90% / 50% and the Ultralight Down Jacket Revisited

I have had my sewn-thru, Joobox brand, ultralight down jackets through two winters now. Mine are the down shirt/sweater type shown below… perfect to just go over a tee, or then under a shell or fleece as needed.

I have worn mine as a throw-on to go out on the porch at dawn to smoke, as a layer under a heavier jacket and overnight in my hammock for extra warmth in sub-freezing weather, just as a shirt over my trunks after swimming on breezy days at the beach [if you have been to Maine you will understand that this IS NOT odd in the least], as well as just around the house to help keep from turning up the thermostat.

 

[This is the same jacket as it is currently offered on AliBaba… different branding is all]

The jackets came to mind partly because I am happily wearing one as I write, and partly because there is a “Sale” today on similar jackets from Uniqlo… theirs are down to $59 [from $69].

Over the last two years I have checked out the higher priced versions. Here are the current links [MSRP shown] :

  • Uniqlo – $70 ~no deetz given
  • REI Co-op– $99 ~650 fill/ 10.5 total weight
  • LL Bean – $199 ~850-fill-power goose down/ no weight given
  • Mountain HardWear [Ghost Whisperer] – $325 ~Nikwax Hydrophobic Down™ 800-fill/ no weight given
  • vs the Chinese generics – $16-$29 ~ 2.5 oz. white duck down/ approx 9.7 oz with stuff sack [from AliBaba/ DX Gear/ BangGood and others]

It certainly seems that the higher in price you go, the more buzz-words they toss out. Still, while all these “brand-name” versions do go on sale at 20-30% off fairly regularly, that’s still quite a spread in costs for a very limited feature set or a brand logo.

It should be noted that you can also get heavier versions of the REI and Beans offerings that are more in the full jacket mode, but I like mine in the shirt/sweater styling… living in Maine, I’ve got full-scale puffer coats/jackets/parkas out my wazoo.

As near as I can determine, all of these lightweight jackets are sewn-thru construction [no baffles to add loft depth] and are of the same sweater styling. The biggest variation looks to be the number of channels of down, with the GW the clear winner there… and it looks like the GW tosses in some vertical stitching to minimize down shift from side-to-side. My cheapos have 12 channels counted up the back and not including the collar or shoulder areas. and I have never noticed any down shift at all… a quick shake and everything is fine. 

After two years of very frequent use, I can see no signs of wear on Chinese cheapo… no pulled threads, no down leaks, no channel breaches, etc. I don’t think I could ask for more for the price… especially at only 5%+ of the GW.

90% for <50% Rocks…!

 

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Handy Trail Breakfast

…the lighting is a bit odd today… my hands are not quite that violet ordinarily

Peanut butter filled pretzel bites [140cal. a dozen] and Jack Links new fully-cooked AM Breakfast Sausages [150cal. for three]… nice combo. Tastes a little like crunchy satay. Very good! And just a bag in my pocket.

Finish it off with some Peanut M&Ms and a swig of water… onward into the fog

“The Project Knife” Wrap-Up

 

This was the photo on EBAY when I bid and won the no-name, “Project Knife” back in early February.

The stacked leather handle was a bit loose, ragged and uneven. The sheath was a sub-in, and too short for the 6″+ blade. The blade itself was dull, with some surface pitting etc.

Only the tiniest bit of cleanup and polishing on the blade by the time this photo [above] was taken had let me see that the knife was indeed worth the time and effort to bring it back up to grade. [this was after only 15 minutes work with some strop compounds and a bit of rag, right in my lap].

 

There was very little really wrong with the knife. Just neglect and abuse that needed fixing up. You can find the previous posts showing some of the progress by scrolling down a ways here on the timeline.

The handle took a bit of reshaping, but you can see how it was starting to come back.

 

 

 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

All told, I don’t believe I have much more than three hours of my time invested in the whole restoration process, and virtually NO money beyond the $10 cost of a replacement sheath. A good bit of the job was waiting for glues and etc to set between sessions, and I certainly didn’t “buckle-down” to the job. I grabbed a few minutes here and there.

I am completely satisfied with the end result. I have been finishing up the job with some work to clean up the brass blade guard, some time to further polish the blade itself, and some more sharpening and stropping. This morning I worked a bit of my friend CurleyMaple’s fantastic beeswax and oil mixture into the handle leathers to penetrate and seal the leather. The matte result gives a good, firm grip. Anyway… Imma callin’ it “done”.

I like the knife… and I think it looks great!

  • nice weight in the hand without being too heavy/ good balance
  • the colored bands at the guard and pommel cleaned up well/ the leather handle was returned to a rich dark shade/ that helps hide the fill-in that was necessary to tighten up the leather disks.
  • the blade came up very sharp with less effort that I has anticipated/ It remains to be seen how well it holds an edge over time, but I am betting it does as well as any.
  • the sheath is now a good fit/ I love the basketweave pattern/ the color deepened and the grain came out nicely with some Lexol/ I kept the old snap-strap from the sheath that came with it because it was broken in and had a better fit… and to give some continuity 

 

Yeah, I could have taken the Project Knife further, but I am looking for a tool, not a showpiece. I really do like the classic Bowie knife styling. Nothing fancy… just a clean, traditional shape that truly says, “hunting knife”. A lot of people have carried this style of knife through a lot of years… and it takes me back to a similar one I had in my Boy Scouting days. I am glad I went through the process to restore this one. I learned a lot, and will have no fears about taking on another knife project when one comes along.

Renewal

I working my way through the accumulated hoardings of generations of ancestors here at the château and trying to move toward my goal of relocating to North Carolina. I’ve been selling a bunch of tools online, on Craigslist, etc. My hammocking friend Chris, who is a professional woodworker and furniture builder, wanted a couple of things, so I took them over to his shop on my way out last weekend. >> Wild Cherry Woodworks <<

He was nice enough to run my 150-year-old, solid chestnut cutting board through his planer while I hung around. He only took about a 16th of an inch of greasy, salmonella soaked wood off the surface, but the result was marvelous.

Back when I first pulled this old board out of my parents basement back in the early 1970s, it hadn’t been used in decades. It was filthy black, and had mold and other unknown “gradue” covering the surface. The custodians at my university’s woodworking shop ran it through their huge shop planer at that point and got a clean surface on each side and the long edges. They were the ones that informed me that what I had was solid chestnut. Another friend ran it through a planer back in the 1990s, and again gave me two new work surfaces.

This time I just asked Chris to do one side for me. I brought it home and spent a couple minutes with my old Porter Cable “bottle” sander to give it a final smoothing. Chris gave me a jar of an incredible beeswax and mineral oil finish that he makes up himself. I brought the oven up to heat and put the board in long enough to warm, and then smoothed in a bunch of the goo. This is the result. ……I kind of suspect that, like so many other things, by the time this needs attention again it will be somebody else’s problem.

For my part, I’m going to go slice up the last of a pot roast to try it out, and make a sandwich for lunch.

No Progress…

 

…at least on working on the “Project Knife”. Prepping for my upcoming move has just sucked up my time. I’ve been sorting through boxes that may not have been audited since my parents move to NC in 1963… seriously.

The poor knife is just like I left it in the last PK post, but it did get a new suit of clothes. These fit, instead of letting 3/4″ of sharp blade tip poke out of the sheath [and into your pants and leg].

I picked up a cheap sheath off Amazon that turned out be fairly nice. Reasonably decent leather with a machine stamped basketweave, riveted, and sound stitching… and a near perfect fit. [There is a snap strap that is off right now]. I will most likely give this sheath a Lexol rubdown; something I wouldn’t do to a really fine sheath like the BRK ones come with.

Money saved always goes out in another direction… and I did spree on a second Bark River when someone in one of the BRK forums put it up at a price that I could feel OK with [and that all the stuff in those boxes financed thru sales on eBay]. That pretty top knife is a Fox River II “First Production Run” with a Desert Ironwood handle and brass pins, A2 steel. It came without any signs of use or wear, and I’m glad I went for it.

I had wanted a Fox River back when I got the Adventurer nekker last Fall, but the original full run sold out a good while ago, and Mike Stewart hasn’t fitted another run into the very busy Bark River production schedule yet. You can get a Fox that is “magnum” or one that is LT [a lighter/thinner blade] but not a regular II. At 5″ the FR II is an inch bigger than the original FR, which makes it smaller by an inch than the PK Bowie I’m restoring, but larger than the others I have [a Buck 692 and a D.H. Russell Canadian #1 from Grohmann]… so…. imma justifyin’ fillin’ a niche!

Other than that, in a quick message exchange with forum guy who is a well known knife maker, as well as collector, I found out that the Project Knife is actually better than I thought. Under that ugly blade tape-up job, it is convex ground just like the pricy Bark Rivers.

Bad Knife!… No Biscuit.

I am pretty effete with my selection of knives, [I just bought a “First Production Run” Bark River Fox River II off the forums an hour ago] and I do take really good care of my cutting arsenal. Today’s review [although you probably would be better off calling it “a savage attack”] is of a donor knife that came my way in a box of miscellaneous tools a few years ago. Badly executed, and even more badly maintained, it’s only home has always been an my gardening tool bucket… This is just about as bad as the knife can get, and NO big surprise… It’s from Pakistan!

 

 

What it is…. above left, and what it would like to be if it had had better upbringing…. above right. What it is is completely representative of why everyone bashes knives from Pakistan. It is an absolutely wretched clone that is so badly reconceived, and then so poorly executed it will never be mistaken for the real thing…. a BUCK 110, one of the epitomal knifes of the last hundred years.

The Fakistani’s brass bolsters are right-angled off the edges so that they are guaranteed to dig into your hand with a firm grip, and they abandon the Buck’s ergonomic, user friendly shape entirely. The handles themselves are done in what looks to be mahogany with an open grain, and no finish has been used at all… at least there are no traces left.

 

Just about the only positive thing that can be said about the build is that the handles and rivet pins are ground down flush with no harsh transitions between materials… even across the spine.

BUT…

 

 

Cue the theme from Jaws…. dundum,dundum, dundum…and check the shot below!

 

They missed the entire point of a folding “pocket” knife….. the blade is supposed to be contained in the handle when folded so that you can carry it in your pocket without the risk of injury!

This is the “locked in” position. The blade has not been ground down to expose the blade tip… that’s how it came.

And just as bad, the lockback lever sticks out just as far on the other side!

The Pakistani knife industry gets a really bad rap among the blade fanboys. Partly this is due to the fact that they repurchased old machinery from Europe that is unable to deal with some of the higher tech metals used in blades today. But quite justly, the plain, out and out bad craftsmanship shown on this knife is another reason. I’m not even bashing the steel used. Hey, it is Stainless like it sez on the ricasso so it doesn’t rust away between uses, and it does take an edge. It’s just that the edge seems to fade away without any use at all…even while it only sits in the pocket of my yard tool bucket. We’ve all had an untold number of cheap Japanese kitchen knives that do that same thing… one soap-and-water washing and they’re dull.

This poor thing will get tossed back in the bucket after I give a go at the blade on my Lansky System just for the “halibut”. Even a beater beats nothing when you are wrist deep in manure and need to open that second bag….

Edit~ It did sharpen up pretty OK for a beater…

The Project Knife Arrived

The semi-Bowie blade shape is just what I was looking for to add to my arsenal. Whatever it’s unknown age might be, the shape is the one popularized by the WWII “M3” combat blades issued to the US armed forces, and made by a number of quality knife companies including Camillus, Case, Ka-Bar, and Cattaraugus Cutlery. This one lacks the concave “blood groove” along the upper blade that marks the fighting knives. It is also shorter at 6″ as opposed to the M3 mil-spec standard of 6 3/4″.  As such, mine was probably [hopefully] made in the 50s-60s as a hunting or Boy Scouting knife. I had one very similar back in my own scouting days.

 

 

My EBay seller did not make it clear that the sheath was “non-original”, and had been modified to allow easier slashing of your pants leg.

 

 

In the upper photo I laid my fully sharpened Buck 692 over the new blade. It is obvious that there is not much on the way of an edge left on the new guy. You can see arm hairs from shave-testing the edge on the Buck… NO chance of that on the n00b. Although it is not really as obvious from the long angle of the shot, the new knife has very little if any damage to the point. It hasn’t been over-abused, just neglected and poorly sharpened/ maintained.

The classic aluminum pommel has a the Ka-Bar shape that I find really appealing… less rounded off than some scouting type knifes. It too shows no sign of abusive handling. Thank god it didn’t have the dreadful, disgruntled eagle pommel that got put on too many Boy Scout knives back in the day.

 

FullSizeRender 24The stacked leather on the handle is still tightly compressed with no missing disks, no gapping between the disks, and not dried out. I particularly like the finger grooves. They are a feature that I had not seen in the seller’s photos. The three color, plastic stacks at each end are right purdy as well.

 

I will want to do some overall smoothing with a file and high-grit sandpaper to even out the grip, and then finish it with a soaking coat of urethane.

This is what a brand new “stacked disk” handle looks like.

Here’s hopes that the project knife might make a come back to something similarly good looking.

 

 

In conclusion, the “project” knife is just about what I hoped to get for the money [$22 shipped]. The biggest question is of course that of the steel grade used, and with no quick way to evaluate that beyond re-edging it and then seeing how the blade holds up to use. The good news is that the overall construction seems to be of a quality that would at least imply a decent grade of steel was used in the build. It could be German Solingen. I know they made plenty of blades in this style, but “unbranded” for use by a variety of US companies.

Other than that, there are no glaring problems to be seen. I know what my knowledge, skills and tool kit are capable of… I don’t think there are any real obstacles to ending up with a highly usable, and nicely restored knife at far less cost than buying one new. Plus I get the satisfaction of the process. I’ll keep updating as I work on it.

Of course, I am gonna have to buy a new sheath! [$9 on Amazon].

[Quik Note~~ I was wrong about how bad the blade was. A fast whetting on my kitchen steel and I sliced up onions, carrots, and beef for stew just fine. It’s a bit thick in the blade for real kitchen use, but already good enough for my camp cooking chores]