Some thoughts on building folders and/or flippers

EdCaffreyMS

"The Montana Bladesmith"
Recently I've had several emails and calls from folks who are building their first folders and/or "flippers"...asking many questions, and in some cases I had a lot of difficulty getting them to understand the level of precison needed to "do it right". This got me to thinking, and I thought I would share some of my experiences and views....

-First and foremost, If you're used to building "straight" knives, folders require you to rethink your mindset about accuracy. By that I mean when we build straight knives, we generally are dealing with fractions of an inch.....when building folders, we are dealing with THOUSANDTHS of an inch (or less). It takes a bit of time and experince to change the way your brain thinks versus building straight knives.....but when it happens, you will find that the level of precison in your straight knives will increase too!

-True and Flat: Folders present a unique set of circumstances in that they again will require you to re-evaluate your interpretation of "True" and "Flat". In my experience, being out of "true" or "flat" by as little as a 1/2 thousandth means the difference between a folder that operates smoothly, and one that doesn't. I use the term "true" to also describe holes and counterbores. Holes MUST be at dead on 90 degrees. Any counterbores MUST be the same way....including the bottom of any counterbore, especially if you are using bearings in the pivot.

What does all that mean? From my perspective, it means that you can't be afraid to spend the money on "good" tooling if you want to make a good folder. Drill bits, reamers, counterbores, and end mills all need to be top quality.....I used to always buy the "import" cobalt drill bits, simply because they were more economical.....what I found is that many of them do not drill a perfectly round hole! It took me a long time to realize what was going on......even drilling with an import bit, then reaming with an import reamer was not producing "round" holes.....when I finally decided to buy only "Made in USA" bits and reamers, that problem, and others associated with it, disappeared!

Now, let's talk about hardware for folders....pivots, screws, standoffs, and any other thing you use to hold it all together.

For years I would serach out an buy what I thought was the best quality to price ratio of hardware for folders. What I did not realize at the time, was how badly I was handicapping myself. Why? Most of the folder hardware that's available from the knife supply outfits is made in China, or somewhere else overseas.....and generally has a +/- tolerance. Not thinking that it makes much difference, I used that stuff for years. Then, a couple of years ago my friend Steve Kelly, started producing folder hardware, mostly of titanium. Of course, I balked at the prices, because I was used to getting what I need for less. I finally broke down, and purchase some hardware from Steve (who strives for zero +/- tolerances) and for a lack of a better way to say it, my folders just started "falling" together! Before using Steve's hardware, I would have to "fiddle" with ever single folder to make it work "right"...always having to change a screw here, or buff down a pivot there....but suffice to say I had to work a lot harder then necessary to make a folder work the way it should. It's not that Steve is a friend....it's that he provides the BEST folder hardware available. Using his hardware has been the single biggest improvement in my folder making...period.

The thing I'm trying to ge across here is to help everyone understand that EVERYTHING used in the production of a folder must be the very best you can get (that means tightest tolerances)....from the base materials, to the tooling you use, to the hardware used to assemble.

Now let's talk about "folders" versus "flippers"...... more precisely, the pivot systems for each. A folder pivot system is one that can be made using wahsers....these washers can be made of various materials, each with their advantages and drawbacks. I could write a book on just washers for folder applications, but suffice here to say that my preference for washer material is bronze. It requires that you're tolerances be tighter then with other washer materials, but it does not "squash", "wallow out", nor "give"....at least not nearly to the degree or in the time frame that the "plastic" washer materials will.

If you're thinking of buidling "flippers", I strongly suggest dumping washers, and using some type of bearing system for pivots. Washer simply produce too much drag for a flipper to ever achieve a "smooth" action. Personally, I use "caged" bearings.....these are a "plastic" carrier, with 1/16" bearings. The can be had is various sizes. I have also tried using "loose" bearings, generally referred to as IKBS.....but out of the 1000 1/16" bearings I purchased, about 900 of them ended up rolling around on the shop floor! :)

I think folders are a natural evolution of a Knifemaker.....after making many straight knives, the "challenge" isn't there anymore....what I found with folders is a new challenge with each one I make. It can be disheartening at first....when you receive your fist "tooling" order, and it comes in a 3x5 padded envelope, that costs a weeks pay, but it's what's kept knifemaking fresh and new for me. Of course there are new learning experiences, and challenges, but isn't that why we do what we do? :)

One final thought.....I've been making knives for many years, and can remember thinking and saying "Tactical knives are a passing fad"...but what I did not realize at the time is that it's not a fad, it's an evolution of knife buyers. Buyers these days do not want a knife that goes in a disply case that can be viewed when company comes.....they want something they can stick in their pocket, go to the local coffee shop or internet cafe, and show off to their buddies. The moral here is......If you're a knifemaker, and you are not producing folders or flippers, you're effectivley cutting yourself out of a major market segment.
 

Steven Kelly

Forum Owner & Moderator
Great thread Ed...

Tracy has started selling some of my titanium hardware. So, please go check it out at the Midwest site!!!!!
 

Bruce Bump

Forum Owner-Moderator
Steve, I enjoyed our brief mini lesson on folders at Jims place. Your folders are so precise and pretty too. Thanks for sharing the entire process there with the crowd. I wish I could have seen the entire process.

Guys, I can also attest the quality of Steves pivots are second to none. They may cost a bit more but these will put your folders out front. I'm pumped up to build a liner lock or frame lock again now.
 

PierreR

Well-Known Member
Well said Ed. I was in the "find a cheaper product" group as well. After meeting Steve this weekend, seeing his work, as well as seeing you, Bruce, Kevin, and Dana working, it put a spark back where it needed to be.

You get what you pay for... Dads words of wisdom :)

Gonna be looking up Steve's hardware.
 

Aikenn

Well-Known Member
Recently I've had several emails and calls from folks who are building their first folders and/or "flippers"...asking many questions, and in some cases I had a lot of difficulty getting them to understand the level of precison needed to "do it right". This got me to thinking, and I thought I would share some of my experiences and views....

-First and foremost, If you're used to building "straight" knives, folders require you to rethink your mindset about accuracy. By that I mean when we build straight knives, we generally are dealing with fractions of an inch.....when building folders, we are dealing with THOUSANDTHS of an inch (or less). It takes a bit of time and experince to change the way your brain thinks versus building straight knives.....but when it happens, you will find that the level of precison in your straight knives will increase too!

-True and Flat: Folders present a unique set of circumstances in that they again will require you to re-evaluate your interpretation of "True" and "Flat". In my experience, being out of "true" or "flat" by as little as a 1/2 thousandth means the difference between a folder that operates smoothly, and one that doesn't. I use the term "true" to also describe holes and counterbores. Holes MUST be at dead on 90 degrees. Any counterbores MUST be the same way....including the bottom of any counterbore, especially if you are using bearings in the pivot.

What does all that mean? From my perspective, it means that you can't be afraid to spend the money on "good" tooling if you want to make a good folder. Drill bits, reamers, counterbores, and end mills all need to be top quality.....I used to always buy the "import" cobalt drill bits, simply because they were more economical.....what I found is that many of them do not drill a perfectly round hole! It took me a long time to realize what was going on......even drilling with an import bit, then reaming with an import reamer was not producing "round" holes.....when I finally decided to buy only "Made in USA" bits and reamers, that problem, and others associated with it, disappeared!

Now, let's talk about hardware for folders....pivots, screws, standoffs, and any other thing you use to hold it all together.

For years I would serach out an buy what I thought was the best quality to price ratio of hardware for folders. What I did not realize at the time, was how badly I was handicapping myself. Why? Most of the folder hardware that's available from the knife supply outfits is made in China, or somewhere else overseas.....and generally has a +/- tolerance. Not thinking that it makes much difference, I used that stuff for years. Then, a couple of years ago my friend Steve Kelly, started producing folder hardware, mostly of titanium. Of course, I balked at the prices, because I was used to getting what I need for less. I finally broke down, and purchase some hardware from Steve (who strives for zero +/- tolerances) and for a lack of a better way to say it, my folders just started "falling" together! Before using Steve's hardware, I would have to "fiddle" with ever single folder to make it work "right"...always having to change a screw here, or buff down a pivot there....but suffice to say I had to work a lot harder then necessary to make a folder work the way it should. It's not that Steve is a friend....it's that he provides the BEST folder hardware available. Using his hardware has been the single biggest improvement in my folder making...period.

The thing I'm trying to ge across here is to help everyone understand that EVERYTHING used in the production of a folder must be the very best you can get (that means tightest tolerances)....from the base materials, to the tooling you use, to the hardware used to assemble.

Now let's talk about "folders" versus "flippers"...... more precisely, the pivot systems for each. A folder pivot system is one that can be made using wahsers....these washers can be made of various materials, each with their advantages and drawbacks. I could write a book on just washers for folder applications, but suffice here to say that my preference for washer material is bronze. It requires that you're tolerances be tighter then with other washer materials, but it does not "squash", "wallow out", nor "give"....at least not nearly to the degree or in the time frame that the "plastic" washer materials will.

If you're thinking of buidling "flippers", I strongly suggest dumping washers, and using some type of bearing system for pivots. Washer simply produce too much drag for a flipper to ever achieve a "smooth" action. Personally, I use "caged" bearings.....these are a "plastic" carrier, with 1/16" bearings. The can be had is various sizes. I have also tried using "loose" bearings, generally referred to as IKBS.....but out of the 1000 1/16" bearings I purchased, about 900 of them ended up rolling around on the shop floor! :)

I think folders are a natural evolution of a Knifemaker.....after making many straight knives, the "challenge" isn't there anymore....what I found with folders is a new challenge with each one I make. It can be disheartening at first....when you receive your fist "tooling" order, and it comes in a 3x5 padded envelope, that costs a weeks pay, but it's what's kept knifemaking fresh and new for me. Of course there are new learning experiences, and challenges, but isn't that why we do what we do? :)

One final thought.....I've been making knives for many years, and can remember thinking and saying "Tactical knives are a passing fad"...but what I did not realize at the time is that it's not a fad, it's an evolution of knife buyers. Buyers these days do not want a knife that goes in a disply case that can be viewed when company comes.....they want something they can stick in their pocket, go to the local coffee shop or internet cafe, and show off to their buddies. The moral here is......If you're a knifemaker, and you are not producing folders or flippers, you're effectivley cutting yourself out of a major market segment.
Ed I under stand completely. I made straight blades for 30 years in sc. now the evolution to folders has taken me over a year but a good year at that. I also understand about flat is flat straight is straight and round is round. I have over 40 years in machine shop. And you are so very correct about tolerances. That is why I have quite the collection of useless parts. Wish I could melt them all down. And no I don't have a forge or crucible. And Steve Kelly is out of 3/16 ss pivots 3/8 long.
 
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