Friday, August 14, 2015

Texas Toothpick

Like the single blade trapper, the fish knife is a folder pattern with a dual personality. It is either a single or double blade folder five inches long closed with a long, narrow clip blade and a powder horn-shaped handle. As with most other patterns of folder, both large and small versions of the fish knife have been produced but none have had the popularity if the five-inch. On two blade models, the second blade is normally a combination scalar or hook disgorger and bottle opener. Because fishing knives in general tend to be abused more than other forms of cutlery, fish knives have long been a popular item in cutlery economy lines.

The large size and low price led to the growth of the fish knife’s reputation. Under the name Texas Tickler, Tango Knife, Saturday Night Special, Dixie Switch and a few additional considered a tool of the street thug. Many hardware distributors actually made a point of selling the knife under two different names, depending on whether their market was sporting or urban.

On larger fish, such as salmon and steelhead, that are normally opened and iced down in the field for later steaking, the fish knife works as well as patter. Queen and Frost Cutlery, along with an occasional special run from Case and Blue Grass, are the primary sources for the fish knife folder.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Liner Lock, a Seductive Alternative To The Traditional Switchblade

The principle of the primitive knife, that is to say a blade swiveling on an axis to fold into the handle, lasted for a long time: Jambette, Eustache, Capunchin. It can still be found in reproductions, just like the Corsican knife. The inconvenience of such a system is naturally the uncontrolled movement of the blade, since it is held firmly in neither an open nor a closed position. The fitting of collar on Nontron and Opinel knives, for example, is a safety feature that helps to avoid a major hazard, that of accidently closing the blade on one’s fingers during use. The discovery of the spring was a definite advance, since the blade could no longer swing open in one’s pocket. With the Laguiole it was the forced switchblade that was used. The contact parts including blade heel and spring are fitted in such away that one has to exert additional pressure on the blade to force it to close. The solution was the switchblade, made a specialty by Nogent in its time, with its characteristic ring placed on the back to ensure its release. Buck made the modern switchblade, with a button on the back of the handle, popular in 1963. In 1906, Cattaraugus had patented a linear switchblade system, but it didn’t take off.

It was only in 1980 that Michael Walker modernized this linear system to produce areal “one handed” version. The revolution consisted of placing a spring inside the plate, whose extremity would stop against the heel of the blade when open, keeping it firmly in that position. To close the blade the spring just had to be placed against the plate.

By fitting a protuberance on the blade where the thumbnail groove usually was, the blade could be opened and closed easily with the thumb of the hand holding the knife. Opening and closing a knife with just one hand became child’s play. The concept of the “liner lock” and “one handed” operation was born, and with great success.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Knives of Smith & Wesson

Smith & Wesson began to examine the knife market in 1972 in an effort to provide a full line of law enforcement and sportsmen products. President William Gunn met and discussed designs with Blackie Collins, a knife designer. Blackie submitted several samples and drawings of various styles of fixed blade knives to meet the needs of the public. Blackie Collins was an American knife maker who designed and popularized the assisted opening mechanism and various automatic knife designs within the art of knifemaking. He is cited by other knifemakers and collectors as one of the most innovative knife designers in the world and was an author and the founder of what became Blade Magazine. Collins died July 20, 2011 in a motorcycle accident near North, South Carolina.

In 1972 Smith & Wesson was approached by the Texas Ranger Commission to build a commemorative revolver in honor of their 150th anniversary. While attending these meetings, Roy Jenks of Smith & Wesson Collectors Association and a Smith & Wesson Historian, proposed what could be offered in the way of a commemorative handgun.  At this time, the Commission was also considering the purchase of a commemorative service knife.

Roy, and John Wilson, a member of the Texas Commission, developed a design, similar to an early style Texas knife, for a Bowie knife. This pattern was presented to Smith & Wesson and the Bowie knife, designed by Blackie Collins, was modified closer to the style originally used and purposed by Mr. Wilson.

Smith & Wesson felt an excellent entry into the knife market would be the Texas Ranger Commemorative Bowie knife. A package deal consisting of the Smith & Wesson Model 19 revolver and a Bowie knife was presented. The idea was accepted, production was initiated, and in 1973 Smith & Wesson announced the Texas Ranger Commemorative. Production plans called for the manufacture of 8,000 knives cased with a Smith & Wesson model 19. In addition, 12,000 individual knives in their own presentation case were offered.

The Texas Ranger knife, identical to all the early Smith & Wesson knives, was produced from a forged 440 series stainless steel and handcrafted in a series of 47 different manufacturing operations. Each knife was serial numbered on the top of the blade beginning at serial number TR1 through TR20,000.

The Texas Ranger Bowie knife was the only one marketed by Smith & Wesson in 1973. Plans were made, however, to announce Smith & Wesson’s entry into the knife business.

The factory geared up production to manufacture a standard Bowie knife similar in design to the Texas Ranger; a general-purpose hunting and camping knife with a 5 ½ inch blade and an emergency equipment cavity in the contoured handle. This was called the Outdoorsman.

To increase their versatile knife line, Smith & Wesson manufactured the Survival knife. This also had a hollow handle cavity covered by a solid brass screw-on cap. The handle was round and blended into a double quillon cross guard for maximum workability and production. The 5 ½ inch blade had a wide flat spine and a sharpened false edge. The factory hoped that this 10-ounce knife would gain popularity with campers and back-packers.

A 3 ½ inch dropped point blade knife, designed for Smith & Wesson by Blackie Collins, and was offered to the hunter. Its handle was tapered and contoured to fit into the hand for ease in skinning large or small animals. This was called the Skinner.

For the individual who did not like fixed blade knives, the factory offered a 3 ½ inch blade lock-back knife called the Folding Hunter. This was a rugged, handsomely made knife with nickel silver bolsters and sold with a belt sheath. The factory did not have the capability to manufacture this particular item; therefore, they contracted with Alcas or Bowen Knife to produce the folding hunter according to Smith & Wesson’s specifications. In 1972 Alcas Cutlery Corporation became a wholly owned subsidiary of Alcoa. Ten years later, a group of company officers purchased Alcas Cutlery Corporation from Alcoa, taking the company private. Shortly after the management buyout, Alcas Cutlery Corporation purchased Vector Marketing Corporation, which became the distributor of CUTCO products in North America. In 1990, CUTCO Cutlery Corporation was created to be the manufacturing subsidiary alongside Vector Marketing Corporation, and the parent company's name was changed from Alcas Cutlery Corporation to Alcas Corporation.

Bowen Knife was started in 1973 by Walter & Michael Collins. They worked with Camillus and Alcas in the early days, making many folding and straight knives. Today the company is much smaller and specializes in making belt knives. Now I know why I always have to take my belt off when going thru security.

To complete their line of knives, the factory offered the fisherman two fixed blade knives. These were called the Fisherman Fillet, designed with a 6 ½ inch blade, and a general-purpose knife with a stiffer 5 ½ inch blade simply called the Fisherman knife.

These seven styles rounded out the Smith & Wesson’s complete knife line. The company had put together a group of knives with broad appeal that would offer advantages of custom-made products but at reasonable prices.

Everything was done to build in quality and custom appearance. The blades were forged, utilizing 120 plus years of experience in steel forging. The guards and pommels were hand fitted and silver soldered to the blade. The handles were hand fitted and made of a special pressure impregnated natural wood called Wessonwood, which gave maximum durability for a long-lasting life. The edge of each knife was hand honed by individuals specially trained to complete this operation and provide a sharp edge blade direct for the factory.

At first, the knife program was well received and sales were promising. In fact, interest was such that the factory produced a special series of highly decorated knives called the Collector Series.

This program was announced in 1975 and four knives wee offered; Bowie, Outdoorsman, Survival and Skinner. Each knife was to be serial numbered 1 to 1,000. The blades wee to be acid etched, picturing a game scene, and the guard and pommels sculptured of sterling silver. Each would be packaged in an individual presentation case. To enhance and complete this program, the company planned to offer all four knives in a single case.

The Collector series began in full swing in 1975. Blackie Collins finished the special knives and the factory quickly wrote orders for production of 1,000 units. Plans called for the four knives to be built beginning with the Bowie, Outdoorsman, Survival and finishing with the Skinner. The program was designed to last for at least a year. Each distributor ordering a knife was to receive the same serial number in each of the four models. This plan was great, but manufacturing and vendor problems led to many delays. This caused loss of interest, and distributors began to cancel their orders. Smith & Wesson found they were left with many incomplete sets. This distracted from the value of the program, but for the knife collector it added to the value of the sets that were sold complete. It is estimated that only 800 complete sets were sold by the time the program was complete in 1980, five years later.

Late in 1977, Robert Ferraro, an engineer, was requested to develop a new line of medium of popular priced folding type and new fixed blade knives. This development took nearly three years from the time the designs were first drawn. The wait was well worthwhile, for in 
1980 Smith & Wesson announced its new general purpose-folding knife called the Maverick. This knife was available in both a Clip and Drop point versions.

In 1980, the market saw another Smith & Wesson knife design. This was the Ultra Thin, a small all stainless lock blade pocket knife. It was just the right size to slip into a pocket. Immediate success of these two knives caused the factory to discontinue their original line and concentrate on development and production of a complete new series.