Thursday, October 16, 2014

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.

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...
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 ;)


  1. Is this a hint for a birthday present?

  2. Not unless you've got several hundred dollars just burning a hole in your pocket Ma. The only T1 I can see for sale online right now is on ebay, for the carbon fiber handled version and the asking price is $500. That is more than a little spendy. And even then I would feel bad unless you had recently won the lottery or something. I have had to accept that getting exactly the knife I want will pretty much require an act of god. That said, if you magically come across a Lone Wolf Harsey T1,2, or 3 out in your garage sales I would pay you back for it. But I wouldn't hold my breath.

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