30 April 2009

Yea to Fish, Nay to Beef

This article in the NYTimes discusses the results of a new study on the long-term effects of beef and processed meat consumption. To no one's surprise, I should think, the results showed that high levels of consumption of beef and processed meat is linked to an increased mortality rate of "20 percent to nearly 40 percent." Very interesting as well was the finding, "In the study, the largest consumers of 'white' meat from poultry and fish had a slight survival advantage."

The article also mentions the results of other studies on the consumption of fish:

    [F]ish contains omega-3 fatty acids that have been linked in several large studies to heart benefits. For example, men who consume two servings of fatty fish a week were found to have a 50 percent lower risk of cardiac deaths. . . . Data from one million participants in the European Prospective Investigation Into Cancer and Nutrition trial found that those who ate the least fish had a 40 percent greater risk of developing colon cancer than those who ate more than 1.75 ounces of fish a day. Likewise, while a diet high in red meat was linked to an increased risk of prostate cancer in the large Selenium and Vitamin E Cancer Prevention Trial, among the 35,534 men in the study, those who consumed at least three servings of fish a week had half the risk of advanced prostate cancer compared with men who rarely ate fish.
Similar health results were reported for women.

I do not eat a lot of red or processed meat, but I do eat a lot of poultry. I think I'm probably OK there. Likewise, I should eat less dairy fat, but I'm not too bad there either. But while I do take omega-3 supplements, I really ought to be eating more fish. There is of course some concern over mercury and other toxins present in seafood, but the prevailing opinion is that, unless consumed in unusual quantities, the health benefits of eating fish outweigh the risks.

29 April 2009

EDC Knives: Tactical Makers I

Over the next several posts I will introduce the top commercial knife makers. This is of course not a complete list of all makers, but these are the primary brands to consider when shopping for a quality EDC knife (with one exception, as you'll see). I will not discuss OEM knives produced for Remington, Colt, etc., often found in big-box stores. Most are made in anonymous Asian factories of average or poor materials (in other words, CCCs). Not much else to say about them. I will also not discuss makers of boutique combat tacticals and automatics, like Microtech, MOD/Blackhawk, and Piranha.

Benchmade: Benchmade is the model of a high-end commercial knife maker. Most of their knives are made in the USA, of premium materials, at their Oregon headquarters. Many knife makers are located in Oregon because of their relaxed laws on the sale of balisong and automatic knifes, of which Benchmade is a notable producer. In fact, the Benchmade butterfly logo comes from their early niche as a balisong (i.e., butterfly) knife maker.

Benchmade also frequently collaborates with custom knife makers for their designs, as do other top-tier commercial makers. They were maybe the first to do so, in a famous collaboration with Ernest Emerson to produce a commercial version of his CQC. Many of their current designs still reflect that basic style, but most of their upscale Blue and Black Class knives now use their trademark AXIS lock. Recently they have expanded more aggressively into foreign-made value knifes. But Benchmades of all grades are neither inexpensive nor cheaply-made.

Benchmade 670 Apparition, their first assisted opening design and my favorite knife.

Benchmade product tiers are classed by color: Gold Class knives are custom-grade production knives; Blue Class are premium USA-made knives; Red Class are foreign-made value knives; Black Class are designed, or at least marketed, for military/LE/EMS use (e.g., autos, combat and rescue knives, etc.). They also produce knives under the Heckler & Koch (H&K) and Harley-Davidson brands. All their knives are backed by a great warranty and their LifeSharp service, under which they will service and sharpen your knife at any time for a nominal $5.00 shipping charge.

Böker: Most tactical makers are US companies, but Böker is a venerable German firm located in the knife-making mecca of Solingen, in the Ruhr Valley. They still manufacture some of their famous Tree Brand slipjoint folders, as well as scissors, kitchen knives, etc., but also produce a large range of fixed-blade and folding tactical knives under the Böker, Böker Plus, and value (meaning, Chinese) Magnum lines. Their Applegate-Fairburn combat dagger and tiny Subcom card-style folders are well known, but they are also notable for their huge range of inexpensive Magnum tacticals. In particular, their Kalashnikov and “Mini-Magnum” button-lock folders are often converted to autos and are the cheapest autos available of decent quality ($25-$35). However, I purchased the Mini-Magnum recently, was not satisfied (it sliced me when closed!), and returned it. But I would buy another Magnum and own several Böker Plus slipjoint folders, which I love. They are certainly a step up from typical CCCs.

As I’ve discussed, Buck is famous for their folding and fixed-blade hunters. But they have worked to stay apace with the huge demand for tactical knives, and now produce product ranges in (to use their own designations) everyday, outdoor and tactical knives. Many of their knives are made at their Post Falls, ID, headquarters, and the rest (about 30%) are made in their own Chinese factory. You can easily tell which from which just by cost, but all Buck Knives are of respectable to outstanding quality. For example, their inexpensive Bantam folders (three sizes) start at about $15 street and a light 1.5 oz, and are well-regarded as good values. While they have collaborated with custom makers like Mick Strider on some designs (now, alas, discontinued), and their quality is very good, I can’t say their tactical knife designs especially move me. Really, folding and fixed-blade hunting knives are their core products and greatest strength.

Next up: Tactical Knife Makers II

27 April 2009

EDC Knives: Materials & Conctruction

As I mentioned in my first tactical folder post, tactical knives are usually made from high-performance steels and, for their scales (handles), "space-age" synthetic polymers. For the enthusiast, these materials may matter as much as any other aspect of design or construction. So here are some basics.

Blade Steel

Nothing about mid-to-high grade tacticals is more confusing than steel. It use to be that your choice of blade steel was carbon or stainless, the latter often stamped simply "440." Now there are a score of different wonder-steels that enthusiasts argue and obsess over, with industrial names like AUS6A, S60V, 154CM and (my favorite) 8Cr13MoV. If you just must know all about this, you can start with this knife steel FAQ (warning: a bit outdated and powerfully somnolent).

I'll make it simple. Buy a knife from a good maker and don't worry about the steel. The only crucial fact is whether it is stainless steel or not, and virtually all folding knife blades now are. This is not to say there are no real differences between all these steels. There certainly are and those differences will cost you. But to the average user no practical difference will be noticed.

And in fact, steel quality is determined as much by the tempering process as by steel type. Good makers have good tempering and much generic junk does not. I do not worry about buying mid-grade 8Cr13MoV or AUS8 knives from Spyderco or Kershaw. They know to make knife blades.


Some tactical knife handles have steel liners, to which the blade is pinned, with handle scales overlaid. Other handles are one-piece, with the blade pinned directly to them. The latter may or may not also have inlays, for enhanced grip or aesthetics. (See Knife Anatomy.)

One-piece handles are often stainless steel, as most all liners are. But handles may also be made of polymer or titanium, a very strong and light metal. Titanium handled knives are generally quite expensive.

Scales over liners are usually polymer of one of three types. The most common is fiberglass reinforced nylon (FRN), also known by the brand name Zytel. These feel like plastic but are very strong. A step up is a material called G-10, a kind of fiberglass that is very dense and grippy. G-10 has to be milled to shape, so highly-sculpted G-10 scales will only be found on more expensive production knives. Finally, more limited use is made of micarta, a phenolic resin laminate that has a very distinctive layered appearance. It can be easily shaped by hand and is therefore popular with custom and kit knife makers.

A CRKT Gallagher Rave (top) with boldly-layered micarta handles and a distinctive CRKT Tiny Tighe Breaker (bottom) featuring fluted "nylon scales with an extremely durable textured metallic coating."

Traditional wood, bone, and other natural materials are also found on some tactical knives, but they are not common. Aluminum and lower-grade plastics are also found, primarily on cheap knives, though aircraft-grade aluminum is used on some more expensive blades.

Washers, Pins and Screws

Most good tactical knives have washers, sitting in between the blade and the handle. They may be nylon, Nylotron, Teflon or phosphorous-bronze, roughly in order of quality. Why is this important? The lower friction the material, the more smoothly and easily your blade will open.

Tactical knives are held together by pins or screws, or some mixture. I prefer screws to pins. A screwed blade pivot allows you to adjust to blade tension, to fine-tune blade opening. All-screw handles can also be taken apart to clean out your knife, which is useful when it gets dirty and critical if exposed to salt water, which corrodes even most stainless steel. On the other hand, screws can come loose. As always, there are pros and cons, and preference must decide it.

Next up: Tactical Knife Makers I

24 April 2009


A senior and very conservative colleague once observed, to everyone's mild surprise, "One never regrets extravagance." He did not mean buying a McMansion. This was said during a fine meal.

I'm feeling a little extravagant just today, too, du fait de la cuisine, and not regretting it. I've posted before about my area's best bakery, Eliane's. I go there very rarely, in fact, due to cost and the calories. But yesterday I was driving by and stopped to get something to spoil our office staff. And, as it happened, I spoiled myself too with piece of flan.

I was shocked at how incredibly good that flan was, in every detail. I'm not a pastry crust connoisseur, but even the crust was just perfect to me. I paid $3 for it. I know they do most of their business as a provender. I'm sure other people are paying $8 for the same flan at some upscale Valley restaurants.

The extravagance, though, is that I went to Eliane's again today with my family. Two days in a row. It's too much bliss. And that was after lunch at Provo's best restaurant, the Chef's Table. Really, it's just too much bliss.

All this has me thinking back to a conference I attended in Boston last year. The conference was fine, but the weather was grim, and I saw little of Boston. However, I did take advantage of one conference excursion, a culinary tour of Little Italy in Boston's North End.

The first stop was (per my guide) the most authentic Italian bakery in Boston, Maria's Pastry Shop. As you can see here (click "Street View"), it's just a hole in the wall, but the pastry is authentic and wonderful. They had a few heavier pastries, more suited to American palates, but most were surprising light, as is traditional. While the Italian-American food we all know is very heavy, much real Italian cuisine (especially from the North) is comparatively light. They do not eat heavy pastries after a big meal. You're more likely to have millefoglie or cannoli at a wedding than after a huge spaghetti dinner. Cookies will most likely be set out with coffee.

Amaretti with pignoli nuts.

I sampled a little of a lot at Maria's but just had to bring home some Italian macaroons, called amaretti. You've never had a macaroon until you've had one of these, smothered in pignoli nuts. A favorite flavoring in Italian cookies is anise, which is a digestive. Whence the British term "digestives" for these kinds of "biscuits." Very distinctive flavor.

Our guide did not have a warm recommendation for Boston's most famous pastry shop, Mike's Pastry. He said it's not as authentic as Maria's. But I went there anyway, after the tour. It may not be as authentic, but it is not to be missed.

Cannoli and sfogliatelle (Lobster Tails) from Mike's.

Mike's is a pastry Disneyland. The store is not especially large and was (always is, I'm told) very crowded. But its wall-to-wall cases are packed with a huge variety pastry, of all kinds, but especially the heavy creamy kind.They have every kind of cannoli and sfogliatella imaginable. I tried a chocolate lobster tail and was in pastry nirvana.

The take-home message? One never regrets extravagance. If you have the chance to eat great pastry, forget budgets and waistlines. Just do it.

EDC Knives: Slipjoint Folders II

Outside of America, the old swordmaking town of Solingen, Germany, is the historical center of premium knife making for the rest of the world. German brands and companies such as Böker, Hen & Rooster (Bertram), J. A. Henckels, Kissing Crane and Puma long produced the highest quality folding knives. Those brands are still around, in one form or another, and many of the old firms still make some fine (and fairly expensive) slipjoint knives.

But most of them do not make most their knives in Germany, if any. Many of their designs are German, and sometimes the steel, but manufacturing has moved to cheaper labor centers in the EU, like the Balkan states, or to Asia. Germany has loose country of origin laws, so provenance can be impossible to determine—a “Germany” tang-stamp means nothing. Collectors know this and look for older, “real” German knives. The makers still producing lines in Germany talk that point up.

Böker "Tree Brand" canoe-pattern knife, a high-quality German folder. The blade tang is stamped Solingen, Germany, and all Böker Solingen knives are indeed still made there. A very fine knife.

As I’ve said, country of origin means not so much to me. When companies like Frost started importing Japanese knives in the 70s, enthusiasts proclaimed them junk next to American blades. Now Japanese knives are praised as premium and Chinese knives are declared junk. Not necessarily true. It is a fact that China and Taiwan are now the centers of knife production, but this really is a great time for traditional pocketknife lovers.

When I started collecting 8 or 9 years ago, your basic choice (it seemed) was to either pay a premium for a jigged bone-handled Case or German blade, or buy a cheap and ugly pakawood- or burnt bone-handled “user,” often made in Pakistan. Even a plastic- or nylon-handled Uncle Henry or Old Timer was priced not much lower than a Case (though still made in America, until 2004).

But now, inexpensive folders of good quality and traditional materials are pouring out of Asia. I discovered this first in the new brand Rough Rider, but even established brands are now appearing in this value segment.

I have in front of me two “Texas toothpick” slipjoints, one made in China by Kissing Crane ($12) and the other in the USA by Case ($40). The Case has bone handles and the Kissing Crane has genuine ram’s horn. The Case uses better materials and came beautifully polished, but my Chinese knife, while just one-quarter the cost, is perhaps three-quarters the quality.

More importantly, due to its cost, the Case stays in my knife roll while the Kissing Crane goes in my pocket. Whatever its current provenance, I still admire its German heritage and its craftsmanship, and apparently some others feel the same. And it cost me less than a nice lunch. In the past few months I’ve purchased several Chinese folders, all for $7-10 each. Quality is a little uneven, but even at such startlingly low prices, I’ve been very pleased with all but one.

The good old days are not gone. Entirely the opposite. Traditional pocket knife lovers have never had it so good.

Another canoe-pattern knife, of the Kissing Crane brand, an old German marque but certainly not made in Germany. HallMark Cutlery (Knoxville, TN) founder Jacob Hall once interned in Solingen and has now acquired the marque, but manufactures at least his entry-level knives in China.

Next up: Tactical Knife Materials & Conctruction

22 April 2009

EDC Knives: Slipjoint Folders I

Growing up, my father always had a pocketknife handy. For much of the 20th century, most men in America probably did. And most all of those millions of knives were humble slipjoint folders. Being such a fundamental tool and male accessory, these knives came in many different grades and styles from a large number of makers, such as Camco/Camillus, Imperial Schrade, Kutmaster and Utica. I own classic folders made by all those companies, purchased used. Most are in fact very well used and, alas, all of their makers gone, in fact if not in name.

The golden age of pocketknives was between the world wars. While most American knives were made in Ohio and New England, pocketknife collecting first started in Kentucky and Tennessee in the 1950s, states which still have a real love for these folders. As American knife manufacturing steadily declined into the 70s, collecting still continued to grow but shifted in focus to custom knives. However, vintage folders have steadily increased in demand and value, especially good examples, even knives that in real terms are nothing special.

But both declining demand for fine slipjoints and rising competition from Asian manufacturers have almost reduced the American slipjoint folder industry to a single large maker: W. R. Case. Case knives are now made for collectors more than consumers, deviating little from classic designs but with a constant stream of limited issues that vary in details (handle materials/colors, shields, blade etching, packaging, etc.). The Case Collector’s Club has almost 18,000 members. They are certainly fine knives and, in America, almost the last of their breed.

The new Tony Bose-designed limited edition Sway Back Jack from Case. While Case has had several collaborations with Bose, collaborations with a custom maker are rare for them, and only done with limited edition knifes. Equally rare is this (mild) departure from their traditional slipjoint patterns.

Most other “American” slipjoints are made in Asia by OEMs. Queen Cutlery is a notable exception, as is the newer firm Great Eastern Cutlery, both making all of their fine (and expensive) knives in Titusville, NY. There is also Canal Street Cutlery in Ellensville, NY. Likewise, Remington is again starting to sell American-made knives, and are even starting a collector's club for their blades (who their OEM maker is, I do not know). But most modern slipjoints from Remington, Winchester, and other old brands share no DNA whatsoever with the handmade knives bearing those names from the 1940s. A few models are made by US craftsmen, but all the rest by Chinese robots.

Next up: Slipjoints II - From Germany to Asia

21 April 2009

I Want Me a Delany Flushboy

Warning: This post contains potty talk.

I hate plunging clogged toilets and our toilet at home (how shall I put this) was really only designed for the lightest of duty. However, the commercial toilets at work are all business when it come to . . . business. I'm sure some people are a little intimated by the loud whooossh and rush of air one experiences when one tugs on the handle of a gleaming Delany Flushboy valve. Maybe they fear for any small children or pets that might be sucked in unawares. Not me. I get a little thrill from that throaty roar, like hearing a Harley-Davidson roar to life through a set of straight pipes. No need for plungers here.

So I want me a Delany Flushboy. As it turns out, Delany just makes the valves, and they are definitely a commercial item only. But the technology used in my office toilets, called pressure-assisted jet flush, can be had in home toilets as well. They look just like any other toilet and are not difficult to install. (And they are quieter than those commercial brutes.) But they are, however, more expensive than a basic gravity-feed toilet, starting about $480. Still a bargain, I say. And with that, having stepped upmarket, you also get a much better toilet design. In fact, good gravity-feed toilets now are designed with ballfeed passthrough that really will flush (stuffed) animals right through, no problem. Seriously: "Watch Our Latest Toilet Video."

An American Standard Cadet: Fully glazed 2-1/8" trapway, 2" minimum ballpass, close-coupled flushometer tank, and even a Speed Connect tank/bowl coupling system!

Some people may be laughing, but for me this is a dream in white vitreous china. Someday. Yes, someday . . .

20 April 2009

EDC Knives: Cheap Chinese Clones

The subject of Chinese knives is not simple. You used to be able to dismiss knives from places like China, India and Pakistan out hand. Perhaps you still can the last two. It is, however, a fact that China and Taiwan have become the primary centers for knife manufacture, including excellent value blades from top brands.

I have in front of me, for example, a Spyderco Tenacious with a big “China” stamp on the tang. The full-flatground blade is made from 8Cr13MoV, which is a good Chinese steel, with excellent G10 scales, phosphor-bronze washers, skeletonized liners, lined lanyard hole, perfect lockup, and superb fit and finish. Everything you expect from a Spyderco, and for $35 (street). In times past, Spyderco only made their value Byrd line in China. But times are changing.

The Spyderco Tenacious: Chinese and affordable, but no cheap clone.

Likewise, I personally have found the new wave of Chinese slipjoint folders, with genuine bone handles, to be very impressive. I have one in my pocket right now. When I pop the blade, it “talks” (snaps) as well as a classic Case, but at one-quarter the cost.

Of course, loads of junk knives are also made in China, sometimes collectively called “cheap Chinese clones” (CCCs). Some CCCs are literal clones of expensive branded knives, from the $140 Benchmade Stryker (clone here) to the $30 Böker Subcom (clone here). Many more just borrow design elements from popular branded knives without copying them whole-cloth. These are not always generic products. Most bottom-feeding brands also do this shamelessly.

Bad CCCs often look the look, but just don’t work right. I have a CCC in my desk at work that looks like a tactical knife, but is in fact a tail-lock slipjoint. That means you cannot open and close it one-handed, a basic feature of tacticals. Another CCC I own is a proper one-handed opener, or intended to be, but the proportions are just wrong. It would take a four-jointed thumb to open one-handed, and the clip screws constantly come loose, too.

But I bought a $10 CCC in Mexico that opens brilliantly. In fact, it's even spring assisted . Give the index flipper a nudge and the blade pops right out. It even looks good. But the build quality is terrible. The blade is very poor steel, the liner lock too thin, the blade lockup scary bad, and the pot-metal handle weighs a ton.

Same knife as my Mexican CCC, maybe a clone of my clone, found on eBay. This one is stamped "Duck USA," but most certainly made in China.

Many CCCs are of course made in the same factories as fine branded knives. They may use cheaper materials, but the build quality can still be very good. Both of the clones I link to above have received some surprisingly good reviews, and they are startlingly inexpensive.

In the end, I think country of origin indicates little about knife quality, by itself. It is true that most premium knives are made in the US or Europe, but I think that is partly because premium buyers demand it. I’m very comfortable buying a Chinese-made knife from a reputable brand. However, bottom-feeders and generics are hit and miss, and I’ve returned more than one. Caveat emptor.

Next up: American Slipjoint Folders

17 April 2009

EDC Knives: Blades

This post will not discuss blade steels, but rather blade patterns, geometry and edges. A blade pattern is the general design of the blade, which is oriented to its intended usage and function. But for every pattern there are distinct variations of geometry and edge that further affect its functionality in performing various tasks.

I’ll just refer you to this wiki article for an overview of the various blade patterns, to which yet others could be added (consult Stewart’s Guide for a fuller survey). Multi-blade slipjoint folders will usually have blades of multiple patterns, suitable to the knife's intended usage. For example, the 3-blade “whittler” I have in pocket today has two clip blades, one long and one short, and a pen blade (a small drop point). This makes these slipjoints very versatile.

Tactical knives have just a single blade that has to do everything, so blade pattern is a very important consideration. The most popular blade patterns are probably drop point and tanto, in countless variations. The drop point is a superb general utility shape. It is made for slicing rather than thrusting, but it can also be ground into an effective point for good penetration.

The modern American tanto blade is a dedicated thrusting design. Cold Steel demonstrates their tantos punching through car hoods and 55-gallon drums. I don’t need to do a lot of that myself, so tantos do not appeal to me so much. Especially since they are lousy for general cutting. I personally think their popularity is driven by their “wicked” appearance, which also contributes to the general weaponization of knives in public perception, a thoroughly bad thing. Not to say I'll never own one, but they make little sense for EDC.

For good slicing ability, you want to look for a knife with a broad cutting surface and good edge “belly,” the curve just behind the tip of the blade. For this reason, tanto, wharncliff (straight-edged) and hooked blades are of poor general utility. Drop, clip and spear points with simple or recurved bellies are simply better cutters in general use.

Also beware of knives with deep hollow grinds and narrow cutting planes ending at the middle of the blade. Hollow grinds give a very thin and sharp edge, but that thin edge may chip easily, especially with cheap steels. I prefer a full flat grind, a straight taper from spine to edge, which is more expensive to machine but yields a very sharp, strong edge with a broad cutting plane. Think chef’s knife.

(top) Spyderco Atlantic Salt rescue knife, a hollow ground wharncliff with full SpyderEdge serrations; (bottom) Spyderco Tenacious, a flat-ground drop point with plain edge; (right) CRKT M16-14SFG, a combo-edged tanto blade with excellent Veff serrations

Edges come in three basic types: plain, serrated and combo (half-serrated). For general use and ease of sharpening, I find a plain edge is best. However, for quickly severing ropes, or seat belts, or anything that may be sawed (serrations are just little sawteeth), good serrations are incredibly effective. A combo edge aims for the best of both words, with just the back half (more or less) of the blade being serrated. On longer blades, at least, this is often fine for general use, though it is still a compromise. But there is no best blade or edge. It all comes down to intended use and preference.

Next up: Cheap Chinese clones

15 April 2009

EDC Knives: Tactical Folder Design II

Continuing on from my last post, here I will be briefly looking at tactical folder lock and carry designs.

Lock Design

I’m not going to even attempt to describe or illustrate all the various locking systems, but the Benchmade website covers them all. Lock design is concerned with both safety and ergonomics. Safety is obvious, but ergonomics because the lock should allow the operator to manipulate it with the using hand (i.e., one handed).

Some locks are located on the side or back or the knife handle. These are desirable from the perspective that the operator does not have to put thumb or fingers in front of the blade when closing the knife (if you know what you’re doing!). If fingers before blade is a real concern, make life easy and buy a knife with an axis lock, like the SOG Flash I mentioned last post or one of the many Benchmade AXIS-equipped models.

Note that while Benchmade says lock back knives take two hands to close, if the lock in the center of the handle spine (as is regular for tacticals), they can in fact be closed with one hand. Spyderco describes the most common technique here (YouTube demonstration), but you can also just pinch the handle between thumb and middle finger, and then release the lock with your index finger. This is necessary with blades that lack a kick (unsharpened base) and otherwise keeps your fingers away from the blade.

However, the most popular lock design is the liner lock, which does require the operator to put thumb in front of blade to push in the liner and close the knife (see right). It sounds scary, and takes a little practice, but countless users do this daily and closing accidents are not a serious concern. But if that makes you nervous, again, go with a different design.

What about lock strength? First, realize that blade lock strength is really only a concern in thrust cutting (stabbing). Otherwise, all mechanisms that keep the blade from closing work about equally well. Even for thrust cutting, any properly-designed lock will hold under typical stresses. However, many cheap knives user liner locks that are either quite thin or badly aligned with the blade axis. I'd trust a cheap back lock over a cheap liner lock. But I'd trust any style of lock on a modern, well-made knife.

One last consideration is potential for accidental lock disengagement. This is virtually a non-issue for axis lock knives, another of that design's strengths. However, if you grip a back lock knife badly, you could depress the lock release. For this reason Spyderco cuts a scallop in the lock release on many models which makes that less likely (the "David Boye dent"). Similarly, it is possible to accidentally release a liner lock with a tight and bad grip. CRKT’s AutoLAWKS dual-locking system prevents this. It takes a little more technique to close a LAWKS knife one-handed, but it is one of the strongest lock designs currently available.

(L-R) A Benchmade axis lock knife, a CRKT M-series knive with AutoLAWKS, and a Spyderco back lock with David Boye dent.

Carry Design

Spyderco is commonly credited with creating (or at least popularizing) the pocket clip, now found on almost all tactical knives. The clip is used to attach the knife to the inside of the front pant's pocket. Some knives allow the clip to be repositioned on the knife, on either side for left or right side carry, or even on either end for blade tip up or tip down carry.

Tip up/down carry makes a difference in opening the knife. For me, tip up opens easiest, since with the way I draw, tip down I have to reorient the knife in my hand to open it. However, some manufactures believe tip down carry is safer, and mount their clips that way (e.g., CRKT, on most models). Most users of course prefer a knife tapped for mounting the clip either tip up or down, left or right, like many Spydercos.

However, another consideration is where the clip is located relative to the ends of the handle scales. If mounted at the very end, again like my SOG Flash I, this allows "deep carry," with only the clip visible on the outside of the pocket and no handle exposed. If the clip is lower down on the handle, of course more handle will stick out of your pocket. This make your draw easier, but also may be more prone to snag and also advertises that you are carrying a knife. All this is purely preference, and most users will quickly find out theirs. I prefer deep carry, tip up.

Next up: Blades

13 April 2009

EDC Knives: Tactical Folder Design I

Much could of course be said about tactical knife design, but this post concerns only design as it relates to function. I will survey here just few basics that every buyer should be aware of with respect to opening, locking and carry designs. Materials I will cover another time. Tactical designs can differ greatly in operation, and every user will have different preferences. Forewarned is forearmed.

Opening Design

All true tactical knives are designed to open and close one handed, and are either auto or manual. Autos are popularly called switchblades. They open (and sometimes even close) automatically when one pushes a button or switch on the handle. If a knife requires any manual manipulation of the blade to open it, then it is a manual knife.

However, some manual knives are “assisted.” This means that when the user rotates the blade open as little as 20 degrees (it varies), a spring takes over and opens the blade fully. Really, the only difference between an auto and an assisted opener is whether you push a button the handle to open it (auto) or nudge a flipper or thumb stud on the blade (assisted). Here is a (slightly cheesy) YouTube demonstration of assisteds vs. autos by Duane the YouTube Knife Guy.

Contrary to popular belief, autos (switchblades) are legal to buy, own and carry in most states, with certain restrictions (by state). Federal law only regulates interstate sales, and that is in theory more than practice. But with a good design and a little practice, the user can open a manual, assisted or auto knife equally fast. An auto knife may in fact be slower to open than a manual, since it is usually carried locked (so it does not open in your pocket). So, unlock and then push button (auto) or just flick thumb/index finger (manual). Autos anymore are cool but pointless.

I discussed the basic kinds of openers in my last post: thumb stud, thumb disc, thumb hole, or index flipper. Of these, I find that thumb holes are slowest but offer the most opening control, while index flippers, though very fast and fail-safe, offer the least control. Thumb studs/discs take a little technique to use, and knife design is important for effective function, but they give the user the option of a very fast or a very controlled open.

I prefer a thumb stud on an assisted knife to any other opening design. You can pop the blade open instantly, normally, or open it in a relatively controlled way if necessary. But entirely manual knives are safer and, with good design and practice, can be opened as fast as an assisted. They also may also be easier to close one-handed, since you do not have to compress a spring. The ideal for me is my SOG Flash I. Light and safe to carry, deep pocket clip, grippy handle, fast to open and easy to close (the thumb lock release also compresses the spring). If I could only keep one of my EDC knifes, this little guy would be it.

SOG Flash I

Next up: Tactical folder design (part 2)

11 April 2009

EDC Knives: Knife Anatomy

With a title like “knife anatomy,” I virtually guarantee that no one will read this post. But I feel obliged to define the terms I will be using in future knife reviews (which I also expect no one to read). This introduction will not be anything like complete. For more info, see here and here.

Most tactical folders consist of a blade pinned to a handle composed of two steel inner liners to which outer coverings (scales) are affixed. The liners may be drilled out to lighten them (skeletonized), and some knives have no liners—the blade is just pinned directly to polymer or stainless steel scales.

Setting aside opening and locking designs, construction materials, and blade shape and grind (all later posts), the most important knife feature is handle design. The handle needs to effectively function as sheath and blade lock while providing an ergonomic and secure grip, and if possible some level of aestheticism (good looks sell a lot of knives). Secure grip is very important, since most folding knives do not have quillons (a handguard) to keep your hand from sliding up onto the blade when thrust-cutting.

Handle and blade features are often described in unfamiliar vocabulary. Here are some of the most important and arcane terms (per above photo, clockwise from top):

swedge: The spine of a knife blade, opposite the cutting edge, is sometimes ground into a swedge (false edge) to save weight, improve penetration, or simply for appearance.

opening hole: This is to provide a gripping surface for the thumb of the gripping hand to open the blade (i.e., one handed). This hole is found on Spydercos and some Benchmades. Otherwise, most knives use for opening a thumb stud on the side of the blade (see inset above) or a disc on top (as on the Emerson in my previous knife post). Some knives also use a flipper on the back of the handle, actuated with the index finger, which when the blade is open may form a finger guard (see right).

thumb ramp: While not all knives have it, a thumb ramp allows the user to better choke up on and control the blade for precise cutting tasks. Placing the thumb on top may also provide a more secure grip than a thumb-down choke. Thumb ramps usually have jimping.

lanyard hole
: A through-handle tube for the attachment of a lanyard (wrist cord).

finger groove: A scallop in the handle to improve grip.

choil: A finger groove cut into the blade in front of the handle. Often any forefinger groove is called a choil.

jimping: Also called friction grooves by some makers, to use a layman’s term. These are grooves cut in the lower spine of the blade, choil and/or handles to improve the user’s grip on the knife.

So, armed with this knife savvy, you can now impress your friends and spouse with learned observations like, “that Spyderco has a substantial thumb ramp with aggressive jimping, and quite a deep choil.” Don’t you feel smarter?

Next up: Tactical folder design (part 1)

It's Really Not Funny

For Brian (of course).

10 April 2009

Update: Flashlights and Batteries

First item: My UltraFire C3 flickering problem was in fact persistent. The problem (fairly common on these models, it turns out) is with the way the head mates with the battery tube. The tube must ground on the emitter but, when screwed down, it rests on just two blobs of solder on the emitter back that, on some lights, do not provide good enough contact. The solution is to take a piece of bare copper wire, shape it to fit just inside the head beneath the battery tube, and screw it all together. That fixed it for me. But I'm still steamed I had to correct a design flaw. For $11 it is still an amazing light, but even at that price point there are actually a lot of options.

I was perhaps too bold, or at least naive, with my recommendations in my previous flashlight post. I don't know that I recommended any lemons, but even now with just a bit more research, I'd make some different recommendations. Though not here and now. This is Knife Month, after all. But look for more discussion and reviews to come.

Flashlight and battery tech naturally go hand in hand. Most high-performance lights work best or even exclusively with exotic lithium-ion* batteries (go lithium!) that you basically have to mailorder from Asia. They run at higher voltages, which hi-po lights like. Again, more on this to come.

But I did want to mention one interesting fact, relative to AA batteries and flashlights, as yet another supplement to my original battery post. First, alkaline (disposable) and NiMH (rechargeable) AA batteries produce different voltages, 1.5v and 1.2v respectively. That means that they are not strictly interchangeable. The device they are used in must be regulated to use both voltages. There is also an exotic AA-sized rechargeable lithium-ion battery called a 14500 that runs at 3.6v or 3.7v. But before you drop one of those guys in your light, again, you need to be sure of the voltage range that it will accept. Or you could literally blow up your light.

My UltraFire C3 is regulated for 0.8v ~ 4.2v. That means it will run on any AA you care to put in it, even a 14500. You can even buy an extension tube that turns it into a double-AA light (but not two 14500s, do the math!). The fact that it will run on as little as 0.8v also means it will suck your batteries pretty dry. That's a very good thing.

But different battery chemistries (see my first supplement) can change the way your light performs. More expensive lights are digitally regulated to produce a consistent amount of light as the battery draws down. When drawn down close to dry, some switch into "moon mode," a low-power draw that produces little light but sucks that last bit of juice from the cell. However, cheaper lights are usually direct drive. Basically, the power goes straight from the battery to the bulb or LED emitter. In these lights, the kind of battery you use can really change performance.

For example, in my UltraFire C3 (per this review), a 2500mAh NiMH lithium battery* will produce a consistent 40 or so lumens for about 90min, and then output drops steeply until completely dead at about 130min. A good alkaline AA will produce about 36 lumens when fresh, but steadily declines to about 4 lumens at 100min, then running at that level out past 220min. Two different batteries give you two quite different lights.

The reason for this difference (per Wikipedia) is that even though "the nominal NiMH voltage is lower, it sustains for the length of the discharge cycle, because the low internal resistance allows NiMH cells to deliver a near-constant voltage until they are almost completely discharged. Alkaline discharge voltage drops more towards the end of the discharge cycle."

High drain on alkalines also decreases their effective capacity. "Alkaline batteries, which might have approximately 3000 mA·h capacity at low current demand (200 mA), will have about 700 mA·h capacity with a 1000 mA load. Digital cameras with LCDs and flashlights can draw over 1000 mA, quickly depleting alkaline batteries. NiMH can handle these current levels and maintain their full capacity."

Bottom line: For direct drive lights, NiMH = more light for less time, while alkaline = less light for more time. (Whew.)

This is just geeky tech abstraction if you only need a light to occasionally find your car keys, but in more critical applications, knowing precisely what to expect from your light may be more important. For such uses, one should really own a quality light with digital regulation and accurate manufacturer-supplied performance specifications (like this Fenix LD01). And always have on hand a spare battery and backup light.

*Further tech point: Disposible lithium (NiMH) batteries and rechargeable lithium-ion batteries are not the same thing. Both are lithium based, but two different chemistries, voltages, etc. Lithium, the psychotropic drug, is related to these batteries chemically, but the Lithium Press just topically.

09 April 2009

EDC Knives: Tactical Folders

I own a Buck 110, and had a balisong as a teen (my martial arts phase), but really have no interest in folding hunters or butterfly knives. Most other knife users and collectors also do not. On the other hand, slipjoint folders are classic collector’s items, and still very useful for opening boxes, paring fingernails, and similar light-duty tasks. Everyone should have, at the very least, a little Swiss Army knife in purse or pocket, and I personally love, own and carry a number of different slipjoints. But the king of modern folding knives is the tactical folder.

The tactical folder is an evolution of earlier folding hunter and locking utility knife designs. But the tactical folder is hard to describe, such is its variety, though certain features are typical. It is a single-blade locking folder made from high-performance steels and (usually) polymers, designed for high-functionality and, very often, avant-garde appearance. Most all have pocket clips and can be easily opened and closed one-handed. They are also purpose-built for hard utility and/or self-defense use ("tactical" means "combat").

If these greatly varied knives collectively resemble any single archetype, it is probably the Viper/CQC combat folders made by Ernest Emerson. Emersons may or may not have been the very first true tactical knives, but they were early, purpose-built, and certainly fit the description. Tactical knives' popularity has exploded since the 90s, driven first (goes one theory) by military use during Desert Storm, when commanders forbade the carry of “scary looking” fixed-bladed combat daggers by soldiers.

Emerson CQC-11, a classical tactical knife

Many tactical folders today do not look like defensive weapons, nor would be effective in that role. Most emergency rescue folding knives, for example, are of tactical design. Spyderco knives are one of, if not the, original tacticals. The pocket clip, serrations, and other common tactical knife features started with Spydercos. But the classic Spyderco is a pure utility knife, based on Sal Glesser's original C01 Worker model.

It’s arguable that "tactical" (meaning, "combat") is simply the wrong term here. "EDC knife" or "clip folder" (Gerber's preference) or even just "modern folder" might be better designators for smaller, modern single-blade folders not designed for serious defensive use, but rather for daily utility, with the term "tactical folder" reserved for dedicated combat knives.

But the fact is that "tactical folder" is commonly applied to this whole broad category of knives. And a number of popular EDC knives, often called “minis,” are just downsized versions of proper tactical knives. The only difference is size, and the size at which a knife can be said to become truly tactical rather than just utilitary/EDC is debatable.

Three popular EDC knives (left to right): Benchmade Mini-Griptillian, Spyderco Delica, Kershaw Leek

My own interest is of course in EDC knives, but since the formal difference between EDC and proper tacticals is often not that great, much in my following posts describes every kind of tactical knife equally well.

Next up: Knife anatomy.

You Want This Fat (Really)

Quick shoutout to an article today in the NYTimes about a kind of body fat we all need more of, called brown fat. This fat is highly metabolically active (i.e., it burns loads of calories), but it is only activated in certain conditions, principally by cold or "by catecholamines, hormones that are part of the fight or flight response" (see on adreneline, below). Babies have lots of the stuff, but adults much less or even none at all. Amount seems to be determined by genetics, and an individual's amount of brown fat doubtless factors in to their overall metabolic rate. That is, naturally obese people seem to have less than thin people, or in some cases, none. But useful research on this in just beginning.

Of course, a pill that stimulates brown fat would be brilliant. Scientists will be working on that, guaranteed. But one medicine that inhibits its action is beta blockers, taken for high blood pressure. The only substances known to stimulate it are epinepherine (adreneline) and ephedra/ephedrine.

Ephedra is just the natural form of the pharmaceutical ephedrine. Ephedra has been (irrationally) banned, but ephedrine can be purchased OTC in antihistamines. It is a mild stimulant, but one of the things it stimulates is brown fat, especially if taken with caffeine. The article says that ephedra/ephedrine and caffeine "have too many side effects to be used for weight loss," which as a general statement may be true. Again, they are mild stimulants. They may cause weight loss, but can also cause twitchiness or even anxiety. Think of the prototypical coffee (caffeine) and cigarette (nicotine) addict. Thin but jittery.

But the fact is, this has been known for years. Tens of thousands of physique athletes take an "EC stack" when cutting fat to boost metabolism and keep from loosing muscle. It's one of the only proven thermogenics. Likewise, green tea, another mild stimulant, has long been known to contribute to weight control. There are many reasons Asians traditionally are thin, but one factor is that they drink oceans of green tea.

This is not to advocate stimulants for weight loss, but just to say: science has once again succeeded in demonstrating what we've always known.

08 April 2009

The Unthinkable

This is a shoutout to a great post on Mr. Fweem's Blog and an article by Clay Shirky titled, "Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable." What an incredible bit of writing.

Shirky talks about epochal change in one branch of publishing, newspapers, but much of this applies to all print publication. The institute that employs me is, in part, an academic publisher. Academic publishing lives in a strange bubble to begin with, but we are even further removed from reality by the fact that our publishing is non-profit (only partly by design). But even we are increasingly asking the question, does it really make sense in the Internet Age to spend diminishing resources putting ink on dead trees? It's not just the cost. If your goal is the widest possible distribution of information, then printing is limiting. And in fact, we put almost all (soon to be all all) of our print publication on our free website anyway. So, why not go direct to web?

The main reason for us is that print publication is still academically legitimating. Scholars in most fields still distrust the internet, as if the expense of print publication somehow is a guarantee of academic quality. Rank advancement committees generally discount web-only publications. This thinking will have to change, and in fact, university administrations may be the force that changes it. They want to own the intellectual property their institutions produce instead of ceding it to publishers. But that is another topic.

Another reason for print vs. web publication is to restrict unauthorized reproduction. But online distribution of print texts, mostly unauthorized, continues to increase. I won't get into that, but in addition, two words to ponder: Google Books. We are just years, but not decades, away from having most print books available to everyone on web, for a modest fee or free. More and more titles will be published primarily as ebooks, and secondarily as print titles, mostly via print on demand. But don't get me going on the death of books.

The Shirky article also has some poignant thoughts on the nature of information revolutions like we are experiencing. Speaking of Gutenberg and the invention of the printing press, he describes the massive upheaval it caused, especially for civic and ecclesiastical hierarchies:

    The Bible was translated into local languages; was this an educational boon or the work of the devil? Erotic novels appeared, prompting the same set of questions. Copies of Aristotle and Galen circulated widely, but direct encounter with the relevant texts revealed that the two sources clashed, tarnishing faith in the Ancients. As novelty spread, old institutions seemed exhausted while new ones seemed untrustworthy; as a result, people almost literally didn’t know what to think. If you can’t trust Aristotle, who can you trust? . . .
    That is what real revolutions are like. The old stuff gets broken faster than the new stuff is put in its place. The importance of any given experiment isn’t apparent at the moment it appears; big changes stall, small changes spread. Even the revolutionaries can’t predict what will happen. Agreements on all sides that core institutions must be protected are rendered meaningless by the very people doing the agreeing. (Luther and the Church both insisted, for years, that whatever else happened, no one was talking about a schism.) Ancient social bargains, once disrupted, can neither be mended nor quickly replaced, since any such bargain takes decades to solidify.
Religions and ideologies are experiencing this in a major way, to their benefit (new movements) or detriment (established groups). I found it interesting that Pres. Thomas S. Monson's closing remarks at the recent LDS General Conference focused on the internet. Obviously pornography is the leading concern, but working for a Mormon apologetics organization, I know something of just how challenging the internet is for the church in terms of information and message control.

It is no surprise that Elder M. Russell Ballard, who is heavily involved in the church's proselyting and public communications, has encouraged faithful LDS blogging. That was something of a volte-face but also a recognition that, on the internet, volume is more powerful and persuasive than authorized credentials. It's the means for a million little converations, not the vehicle for one authoritative declaration. But there is still a tendency to treat the internet as a source of information and media rather than the source. This perpective is slowly changing, of necessity. But most of us will really only apprehend the magnitude of this revolution in retrospect.

07 April 2009

To Write Is Good, To Edit Divine

My job includes several substantial editorial assignments. I know what it's like to sweat under deadlines and how easily typos happen. In fact, I can't even look at a book we've published after it comes back from the press. I'm too afraid of what mistakes I might find.

One title we published (not one of mine) was a work of Islamic philosophy called the Decisive Treatise. The cover designer got confused and set the title on the spine as, Decisive Treaty. The editor caught it in the first round of proofs and corrected it, but when later design adjustments were made, the designer accidentally used his original file. So, yes, the spine was printed as, Decisive Treaty. Ugh.

So I winced in sympathy upon hearing of a small but catastrophic typo in yesterday's Daily Universe, our campus newspaper, whereby a photo of LDS apostles at the recent general conference was captioned, "Members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostates." When discovered, the university rushed to pull the 15,000 copies of the paper out of circulation, replacing it with a corrected print run later in the day. Here are the gory details.

The Existential Muffin

I just typed the title to this post, and then wondered, has anyone else written on this topic? Yes, of course, and Pamplemousse makes some good points on the nature of muffiness. A muffin should be more than just a breakfast cupcake.

But this post is not really about muffins. It's about culinary disappointment.

So, I go to the dentist this morning and, on my way back to work, I notice a new eatery, the Paradise Bakery and Cafe. I love great pastry and, ever hopeful (and peckish), I have to stop. This is a big and beautiful cafe, with professional menus and a throng of smiling staff. I should have walked straight out over that fact alone. Unless you're eating haute (out? haute? eating out haute?), if a place looks great, the food is probably not.

The "bakery" section was a joke, about 6' of single-shelf counter. They had big signs about their "famous cookies," but the sample they gave me could have come from a Keebler box. Maybe did. The only thing with any promise was their muffins. I bought the Apple Cinnamon. It was ok, I guess. But just a breakfast cupcake.

This small dissappointment should not have put me in a funk, but as I've blogged before, I love great food. But it is so hard to find. Now, if I had the money, I'm fortunate to live just an hour's drive of many great restaraunts. During ski season, there are probably twenty that would not disappoint any reasonable foodie just in Park City and the resorts. We even have two hauts restaurants local (the Chef's Table in Provo and the Tree Room at Sundance). But these belong to an entirely different catagory of eateries. Dinner for two will cost you at least a Benjamin.

I love good eats on the cheap, but there is a reason why it is a commonplace for greasy spoons to advertise "home cooking." For a variety of reasons, restaurant food is rarely better than even modestly competent home cooking. I'm no cookie wizard, but I can certainly bake for myself a better cookie than those to which Paradise claims fame. In fact, that is the challenge I've set for myself—find affordable restaurants that can beat our home cooking. Sounds easy, but it's not.

Cookies and box-baking aside, real baking is a real challenge, and good commercial bakers can produce breads and pastries that only accomplished home cooks can match. We're very fortunate to have a couple of good bakeries local. Kneaders is spotty with pastries, but they have some great specialty breads. For your basic cinnamon rolls and such, I love Shirley's. If you get out to Midway, then Bäckerei & Eis at the Zermatt Resort is worth a visit. Their bleu cheese bread is unbelievable and their pastries fair to great (skip their Napoleons). If you're into it, they also have great gelato.

But I'd trade them all for Provo's only French patisserie, the Eliane French Bakery (sic). Eliane's is nothing to look at, but their pastries are the real thing. One reviewer complained they did not "taste as good as they appeared." I think that's because Americans expect a blast of sugar whenever they bite into something creamy. Sorry, in my very limited experience, that just is not French, who use sugar as a flavoring and not the main ingredient in pastry. Authentic or not, Eliane's is very good, and as close to real patisserie as you are going to get in Happy Valley.

04 April 2009

EDC Knives: Slipjoints, Folding Hunters, Balisongs

A folding knife is simply any knife whose blade folds or retracts into its handle. They come in a huge variety of styles, especially art knives, but most folding knives are one of four basic types: slipjoint, folding hunter, balisong and tactical.

A slipjoint is the classic pocketknife. These knives rely on the tension of a backspring to hold the blade both open and closed, and do not have a blade lock. They may have just one blade or several of different styles, traditionally for different game dressing or woodworking (whittling) tasks. Perhaps the best-known slipjoint knives are classic Case pocketknives and the ubiquitous Swiss Army knife.

In 1964, Buck Knives introduced the Buck Folding Hunter Model 110 (below), the archetype of the folding (or lock-back) hunter. This type of knife is very similar to the slipjoint in its basic design, but always has just a single blade, usually a clip or drop point, which locks when opened. The blade is unlocked by depressing the hinged backspring at a scallop in the rear bolster. The Buck 110 is five inches long closed and quite heavy (7.2 oz.), and is therefore carried in a belt sheath rather than in a pocket. But many later models, copies and variants are smaller, lighter, and more pocket-portable.

The third type of folder is the balisong, popularly called a butterfly knife. The balisong (describes Wikipedia) is “a Filipino folding pocket knife with two handles counter-rotating around the tang such that, when closed, the blade is concealed within grooves in the handles” (see below). World War II servicemen in the Pacific brought them home, but they really did not become widely popular until their import was banned in the 1980s. Such is the power of notoriety. They are still subject to regulation in some states (mostly because they look scary), but in most places they are perfectly legal. The balisong is in fact more a traditional martial arts weapon than a practical knife.

Next up: Tactical folders.

02 April 2009

Netbooks: Evolution or Revolution?

There was a good article in the NYTimes today on netbooks, the latest incarnation of the subcompact notebook computer. Tiny laptops have been around for years, but the general trend has been that the smaller it is, the more it costs. Netbooks have made a big splash less because they are small than because they are cheap. That's because they use smaller, slower and cheaper CPUs, little memory, small hard drives, etc., and sometimes don't even run Windows. In that past that would have killed sales, however cheap, but anymore the primary application for most computers is simply the internet. At their name implies, netbooks run the internet just fine, and at long last the internet has conquered the technology universe. It is the "killer app" that by itself justifies a hardware purchase.

But the first netbooks were still merely evolutionary. "Thin clients" have been around for years and have long been hailed as the computer of the future. So, pretty cool, but not a new idea. And a $300 computer that cannot do much more than surf the internet is a niche product. It may steal some laptop sales, but cost is still prohibitive.

However, the next generation of netbooks may just be revolutionary. Makers will push the price under $100, at which point cost becomes (at least psychologically) irrelevant. That's less than an iPod Nano. You've just created a new product category.

    Personal computers — and the companies that make their crucial components — are about to go through their biggest upheaval since the rise of the laptop. By the end of the year, consumers are likely to see laptops the size of thin paperback books that can run all day on a single charge and are equipped with touch screens or slide-out keyboards.
    The industry is buzzing this week about these devices at a telecommunications conference in Las Vegas, and consumers will see the first machines on shelves as early as June, probably from the netbook pioneers Acer and Asustek.
    “The era of a perfect Internet computer for $99 is coming this year,” said Jen-Hsun Huang, the chief executive of Nvidia, a maker of PC graphics chips that is trying to adapt to the new technological order. “The primary computer that we know of today is the basic PC, and it’s dying to be reinvented.”
I'm looking forward to Christmas already . . .

01 April 2009

EDC Knives: Introduction

I’ve been devoting some leisure and spare brain cycles lately to EDC and personal preparedness. Most constructively, I’m digging into first aid, knot craft, and other practical skills relevant to urban and wilderness survival. But at heart I’m a gear guy, and I would rather read and blog about guy gear than on how to perform CPR.

Last week was flashlights, but the next several weeks it will be knives. I’m going to first offer a fairly thorough introduction to modern knives, split over a number of posts. Reviews of my own knives will follow on an ongoing basis. Note that I omit multitools entirely from this survey. They are simply a different class of tool that I’ll discuss separately sometime in the future.

There are two basic kinds of knives, fixed blade and folding. Since I am interested primarily in everyday carry knives, I will say little about fixed blades, most of which are too large, heavy and conspicuous for EDC. But here are a few considerations.

Some people do carry small, light fixed blades for EDC, called “neck knives” because their sheaths are designed to be worn on a chain or lanyard around your neck. But I think they are impractical for EDC, unless you don't mind digging into your shirt to get out your knife. And really, they offer no substantial advantages over a good locking blade folder. Since they are suspended upside down from your neck, there are also scary reports about knives falling out of their sheaths and onto the ground, usually at the worst times and in public places. Since many are wicked-looking blood-drinkers, this may cause a little public panic.

CRKT Triumph neck knife

For non-EDC uses, from camping to chopping celery in your kitchen, fixed blades are great. Their advantages are safety, strength and lack of design constraints.

First, there is no locking mechanism holding the blade open, and thus no lock to accidentally unlock or potentially fail, thus folding the knife onto your fingers. Also, many fixed blades are made of much thicker steel than folding blades. The blade material may even extend the full height and length of the handle, which is called a full-tang design (as the neck knife above). These are almost crowbar strong. If you are going to hammer on your knife with a rock like Bear Grylls, or otherwise abuse it, such strength is desirable.

Finally, fixed blade knives can be made in any shape or dimension, to suit most any conceivable task. Since most folders are designed to be carried in your pocket (and some state laws restrict length of concealed blades), folding knives usually have blades under four inches long. That’s plenty long for most EDC uses, but for camping or wilderness survival, or in a defensive situation, a longer fixed blade may have more utility.

Next up: Folding knives.