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Aaron

Fixed Blades Versus Folders?

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Over the past few months I've noticed a trend that I'm hoping the veterans on this forum can explain to me. I've noticed that there seems to be somewhat of a divide between knifemakers who make fixed blade knives (and swords) and knifemakers who make folders.

 

For example, the thread that Coop started with the link to the images from the Chicago knife show...almost all of those knives were folders, with the exception of about half a dozen. On this forum, however, I can't remember the last time someone posted a pic of a folder. Likewise at the ABS/Moran event in Maryland last October, there weren't really any smith's displaying any folders.

 

This has my curiousity piqued. Is there some sort of divide between the makers of the two different types of knives?

 

Perhaps these observations are just due to my inexperience and I'm basing them off of non-representative examples?

 

Thanks in advance to anyone who indulges my curiousity.

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I'm not a veteran but I noticed the same thing.

IMHO there is a kind of division between the makers of the two different tipes of knives:

 

-The folder makers are mostly stock removal-stainless blade guys, and the skills are measured expecially in the complexity and precision of the mechanisms.They use often exotic material and steel, and often they don't heat treat their own blades.

 

-The fixed blade makers are often bladesmith, and it means simple carbon steel and low alloys, less exotic materials, and without the same precision needed by folder makers. The skills are measured in the complicated heat treatments (like clay back stuff) and tecniques (like damascus).

 

ciao

Giuseppe

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I wonder if it just a matter of taste when it comes to who makes what..and what sells best for who. Its just a different path for everyone.

chad

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I'll jump into the can of worms :) I'm no bladesmith veteran. I have been interested in the collecting and production of knives and swords since I was a child. My comments are my observations and not intended to be set-in=stone comments about either camp.

 

I think there's the need to create, and a desire to maintain traditions... maybe. I think the folder guys that do mostly stock removal are looking to have something that they can say "yes, I made that knife" even when most of what's being done to shape the blade is using a belt sander. You'll notice that the level of embellishemnt on a folder is -usually- far greater than that of a fixed blade or sword. The blades will be engraved/caarved, the body of the folder will have complicated designs of wood, horn and metal of great variety coming together to make a beautiful piece. And the mechanisms for locking the blade, and the complexities of having a blade that will stay folded yet open effortlessly are beyond me.

 

For the fixed blade guys you -usually- see an un-embellished blade. Not much carving or etching aside from a name or some fullering. The handles are beautiful in their own right but often put function ahead of form- not a lot of scenery carved into the handles. When handles are carved (take Jake Powning's viking swords as an example) you again see that the carving first has a purpose- to aid in the gripping of the sword- and it's beautiful second. There's a lot of talk about the blade- steel choice, heat treat method, and other indicators of function and what it was designed to do: kitchen knife, one of Tai's bush knives, a sword, a camp knife, etc. They're designed to do some fairly specific task.

I believe the fixed blade makers generally attempt to capture as much of tradition as possible. As far as I know, there weren't any folders found in the Mastermyr find, and no Viking king was found with a 4" folder with an ivory handle. I could be wrong. Take a recent example of the movie "Kill Bill". I loved it, but the lion/dragon/dog/whatever that's stamped onto that blade screams to me "wallhanger!" Traditionally I've seen very few (actually none come to mind) pieces with that kind of embellishement that were designed to be functional to any high degree (i.e. combat).

 

The folder folks, I believe, are making art. It's potentially functional art but the pieces are being desigend to show the interaction of blade and handle and to be a medium for expression, IMO. It's the artisit characterisitcs of the blades that they spend their time on, whereas the fixed crowd tends to go for performance

 

That's not to say that a functional blade, fixed or folder, can't be embelished. I'm hoping that my fixed blade for the primal fires knife-in-the-hat will be well received with it's knot running down one side instead of a fuller. And that's not to say that a folder can't be as functional as a fixed. I've seen some folders that were sturdy as all get out and I wouldn't think twice about bringing it along on a camping trip.

In the 2002 edition of "Sporting Knives" (fromcthe poeple at Knife Digest) they did a test of large and small fixed blades versus folders. The best folder performed just slightly less well than the big fixed blades; needing about one more stroke than a large fixed blade to chop through a tree limb that's 4" in diameter.

 

I think I've put my foot in my mouth enough. I hope the folder folks don't hink I'm bashing them. I'm really not. But from what *I've* seen most of the folders -are- expression pieces and most of the fixed -are- function pieces. There are exceptions on either side and I don't intend to draw any lines in the dirt but I do see that a line has been hinted at by some.

Edited by Kristopher Skelton

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Good points made. And some glaring generalities tossed in.... ;)

 

From what has been stated, you *really* can appreciate Don Hanson for what he has acheived. Look at the three photos of his work:

 

http://www.fototime.com/05C5124B683B1D7/orig.jpg

 

http://www.fototime.com/52310AC6F50E072/orig.jpg

 

http://www.fototime.com/D16C6DD0C6C0057/orig.jpg

 

He has raised and met the bar on three distinct levels: forged fixed blade, small fancy gents folder, and fancy BADASS tactical. (He got permission from Strider to utilize that blade shape.) OK, I'm a big fan of Don, and this is why. He belongs in all three camps.

 

Folders: Precision and gadget factor

Fixed: Forging and shape

 

It's all good.

 

Coop

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As someone who has done both, I think the separation occurs due to the fact that there are two different sets of tools involved, and two mental approaches/skill sets.

There are a lot of folder makers these days using a complete machine shop in the production of their wares, and it's kinda hard to make a folder that would pass as even 'good' with only a drill press - which is the most pre-cise tool in alot of blade forger's shops.

The sort of personality that appreciates moving metal around with a 3 pound hammer might not be the same as one that likes to use a 1-72 tap, and visa-versa.

Which is not to say good fit up on a hand forged blade is not precise, it's just a different kind of precise.

 

Jeff

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Hey Kristopher, check this out, a tiny viking age folder, with embelishments!

viking folder

There are some great smiths who do both forged blades and swords and folders, Howard Clark comes to mind. I think there is quite a different asthetic between folders and fixed blades. fixed blade design is much more bound to the overall outline of the piece, this means that embelishments have to be carfully considerred so they don't clash with the overall design. also the bigger the blade the more crusial and difficult the heat treat becomes, so it tends to get talked about more than on small stuff or folders. Folders do involve allot of mechanics and that's not always what a smith is into. It's a whole different skill set and scale, but it's also a challenge wich is the hook. I try not to look at them too much in case I get sucked in and try to make one. :wacko:

we've got a great folder maker here in the Maritimes named Don Bell, It's amazing the detail he puts into his stuff, lots of gold.

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This is tough post for me to respond to.and to use the right words...I agree with most opinions here; I do admit that many of the stock removal knives have alot of fancy work..and I feel most are done for looks. I believe, howerver, we may be talking apples and oranges somewhat...

 

As far as bladesmiths knives go, I think most are after preformence first and formost, over looks. I will say there are/(was) some truely great bladesmiths that have made some of the fanciest fixed blades around that I've met. I also know that they have done fixed and folders that blow my mind. People such as:jerry fisk,james schmidt,billy mace imel,herman schdeider,virgil england,jot singh khalsa,steve schwarzer,jerry rados and sid birt ,just to name a few; And these are some the heavy weights that get/got the big dollars..

 

It's just what each smith desires to do..Some want to do good regular knives and some go all out...Grant you it does make me feel as i think most of you do that we do it all and don't have others do our heat treatment..and I am uncomfatable with useing a CNC machine to so call make a knife. I also admit personally that I have little use/respect for SS in a knife..I stepped on a few toes in the past as I've often asked/said..."It looks great but can it cut and hold up?"

 

I think ill quit before i cut my throat any more..lol <ducking for cover>

Edited by blackdragonforge

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Thanks Jake! Now I know :)

 

I hope I didn't make it sound like there wasn't any skill involved in making a folder, quite the opposite. I didn't write very much about it, but I do appreciate the craftsmanship and technique of getting a blade to unfold when needed and staying folded when it needs to :) All of the blades in Coop's series are amazing, truly.

 

Damn, now I wanna try a folder though.... I guess we'll see what happens ;) Maybe after the new-year....

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I never have been able to trust a knife with a blade that pivots. :(

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Thanks for the great replies everyone.

 

Just to clarify, I did not intend my original post to seem as though I was denigrating folder makers or fixed blade makers. I have the upmost respect for the skills and artistry in both camps. And the makers that can do both types...well, simply amazing.

 

As several of you commented on, it seems like the most probable reason for a divide is the different skill sets involved in making each type of knife and the personal preference of each maker.

 

I hadn't realized that many of the folder makers use stock removal, which, I guess, explains why we don't see many of them on these forums. From this newbie's perspective, I wasn't seeing any folder makers, but my exposure to the field has really only been through ABS events and these forums--two venues dominated by those in the hand-forging camp.

 

Thanks for indulging my curiousities everyone.

Edited by Aaron

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I don't think it's about performance, or look, or precision. Clearly good makers can achieve all of that regardless of the type of knife.

 

I think it's just that if you really enjoy working with hot metal, heat treatment and all, you'll just maximize that, and it will lead you to make fixed blades (more metal, more pounding, more challenge,etc..)

If you enjoy machining, then you'll go with folders for the same reasons: more machining, more mecanisms, more challenge, etc..

 

The key I think is more challenge in what one likes.

 

And for some, everything they make is awesome. :notworthy:

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Yes I do both, thanks Coop. There are quite a few forgers that make folders but may not be active in the froums. Cliff Parker, Rick Dunkerly, Kai Embretson, Shane Taylor, Rick Eaton, Jody Muller, Josh Smith, Mark Holson, Barry Gallager. These are just off the top of my head, there are more. The knife forums are but a small portion of the custom knife world, I know lots of makers and collectors that are not into the forums, some don't even use computors, but they attend shows and read the knife mags. I would say that most of the folder makers just make folders but there is some crossover.

 

Don H. My Webpage

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I don't think it's about performance, or look, or precision. Clearly good makers can achieve all of that regardless of the type of knife.

 

I think it's just that if you really enjoy working with hot metal, heat treatment and all, you'll just maximize that, and it will lead you to make fixed blades (more metal, more pounding, more challenge,etc..)

If you enjoy machining, then you'll go with folders for the same reasons: more machining, more mecanisms, more challenge, etc..

 

The key I think is more challenge in what one likes.

 

And for some, everything they make is awesome. :notworthy:

31583[/snapback]

 

i to was not trying to degrade anyone....however i firmly beleave in the superiority of a properly forged blade..i think most of us understand why a foged knife is so much better than a stock removeal knife..takeing that in consideration if i was a person whom could not forge a knife its then off to the grinder i must go....since the vast majority of grinder can not heat treat there own blades and i feel use steel of a lesses quality...that in tune would put fixed knives out of there realm as they can't compete with us in quality...if they do grind fixed which many do its mostly for looks...that then leaves them to doing folders with alot of embellishment in order to sell there knives...

 

as i have said there are many of the top bladesmiths i listed and others that do folders and make a great working knife and looks so pretty...but as we all know most that do folders are metal grinders..and i can learn more from them on how to do that also...i agree with what tai goo said something like.....i never trusted a knife that folds....nor i ...liner locks come close,but i still worry it will close on my fingers....

 

those that can do, and those that can not ,do other things.....its back to what i use to ask knife makers...can it cut and hold up or does it just look pretty?...ive meet hundreds of knifemakers in my old age and many grinders are my friends even with my views that they know.and haveing lived in southern calif and then a member of the calif knife maker ass...i admit i am not afraid to speak my mind...

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I think there's somthing to be said from a background aspect and it's easier for me to examine why I do what I do than what some one else does.

 

I was a blacksmith first so it stood to reason that I'd forge a blade. I'm still learning to consistantly make the kind of good blade that I want to make so I don't need the worry of moving parts. I'm not very well equiped to attempt it anyway. Although I guess where there's a will there's a way and you can do a lot with a file if you have the time and patience. Since I had a great interest in forge welding as a blacksmith it stands to reason that I'd go bonkers over pattern welding. When I wrecked the first one I attempted my attitude was "well the blade is junk but would you look at that pattern!" LOL The billet was half the goal and only certain people would be impressed with a block of steel that used to be a bunch of little pieces of steel.

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My two francs worth (Since no-one asked me).

My background is in the arts, so I see things in terms of design and sculpture as related to function. Folders are precision instruments, and their makers seem to go at their work as engineers or machinists. To me, a well-made folder is just as beautiful as one of Don's or Virgil's creations. A pocketknife by Frank Centofante takes my breath away because of its sleek lines and the silken perfection in its action. Wish I could afford one!

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Speaking only for me. Heres my intricate formula.

 

Low on time + Few tools + Minimal cash = Fixed Blade

 

;)

 

Geometry, Physics, Algebra. BRING IT ON! Everything I need mathwise is

in my calculator.

Edited by Blaine Whitney

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You all have made some very good points (no pun). I do not see this topic as an argument for or against any style. You can forge a folder and grind a fixed blade. That is just a means to an end. I have combined the methods and do not feel that there is any "best way". We are a smart species and should be encouraged to use whatever means to achieve our goals without regard to conventional thinking. Our imagination should rule the process.

 

It all depends on what we want to achieve.

 

I put folders in my pocket because I can carry them and [average] people don't freak out because I have a knive. My favorite folder is an old Kershaw with a forged Japanese blade.

 

I like fixed blades for hard work because in my opinion they are stronger (just physics..) and are more appropriate for heavier work. i.e. ..I would not open an oyster or put strong torque on a folder.

 

All good knives are works of art and should be treated as such. Just like people.

Enjoy them. Life is short.

 

IMHO,

Tracy

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You all have made some very good points (no pun). I do not see this topic as an argument for or against any style.

31639[/snapback]

 

You are correct, Tracy, I didn't intend this thread to be a "fixed blades versus folders, which is better?" type thread. I was more curious about what I had perceived as a sort of wall between the two groups of craftsmen.

 

Clearly, there are people out there who make great fixed blades, those who can make great folders, and what seems to be a rare breed: those who can make great knives of both types. I'm not really fond of the "which is better" type debates since so much in life comes down to perception and opinion.

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The ratio of folder collectors is at least 4 to 1 fixed blades. Folders, once you are set up with the right tools, can be a lot faster to make and much more profitable. Most guys who have the inclination and start making folders are rewarded so well that it doesn't make sense to go back to fixed blades.

 

It is the kind of work that takes you away from the fire though and involves mostly bench and machine work. Cold work is an anathema to most smiths which is the reason so few blacksmiths take up bladesmithing, the forging and fire work is minimal.

 

Rule of thumb, if you want to make a living at knives, your odds are much better making folders.

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