Talkin' Knife Philosophy....

Dana Acker

Well-Known Member
What elements do you think go into making a good knife?

Now wait and think a moment before you answer. Obvious things, like appropriate steel selection, adequate craftsmanship, proper heat treatment--hard edge, springy back, aesthetics, balance, etc. are all givens, and do not count for this discussion since they are so obvious. For without all of the above what do you really have?

No, I'd like to know what features you think should be built in to a knife, or more particularly a type of knife that makes it that good type of knife--or a functional knife, or whatever, and most importantly, why? What features do you build into a working knife to make it a good working knife in your opinion? Or a combat knife? A tactical knife? A hunting knife? Art knife?

Here's an example from my own knife philosophy. I've made a lot of working knives of all sizes and descriptions. Two things I feel that are needed on a knife a person might be using every day, are some form of guard (whether it be an added guard of brass, copper, SS steel, wrought iron etc., or an integral finger stop, either forged or cut into the blade) to keep the hand from sliding forward on the blade. Also I like a longer ricasso area, and either cut jimping or file work on the spine of the blade as a thumb grip, for working forward of the guard area--ie., for choking up on the knife for better control when doing precise work. Slicing four of your fingers to the bone while in the field can ruin your day...especially if you're not adept at suturing.

So design and function have evolved into important parts of my knifemaking. Certain ideas that I incorporated into many of my blades are to me, of such importance, that I've either not finished older blades that I had started, or, refused to sell or give away blades that didn't have those features if said features couldn't be retrofitted into the knife.

I once got to work with a Captain in the Green Berets, who was interested in designing into a knife those features he thought to be the most essential set of characteristics needed for a good field/combat knife. He was a person for whom a knife was not a luxury. It was a constant companion/tool/weapon. We talked for better than a month before we decided on a prototype. I built the prototype which he used and evaluated, then sent the knife to his knife fighting instructor who had trained troops in knife use in Viet Nam. He offered some changes, which I incorporated into the 2nd and 3rd ones I produced for him (more on this later). But that exercise really made me think about what features are necessary to make knives be the best they can be. Until that time, I just sort of fired up the forge and made whatever....not really thinking about whether or not the knife was all that it could be.

Captain Knight felt that the perfect combat/field knife should contain the following:

1) Double/cross guard
2) Finger groove forward of the guard (for choking-up)
3) Roughed area exposed at the pommel for striking matches.
4) Two finger grooves on the handle itself (behind the guard) in case if in a fight he lost his index finger, it left him an extra groove to keep hold of the knife. (Who thinks of stuff like that?)
5) Partially serrated bottom edge, and a long, sharpened false edge.
6) Micarta or other comparable synthetic handle material for wet conditions.

These are the things that readily come to mind from the talks we had. As of our last conversation (which was several several years back), he told me he was being transferred to an unnamed government agency. It pays to know and keep happy people who can call in an air strike. Just sayin'....

Another fellow who was an elk hunter, and hunted frequently in Wyoming, ordered a knife with a bent blade...I kid you not. When he placed his order I thought he was fooling with me. But he insisted. When questioned as to why he wanted me to put a bend in a perfectly good knife, he told me it would make it easier to field dress a full grown elk. So I forged him a knife, and, if you were holding the knife in your hand and were looking down on the spine of the knife (which had a 6" long by 2" wide by 1/4" thick blade with a gut hook) right where the blade started to slant toward the gut hook, I put a significant bend or sideways curve to the right. He said when the elk was hanging up, he would pierce the carcass just below the neck, and as he cut to the right going completely around the underbelly of the animal back up to where he pierced it, a curved (bent) knife would cut better than a straight blade. Anyway I made it for him and delivered it with gritted teeth, because my name was on a bent knife. Grrrrrrrr. Also I charged him over twice what I would have charged for the same knife with a straight blade.

Long story short, he called me up after returning from the hunt, and told me it was the best knife he ever used to field dress an elk. I've never field dressed an elk, so I had to take his word for it. But he was so enamored with that knife, he had me make two more exactly like it for some of his hunting buddies. I wish I could post a photo of it, but this was back before digital photography days, and all I have left are old real film photos, that wouldn't scan well....

...which leads me to another philosophical point I've adopted. Both Capt. Knight's knife and the prototype bent knife each pleased their owners so much that they ordered two exact duplicates, which were to be identical to their prototypes. The money was good, but I learned quickly that it is extremely difficult to make three knives exactly alike in every detail with a hammer. I learned my lesson, and I make no duplicates any more. Similar, yes, to a degree, but an exact copy? Not this old boy.

OK enough about me; remember, this is supposed to be a "make you think" exercise, and not intended to be a debate. There's really no right or wrong answer (except for bent blades perhapso_O)--it's strictly personal, and a matter of the maker's taste. But hopefully there will be some ideas posted that will make us all think and perhaps be able to incorporate better ideas into our knifemaking, which could make us better at what we do, and help us to make a better product. That's what this is all about. Sharp and pointy are good, but there's more.

So what's your philosophy? Make sure you list along with your ideas, what type of knife to which they apply.
 

tkroenlein

Well-Known Member
Interesting topic. I think answering those questions is necessary for making a knife that works well for an intended task. The answer that each maker comes up with, or since we are speaking philosophically, how each maker goes about asking the questions that need answered, is what ultimately defines their style.
 

Dana Acker

Well-Known Member
A while back I got a Medford Knife and Tool model TFF2 folder, which is now (I think) discontinued. There was a time when I used to fly to Mexico in a four seater Cessna that a pilot buddy of mine had. The TFF2 was designed to be a folding machete. It has a long G10 and titanium handle with jimping at the end for holding at the rear of the handle to facilitate ease of chopping. The blade has a hollow grind along the bottom cutting edge, and a convex grind at the sort of modified tanto point. Greg Medford designed it to be able to get out of a downed aircraft if necessary (and providing the one carrying the TFF2 was still alive, conscious, and able to move.)

There's a lot of philosophy manifested in D2, titanium, and G10. Two different grinds is a neat thing to me. He's a philosophical knifemaker. He employs the same two grinds on his Praetorian TI folder. I'd love to get one ($1200.00-$1300.00 for the big one) but if I did, I might also have to get a good divorce attorney, and a cardboard refrigerator box in which to live as well.;)
 

billyO

Well-Known Member
I'll take a slightly different view. I do, pretty much exclusively, pattern welded blades and one of the most important aspects of knife design for me is to make sure the pattern flows with the forging. One of the biggest visual turn-off on any knife for me is when its obvious that a pattern welded blade was shaped by stock removal. Here's an example of a pattern I've been working on that may do a better job explaining what I'm talking about:20200813.jpg
 

Dana Acker

Well-Known Member
Yeah, I get you Billy, and if there is any doubt that a pattern welded blade forged to completion (except for polishing and sharpening, which may be the same thing) doesn't make a quite serviceable blade, one should check out the Samurai swords of the Koto, Shinto, and the first part of the Gendai periods. It is said by those who know, that the Samurai blades were never sharpened; they were polished with almost glass-like stones to razor sharpness, so there was little to no stock removal used in the production of said blades. Those swords were the M-16's of their day.

Nice work indeed in the photo. What steels did you use? Also have you ever used wrought iron in your mix? Older smiths have told me they used it. I never have, so I'd like your opinion.

Also I used to have a bright blue eyed half husky half wolf, so I love the dog! Funny story, my husky broke two different chains and escaped his 50' X 100' pen. We had to use a chain because he would dig a trench under the fence big enough to drive a VW Beetle through. He was an incurable roamer. I asked our vet once if having him fixed would stop his roaming. He said, "Nope, the problem isn't between his legs; it's between his ears."
 

billyO

Well-Known Member
What steels did you use?
These (and what I use almost all of the time anymore) are 1080 and 15N20.
Also have you ever used wrought iron in your mix?
Nope, not yet, sorry I don't have any opinions.

"Nope, the problem isn't between his legs; it's between his ears."
Depending on your point of view, what you're talking about isn't necessarily a problem;). But, yes, huskies are known to be escape artists and have a lot of energy they need to burn. I've been lucky(?) enough to be able to spend a lot of time with my pups (no wife, no kids, a job that allowed me to take them to work with me every day), and I've had almost no problems with the typical digging, escaping, running away activities that huskies are known for. I would take them hiking/fishing/snowshoeing/mushrooming etc a few times a week in addition to running with them 3-4 times a week and not need to have them on leashes. Bear (the goregous guy in my avatar) rarely, if ever, saw a leash for the first 14 years of his life, this only started last Novemember after moving into the city, where a leash is law.
Some of my favorite memories are spending Sundays walking the hills near house when I lived in Washington, picking chanterelles and just letting Bear, Neeko, Kanika and Sitka run free and play. All it would take is a whistle from me, and they'd be by my side in a minute or so to go to the next patch. They were/are great, smart, independent, and loyal dogs.
 

Dana Acker

Well-Known Member
My only problem with Jack escaping and running, was he'd eventually come home with a dead chicken in his mouth. Back east, here in the rural south, most farmers have shotguns, and can't take a joke when it comes their chickens being eaten by dogs that could pass for wolves. By the way, I didn't fix him. He seemed more interested in chickens than female dogs. My son who was about 7 used to wrestle with Jack, and from the sounds, I expected to see blood and body parts all over the place. However, as hard as they would go at it, Jack never so much as put a mark on my son. Never once even scratched him. He died of a stroke at 15. I miss him every day.
 

billyO

Well-Known Member
I could swap husky stories for hours:).... but this isn't the forum for that:(. Bear is 15+ (adopted him 13 years ago) and has been gradually slowing down/getting weaker for the past year or so. I'll probably be a little sad when he finally goes, he's been a good one.
 

Dana Acker

Well-Known Member
As I said on another forum on this topic, philosophy, like the universe is reputed to do, and science itself ever expands and changes, therefore it can never be static. When it came to "sacred cows," the NTM's were good at slaughtering and barbecuing them.

That doesn't mean old ideas necessarily have to be replaced by new ones. I heard someone (John B.Wells, I think) say, "If you want to learn something new, read a really old book."
 

Todd Robbins

Well-Known Member
The most cutting I do with an edc is skinning and quartering wild hogs and deer, so most of my preferences come from quite a bit of experience doing primarily that. Other minor tasks can be accomplished with ease without some of the things that I find important overall.

I also prefer a guard. I like single guards that are added or forged in wider than the blade stock like Joe Keesler’s brut de forge style, for the same reason as mentioned above. I’m not a fan of ground in guards that remain the same thickness as the blade stock, because they aren’t comfortable against my index finger when used for very long at one time. I don’t like double guards at all on a hunting/edc type knife, as they tend to get in my way and just aren’t comfortable when I choke up on the blade, but I wouldn’t make a fighter without one.

I like a long ricasso as well, for the same reason as the OP.

I do not like jimping or file work. They tend to cause a hot spot for me when I use my thumb on them for any length of time. I prefer a fully rounded spine for the comfort factor in extended use. I also round the corners of my ricassos for the same reason.

I have no use whatsoever for choils. They tend to hang up on everything I cut with the rear of the blade, and they don’t provide any functionality for me. Same goes for dropped edges, with the possible exception being a fighter with the lower guard protruding forward past the ricasso, like Bill Bagwell’s Bowie guards.

I prefer a slightly dropped point profile. Upswept and straight backed blades are harder for me to make underhanded cuts accurately, as the tip wants to dig in. With a dropped point, I find it easy to open up a deer down the middle and up each leg by using an underhanded grip and using the tip to split the hide while the dropped part of the spine rides along the meat in the cut.

I like palm swells in the handle, both on the sides and up and down, but not excessive. Handles that are thinnest right behind the guard, thickest through the palm area, and somewhat thinner behind the palm feel the most comfortable to me with a variety of grips. Finger grooves and deep finger wells seem to limit me to specific grips, and are t as versatile in my use.

I prefer micarta or wood handles, with no checkering or carving, as that tends to cause hot spots with extended use. I feel the geometry of the handle and the finish of the handle material should be sufficient to promote grip retention without checkering, although it can be stunning to look at.

I don’t like thicker blades. .125 stock is what I prefer for my edc knives. It is thin enough with a full flat grind to cut really well, but it’s thick enough to still be tough and durable. 3/32” or even 1/16” stock would probably perform just fine for most of the things I do, but I prefer to carry something slightly more robust as an edc.
 

J. Doyle

Dealer - Purveyor
Im a little late seeing this but there are a lot of things in the original post I could address and a few I would question.

I'm happy to elaborate but I don't have time to type up a long post ATM, especially if there isnt any interest in hearing it.
 

tkroenlein

Well-Known Member
Im a little late seeing this but there are a lot of things in the original post I could address and a few I would question.

I'm happy to elaborate but I don't have time to type up a long post ATM, especially if there isnt any interest in hearing it.
I'm interested.
 

J. Doyle

Dealer - Purveyor
What elements do you think go into making a good knife?

Now wait and think a moment before you answer. Obvious things, like appropriate steel selection, adequate craftsmanship, proper heat treatment--hard edge, springy back, aesthetics, balance, etc. are all givens, and do not count for this discussion since they are so obvious. For without all of the above what do you really have?
You pretty much excluded EVERYTHING (and really the only things) that make a good knife. The rest is just fluff.

I mean, honestly with those exclusions, there really isn't anything left to talk about.


...proper heat treatment--hard edge, springy back,
This part specifically is debatable. Some would argue that "proper" heat treatment is fully hardened and tempered martensite....for many blades, especially smaller ones, I would probably be in that camp.

Additionally, it would probably be helpful if we specified terms and methods. What does "springy back mean?....and what were the methods used to achieve that?

I say this only as an explanation that proper heat treatment doesn't automatically equal springy back.

No, I'd like to know what features you think should be built in to a knife, or more particularly a type of knife that makes it that good type of knife--or a functional knife, or whatever, and most importantly, why?
This is going to differ entirely based on the knife, its intended use and to some degree, the maker and end user. It would probably be more helpful to have specific discussions about specific knives.


Two things I feel that are needed on a knife a person might be using every day, are some form of guard (whether it be an added guard of brass, copper, SS steel, wrought iron etc., or an integral finger stop, either forged or cut into the blade) to keep the hand from sliding forward on the blade.
With all due respect, I've heard this reasoning before and I have to say, I don't get it. I always have to wonder.....what violent, stabbing task are people doing with their knives that is causing all this "hand slipping up onto the blade" stuff? Doesnt seem at all like "normal everyday" cutting chores to me.

Don't get me wrong, I don't have issues with all guards. I like them a lot of times, mostly for aesthetic reasons. I will concede that there are probably instances where a guard may be necessary but they are few and far between.

For a daily carry work knife, I can't get on board with a guard being a necessity. I have cut myself plenty of times, several times badly.....but never once was because a knife didn't have a guard.

Good ergonomics and handle design (and possibly other features, as well as sound knife-use practices) probably play a far more important role in user safety than a guard.



Another fellow who was an elk hunter, and hunted frequently in Wyoming, ordered a knife with a bent blade...I kid you not. When he placed his order I thought he was fooling with me. But he insisted. When questioned as to why he wanted me to put a bend in a perfectly good knife, he told me it would make it easier to field dress a full grown elk. .....a curved (bent) knife would cut better than a straight blade.

....Long story short, he called me up after returning from the hunt, and told me it was the best knife he ever used to field dress an elk.
No offense, but I'm calling B.S.....not on your story but on that hunter's experience. I HAVE field dressed several elk, and dozens and dozens of other animals. I can't hardly think of something more of a pain in the ass field dressing an animal than a bent blade, save a bent AND DULL blade.

I get that there are specialty blades for very specific purposes but I file this one under "tough pills to swallow".

If I was asked to make a bent blade I would tell the guy to find a different msker......but to each their own.



A final thought: we shouldn't forget that the human hand is an amazing tool and wonderfully adaptable. Sometimes less really is more. Trying to incorporate too many "ultimate features" might actually hinder and restrict the hand, rendering the knife only great at one task and awkward and uncomfortable at best for a variety of others.

Make the handle comfortable, ergonomic and in proper relation/proportion to the tip and cutting edge and you'll probably have a pretty good knife.
 

Smallshop

KNIFE MAKER
A final thought: we shouldn't forget that the human hand is an amazing tool and wonderfully adaptable. Sometimes less really is more. Trying to incorporate too many "ultimate features" might actually hinder and restrict the hand, rendering the knife only great at one task and awkward and uncomfortable at best for a variety of others.
Excellent!...and the exact reason I do not like 4 finger notches on a handle.
 
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