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I may go to the Dark Side: What is Tactical?


Kevin Colwell

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Dealing with the tactical community for over 20 years in law enforcement and as a firearms instructor you have two types of people to market to. One are the people who take a knife out to open a box and look to see who is checking out their knife and those who just get the job done. At the private gun range I belong to were most of the members don't get paid to go into harms way, it is pretty much the same thing. The first is the larger market, unfortunately, and they are also the ones who are appalled when you even suggest using a knife as a last resort tool to defend their life, or scratch said knife breaking a window of a rolled over car to render aid. The second group will pay big money as long as their is a reason. Good quality, and functional. Wide, thick blade with a good tip and sharp. Something you can use to cut up wood and then cut a sandwich to share with a friend, puncture a trunk lid and then pull out stitches from a patch. All that being said most of us are guys and we still love the wow factor.

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I sorry, I don't understand "But, I also have my pride" I loving forging, but I don't think any less of myself for making a hook instead of a elaborate gate. Or am I missing the point?

This may or may not provide some insight as a kind of allegory or at least a similar circumstance.

 

A long time ago I was a young music student absolutely convinced that I was going to be a rock star. My song-writing partner and I were having what was a common discussion at the time about "selling out", which was what some wannabe rock stars called real rock stars who allowed their songs to be used to support advertising. This may not seem like such a big deal today, but in the mid 1980's, this was a serious controversy.

 

Anyway, my buddy Neal was adamant that we would never allow our songs to be used by businesses in their advertising. I was adamant that if anyone wanted to pay the right price, the song was for sale. That's what musicians do, they sell their music. Their music is their art. Their art is a product and a service all wrapped up in a neat 3-minute package.

 

A lot of artists have this "prostitution complex" that keeps them from making any real money from their art. It seems like some folks think that putting a monetary value on something so personal, is like selling their body. Or making art that feeds the pop-art culture is somehow denigrating themselves and the art down to the lowest level possible.

 

So, all who are reading this, does this sound like you?

If it does, then wake the %I*^$%$ up dude.

Making money off your art is nothing to be ashamed of, it's something to be admired.

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“So I'm lightin' out for the territory, ahead of the scared and the weak and the mean spirited, because Aunt Sally is fixin’ to adopt me and civilize me, and I can't stand it. I've been there before.”

The only bad experience is the one from which you learn nothing.  

 

Josh

http://www.dosgatosdesignsllc.com/#!

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCdJMFMqnbLYqv965xd64vYg

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Jim,

 

Thanks for the response. The second group you describe, I am quite interested in. I have worked with corrections, law enforcement, military etc. That's why the fantasy doesn't appeal to me. It is the everyday work world (or was) for me for many years. I think that is why I like some of the designs from 20th Century struggles, they were proven or the flaws were found quickly in some hellacious environments. I guess the same can be said for many swords, too. But, I am fine with, and interested in, making things for serious applications and harsh environments (that's physics and heat treating, and I like those).

 

I guess you cut to the heart of the issue, or one major aspect. I want to make things that I feel good about, as functional pieces. Those who really want good edged tools and, gasp, weapons, well I would be happy to make for them what they want.

 

The thing about pride is that I don't want to emulate the latest knife from a video game (unless it is a historically-accurate video game). Gee, this all makes perfect sense in my head, but starts to look silly when typed out.

 

There was also a division that to me seem similar: there were those correctional officers who tried to look tough and sometimes assaulted mentally ill inmates, and there were those officers you hoped were near you when/if a large fight broke out. They were never the same ones.

 

Joshua, you make me laugh, dude.

 

Gerald - What I meant by that wasn't that swords are more or less than knives, or that simple is not good. Hell, simple is great. That's part of it. I meant, I won't make something that sucks as a knife (like a really textured and ridged handle, a concave belly, and a 1/4" thick spine 1/8" back from the point). These are all common features in some of the more expensive knives I came across over the past few days of looking. To me, that is like making a wheel with corners. That's all. I was thinking about the wonderful description Alan gave at the beginning of this thread, and that is what I am determined not to do, even if it pays a lot more.

 

I didn't explain completely what I meant. Making something for the sake of money rather than because I like/want to make it has often resulted in me doing lower quality work. For me to really do well, I need to like the product as a functional piece. If I don't, I don't do as well. Or, I really need to like the person I am making it for. That works, too. But, making just for the sake of a commission is the worst situation for me to be in, in terms of quality of outcome.

please visit my website http://www.professorsforge.com/

 

“Years ago I recognized my kinship with all living things, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on the earth. I said then and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it; while there is a criminal element, I am of it; while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.” E. V. Debs

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I didn't explain completely what I meant. Making something for the sake of money rather than because I like/want to make it has often resulted in me doing lower quality work. For me to really do well, I need to like the product as a functional piece. If I don't, I don't do as well. Or, I really need to like the person I am making it for. That works, too. But, making just for the sake of a commission is the worst situation for me to be in, in terms of quality of outcome.

Kevin, read this as if you hadn't wrote it, the answer is right there. Find a blade you like making and became proficient enough at it, to make the profit worth doing.

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For sheath ideas, there are lots of examples of custom sheaths for both the Gerber Mark II you mentioned (and the FS dagger that was its predecessor) that have been made over the years (both leather and Kydex-type things) that offer a variety of configurations and carry options. One of the original Shanghai daggers made for William Fairbairn has a leather sheath with some sort of metal plate that makes a hook over the pommel so that it could be carried under the arm handle-down without falling out, and the variety of sheaths they made for OSS operatives to wear under their clothing and such is also pretty impressive.

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thanks Adam, I remember fondly the, "Baby Fairbairn," that was meant for forarm sheaths. I think the sheath thing is going to be the biggest challenge for me.

 

Actually, I may try to find a partner who is good at leather and kydex work. It seems to me that the best route would be for me to make the knife and then let someone good at it customize a sheath to fit what the client plans to do with the knife.

 

Stormcrow excels at making sheaths with that have a variety of applications (and he has kept up with the baffling series of acronyms to describe harness gear).

 

Indeed, he has a good model all around.

please visit my website http://www.professorsforge.com/

 

“Years ago I recognized my kinship with all living things, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on the earth. I said then and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it; while there is a criminal element, I am of it; while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.” E. V. Debs

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Kevin,

If you standardized a couple of knife shapes and sizes, and a sheath design or two, you might be able to have the sheaths made in small quantities.

I think this is what D'Holder does.

“So I'm lightin' out for the territory, ahead of the scared and the weak and the mean spirited, because Aunt Sally is fixin’ to adopt me and civilize me, and I can't stand it. I've been there before.”

The only bad experience is the one from which you learn nothing.  

 

Josh

http://www.dosgatosdesignsllc.com/#!

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCdJMFMqnbLYqv965xd64vYg

J.States Bladesmith | Facebook

https://www.facebook.com/dos.gatos.71

https://www.etsy.com/shop/JStatesBladesmith

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If you want to make a production knife, create a pattern and start making the same knife, over and over again until you establish efficiency and quality with that pattern. You can differentiate them by materials and finish - hot blued, antiqued, bead blasted, stone washed, etc. Bob Loveless was one of the best bench makers IMO. His patterns are super efficient for that type of production; one man in his shop making 10-20 blades a week. I can't recall how many Bob would make at peak production, it may have been much more than 20.

 

I think the market for high quality folding blades is really strong. I can find customers who are interested in the big fancy fixed blade fighters I like making, but for each one of them there are 100 others who would want a good pocket sized folding knife. Kitchen knives are also a good market; a LOT of people cook and eat as a hobby and they want really good custom knives.

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OK,

First, I am impressed as always by the thoughtful responses to my serious, but tongue-in-cheek inquiry

Second, it still suprises me that anyone is willing to take time and help me with my situation. Just great. Seriously.

Third, I think the answer is not TACTICAL for me, but WORKING KNIVES.

 

If I make several that are aimed at that function and form, I iwill know.

 

A range of finish level, also. Simple sheaths, probably not finished until the customer orders the knife so they can tell me how the want to carry it (right v left, angle, etc.).

 

I am thinking mostly full tang, tube or birdseye rivets, wood or micarta handle scales.

 

One of the hard questions is to decide whether or not to use guards or bolsters.

 

I will play around with the swept bolster that looks like a guard for narrow full tang, and also saddle guards. Wide blade/no bolster is light and I will have to try. Plus, the hammering on the area of the choil to thicken it so that it does the same thing as a guard.

 

This is exciting!

please visit my website http://www.professorsforge.com/

 

“Years ago I recognized my kinship with all living things, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on the earth. I said then and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it; while there is a criminal element, I am of it; while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.” E. V. Debs

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...I think the answer is not TACTICAL for me, but WORKING KNIVES.

 

 

From what you have said, this seems to be a wise decision and a good fit for you. I'll be eager to see what you come up with :)

-Brian

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The adventure begins

“So I'm lightin' out for the territory, ahead of the scared and the weak and the mean spirited, because Aunt Sally is fixin’ to adopt me and civilize me, and I can't stand it. I've been there before.”

The only bad experience is the one from which you learn nothing.  

 

Josh

http://www.dosgatosdesignsllc.com/#!

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCdJMFMqnbLYqv965xd64vYg

J.States Bladesmith | Facebook

https://www.facebook.com/dos.gatos.71

https://www.etsy.com/shop/JStatesBladesmith

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Kevin

 

There is a beautiful short story called Assembly Line by B. Traven that chronicles the life and struggles of the artisan. The story shows the conflict between a commodity economy, in which beautiful things are produced for their usefulness rather than their exchange value, and the capital based economy that seeks to exploit those objects for a profit.

 

The artisan is a poor campesino in rural Oaxaca, Mexico who weaves baskets to generate cash to purchase the things he can't make or grow himself. During the few weeks of the year when his land does not require his attention, he collects natural fibres and plant and insect dyes to create the work, and sells the baskets in the market of a nearby town. The capitalist is a gringo from New York who sees an opportunity to "help" the artisan, and to make a quick killing for himself.

 

Assembly Line was written in the 1920's.

Assembly Line

 

There is also an excellent essay on the story as a critique of social justice: HERE

 

 

J

 

JDWARE KNIVES

 

 

 

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JD - that is a wonderful story. Balance. Our current economy has lost the perspective of balance. More is not always better, and imaginary money (it is all imaginary) can't replace real things like food and butterflies. Now I will be thinking of myself as putting my own little song into the knives.

 

Some of the swords may have a curse word or two embedded in them, too!

 

I had forgotten that you were in Mexico. Growing up in Texas, I had family in Mexico City, but never made it there while they were alive. I have always been fascinated by Mexico and it's people. Though, the ones I knew had a totally different experience than a man from the souther tropical regions would (Oaxaca).

 

thanks,

 

Wes - we shall see. The things that are in my head range from simple piece with no bolsters and forged finish up to the sort of stuff that TK Steingass is doing these days (full tang, saddle guard, hand finish). Or the thinner blade design with a bolster that sweeps down to imitate a guard and then sweeps back up to the blade. That design has been used from David Boye forward in the custom world but it works.

please visit my website http://www.professorsforge.com/

 

“Years ago I recognized my kinship with all living things, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on the earth. I said then and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it; while there is a criminal element, I am of it; while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.” E. V. Debs

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JD - I travelled around your website. Good stories.

Plus, I didn't realize how nice the folding knives you make looked. Those were/are some very good knives.I am daunted by making folding knives.

please visit my website http://www.professorsforge.com/

 

“Years ago I recognized my kinship with all living things, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on the earth. I said then and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it; while there is a criminal element, I am of it; while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.” E. V. Debs

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I too spent some time travelling around JD's website. Reading the stories and admiring the work.

Top shelf all around.

“So I'm lightin' out for the territory, ahead of the scared and the weak and the mean spirited, because Aunt Sally is fixin’ to adopt me and civilize me, and I can't stand it. I've been there before.”

The only bad experience is the one from which you learn nothing.  

 

Josh

http://www.dosgatosdesignsllc.com/#!

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCdJMFMqnbLYqv965xd64vYg

J.States Bladesmith | Facebook

https://www.facebook.com/dos.gatos.71

https://www.etsy.com/shop/JStatesBladesmith

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JD - I travelled around your website. Good stories.

Plus, I didn't realize how nice the folding knives you make looked. Those were/are some very good knives.I am daunted by making folding knives.

 

Thanks Kevin. Just jump in there with the folders...... the slip-joints are simple, but you never stop discovering subtle complexities. I enjoy making them.

 

J

 

JDWARE KNIVES

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  • 1 month later...

RamboKnife002.jpg

While this reply is not in any way helpful, i saw this picture and laughed my arse off and TBH, I haven't even read the thread. In particular it reminds me of the Commando's I would often see with as much gear as they could possibly get on one riffle. While each piece in and of itself was useful they thought adding 4 different sighting systems to 1 riffle would make it all that much more effect... MEAT HEADS~!

Bahahaha. I will leave it at that. 

 

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I always come back to this post with a lot of interest. I've been thinking lately, as my military retirement approaches, how much I would absolutely love to do knives full time and maintain my same standard of living. I've come to the simple conclusion that I can't, at least not with forging and grinding. Now, I'm generally not an advocate of trend chasing, but I've been crunching the numbers lately and I am seriously considering the midtech "bushcraft (rather than tactical)" route. My logic being that if I need to make $20+ an hour, + shop costs, that it really might be a better use of my time and money.

Here's what I've been working in my head...if, to grind out a knife blank it takes me one hour, plus $7 in materials, then I am into that blade $27 before heat treat. If I can get, delivered to my door, a waterjet blade in the same state of completion, for $12 (including material costs) and no personal time invested, it would be silly of me not to. Especially if I can spend that hour working on a custom job. It's $15 cheaper for me (and reduces costs for my customers) and I get more play time furthering my forging education.

Same goes for heat treat. 20 knives at $5 a pop at Peters is more efficient monetarily than doing it in my forge with cost of fuel or electricity if I got a heat treat oven + time. Heck, the 52100 kitchen knives I did this weekend took about 4 hours to normalize and heat treat, and that's not counting the tempering cycles. I'm seeing out there that one can order a hundred or so sets of handle scales for around $12-$18 each, materials included. I guarantee you I spend more than an hour on a single handle. And if your waterjet is good, that's minimal cleanup, and with accurate CNC, 3D cut handles, all you have to do is glue and pin or bolt them on. The other advantage is consistency in size and shape, which means you can contract out sheath production in bulk as well, if you wanted to. If you want to go tactical, I imagine the math works out similarly. 

The big ethical grey area for me is calling them "custom" or "handmade." I wouldn't do it. Sure, I ground in the bevels or scandi grind, and designed and prototyped the blades myself, sand blasted or finished by hand, but it's still semi production. I'd also probably use a different maker's mark than my custom work so the custom customers are getting something special and can show it. I know with this being a smithing forum, most might get turned off by the idea, but I'm just brainstorming about the way to sustain a business as well as pursue the parts I really, really want to do. For me, that means getting efficient about what I'm turning out, in matters of both costs and time. I also like the idea that this would put a maker's name out there to a much broader audience through more affordable blades, and might encourage them to save up a little extra to spring for a custom knife. Not to mention my offerings can be exanded to steels that I just don't have the ability or know how to heat treat, such as some of the cooler stainless steels and whatnot. 

Anyone else have similar thoughts or ideas?

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Mike,

Your post is full of great topics for discussion, and I for one, would encourage you to follow this idea through and see how you like it, rather than see if others "approve" of it. In the end, it is you who needs to feel comfortable and fulfilled by the work, not anyone else.

One thing you said that I think needs a minor correction though. This is a "bladesmiths" forum and there has been a lot of conversations about what exactly that means. I think Owen Bush said it best when he said "It matters not." Stock removal is a perfectly honorable method of making knives. If that is something you want to have a go at and see if you can make a living at it, I would support that effort 100%. I would still expect to see you around this forum and welcome seeing your work on the Show & Tell board.

Calling them "custom" is also perfectly fine in my book. Does it matter if you grind them out to the profile template, or someone else does that for you? That's a matter of opinion. If you are uncomfortable with the term "handmade" try using "hand crafted" instead. Many knife makers outsource their HT, nothing weird about that.

There are plenty of stock removal artists on this forum and they make some inspirational blades. Lukas MG comes to mind..... Here are a few great stock removal makers that I know of, or have met, and think their work is exceptional. (two Americans, and two Italians)

http://dholder.com/index.html

http://www.fiddlebackforge.com/

http://www.denismura.com/cms/index.php?lang=en

http://www.dipacoknives.it/en/home-eng

 

Edited by Joshua States

“So I'm lightin' out for the territory, ahead of the scared and the weak and the mean spirited, because Aunt Sally is fixin’ to adopt me and civilize me, and I can't stand it. I've been there before.”

The only bad experience is the one from which you learn nothing.  

 

Josh

http://www.dosgatosdesignsllc.com/#!

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCdJMFMqnbLYqv965xd64vYg

J.States Bladesmith | Facebook

https://www.facebook.com/dos.gatos.71

https://www.etsy.com/shop/JStatesBladesmith

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Thank you for your reply, Joshua. I do love the forging and playing around with that stuff more than anything else. I know exactly what you meant when you mentioned the "prostitution complex" that afflicts artists. I wrestled with it a bit while I was thinking through this, as well as wondering if it would take too much time away from my education into the metal arts.

Another guy who has a pretty good breakdown is John Kaiser at Three River Blades. He has a YouTube video that's about an hour long that really goes into what he does to get his knives made. He does the grinding, his handles, and I think his sheaths himself, but gets the knives cut on water jet and sends them out for heat treat. He does it part time as well and seems to do ok with it. Either way, it's interesting to think about, especially since Kevin has a lot of the same financial and time concerns I'll be facing in the future.

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So, I think I finally scraped together 2¢ to throw into the pile.

My other creative thing is metrical poetry. Almost no one does it anymore past middle school, and the stuff that does get published isn't great. So, unless you're a Billy Collins, you aren't gonna make much, if any, money at it.

What's a bard to do? Refuse to submit any work that isn't set in an arcane Italian rhyme structure? Noble, but not very useful.

My solution is to put most of that energy into list-based articles, because I have a chance of selling those right now, and the rest into rewriting verses on the fly during story time with the kids.

Prose (especially listicles) may not be my favorite way to write, but I still put the same care into it. And there's the dual satisfaction of having my name on a creative work, and a potential paycheck. That's definitely worth something, even if it's not ideal.

As to whether or not something should be called custom, maybe we need another tier?

For example, I'm part orangutan. So, if I want a suite that doesn't stop four inches short of my wrist, I need to have one custom fitted. Now, I could go to a shop, pick one of the rack, and have it hemmed for a little extra. Or, I could go all out and have a bespoke number made.

Why don't we do something similar for custom knives? It's all custom, so if it's a one-off, Extra Special Stabby Death Machine, elevate it to bespoke status to differentiate.

I think doing so would require more customer education, though. I know when I first started learning, I thought stock removal was cheating. I didn't grasp the complexity of the work that went into making any custom knife, so they seemed less valuable.

What can we do to change that perception?

 

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Mike: One other thing that I could throw in here is that as an "artist-bladesmith", I think the worst thing you could do is limit yourself to one specific fabrication method. If you love to forge, don't stop completely just because there's no $ in it. There is, just maybe not enough to do it full time. Once you start thinking about this in business terms, the subject of "product lines" has got to be considered. That opens the playing field for continuation into the other metal arts you mention. Getting set up for a production knife line probably will take time away from other areas, at first, but once it is tuned and running, it will create more time for other things.

Jon: Consumer education is constant and varied. There are plenty of folks doing it right now. Guilds, associations, online forums, blogs, etc. That's how you realized that "custom" is a very big tent. 

For the record, and mostly to Kevin, Mike, and anyone else considering entering the semi-production/hot consumerist markets, I have the following piece of advice: When you make a plan to do it, create a 5-year plan on how. It should be a real business plan with benchmark goals in production, sales, venues, etc. and it should be written down and followed. This is a living document so each year you check your progress and adjust the plan as necessary. You also add another year so it is always a 5-year plan. You should also start figuring out how you aim to sell your wares now, and start visiting those venues to see what other makers are doing to make sales, and what they are not doing. Keep notes, and put them into the business plan. Don't just "wing" it. Failing to plan is planning to fail.

Edited by Joshua States

“So I'm lightin' out for the territory, ahead of the scared and the weak and the mean spirited, because Aunt Sally is fixin’ to adopt me and civilize me, and I can't stand it. I've been there before.”

The only bad experience is the one from which you learn nothing.  

 

Josh

http://www.dosgatosdesignsllc.com/#!

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCdJMFMqnbLYqv965xd64vYg

J.States Bladesmith | Facebook

https://www.facebook.com/dos.gatos.71

https://www.etsy.com/shop/JStatesBladesmith

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