Sunday, June 30, 2013

Homemade Micarta and Cheap Knives Project Part 2

Check that bevel I put on the blade spine.
The Enlan folding knife mod project continues this weekend with disassembly, cleaning up the fasteners, acid washing the blade and of course, making my micarta. Just hit youtube for all the videos you need to make your own micarta. It's very easy and when making little scales like this, takes almost no time and very few materials. I used a dark grey cotton t-shirt for the main color and orange paper for the liners. I think the grey is dark enough to really compliment the acid washed steel parts and the bright fasteners should give it just the right amount of bling. I am considering making a back spacer in orange paper for this knife just to go the extra step. After a little experimenting I have found that I can probably shine it up to a high gloss. I really love the design of the M025 and I think it lends itself to a nice smooth finish. It's also very small so there is no reason to try to get extra traction from the scales. The acid wash is something else I found on youtube. All I did was take regular vinegar and boil it, then pour it into an old plastic mug and added salt (just poured until it felt right - maybe a big table spoon full). I then hung the parts into it via paper clips and left them in I would guess less than an hour total. Something I learned during this process is that it is probably worth taking a coarse Scotchbrite to the steel if you want a nice clean grey finish. You will notice on the spine of the blade where I beveled it, the finish is really clean. That is because it was freshly sanded, bare steel. Here is a link back to part one and once it is all finished I will make a list of all my posts to make them easy to get to.
I chucked up each screw in the dremel and hit them with 320 grit paper. You may also be able to see that I polished the pivot in the center. I also polished the bushing and plan to polish the matching area around the blade. We'll see how smooth this knife can really be.
There is my sheet of micarta, enough material for 4 scales in case I screw anything up. I put nail polish on the blade to get the fake hamon effect and it also demonstrates how much the acid wash did. I also re-profiled the pocket clip by taking off the strange hump from the right side and putting a flat spot in the top above the screw holes. This flat matches the handle shape and the clip feels more like it belongs on this knife. 
how to acid wash knife blade with vinegar
It was complete luck that my micarta sheet came out the right thickness. I wish now that I remembered how many strips of fabric I used because it came out exactly 1/8 inch thick and the scales are about 1/64 thinner than that. I think I used 5 or 6 strips of fabric and I know I used 4 strips of paper. This paper is light card stock weight.
I just had to see what it was going to look like so I sanded down a little section. That orange liner is going to look awesome.
As one side begins to take shape this is the bottom side.
The resin does darken the material a little but this shows the texture and that it is going to be a dark grey color. I'm pretty excited at this point.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Homemade Micarta and Cheap Knives Project Part 1

customizing cheap knives
Other than my constant pursuit of new projects I am not certain which brain child exactly sparked this one. Going back as far as I can, I think it started with the Buck Spitfire. That knife kind of ended my hunt for the right knife. Suddenly, even though I wanted more knives, I was no longer interested in any of them in existence - unless there is one out there I am missing. What I think the Spitfire satisfies for me is my natural impulse to modify things, or really, personalize them. But with that impulse being so natural, why hadn't I considered modifying my knives? Well for one thing I hadn't purchased a single knife with truly removable scales other than the RAT 1 and I like it just the way it is. Then I got the Spitfire and I feel it's pretty unique. It's got personality. So halfheartedly I browsed the various forums, youtube and knife stores looking for something to satisfy the knife wants. Nothing. I found a few, maybe one or two that caused me to point at my screen and announce that they were pretty good looking knives, but they were fleeting moments. Now, in my knife searches I have on occasion stopped to read about cheap knives from brands like Sanrenmu and Enlan - essentially Chinese companies fully ripping American knife designs. I was like meh. But lots of people were saying they are fully worth the $10.00 spent and not bad knives at all. Still, meh. I just kept skipping over them. I'd hit ebay and look at them, then go looking for something else. Being blatant rip offs, how could they be any different from anything else? Black handles, natural steel everything else. The occasional black blade or aluminum handle. Whoopty do. I'm not saying there aren't genius designs still undiscovered out there, but knives are all starting to look alike. I have also found that I have virtually no use for a large knife like the Ontario RAT 1 in every day scenarios. It's just too big and has become my weekend/hunting/hiking knife. So by cutting out the larger folders, my options are even more restricted. I'd exhausted all resources. I went home and complained about there being no interesting knives out there and that my relatively brief knife obsession was about to come to a close.

Then something happened. I accidentally discovered on youtube, people making their own Micarta. Then five minutes later I discovered that it is totally brain dead easy. Then five minutes after that the light bulb started to flicker to life in my dusty brain holder. I started to speed search the mighty Google and found tricks for acid washing and stone washing. Other finishes are more complex but I had at my disposal a couple blade finish options and infinite handle options. Then memories of those cheap Chinese knives got tossed into the mix and custom knife salsa was made. It's the same thing that happens to me over and over. The thing I want doesn't exist, therefore I must make it myself. I quickly searched for the others like myself who had already dreamed this up. The only problem was, I didn't find many. I know you are out there but you seem to be few and far between. Hopefully you find this post and a new trend is officially kicked into gear. Part of the issue is the search terms. I used several; customized cheap knives, Sanrenmu modifications, Enlan modifications, enhancing cheap knives, etc. It's actually a difficult search so chances are I missed a community where this is happening beyond a youtube video here, blog post there, or occasional forum thread.

So, this post officially begins my Enlan cheap Chinese knife project. I went and took a closer look at these bad boys and a huge chunk of them are simple liner locks with liners on both sides and Micarta or G10 or whatever scales. A bunch of them are held completely together with Torx screws, including the pivot AND thumb stud. I can completely disassemble them and touch every part. I also tend to lean toward more "gentlemanly" knives. Cleaner, more classic designs over the very popular tactical assortment and between the Enlan brand and the Sanrenmu brand, I'm pretty well covered with at least 5 different designs that interest me. Finally, the Enlans at least are made with 8CR13MOV steel just like my Chinese Cryo or Ripple. These are admittedly nicer knives overall but the steel is perfectly acceptable in my eyes and I quickly placed my order. Nine days later I opened my package from Hong Kong and found two surprisingly nice knives.
cheap liner lock folders
The Kershaw Cryo is pretty small and even though these Enlan knives are about the same length, they are a little more compact in all dimensions. Like the Cryo, they are a bit heavy for their size, but nothing that bothers me.
They call the scales G10 and it's neatly cut with a useful texture.
You can see they are remarkably cleanly made. The blade grind is pretty even and centered and all the surfaces have blemish-free finishes. The thumb stud is good looking and functional. The M07 has a hollow grind going on.
The M07 had pretty dang good blade centering - nothing I can't live with. The blade itself was close to sharp and opened smoothly. The detent isn't crisp but works and I wonder if the ball isn't just dirty.  
Lock-up on the M07 is good. There is no blade play at all. There are a few faint tool marks present here that I think I can polish out without effecting lock-up. These little knives are surprisingly well finished.
This pocket clip is ... ugly. I am trying to think of ways to improve it but there is zero extra material. One of my biggest concerns when ordering these was how rough the fasteners were going to be. I'd had a Gerber where half the screws were over torqued or beaten during careless assembly and each point of the Torx star was marred. These are all in pretty good shape. Nothing like beat up fasteners to make a knife look like crap.
The grind marks are no where near this apparent in real life. The blades have a nice even satin finish. Also, the markings are etched into the steel, not printed on and when you look at the knife they don't appear this dark. Just a weird picture I guess. What can I say, I'm no photography ninja. The M025 has a flat grind and a cool blade shape if I do say so myself.
Again, good blade centering on the M025. Not perfect, don't care. This one has a nice crisp detent but the blade was pretty stiff opening. I turned the pivot screw back a turn and it works nicely.
Enlan knives quality review
Lock-up is again good with very slight side-to-side play. The lock gets half way across the blade if maybe even a little further but only time will tell if this is going to be an issue. Jimping on the liner lock is the only jimping to be found on either knife but I think both have a clean style and are small-ish utility blades that don't require volumes of traction. I can do my own jimping if I get to feeling that brave - not likely.
small folder review
Nice fit and finish on these things. Rather than attempting complex features requiring skilled hands that would end up half-assed, they are left clean and simple thereby avoiding risk of scars. That works for me. The pocket clips are functional if not so attractive on the M07. They only offer tip down right side carry, but I probably won't change them. Again, if I am feeling lucky I might tap my own threads for tip up, but probably not on this first go-round. I do intend to put a back spacer on at least one of them since the pillars are round.
It isn't very obvious but you can see a little rust discoloration right at the end of the lock. The M07 had a couple rust spots. Nothing I can't fix but it was there.
So the plan is pretty simple. Clean up anything that isn't already perfect - a couple tool marks here and there - and make my own scales for them. I will slightly modify the pocket clip on the M025 because there is material to work with and it doesn't perfectly fit the overall design. I am also going to round the spine and do a full stone wash on everything steel. I am going to cover the lanyard holes because I have no use for them and see if I can't smooth out the deployment. The first step to accomplish that is probably to improve access to the thumb studs. For the M07 I am thinking of doing an acid wash. One is going to get a a little more personality with orange in it somewhere and the other more subdued with some kind of drab scale color. Stay tuned.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Kydex Update: Colors Available

This weekend I got a little bit of experimenting done and finished a few projects. I now have MAS Grey and Coyote as well as Black in .080 for Glock 19 holsters and I am opening custom orders for rifle mag carriers as well in those colors. I am going to drop the price on the .060 units that are left to get rid of them and plan to have a new model designed soon to go with the current model. I have been playing with gluing scraps together to use as belt loops and I am pretty confident they will be more than sufficient as such, but more testing still needs to be done. All the same I made belt loops this weekend as well as more MOLLE strips. The belt loops, since they are formed, feel really strong. I guess this is sort of the bundled sticks concept but two pieces of .080 is obviously thicker than the standard .125 belt loop material, plus it offers color matching. I like it, but only time will tell. I also scored some coyote rivets and screws but the coatings don't feel all that strong to me. I am hand setting my eyelets/rivets and the tool rubs the coating off on the back. I have been offering it to people but explaining that the backs are bare brass, which actually looks pretty good with the MAS Grey. I may get some bare brass rivets to play with next. Anyway, I wish it was tougher but would only be an issue on holsters that get abused and those will wear off any coating anyway. I tossed a couple onto the holster in my pictures so you can see how it looks. I think it's pretty sharp.
coyote brown chicago screws
The material everything is sitting on is the MAS Grey, as well as the knife sheath. You can see the matching belt loop on this side held on with the Coyote screws.

Another look at the screws on an all Coyote G19 holster.
MAS gray kydex holsters and sheaths

The OS logo courtesy of the magic of Photoshop.

glock 19 holster
Here is the double thickness coyote belt loop and a standard .125 loop.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Budget Gear Review: Buck Spitfire

buck spitfire gray aluminum edc knife
I am tempted to start this post with "WOW" but part way through the first sentence will have to do. All the same, Buck nailed the Spitfire, hard. I prefer to write more of a user review, after I've had time to find out if whatever it is is actually any good. At the same time, I don't like to get into technicalities and specifications or tell you something you can just read on the manufacturer website. So, this review is going to be more like the Schrade SCHF10 review because my Spitfire just showed up today. Also, I like it and think that the web is lacking interesting pictures of it. In some small way I'd like to be able to give more people a reason to get this knife if it is something they are interested in. I suppose all reviews ultimately serve that purpose and right now there just isn't much out there covering the 722. I know there are a few youtube videos and they helped me make up my mind, but I wasn't this excited until I had it in my hand and with any luck, some of my pictures will convey with a little more clarity, why it is so good.
I get excited when a company designs a product as if they simply asked enthusiasts what they wanted, then told the folks in the back to start cranking them out. There are almost no misses, the way I see it, with the Buck Spitfire - except maybe the name. I think it may become known as the Buck 722 because I don't see the Spitfire thing, or simply didn't do enough research to get it. Probably the latter. But like I said, if you want to know why Buck called it the Spitfire, ask Buck. This is a pure EDC knife and it is a budget review because I gave exactly $31.99 shipped. Let's get started. I've got lots of pictures.
First things first, yes I admit it, I bought it because it goes with this light - you'll see why.
I love the bright blade and hardware against the brushed grey anodized handles.
Perfect size, perfect blade shape, perfect overall appearance. As I said, this is a pure EDC knife. It's very light weight, slim, functional and also attractive. That blade is razor sharp as Buck knives tend to be, right out of the box. I keep my knives sharp enough to easily remove arm or leg hair, but this thing is sharper still. 
Just look at that. I know I'm not a flashy person and when I saw they added just a little accent color, I had to have one. If you want to go loud they also come in full bright green and orange handles with alternate accent colors. It's just the right amount of personality in my book. It is also minutely recessed which I suspect will prevent the color from wearing over time.
L3 Illumination L10 1xaa flashlight
It's a lock-back which might be a miss for some people. I suspect this may have been a price factor, yet at the same time it's simple, classic and time tested, so it could have just as easily been purposefully included. For me personally, it works. I doubt I would have liked it more with a frame or liner lock, mostly because the knife looks very clean this way. And take a look at that pocket clip. For one thing it came right side, tip up. Buck has been paying attention. Further more, it can be moved to either tip up or down, left or right side. And most importantly it is very well designed. I really like how much contact it makes with the handle while at the same time having medium tension. What this means is it slides into and out of the pocket very smoothly. The extra hump at the top accommodates the folds in the fabric and the hole neatly surrounds either the Buck logo, or the pivot depending on how you carry yours. Some thought went in to this clip. 
Some of the little details. Fit and finish are amazing just like that jimping.
This jimping is worth bragging about. The round cuts are left sharp and work even better than they look - a unique feature that is functional. The traditional jimping on the blade is rounded on the sides with the rest of the blade, but the lateral edges are left sharp. Bottom line, the jimping is the absolute perfect balance of bite and comfort and a thumb ramp to boot. Nothing was left out here. 
Buck Spitfire Review
I love it so much I'm going to make you look at it some more. But here you can see the blade jimping is crisp where it matters. The blade has a beautiful satin finish and rounded spine. The thumb hole once again strikes the correct balance between crisp edges your thumb gets traction on, but not so much as to wear on you. It is also ideally located.
The blade opens one handed and is smooth as glass thanks in large part to this highly polished surface which contacts the lock. This knife has class, and tradition behind it so there is no call for assisted opening or thumb studs.
It is very slim, the absolute perfect size and very nicely put together.
High value EDC choices
For size comparison. I find myself carrying the Cryo a lot. I love the size and I love the smooth looks. The Spitfire takes those looks up a couple notches with a sophisticated flare. These are both big bang for your buck blades except the Buck is made at home.  

So if I didn't make it clear, the bottom line on the Buck 722 Spitfire is balance - the flawless balance of function and beauty. Every single aspect of this knife was considered in both appearance and utility, not just one or the other and without compromise to one or the other. The unique jimping adds the final touches to a stunning knife but is still perfectly useful. The pocket clip isn't just 4 position adjustable because lots of knives are made that way, in each position the clip still looks right in the knife's design. The finish, the accent (mild to wild), the bright finished hardware and attention to detail on the blade finish. The polished lock contact surface. The absolutely perfect thumb hole. The weight and width. I liked the looks of the knife from the moment I saw it and maybe that drives a lot of the opinion written above, but it only took holding it in my hand to realize that I had accidentally found the perfect EDC knife. I hadn't realized the balance of form and function until using it and I've not held a knife that produced that kind of feeling before. I cannot for the life of me see this knife not becoming one of the most popular pocket knives made today. If Buck offers it in other steels like their Vantage line, they will have every box checked for this style knife. I believe the 722 is worth creating variants, special editions, limited runs, alternate locking systems, blade styles, the works, and while that sort of thing has never interested me before, I might get a couple others if Buck should ever go that route - I like it that well.

Please feel free to comment and visit my Tumblr for a few more pictures. Thanks!

Update: 6/21/13.
It seems only fair and right that any review also include the negatives and for sure, I only had good things to say about the Buck Spitfire. I've been carrying it daily since then - which is only a couple more weeks - but I still don't have anything bad to say. But a thirty dollar knife can't be perfect, can it? Every review or thread I've read or watched has said something about blade play. Mine has the same issue. At first this was reason enough for me to want to wait until it had been out longer. I'm glad I didn't wait. The blade play is difficult to describe but it is "up" only, not side-to-side and not up-and-down, just up. It would appear, upon close inspection, that the blade and pivot and the lock can all move very slightly upward when you apply downward pressure on the edge. Yes, I am saying I can actually see the pivot move as if the hole it rides in is not a perfect fit. What does it mean, is it bad? Personally, I just don't think hard use was a part of this knife's design, so my opinion is, this isn't a real issue. Ultimately I will be curious to see if Buck sorts it out. I am sure there is some compromise that must be accepted when you create an easy opening lock-back, however, I suspect Spyderco gets it right with theirs and it's obvious that there is heavy Spyderco influence in the Spitfire.
Minor fit and finish issues are present which are completely unfair to address at the price point but for that same reason, worth talking about and I'll explain why. One thing to keep in mind is that macro photographs show imperfections you simply don't notice with the naked eye without white-gloving every millimeter of the product, but there are still a couple. You may have noticed a deep scratch in one side of the handle - deeper than the other "brushed" scratches that is. The spine of the blade at the jimping isn't perfectly square, and well, I can't think of anything else to complain about. Oh yeah, the swedge isn't perfectly centered. But yesterday I noticed something interesting. I saw some nicely taken close ups of Emerson knives. In case they weren't expensive enough, they were also "customs" in one fashion or another, and I noticed something. These knives are 10 or 15 times the cost of the Buck (at least), let's keep that in mind and I have no idea what the extra custom work cost. But, since we had nice close-ups I was also able to see those imperfections that macro photography reveals. The pivot sides of the blades were still rough from where they were either machined from stock or stamped. I don't know how these blades are made but I could see tool marks. If you look very closely at my photos of the Spitfire, you can also see very light marks in the same area - the rear of the blade where all the pivoting and locking happens. For the most part this is hidden but I noticed on my knife someone had taken at least a second to clean those tool (or stamping) marks up just a bit. In fact, even the inside of this knife has been touched. The lock bar is almost completely smooth finished inside and out. I also pointed out earlier the polished lock contact surface and even though it's part of the function of the knife, how can a knife costing 10 times more, NOT have completely perfect surfaces? What's more I noticed areas in these pictures where the scales on these Emersons weren't flawlessly fit to the liners and bolsters (on liner lock knives). To me, that's unacceptable. I am good with paying more for better steel and physically stronger knives for people who use them, but as with most things that are over priced, you are dealing with massive diminishing returns beyond that. For a hard use knife I will pay more for steel and strength, but there is no way you are getting 10 or 15 or 20 times either of those with high end production knives. So what makes up the bulk of the balance? Well, handle materials and fit and finish. Micarta isn't special, it just isn't, and obviously the fit and finish of the examples I was looking at wasn't anywhere near worth the money spent. This is why fit and finish is worth talking about when it comes to the Buck Spitfire. The bottom line is that for $100 you might get 3 times the steel and strength but at $400 or $500 you are getting very little for the extra coin. As with anything I consider high value, I must get more value than I paid for so paying many multiples while getting less and less with each one is the opposite of what I am looking for as a consumer. My philosophy for how products should be made is probably becoming clear from my other posts but it's simple. Skip on the stuff that doesn't matter and deliver on the things that do. The Buck Spitfire is not just a perfect example, but delivers more than it had to for the coin exchanged.

And I believe this is officially my most epic review! Thirteen images, some of which are multiple images! OK no bragging. In fact, that might not be worth bragging about. Reading and scrolling online gets old so I hope that the bits of text accompanying the images get the gist of it across so that you can skip the rest and for those who like reading in depth, I hope I have provided for you as well. Thanks for getting this far and thanks for visiting. Now go get yourself a Spitfire.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Jetbeam BA10 Mod for Bezel Down Carry

BA10 left, stock clip orientation.
I was pretty disappointed one, that the BA10 was bezel up carry only, and two, that I didn't pick up on this before buying it. I typically spend more than enough time researching my purchases to have a pretty strong feeling for how well I'm going to like the item before ever having it in my hand. All the same, bezel up it appears to be. Which is just a little bizarre when you consider how close it came to being ready for either orientation. At first glance it would appear that a track for the pocket clip was machined in the body for either option but when I tried to flip the clip to the bezel down position it became clear that it wasn't intended to be used this way. I think the burning question here is; WHY? Especially when the track was practically already built in to the design. Could it be a quality control issue? Possibly. I did find instances in forums there people say it works. Now, I have the thing in my hand. The clip will go on, but it can't be described as "works". First and foremost the track that exists is about 1/64th of an inch narrower than the clip, so while it will go on, it's not secure and doesn't drop into the track.
ba10 bezel down pocket clip mod
Pocket clip track - bezel up.
Furthermore, closer inspection reveals that the track wasn't machined as deep as the actual pocket clip track suggesting that it was never intended for this purpose. Getting back to the burning question, I can't figure for the life of me why they would offer only the orientation that probably the majority of users don't want even when the more popular choice was 2 seconds of machining away from existing on the product. In fact, their website has a picture of the BA10 in bezel up orientation with the phrase "clip how you like" right there. Don't worry, I've e-mailed them and this light is cool enough to have some kind of warranty.

Shallower track - bezel down.
In the mean time I have a mod that works. First, the bezel and tail cap both unscrew from the body and the tail cap end - the end you would typically load batteries from - is anodized suggesting that flipping head and tail was not part of the pocket clip plan. I tried it anyway. It doesn't work. So I took a piece of "electric fence" wire, wrapped it around the light to get it more or less round and tweaked it until it was the correct size. Sorry, I don't know what size this wire is (edit: it's 17 gauge) and it's a little too thick. You may be able to see that I actually ran it over some sand paper to thin it down and increase contact surface. All this does is space the tail cap out enough for the clip to fit. Shiny. This light sucks a lot less now.
Update: Jetbeam seems to think that the distributor should handle warranty issues and I got this light from Battery Junction. They issued me an RMA number and I read the "fine print" more or less. Sounds like I get to pay for more than I should but I figured, what the hell, I'll go for it. We'll see what ends up happening. 
Here is the ring I made. It's more or less round and drops into the tail cap to create space for the pocket clip.

Another picture practically the same as the last one, just because I can. But seriously, you can see the bare metal on the body on the left of the image. This is where the ring will sit. The tail cap still has sufficient threads and the light is 100% reliable.
Update 6/8/13: So I ended up sending it back and Battery Junction told me that all (how many they checked, I can't say) the lights had this problem. Yes, this mod works, but in the end, I just don't like the light and I opted for a refund. Let me turn this into a short review. Obviously this pocket clip thing bothered me so maybe I don't like the BA10 for that reason alone, but it seems like a WTF moment when the website says you can clip it how ever you like but the actual light is jacked and not even machined properly for it. But there are other things. The knurling is weak. Yeah but, you are the same guy who promotes the buttery smooth bodied Inova X1. No argument, but why knurl the whole light with a totally useless texture? Overall, the light just doesn't have any cool factor. I can't put my finger on it exactly, but I just don't like the way it looks. One part of that is the anodizing - it's too shiny. I don't know if that should bother me ... but it does. The switch is mushy and feels cheap. Is it cheap? Will it last just fine, albeit mushy? *shrug* Don't know. And what is with the head twisting for mode switching? Luckily the BA10 only has 2 modes and so it's actually pretty easy to use, but tapping the switch is just easier, why do anything different? If there are actual reasons why, feel free to explain them in the comments, but the other lights I have which utilize the tail switch tap to cycle modes, work just fine. My good ole Solarforce L2r and Crelant V11A are good examples AND they have memory. It's almost a good light, just not quite.