Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Why Women Need Business Suits

I just got done reading an article about sexism in academic clothing, "Female Academics: don't power-dress, forget heels - and no flowing hair allowed."  I wish that I could really recommend the article, but when it starts off with claims like:

It’s well known that the suit conveys authority and power in the workplace in overtly masculine ways. You only need to look at the tie, pointing insistently to the male crotch, to recognise this. 

It is hard to take seriously.  That is a shame, because the article does in fact bring up some good points, the article just wraps those points in language designed to infuriate and alienate people who do not precisely share the exact same opinion as the author.

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But the article did get me thinking, and that is what I hope for in any sociological article.  The problems of the intersection of women's clothing and feminism are really interesting.  There really is a problem across Western society in trying to figure out what women should wear when they want to be taken seriously.  I happen to disagree with the article's author, Francesca Stavrakopoulou, about what kind of clothing is appropriate to asking for professional respect.  That said, the problem remains that we, as a society, have never actually figured out what kind of clothing is appropriate for a professional woman.

A man can wear a suit if he wants to be taken seriously.  When he wants to be seen as a business man he can wear a business suit.  When it's time to dress up he can wear a tuxedo.  When he wants to be seen as a gentleman of leisure he can wear a blazer and slacks or a more casual suit.  Women's clothing has never allowed the same easy choices.  There isn't a standard women's business suit model, there isn't even a standard button arrangement for women's suits.  There aren't standard shirt styles for women's professional wear.  And when women want to dress up there are no easy formal choices, a look at the commentaries after every red carpet affair should make that clear.

Women have to navigate issues of professional presentation individually.  For men there are a lot of basic ground rules for how suits are designed.  For example, single breasted jackets typically have two or three buttons, unless it's a tuxedo, in which case there can be one.  While there are periodically fads of having four buttons on a jacket, two or three is the rule, and has been for more than a century.  If you look at women's "business suit" jackets there is a dizzying array of possible button and lapel combinations that often serve more to trivialize women than to help them appear serious.

A man's suit declares masculinity, power, and seriousness.  What do women's suits declare?

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I did a Google image search for "Women's Business Suit" and this was the second result:
It's business time...
Nothing says "take me seriously" like short sleeves, peaked lapels on a single breated jacket, big shiny interlocking buttons, body revealing cuts, and a cameltoe...

Men's business clothes have traditionally been non-revealing.  Suits look good because we agree they look good and we have invested importance in them, not because they accentuate a man's physique.  Suits do the opposite of accentuating a physique, they allow a physique to not matter.  That is the power of a suit, you don't have to fit a physical mold for a suit to do its job, you just have to follow the rules.  If you wear a lime green peaked lapel single breasted suit with six buttons it doesn't matter what your body looks like, you will look like a joke.  If you are an egg shaped man with zero muscle tone in a well fitted suit, you look like someone to take seriously.

Part of the reason that suits work is that they take advantage of a man's skeletal structure.  The suit hangs from the shoulders.  The lines descend from the shoulders.  Men's shoulders are symbols of power.  We talk about strong shoulders.  Apparently Liam Neeson has shoulders that women find attractive.  Men swagger with their shoulders.  Men shoulder obstacles aside.  Suits amplify the shoulders while giving any man shoulders to be respected.
He has shoulders that just won't quit...  note that even though Liam Neeson has famously broad strong shoulders his suit still pads and shapes the shoulders.  This is the male equivalent of a padded bra.
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This is actually a very good example of the gendered way that we view people's bodies.  Men's shoulders are a secondary sexual characteristic, like breasts, hips, and adam's apples.  Shoulders, like breast and hips, are often seen as visually attractive to the opposite sex, and are visible advertisements of health and reproductive potential.  However our culture treats boobs and butts differently than muscly shoulders.  Shoulders, unlike breasts and hips, are seen additionally as symbolizing strength and authority.

Clothing that accentuated women's breasts and hips the way that suits accentuate male secondary sexual characteristics would be viewed very differently than a business suit.  Male secondary sexual characteristics are seen as worthy of respect, whereas women's secondary sexual characteristics need to be concealed.

Consider that men's shoulders are an important part of their physical presence.  An imposing physical presence is intimidating.  Clothing that enhances a man's physical presence is fundamentally an attempt to gain psychological advantage over other men.  A suit is partially a dominance display, like a peacock's tail or a lion's mane.

Female physicality also has the power to gain psychological advantage over men.  When presented with revealing clothing that accentuates female secondary sexual characteristics, men are mentally compromised.  Sexualized clothing has dramatic effects on male brains.  Men become more impulsive, more likely to accept smaller rewards, and more impatient.
So, is Christina Hendricks in a bustier functionally equivalent to Liam Neeson in a suit?  Sadly, no.
However, revealing skin also has dramatic effects on human brains.  Back in 2009 scientists discovered that bikinis caused men to see women as objects.  At the time researchers claimed that it would be difficult to find ways to do this same kind of testing on women, because everyone "knows" that women's brains are different.  There's no way that revealing clothing could have a similar effect on women, so other ways of testing the effect of sexiness would have to be designed, like maybe nice cars...  A couple years later researchers found that it turns out this line of reasoning is crap.  Revealing clothing on men has the same effect on women's brains.  For both men and women, revealing clothing causes us to dehumanize people.  A skimpily clad man or woman is seen as an object whose thoughts and emotions are immaterial.

Biologically, if people want to be taken seriously it helps if they are not wearing revealing clothing.

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A common complaint, and the focus of the Stavrakopoulou article, is that it is unfair for women to be judged negatively for dressing in a sexually attractive fashion.  This is both true and untrue.  If male and female brains both objectify members of the opposite sex in revealing clothing then that suggests that there is more than sexism in action on the subject of clothing.  But if our culture treats pretty women as automatically sexualized, then there is no way for a woman to dress nicely and professionally at the same time if they are pretty.

But the clothing that we consider revealing or sexually suggestive is largely dictated by our culture.  What is appropriate or inappropriate clothing is a matter of agreement.  Most people agree that a bathing suit is appropriate attire at the pool, but underwear is not, EVEN THOUGH THE DIFFERENCE IS ENTIRELY ARBITRARY.  The difference is agreement, nothing more.
Seriously, totally arbitrary.  Both options have a similar effect on brain function, but one is acceptable, one is not.
So what I am really arguing that we need is agreement on what clothing is respectable and professional and flattering for women.  A man's suit is flattering because we agree it is.  The same could be accomplished for women's clothing in a non-sexually-suggestive form if it could be agreed upon.

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I like suffragette style, though the hats are kind of small in this photo.  To me it says "I'm a woman, and I expect to be taken seriously."

At the dawn of the 20th century women started agitating for the right to vote.  Those women were called suffragettes, and in my personal opinion no one has really gotten closer to a style of women's clothing that commands respect without sacrificing femininity.  The jackets that were worn were actually styled for women, not adapted from men's clothes.  The skirts, while rather dowdy to modern eyes, were serious, but feminine.

Alternative suffragette attire, more of a "don't doubt my gender identity" statement.

Of course, in some cases the suffragettes actually went the other way with the clothing.  Suffragettes were disparaged as being unfeminine, so some suffragettes got aggressively feminine.  Ruffles, lace, and giant hats RIGHT IN YOUR FACE!  This kind of detracts from my praise of the more somber suffragette outfits, but I see the two styles of dress as being appropriate to different settings.  The more somber outfits are analogous to business wear.

I actually kind of like the rather fierce use of aggressive headgear as a part of the look; of course pretty much everybody wore hats in those days, but in all the pictures suffragettes seem to have huge hats that seem as much a statement as a man's swagger.  The swagger and the giant hat both say "back up, I'm taking up just as much space as I want."

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On the topic of giant hats, the importance of accessories should not be underestimated.  Ties are given a lot of attention, and not because they draw attention to men's penises.  Bow ties don't point down, and traditionally the long tie would tuck into the high-waisted pants that men wore.  The tie is an opportunity for individual expression while wearing a suit.  The tie allows a suit wearing person to display their decision making abilities.  An inappropriate tie can make a good suit just as much of a joke as the lime green suit.

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So now we arrive right back where we started.  Women need professional attire that accomplishes similar functions as a business suit.  Unfortunately, as I said at the beginning, suits work because we agree on them.  There is no agreement on what a woman's suit should be.  Thanks to the butch suits movement, women at least have the option of suits that are actually cut for women, but sadly those suits are just adapted men's suits designs, rather than femininity affirming professional designs for women.  It is important (at least in my mind) that women's professional attire not just be adapted menswear if it is ever really going to signify gender equality.

A "Butch Suit."  While it does not show the face I like this image for a few reasons.  Number one, that is a nice suit.  Number two, it is cut for a woman, but it also illustrates how femininity is minimized in adapted menswear.  Number three, this image also helps illustrate that when it comes to suits, it's the clothes that make the person, the actual person in the clothes is not as important as the suit.  You can find this suit at Tomboy Tailors
Today's business suit is the result of centuries of evolution.  The business suits worn today are actually little changed from the suits that our founding fathers wore in the 18th century.  The components are largely the same.  The length of the pants and jacket have changed, and the vest has become optional.  But when you compare the amount of change that the men's suit has undergone in the last three hundred years to the amount of change that has occurred in women's fashion over just the last forty years you can see how static male fashion has been.

Of course a big part of the reason that we have no agreement on what a women's suit should be is because up until less than 50 years ago the question was immaterial.  Before the modern feminist movement the question of how to dress a woman in professional attire that was also feminine was only slightly more relevant than the question of what kinds of hats a managerial dog would wear.  There were professional women before Women's Lib, but the idea of women being systemically equal to men was seen as absurd.  When women did occupy a professional position they just adapted men's clothes.

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Today we live in a world where there have actually been a few generations born since the fight for women's equality kicked into high gear.  But I actually think that our nearness to first wave feminism obscures the true magnitude of feminism.  Provided our society does not self destruct in the next few decades, I think that future historians are going to mark feminism as the characteristic change of our age.  Feminism has had every bit as radical and destabilizing effect on our social fabric as mechanization did at the outset of the industrial revolution.

You often hear people talk about the information age, but the change to a computerized economy is not as great a change as the change from agrarian to industrial was a few hundred years ago.   In fact we still haven't come to terms, as a species, with industrialization.  The issues of capitalism and communism are responses to the upheaval of the industrial era, and we are into a very different world now and no one has even started to figure out how we should be facing the current era.  Feminism has essentially doubled the available work force, while we have not yet found a way to provide for the propagation of our species within the new framework of gender equality.

It might seem like a non sequitur, but I think that an important step in moving forward is dressing women like they actually belong in power on their own terms and merits.  This challenge is further complicated by the fact that the suit is also losing its place in our society, at least out West.  What is considered appropriate professional clothing for men is changing more rapidly than it has in centuries.  At the same time that women have fully come into the work force, the same social forces that allowed women in, have destabilized professional attire for men.  So at the same time that women have to figure out how to dress professionally we have started to lose agreement on what men should wear.

So figuring out what women should wear in professional and academic settings is not going to be easy.  Right now the old rules are crumbling, and we need to find new rules.  Ultimately clothes only have meaning if the meaning is commonly held.  Suits still have meaning and power.  If we can find equivalent standards for women we will be in better shape as a society.



Friday, October 24, 2014

Is Islam Anathema to Western Society?

The School of Athens (Escola de Atenas) - Raphael - This image represents thinkers key to the Renaissance. 
The short answer is: No.

But if we are being honest then we have to admit that there is a problem.  Saying that Muslim extremists comprise only a minority of Muslims is factually accurate.  Suggesting that the minority of extremists does not mean that there is a problem with Islam for the West is wrong.

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There is a commonly used chestnut that "Hitler was democratically elected."  In reality, the Nazis only got ~1/3 of the vote.  The Nazis were a minority in Germany leading up to WWII.  That didn't mean the world didn't have a Germany problem.

Marxist rebels were a minority in Russia before the October Revolution, that didn't mean the Tsar didn't have a Marxism problem.

Less than 50% of the white population of the original 13 colonies that formed the US supported independence, but Britain certainly had a revolutionary problem.

Just because an agitating group is a minority within a larger group does not insulate the larger group from blame.  If the larger group does not actively work against the minority agitators then it only takes a minority to effect change.  This doesn't just apply to negative things.  In the US, the majority didn't approve of interracial marriage until the late 1990's, but the minority fighting for equal rights was able to make interracial marriage legal in all states in the US in 1967 when approval of interracial marriage was less than 20%.  It was a minority agitating for change, but the anti-miscegenation crowd had an equality problem.

So let us acknowledge that extremists being a minority is a functionally meaningless issue.  Historically it doesn't matter if an opinion is held my a minority or a majority, it matters what the majority does about it.  Let us contrast interracial marriage with gay marriage.  The majority in the US has favored gay marriage for several years now, but gay marriage is still not fully legal in the US.  It took 30 years of legality for interracial marriage to achieve the levels of approval that gay marriage has, but up until the last few years the majority has acted decisively against gay marriage, and even now the majority is not acting decisively in favor of gay marriage.

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I make this argument so that we can start to approach to the larger question of why the West has an Islam problem.  There is a perception among many that Islam and Western secular society are fundamentally incompatible, but this is not true.  You may wonder how I can state as fact that Islam and Western society/thought are not incompatible right after arguing that there is a conflict between Islam and the West.  To begin with, modern secular Western culture owes its existence to Islam.

That's right, without Islam there is no Western society as we know it.

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Following the fall of the Roman Empire, Western Europe descended into the dark ages.  Illiteracy and religious fundamentalism were the rules of the time.  Western culture stagnated.  Barbarism and tribal conflict ruled the West.  Pagan philosophy and thought, like the writings of the ancient Greeks and the Romans were quashed and destroyed.  Religious diversity was brutally suppressed.

Women's legal rights were largely non-existent.  European women were covered head to toe with only their faces showing for almost a thousand years.  Even the hair was covered.  The stereotypical nun's habit with its wimple is a familiar vestige of this long era of the severe oppression of women.

When Genghis Khan conquered his way west across Asia he reached Poland.  He won a costly battle, but found nothing worth taking.  He turned his armies around and left Europe to itself.  Europe was too materially impoverished to even be worth conquering.

Even the art of this period was far cruder than the art of the Greeks and Romans.

Then our history books tell us that there was a miraculous reawakening in Europe.  The Renaissance.  Art, culture, trade, and thought flourished.  Classical philosophers like Aristotle, Socrates, and Plato were rediscovered.  Engineering and science exploded.  But where did the knowledge necessary for this reawakening come from?

The Muslim world.

During the long dark period of absolute religious fundamentalism the flame of Western thought and culture had been kept alive by Islam.  Greek and Roman writings were preserved and translated.  During the dark ages Muslim cities had lighted streets.  A hospital founded in Cairo in the late 9th century AD had a library with thousands of book, a pharmacy, licensed physicians, and male and female attendants treating men and women.  A Baghdad hospital of a similar vintage had fountains designed to cool the air inside the hospital.  While Britain was fighting Vikings, Baghdad had air conditioning.

Even our numbering system, so vital to modern science, was introduced to the West from the Muslim world.  The Italian Fibonacci introduced Arabic numerals to Europe in 1202.

A close up on Averroes from Escola de Atenas.  Averroes is a latinization of Ibn Rushd, a Muslim Philosopher

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One thousand years ago two cultures clashed.  One culture was impoverished and largely illiterate.  That culture provided few or no legal rights to women, who were covered head to toe in clothing.  They regularly engaged in murderous atrocities against religious minorities.  They were dominated by a religion that taught them to hate and battle infidels.  That was Europe.

European culture clashed against another that they viewed as ungodly and decadent.  This other culture granted legal rights and protections to women and religious minorities to a degree not seen before.  They were rich, literate, scientific, and Muslim.  The clash was called the Crusades.

The Christians slaughtered men women and children.  They committed many atrocities.  But the majority of Christians never killed Muslims in the Middle East.  Most European Christians never even met a Muslim.  Nonetheless Islam still had a Christianity problem.

It seems ironic doesn't it that positions seem reversed today.

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The rise of Islam was in many ways as large a moment in the development of human rights and rule of law as the Code of Hammurabi.  As strange as it might seem to many of us today, Sharia law was extraordinarily progressive for its time.  Sharia was particularly progressive in the area of women's rights.  It wasn't until the 20th century that women in Western countries received rights equivalent to the rights provided in Islamic law.  It seems truly bizarre (at least to my mind) to think of Islam as being pro-women, but by the standards of the time in the Middle-East Sharia was practically women's lib.

In the area of religious tolerance early Sharia was also pretty progressive.  While the classical definition of Dhimmi was reserved for Christians and Jews, as the areas of Muslim control grew the idea came to include non-monotheists like Hindus and Buddhists.  A Dhimmi was a second class citizen, but they were still a citizen with protected rights.

It is truly strange to me that the Muslim Revivalist movements of the 20th century seem to focus on an Islam stricter than the Islam that pertained during the time of Mohammad or the following centuries.  When I read about early Islam it seems very different than the vision espoused by ISIS (Salafism) or the Muslim Brotherhood.  It makes me wish that there was a popular Muslim movement to recapture the progressive spirit of early Islam, rather than a regressive repressive version of Islamic law.

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The conflict between modern Western society and Islam is not a matter of fundamental incompatibility.  I feel like anyone who has met a significant number of Muslims should be able to see that.  I've known too many Muslims to believe that Islam is any more fundamentally incompatible with our culture than any other religion as a whole.  In many ways our modern secular society was cradled by a tolerant early Islam, more than by an intolerant early Christianity.

But that doesn't necessarily mean that the current conflicts between Western society and Islamic fundamentalism are not religious in nature.  Just like the Crusades were religiously motivated, the current strain of jihadist violence is religiously motivated.  In both cases I think that the religious component is only a part of the overall picture.

I have met people who claim that the Crusades were purely motivated by economics.  I think that idea is too reductive.  You can't reduce something as complicated as a struggle between two cultural groups to a single cause.  These kinds of clashes are not just about economics, nor are they just about water, or even just about religion.  Islam by itself does not result in terrorism any more than Christianity by itself results in terrorism.

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But even though Christian fundamentalist terrorists have struck at Western nations for centuries, the West does not usually feel like it has a Christianity problem these days.  If you are asking what Christian terrorists there have been, you can look at religiously affiliated nationalist movements like the IRA in Ireland; or the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda; or religiously motivated groups that bomb abortion clinics; or the Christian Fundamentalist terrorist extraordinaire, John Brown, whose acts helped to precipitate the US Civil War and free the slaves.

And really I think the difference is that Christianity and Western society are pretty synonymous in most people's minds.  For English speakers the conversion of Britain to Christianity predates the development of the English language, so Christianity is privileged in many ways that are so fundamental to the language that they can be hard to spot.  Islam is seen as the other, and increasingly Muslim leaders in the Middle East have been casting themselves as opposition to Western Imperialism.

And it is that idea of opposition to Western Imperialism that gets to the heart of why the West has an Islam problem.  Because here we get back to the issues of the minority versus the majority.

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A truism I appreciate is that it doesn't matter what's in your heart, it only matters what you do.  We are all familiar with the idea that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.  In life your actions matter more than your inner thoughts.  If Hitler had quietly hated Jews and just tried to take over the world he would not be seen as nearly the monster that he is.  But that was not the case.  Perhaps most Germans during WWII disliked the idea of killing off Jews, but their actions didn't prevent the Holocaust.  Inaction can be just as bad as action, and it doesn't matter whether or not people see themselves as good or decent if their actions do not seek to stop injustice.

I don't mean to compare Islam to Nazism, Nazis are just an easy target.  And because everyone is familiar with them and pretty much everybody hates them, they make an easy allegory.

The comparison I want to draw here is about people saying that they do not support something while they do nothing to oppose it.  When there is not widespread condemnation among Muslim groups of the goals and tactics of extremists it does not matter whether or not extremists are a minority.  A silent majority empowers a vocal and active minority.

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Islam and the West are not incompatible at their cores.  They are not even unrelated.  But if we close our eyes to the problems growing between Islam and the West then we all contribute to the rise of fundamentalism and terrorism.  We in the West need to look honestly at what conditions in the Middle East are contributing to conflict, and what actions of ours exacerbate the problems.  We can't do that if we are trying to be politically correct and deny that there is a problem.

And in the Muslim world people can't just say that extremists are a minority.  I know that speaking and acting out against the extremists can be very dangerous for individuals.  We are all familiar at this point with the price Malala Yousafzai paid for daring to try to get an education, and she survived.  Many other individuals who have tried to stand up to Muslim extremists have died.  And as long as the majority stays silent and quiescent that will not change.

The extremists are the minority, even where they are in power.  That doesn't matter.  Actions matter, not thoughts.  The extremists act while the majority stands by.  That is how it always is pretty much everywhere.  The majority is harder to organize than a minority.  It is easier to find agreement in a minority.  And an organized minority is stronger than a disorganized majority.

In a leadership and organizational vacuum, whoever is organized and prepared to lead can thrive.  In Gaza, Hamas thrives.  In Syria and Iraq, ISIS is thriving.  ISIS is not thriving because people there don't want to live in peace, or don't love their children, or don't want nice things.  ISIS and similar organizations like the Taliban, thrive because the majority that just wants to lead their lives in peace are disorganized and unled.  Islam is not to blame for the power vacuums that currently obtain in much of the Middle East, but it does provide an easy rallying point for organizations that want to fill that vacuum.

Air strikes weren't successful in Vietnam.  They weren't successful between the Gulf War and 9/11.  And they aren't going to be successful now.  Likewise casting any criticism of Islam as racist is not going to fix the problems.

If we want to stop ISIS and other groups of that ilk from gaining power we need to be able to talk about why they are able to rise to power.  We can't get there if we treat Islam as anathema to our society.  We also can't get there if we are stuck on politically correct evasions.  Looking honestly at the consequences of our actions and refusing to accept blame shifting can do a lot more than trying to be superficially sensitive or dropping bombs.




Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Dear Ottawa: Don't Let Fear Change You

The scene this morning at the Canadian Parliament

This morning at least one gunman, probably at least two, opened fire on Capitol Hill in Ottawa Canada.  At least one of the soldiers standing guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the National War Memorial was injured, and US Today reports that the wounded soldier has died of his injuries.  The shooter sprinted into the Parliament building where there was more shooting.  A gunman has been confirmed dead inside Parliament.

In 2004 and 2005 I made my home outside of Ottawa.  I have many friends there.  I am a dual Canadian and US citizen.  I moved to Canada in large part out of anger at the fear driven changes in America following September 11, 2001.  I hated the evisceration of the US Constitution and the poorly planned aggression of the only country I had ever called home (I was born in Canada, but had never lived there before 2004).  I decided that I would take advantage of my Canadian citizenship and move to a country that had not abandoned its values and founding principles out of fear.

The thing that made me most happy to be in Canada while I lived there was the openness of Parliament.  Even before 9/11 the US Capitol was extremely secure.  The seat of American power is locked and walled away from the people of the US.  Walls and guards separate the White House from its subjects.  Before I moved to Ottawa it never even occurred to me that there could be a different way of doing things.  It blew me away when I moved to Canada that I could just walk right up to Parliament anytime I wanted.

Several times I decided that I wanted to walk around Parliament at night and peek in the windows, just because I lived in a country free enough to allow me to do so.  The only time security ever stopped me was when there was a light show being projected on the front of Parliament.  The guards just wanted to make sure that I didn't mess with the projection equipment, they had no problem with me poking around the Parliament building.  And yes, you read that last section right, they were having a light show on the Parliament building.  People were sitting on the Parliament lawn and listening to music and watching a light show.

.There was an openness to the Canadian Capitol that I found wonderful and liberating.  The government felt like it was of the people, not imposed on the people.  And whenever I started forgetting the dramatic nature of the difference between Canada and the US there was the nearby US Embassy to remind me.

The US Embassy in Ottawa is a post-modernist interpretation of a submarine, surrounded by neo-classical buildings and castles.  After 9/11 the US embassy blocked off a lane of traffic surrounding the building in the middle of downtown Ottawa with jersey barriers.  Inside of those Jersey barriers was a row of pylons with steel shafts that extended underground designed to stop tanks.  Inside of that row of pylons is a tall fence made of pointed metal and concrete.  The walls look to be several feet thick and the glass appears to be bulletproof, and there is no evidence of any windows that can be opened.  The entire structure is surmounted by a brooding turret.  When first I went to the embassy in 2002 there was a security checkpoint outside of the gate to the embassy.  After passing through that metal detector people were allowed one at a time to enter a door that opened on hydraulics.  After the first door closed a second actuated door would let a person out of the vestibule where they could pass through a more thorough security check like at an airport.  Once through this security I was able to go wait to speak to a representative through armored glass.

The dramatic difference between the open Parliament and the militaristic Embassy was painful to me.  In a city characterized by openness, monuments, and pretty buildings the US Embassy was fortified and designed to look like a ship of war.

Obviously I ultimately decided to move back to the US.  Despite my anger at many of the choices our country has made, I am an American.  There is a lot I love about the land of my birth, but America is my home.  I don't have to live here, I choose to live here.  I am fortunate to have the choice.

Many of the cultural differences between the US and Canada seem minor until you spend a significant amount of time in either country.  As I was living in the woods of Quebec outside of Ottawa there was one difference that seemed extra dramatic, and that was gun laws.  Where I lived there were a lot of bears.  Wherever you live in Canada you are not far from roadless wilderness.  Having grown up in Alaska, I wanted to have a gun for protection against bears.  However, in Canada the process is a lot more complicated than just going to a gun store.  I'm not going to go into the details of the process, you can look them up if you want to.

I bring up guns because today there was gun violence in Ottawa.  Sadly this means that now there is immediate reaction from pro and anti gun groups on both sides of the border.  At a time when Ottawa is still locked down and a family is being notified that their child was murdered while watching over a monument to the fallen, people are already mobilizing their political talking points.

The sad fact is that for a free country dominated by wilderness there is no sane level of gun control that could ever totally remove the threat of gun violence.  And even if guns could be totally controlled within Canada there is an open border between the US and Canada.  That said, this is an anomaly in Canada.  Canada does not have the levels of gun violence that we do here in the US, so claiming that this incident proves gun regulation to be useless is nonsensical.  I have been clear in this blog that I am a supporter of gun rights, but right now I want to be clear that I do not think that this is the time to be making arguments about gun laws.

There will be debate, but decency should compel us to have those debates at a later date.  Right now there has been an incident.  And while the death toll might not be huge, there has been a tragedy.  None of us know why this tragedy took place.  None of us know any of the details that might lead to an understanding of how or why this took place.  Now is a time to pay attention and to be quiet until we know more.

However, there is one thing I do want to say as loudly as I can right now.  Whatever might come of this tragedy, I hope that Canada will not allow the character of its capitol to change.  I hope that the fear created by this action does not lead to a separation of the government from the people of Canada.  This attack today struck at one of the most precious things Canada has, its openness.  I hope that the attack does not cost Canada that treasure.



Saturday, October 18, 2014

Knives: A Primer

As I have said before, I am not an expert on knives.  I don't even collect knives.  I just like them.  I am writing this to provide some basic information for people to use as they are looking at knives.  Mostly just vocabulary, so when you see a word in the description of a knife you can actually know what it means.

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The Basics:


The most basic division I am going to point out is fixed blade vs. folding knives.  This one is pretty simple and self explanatory.  Fixed blade knives do not fold, and folding knives do.

Fixed Blades:

These are the only non-kitchen fixed blade knives that I currently own.  The top one is a 1970's K. Tragbar Solingen knife that my mother gave me when I was 11.  It is not a valuable knife now or when it was made, but it's a very good knife and important to me.   The bottom knife is one I made out of a busted leaf spring from a semi-truck, a brass pipe, and a moose antler when I was 14.  There are things I like about it and a lot of things I don't, but I made it.

Fixed blade knives (provided they have a good tang) are much sturdier than folding knives.  Even an excellent locking mechanism on a folder is not equal to a solid tang.

Folders:

These are the four folding knives I currently own (though two more are in the mail).  1) The leftmost is my Gerber Applegate Fairbairn Covert folder.  2) The second from the left is an awful awful piece of crap knife that I found while working security.  It is absolute garbage, but ironically it is the only knife of mine that has a name, "Kate's Favorite Knife," so called because my unit partner at field school liked that the blade is so loosely hinged that it can be easily snapped open with centrifugal force.  But opening it is about all that the knife is good for.  3) The second from the right is my $9 Bozeman beater.  It is modeled off of Spyderco knives, just poorly.  4) the rightmost is my Kershaw Scrambler.
Folding knives are not as sturdy or reliable as fixed blades, but they are more portable (as long as they aren't too big).  The biggest advantage of a folding knife is that it fits in your pocket and people usually don't freak out when you pull it out.  Traditional folding knives were usually small enough to sit comfortably in your pocket and often had multiple blades.  I don't currently own any of those, but there is something to be said for having a small knife with different blades for different uses.  More modern folders often have clips for holding in place in your pocket and various types of locking systems.

Multitools:

Here is all two of my multitools.  The one on the left is a Winchester multitool.  It was cheap and low quality, but surprisingly useful, especially since it has a bit that allows you to use all of the screw heads you see there.  The one on the right is a two part multitool.  It is made by Husky, it includes a folding box cutter and a multitool.  The Husky has a very solid brass and rosewood construction, and the steel is pretty good.  Unfortunately the Husky is so heavy that carrying it in a belt holder is a necessity.  For most multitools this is the case, and sadly for me both of my multitool sheaths are trashed.  The Winchester sheath was customized by my ex-wife's dog, whereas the Husky sheath was just used to death.
A third important group is multitools.  The most famous of these are Swiss Army Knives and Letherman Multitools.  I won't discuss these much here, but they provide the carrier with a mini toolkit.  The drawback for me is that the knife blades tend to be less easy to use, and the size and weight of most of them require a belt sheath.  But if you need to do a variety of mechanical tasks on a regular basis you probably already have one.
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Less Basic Basics:

Tang:

This picture is to show the tang on my K. Tragbar
The tang is the part of the blade material that extends into the handle.  There are various types of tang.  Full tangs are the most sturdy.  Here is a handy guide chart:
As you can see, according to this chart my knife has a rat-tail tang
On a folding knife the tang only extends to the pivot point, unless you get something like a Case Russlock or a  Svord Peasant Knife.
The Svord Peasant Knife, an unusual style of folder


Basic Knife Terms:

This handy little diagram gives a good overview of basic knife terminology
Anatomy of a folder
I provide these diagrams primarily to provide some basic vocabulary for the rest of the entry.


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Basic Knife Shapes:


There are many many many knife shapes.  There are a huge number of different special types of knife shapes, far too many to talk about here, so I will just focus on four of the most common among US knives.

The Clip Point:

A clip point knife.  A chose this image because it clearly shows the swedge on the clipped edge
The clip point is one of the most common types of point.  Clip points have been used for a very long time, the oldest known being a flaked stone Greek knife.  In the US the clip point is often associated with Bowie Knives.  You may also recognize the clip point from your dad/grandfather's Buck 110.  The Buck 110 is the granddaddy of lockback folders.  There are good reasons that it has remained ubiquitous for over half a century.

I have personally always been rather partial to Bowie style knives.  Not for any particular reason, I just like the look of them.  When I was a teenager I was all about the biggest meanest bowie I could get my hands on.  As I got older I realized that I didn't actually use knives over 6" very much.  And after moving to Seattle I found that I pretty much only even used the Tragbar while camping, since people in cities tend to get nervous around 6" fixed blades.

The clip point takes off the top of the blade near the tip which makes it more effective for piercing because there is less mass at the tip.  This also makes the tip more fragile than some other styles.  The clips can be flat or concave (but if they are convex then they are not clip points by definition).  Often clip points will be swedged (or have a swedge) which is the unsharpened bevel on the top (sometimes called a false edge).

Spear Point:

The Fairbairn-Sykes Fighting Knife, aka the British Commando Knife
Here is a point that is even older than the clip point.  The spear point is the kind of symmetrical point one sees on a dagger, or some swords, or (duh) a spear.  Obviously if you've ever looked at a stone projectile point you can see that this design is a pretty obvious and straight forward way to poke holes in things.  The spear point is just really good at poking stuff, and when it comes to knives the things that daggers are mostly designed to poke are people.

I chose to use a picture of the Fairbairn-Sykes knife at the top because it is a 20th Century fighting knife design that was and is tremendously popular.  The knife has been copied and adapted many times by many people.  One of my favorite derivatives is the Applegate-Fairbairn Fighting Knife.  The AF mainly altered two things, it gave the user more slashing ability and it changed the handle shape so that one would know where the edges were even in complete darkness (that's a little more tricky with the round handled FS).  Plus the AF was adapted into the Combat Folder that my own Covert was derived from.
The Applegate-Fairbairn Fighting Knife and the combat folder

The Spear Point design is so old humans didn't even invent it.  This one was made by a Neanderthal.

The Drop Point:

A Drop Point knife made by Bob Loveless
The Drop Point is a very popular point, and one of my personal favorites.  The drop point's advantage functionally is that it brings the spine of the blade closer to the point.  This provides thicker metal and more strength near the tip of the blade, while simultaneously bringing the point down to make fine work easier and still providing a useful belly.  I also think that the blade style is just plain pretty.

Unlike the previous two point styles, this one was popularized in the Mid-20th Century, primarily by one knife maker, Bob Loveless.  This point style is so ubiquitous these days that I didn't even know that it was popularized by an individual until I was writing this entry.  Obviously knives with a dropping point have been around for some time, but clip points were more common.   Bob Loveless was a hugely innovative and influential knife maker.

The Tanto Blade:

Since Bob Lum was the guy who originally popularized this style in the US I thought I would show one of his before showing the American Tanto style. And I think this is a pretty knife.
And here is the knife that started the "Tanto" craze.  The Cold Steel Master.
The "Tanto" is basically a chisel tip on a knife.  The idea behind the style is that by bringing as much metal as possible as close to the tip as possible that you create a strong tip that can be used to penetrate hard things, like armor.  Rather than having a curving belly leading from the main edge to the tip there is a corner, and the leading edge is actually a separate grinding face.

The term "Tanto" is kind of a misnomer.  Tanto just means short blade, and the short blades had many different configurations traditionally.  What we tend to think of as the Tanto was popularized by Bob Lum (another Northwesterner, he was from Astoria Oregon).  He made knives using a Japanese blade style that was designed for punching through armor.  In the 1980's Cold Steel started producing their tactical Tantos influenced by Lum's designs, and the tactical Tanto craze was on.

I personally really don't like Tantos for the very scientific reason of I think they're ugly...  So I don't really want to write too much about why I'm not fond of them.  I also find the corner where the belly should be is not good for delicate slicing tasks, and the belly is the section of knives that I tend to use most.  But my basic dislike of the style is aesthetic and emotional, so bear that in mind if you're thinking about a Tanto.

(One last thought on Tactical Tanto Folders.  I cannot for the life of me understand why someone would want to use a folding knife to punch through armor, regardless of the tip.  On a fixed blade this can make sense, but it is never a good idea to rely on a folding knife's locking mechanism to hold when you are punching through a surface designed not to be punched through unless you really don't like your trigger finger.)

Other Blade Styles:


There are endless variations on blade styles.  There are also specialized knife types like Trench Knives, Karambits, Kris, Balisong, etc. that I am not going to go into here (though I will write a little bit about trench knives in the future).  If you would like me to write about some specific topic or type of knife please mention it in the comments.

In lieu of writing about more of the common blade types I will just provide you with a link to A. G. Russell's glossary of blade shapes.  This is a very informative page.  It is worth noting that the blade styles listed do not include Drop Points or Tantos, I assume this is because the described blades are the traditional blades commonly used in US knives.  Specialty blade styles like Nessmuks are also not described.
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Blade Geometry:

The five most common grind types
Blade Geometry is a topic that can be very confusing to a lot of people, and it is worth covering briefly.  I'll go in the order of the picture.

Scandi:


Scandi is short for Scandinavian.  This is a sturdy blade geometry that tries to find a middle ground between edge stability and sharpenability.  The main grind on a Scandi doesn't start until more than halfway down the blade.  This means that there is a lot of steel providing overall strength to the blade.  The main grind is flat and relatively steeply angled which means that there is a lot of metal right up to the edge, this helps prevent folding of the edge.  the flat grind also makes this more easily sharpened than the convex edge.

Hollow Grind:


In this case the grind is concave.  This means that there is very little steel behind the edge.  This makes the edge more delicate, but it also makes it much easier to sharpen.  This also means that you can sharpen the knife many times before you get to a point where the blade is hard to resharpen.  In my experience this also means that the blade slices through things easier because there is less resistance from the width of the blade.

High Flat:


The high flat gives you a shallower angle which makes sharpening and slicing easier than with the Scandi.  This also gives you more metal behind the edge which makes the edge sturdier than the hollow grind.

Full Flat:


The full flat is pretty much what is says.  The whole blade is ground to angle down to the edge.  This gives you an even shallower angle than the high flat, but provides less metal behind the edge.

Convex:


The convex edge gives you the maximum amount of steel behind the edge.  The drawback to the convex primary grind is that you are looking at fewer times the blade can be easily sharpened.  Every time you sharpen a knife you take away metal.  So on a convex edge you have a very sturdy edge that can take abuse, but can only be sharpened so much before it becomes round.

(On the knife I made that I showed at the start of this entry I put a convex edge on it.  I actually did this because I don't know how to do a hollow grind, and it was on big wheel that was designed for working on heavy equipment.  Since I actually made the knife for jointing moose the design wasn't a bad one, but I did not know that at the time.  The other reason I gave it a convex grind is because I had made another knife before that I thinned out a lot to make it slice well, but it snapped as soon as I tried to chop something, so I over compensated.)

For further reading, here is an article by Joe Talmadge on Blade Geometry.

If you want to know more about blade geometry this is a pretty good video: 


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Blade Steels:


I am not even going to try to tackle this right here, right now, because this is a huge topic I understand very shallowly.  I will however provide you with a link to A. G. Russell's Steel Guide a wonderfully comprehensive chart providing some basic info on composition and typical hardnesses for a huge variety of blade steels.  A. G. Russell also provides an article about steels by Joe Talmadge.  You can also look at the Wikipedia entry on Steel Grades.
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So that about does it for me for this entry.  I will write more in the future.  Knives is a huge topic, and I am very much an amateur in the world of knives.  But I hope that this entry might give you some basic knowledge to work with as you look at knives.

To wrap this up I wanted to provide you with a link to the very useful Glossary from A. G. Russell's Knife Encyclopedia.

I hope that this article has been worth your time.  Please comment and let me know if there is anything I should write more about, and of course if there are things I got wrong or should be doing differently.

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P.S.  This entry focuses on non-kitchen knives, because kitchen knives are a whole 'nother ball of wax.  I will say however, that if you want to spend a lot ($100 or more) of money on just one knife, maybe spend it on a kitchen knife.  A good kitchen knife will see more use and improve your life more than just about any other knife.





Thursday, October 16, 2014

Knives: My Search For My Ideal Every Day Carry (EDC) Knife: Part II: The White Whale!

So as I was writing in my last entry, I was (and am) not done obsessing over the Lone Wolf Harsey T1 knife. But I was pretty satisfied with the Knives I had.  

My Gerber Applegate Fairbairn Covert was very nice and was (and is) holding up very well to some pretty heavy use.  The flat ground edge holds up well to the abuse I have subjected it to. The serrations have come in handy when I have needed to cut through cordage and the like (though I actually prefer a plain edge because I like to whittle when bored). My only complaint is that the dagger/combat style of the knife, while not gaudy or unnecessarily aggressive looking, makes the knife seem somewhat incongruous in certain settings. Also the smallness of the belly of the blade makes it not quite the right knife for opening boxes at the museum.


My Kershaw Scrambler has a nice assisted open function and it handles light duty quite well. It's appearance makes it a little more acceptable in mixed company. The wide belly is great for cutting boxes. The hollow grind also helps with cutting tasks, but it makes the edge more fragile. This is worth noting especially because the steel is 8Cr13MoV, which is a good steel, but a little prone to folding. I have found that the edge can get damaged much more easily than the Gerber when giving it some abuse. So the Scrambler isn't quite up to all the tasks I would ask of an every day knife. Plus it is point up carry, and as I said, I don't like that.


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Two weeks ago I looked online to see if there were any T1's to be had, and there were.  On eBay. There were two for auction and one for sale. I made the mistake of looking at the listings. The auction was 6 days away from closing, but the bids were were only $50 for the G10 handle version and the Rosewood handle version. The one for sale is a carbon fiber handle version and they were asking for $499.95. It's still for sale if you want to look at it. As $500 dollars is way outside of the range I am even thinking about, and I am not crazy about carbon fiber as a handle material, that knife was not much of a consideration. But ooh, those ones for auction... I wanted one so bad.

I won't go into the play by play of the auction. My absolute limit for bidding was $90 dollars. The rosewood went for ~$160 and the G10 ~$170. I even suspect that the bidding might have gone higher if people's attention hadn't been split between the two knives. I realized that I wasn't going to be finding a bargain.

But I had been worked up about the knives again for a week solid. I had let myself get hopeful, even though I knew intellectually that the hope was foolish. Then I lost the auction and an hour later the Seahawks (the team I ALWAYS root for) lost to the Cowboys (the team I ALWAYS root against). It was a sad Sunday.

It got me thinking about what it was going to take to actually get my hands on a T1. More as a long term goal than as a short term goal. An aspirational purchase rather than a bargain hunt... I figured that I would probably need to be ready to spend ~$200 to get the knife, and since I was fired up this seemed totally reasonable. But when my thoughts turned to spending double what I have ever spent on a pocket knife I started wondering what else might be available in that range. Auctions are stressful, maybe I could just buy what I wanted outright.

So I started looking at other options.
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So close to exactly what I want...

Bill Harsey has another collaboration on a knife very similar to the T series with Fantoni Knives, and Italian knife maker.  The Fantoni HB series.  The Fantoni HB02 is very similar to the T1, and it has titanium liners instead of stainless steel.  It even has a flipper, but it has a tip up clip and is not set up for other options. And I really prefer back pocket carry. And at that price I want EXACTLY what I want, not pretty close.

So I decided that as nice as the Fantoni was, it was just not going to meet my needs and wants well enough to allow me to explain to my wife why I NEEDED to spend $250 on the knife.

Oh well...

But wait!

What about similar designs from other makers/designers?
Oooh, that's a heck of a thing

I found a Rick Hinderer designed Zero Tolerance knife, the Zero Tolerance Hinderer 0561 that has the handle form and jimping I wanted (though the blade is just a bit broader than I wanted) with an honest to god assisted open flipper, a tip down carry option pre-drilled, and with a titanium frame lock. But this one is bigger and much heavier than what I want. It tips the scales at 6 oz, which is heavier than the Scrambler. The blade is the same length as the Covert, but beefier. Ultimately the beefiness of this one makes it hard for me to think about buying it. But there is a lot to like about it. I could well imagine that holding it in my hand would change my mind. And once again, I'm not looking to pay $200+ for anything other than exactly what I want.
Very nice, but doesn't quite scratch the itch

Of course Zero Tolerance also has the Zero Tolerance 0566, also a Hinderer design. It is the right size and everything, except that it is still awfully heavy. It's about the same size and weight as the Scrambler, because despite the price difference the frame lock on the 0566 is steel rather than titanium. There are plenty of reasons to get this knife. The steel is Elmax, the jimping is exactly what I want, and the four potential positions for the pocket clip mean you can carry this however you want. I'm just not sure that there are $155 dollars worth of reasons for me to get this one, which is the price difference between the Scrambler and the 0566.
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Now before I get on to the knife that I finally bought, I wanted to talk briefly about Rick Hinderer.  I don't know Rick Hinderer, and I really don't know much about him beyond what is on his website.  I do know that he has designed knives for Gerber.  And Pete Kershaw (Kershaw/Zero Tolerance) used to work for Gerber, and Bill Harsey designed for Gerber too.  Considering how much my search for the knife I want has ended up pushing me in the direction of these guys I can't really believe it's just a coincidence.
Drooly drool...  But this is really a knife for someone else

One knife I wanted to point out, even though it is not on my list of potential knives for myself is the Hinderer XM folder series.  And to be clear, the only reason that these are not on my list of desired knives is cost.  I think the XM 18 3" in particular looks incredible for everything that I would want, including light weight.  Unfortunately demand for Hinderer's XM knives far outstrips supply.  Hinderer's suggested retail price for the XM 18 3" is $385.  Good luck finding it for sale under $600.

One exception to that is if you are Active Military, LEO, Fire Fighter, or EMT.  Then you can buy direct from Hinderer.  I really can't actually recommend knives I have never seen or touched in person, but those ones just look exquisite to me.
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But now we get to the knife I did buy to calm my desire for a T1

I had been complaining to my friend Nate throughout this process of looking at all of these different knives.  And I had just gone through all of these issues, and I realized that I could just try looking for the things I had listed myself as wanting.  And when I did that I found the Kershaw Cryo G10

If you look closely you can see that this is not in fact the Zero Tolerance 0566 for $140 less...  See it says Kershaw.  But seriously there are plenty of differences, but if you aren't nerding out they look pretty similar.
It had the jimping I wanted.  It had the G10 handle scale that I am partial to.  It is pre-drilled for tip up/down/left/right carry.  It has a flipper.  It has a frame lock.  And the blade is 2 3/4 inches long.  The steel is only described as stainless steel, and it isn't made in America, but for ~$33 I felt like it was just too close to what I wanted to pass up.

I just ordered it yesterday, so I'll have to wait to tell you how it works for me.  It isn't the T1, but ordering it made me feel better.
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So that's it for my writing about my obsession with the T1.  I don't have exactly what I want, but that's OK.  I spent a lot of time obsessing over what I wanted, and now I get to find out if what I wanted is really what I wanted, at a pretty low price.

As you have probably gathered I get pretty monomaniacal when I decide on things that I want.  That is why when people sometimes ask me about knives I tell them that I'm not a great person to ask.  What I like in a knife is not what everyone likes, and I tend to get fixated on very specific details.

When I was doing some archaeology work the other week one of the other archaeologists asked me what kind of knife she should get.  She had realized that she needed a knife to carry while out in the field.  I realized that I didn't really have the best advice for her, because I get obsessive about things like steel, handle material, carry style, jimping, blade geometry, etc.  I explained that to her, and my advice was to go to a store like Cabela's and just check out the knives.  Hold them, look at them.  And decide what you want out of a knife, because it doesn't matter what I think about a knife, it matters what you think about a knife.  Are you going to carry it?  Does it feel right to you?  What do you want it to do?  I'm hyper-specific about what I want, but that doesn't necessarily translate to you.

Which brings me to what I will write about next, knife features and vocabulary.  As you start getting into knives you run into lots of esoteric jargon, and incomprehensible specs.  I'm not an expert on knives, but I have tried to learn enough to figure out what I want.  I will try to go over my main considerations so that someone else might have an easier time figuring out what they want.  I'll do my best to try to provide a general primer on knives.

So stay tuned for more of Jon talking about knives...



Knives: My Search For My Ideal Every Day Carry (EDC) Knife: Part I

So this entry is kind of a special request for a friend, and also kind of a way to write about a topic that has been preoccupying me for a while lately. Plus I like knives. I'm not a knife expert by any means, nor am I much of a collector, but I like knives. I always have. My friend wanted me to share some of my knowledge, and I have also been asked for advice on knives by a few other people recently. So I thought I would write some entries about knives, starting with my recent obsession: A good multi-purpose Every Day Carry (EDC) knife.
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This story starts a few months ago, back in May. I was at the dog park and two dogs got tangled up in their harnesses. Their legs were tangled together at a severely awkward angle, and both of the dogs were freaking out. The two dogs were owned by ladies. That point wouldn't be important other than the fact that I find the crying and screaming of women particularly distressing. One of the ladies was particularly hysterical; the other had a baby who was understandably distraught, so the second lady was too busy to be hysterical.

I ran over to help, and thankfully I had a knife on me. I almost always have a knife on me. On that day I was the only person at the park who had a knife.  And disentangling those dogs without breaking bones was going to take a sharp knife.

Unfortunately the only knife I had on me was my $9 Chinese made Bozeman beater knife. I had long been in the habit of just carrying cheap beater knives so that I could abuse them at work and give them away if someone needed a knife. On this day I had been using my knife to dig up, and saw through roots while working. Now I needed the knife to cut through brand new heavy duty nylon webbing without slipping and with very little room to maneuver. The knife was not up to the task.

I had sharpened the Bozeman a few weeks earlier, but my knives tend to see a lot of fairly heavy use. The Bozeman is made of a seriously inferior steel, and despite a recent sharpening it was not much sharper than a butterknife. When I tried to cut the webbing I couldn't get through it. The only angle I had was between the dogs tangled legs and any slip or major sawing would have run the risk of puncturing an artery.  A young lady came up to assist who worked at a doggy daycare. I told her that my knife wasn't sharp enough, she thought she might have one in her car so she ran off to check.

I could see that there was a nearby section of the harness that had a brass ring, which would give me a platform to apply more pressure to, and that location would free the key strap. Unfortunately that ring was blocked by the body of the dog belonging to the hysterical woman. I was calming the other dog, whose owner was tending to her crying baby, while also trying to keep my dog from freaking out. While I was trying to deal with the harness and the dogs the hysterical lady's cries and screams were scaring her dog causing it to yelp and occasionally try to bite. I couldn't explain to the hysterical lady how I needed her to shift her dog's rear end to let me get at the ring. The young lady returned at this point and said she didn't have her knife.

The young lady was very calm and understood what I needed. She took over the care of the hysterical lady's dog and shifted the dog's butt backward which exposed the ring and actually reduced some of the torquing stress on the dogs' legs which made things much less stressful. Now I was able to apply more pressure and use a sawing motion to work through the webbing. It really was like using a butterknife, and it took a while, but it worked. The cut strap released the pressure and we were able to separate the dogs. As it turned out neither dog was significantly injured. Scrapes and bruises (and I'm sure some stressed connective tissues), but both dogs walked away without much limping after the first few minutes.

I was happy to have been able to help. I was thankful I had a knife. Out of the 15 or so people at the park that day I had been the only one with a knife. But I was very upset with the performance of my knife. If it hadn't been for the calm competence of the young lady from the doggy daycare things could have turned out much worse. But on the other hand if my knife had been sharp things would have been handled by the time she made it over the first time.

I decided it was time to invest in a better knife.

I am fortunate enough to know a rather distinguished custom knife maker and designer by the name of Bill Harsey. If you are not a knife junkie or a special forces fanatic you might not know who Bill Harsey is, but he specializes in tactical knives. He makes some pretty distinguished knives like the Yarborough for the Green Berets, as well as some other nifty knives that go to other special forces units. He also collaborates with production knife companies and worked for Gerber for quite some time. Here is a wikipedia link about him if you are curious.

So I asked Bill what knives he would recommend for my needs. I particularly asked him about knives that he had designed since I would like to own a Harsey knife just 'cause, and because he puts a lot of thought into every aspect of his designs (and at my current income level a collaborative production Harsey is as close as I am going to come to a Harsey knife). Unfortunately Bill has not been making or designing much in the way of folding pocket knives lately, so he suggested either the Gerber Applegate Fairbairn Combat Folder (AF) or looking on the after market for the discontinued Lone Wolf Harsey T2.  

I immediately fell in love with the T2. If you click on the link you might think that ~$150 is a lot to spend on a pocket knife, but for that knife that would be a heckuva deal. But as I looked around I realized that the knife that I really wanted was the T2's little sibling the Lone Wolf Harsey T1 in particular the rosewood handle version I linked to.
It makes me sad not to own this knife
Let me explain the features that I love about the T1, because it will help you understand the rest of the article.  

First off, the steel: The steel quality is tied for first most important feature for me. The blade steel on the T1 is CPM-S30V steel. It is not the absolute most fabulous knife blade stainless steel ever in the history of space-age-advanced-steel-making-technique super steels, but it's not that far off. And really any time you can get that kind of steel for under $100-150 you are getting a good deal (in my un-expert opinion).

Locking Mechanism: The T1 has a liner lock. My Bozeman beater was actually my first introduction to liner locks, and my love for the lock is a big part of why that knife became my everyday carry for years. I have had the more traditional lockback knives fail on me in the past. I've never had a liner-lock or frame-lock fail on me (though that is probably in part because I don't trust the locks as much as I did before I had one close on my finger).

Handle Geometry: I like the slight asymmetry of the T1. It is designed to fit the hand in a blade forward orientation. That means that you know where the sharp side is even if you can't see it. This is in comparison to the Gerber AF which is based off of a fighting dagger design where the handle is symmetrical and designed to facilitate orientation for the pointy end. For my purposes I am more interested in the sharp side than the pointy end.

Jimping: Jimping is the grooves cut into the surfaces where you might need extra grip. On the T1 that jimping is present on the ramp on the back of the blade heading up to the thumb-stud, and there is additional jimping on the handle near the blade and on the base of the handle where your little fingers would curl around the handle. The jimping is fairly dramatic and spaced out so that one would get the benefit of extra grip without it feeling like a saw. The jimping basically just provides some extra grippiness.

Blade Pivot: This is the hinge that the blade swings out on. I like the beefy size of the pivot, and I also like that the pivot washers are bronze. Bronze is corrosion resistant and durable but soft enough to help the smoothness of the opening action.

Blade Shape: The blade on the T1 is a spear-point, but only kinda. It's kinda a drop point. But the false edge on the top gives the point better penetration, like a spear point, while the drop point style geometry gives you a bigger belly on the blade to work with. This is useful for typical slicing purposes (boxes, tape, clamshell packaging, etc.), or skinning. At the same time the blade is not fat. It has a nice visually pleasing slimness to the blade.

Weight and size: Now we get to the third most important feature for me (remember, two features are tied for first). The blade length is 3.2 inches, and the closed length of the knife is 4 inches. This is a perfect size (in my opinion) for both the blade and the folded knife for sitting in my pocket. I don't use my knives for fighting. I use my folding as tools for a wide variety of purposes that really don't ever require much over three inches of length. Adding an extra couple inches can be important if you need to stab somebody, but I don't need those extra inches. Extra blade length can also scare people. Most people don't carry knives these days around where I live, so people sometimes act like you whipped out a machine gun when you pull out a 4+ inch knife. Other people's irrational fears should not be a primary motivator in your choice of knife, but you might want to bear them in mind. And weight. The whole knife weighs just 2.9 oz. which is great for carrying in your pocket without constantly feeling it tugging your pants down.

Pocket Clip Orientation: This is tied for number one most important feature for me. I really, really, REALLY, prefer a tip down carry orientation. I carry my knives in my right back pocket. My front pocket holds my wallet and keys. I don't have room for a knife there. When carrying tip down in my back pocket the side that the blade opens on is up against the seam of the pocket so even if it were to somehow open in the back pocket I would not cut my hand when I went to grab the knife. With a tip up carry configuration the knife could open out into my back pocket which would potentially make reaching into my pocket a risky endeavor. Tip up carry is ideal for front pocket carry for the same reason. With the tip of the blade up in the front pocket it can only stab your pocket, if the tip is down in the front pocket you could cut yourself. But I carry my knives in the back pocket, so tip down is important to me.

US Made: Not just US made, the T1 was Northwest made. It was Oregon made. I like to buy local as much as possible. This isn't the biggest consideration I would have toward a knife, but it is a selling point for me.

Unfortunately, Lone Wolf is not the same company it was. They were bought out by Benchmade in 2011, and the knives I wanted are not made anymore. I don't know all the details at all, but from what I have gathered online Lone Wolf had a significant misstep with a new product rollout that put them in a tough position financially. So Benchmade bought the company and moved Lone Wolf down-market so they wouldn't be in direct competition with a company they now owned. Benchmade originally planned to bring the Harsey designs over to their brand, but something happened and that relationship was severed and the Harsey designs made for Lone Wolf are no more.
So this is what I bought
In May and June I felt a strong need for a good knife "now" and T1's were not to be had for love nor money. So I picked up the Gerber Applegate Fairbairn Covert. I decided to get the "Covert" rather than the "Combat" for the previously discussed reason of "I don't need that much knife," and because the Combat wouldn't fit in most of my back pockets.

The Covert has been very good to me. It is heavier than the T1, but it feels light in the pocket. The steel, while not S30V, is good and holds an edge well, even through tough use. The knife feels solid in the hand. The thought put into the design is something you can feel as you use the knife. It's the knife I carry when I want to be prepared for anything, and definitely anytime I go to the dog park.  
I do strongly recommend the Applegate Fairbairn. It is even made here in Oregon. And if you want even more of an Oregon connection, Col. Applegate was an Oregon boy. He was a part of the Applegate family that was so important to Oregon history. The Applegate Trail is named after his family. 

As it so happens there is a special version of the Applegate Fairbairn Combat Folder for sale right now. Amazon has it in the $130 range at the moment, which is a very good price. The blade is S30V, and the scales are micarta. It is a pretty sweet version of a pretty sweet knife for a pretty sweet price. It is limited to a production run of 1500. If I didn't think my wife would use the thing on me for buying a knife I really don't need and wouldn't use much while we are not flush with cash, I would buy it. It's just not a knife I am going to use right now, and I can't justify spending the money on something that would end up being a collection knife.


Oooh, pretty.  Mustn't buy the pretty thing Jon.  Mustn't dasn't shan't...
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But the story doesn't really end with the Covert. I did a lot of reading, studying, and obsessing before I decided on the Covert. My ogling of so many knives left me with a fixation on the T1, and curious about many other things I ended up learning about, like frame locks. But this fixation was just kind of bubbling along for the most part.  

I did pick up a Kershaw Scrambler that was for sale for a very good price (immediately afterward the price came down on other sites as well, so now it's easy to get for a good price). I was very curious about the frame lock design, and Kershaw is a good brand. I really like this knife. It's very good for cutting boxes and such. It has a hollow grind on the blade which facilitates slicing, but also makes the edge more fragile. The Scrambler is Chinese made (which explains the price) but is made out of a Chinese steel (8Cr13MoV) which is supposed to be comparable to 440C, but which in tests apparently performs more like AUS-8 or 440B. The steel seems just fine, especially for an under $30 knife. My main complaints about the knife are that it is heavy in the pocket at 5.2 oz and it is set up for tip up carry only. But the Scrambler convinced me that frame locks were actually pretty nice. For aesthetic reasons I think I might still prefer a good liner lock, but the lockup on the Scrambler feels rock solid.
I think it's purty

I was (and am) still enamored with the T1. And now that I had the knife that I needed, but not my white whale of a T1 I kind of went a little crazy trying to get my hands on one. But that part of the story will have to wait for tomorrow. Because it's late, and I'm tired, and I have to take care of my daughter in the morning.


Stay tuned for the Next Exciting Installment in Jon talking about knives ;)