Probably illustrates shooter ability more than ammunition consistency.

In conclusion, I think it's worth circling back to precision at the expense of versatility. It's well known that the Stoner rifle has an inherent accuracy factor so it's not as if we're seeing something unusual in my results. I learned a little something about my own setup, its accuracy potential and how less expensive ammunition performs in it. I think it illustrates how multipurpose the AR rifle is. A precision barrel, internal components and optic with greater magnification might yield much more impressive results but it likely would come at the expense of versatility, particularly where the optic is concerned.