Putting a Fine Edge on Things…

When I was at the Great Pumpkin hammock hang last month, my friend R3l@X gave me a knife sharpening mini-seminar. I am fairly proficient, and have a variety of stones that have accumulated over the years, but I wanted to see if I could up my game. His system is based on the Lansky System of graduated hone stones and various polishing compounds on leather strops. I was way beyond impressed with the results, and ordered my own set when I got home.

From the Lansky site:

“The Lansky Deluxe Controlled-Angle Sharpening System [5 Stone] features:

  • Extra Coarse Black Hone: (70 grit) for re-profiling the bevel grind
  • Coarse Red Hone:  (120 grit) for edge reconditioning
  • Medium Green Hone:  (280 grit) for sharpening and less frequent touch-ups
  • Fine Blue Hone:  (600 grit) for most frequent touch-ups to keep your blade paper-slicing sharp
  • Ultra-Fine Ceramic Yellow Hone:  (1000 grit) for polishing the edge for a razor sharp edge
  • Honing Oil:  Specially Formulated for sharpening
  • Easy to use, multi-angle clamp:  to hold the blade securely
  • Guide Rods:  One for every hone
  • Extra long knife clamp screws for thicker blades
  • Storage/carrying case to hold all system components
  • Complete easy-to-follow multi-lingual instructions”

I ordered two additional diamond hones in Coarse (120) and Medium (280) grits because I knew that I had some, old, worthwhile blades that would require aggressive reshaping.

As you can see in the product materials, you clamp the blade in the jaws of the clamp, select an angle [17°/20°/25°/30°] that closely matches the existing edge, and using the rod mounted on the hone stone to maintain that angle with the slots, you gently slide the hone upward against and into the blade while sliding it sideways as well. The technique takes only a couple of passes to master, and yields superb results.

One of R3l@x’s tricks is to blacken the cutting edge of the blade with a “Sharpie” marker. Then you make 1 or 2 passes with the ultra fine, 1000 grit hone. That stone is so fine that it only polishes off the marker, and reveals how much the blade needs actual “grinding” down with the more aggressive stones to place/extend that polish right to the cutting edge. Any black between the polished of area and the cutting edge needs to be worked down. There are some other tricks and techniques that make using the Lansky System easier and more efficient… I will go into those when I do a planned tutorial on Basic Knife Sharpening sometime soon.

You just move up through the gradations of grit, moving from actually changing or improving the edge profile, thru simply refining out the grind marks, and on until you are merely polishing the final, “hair popping”, razor-sharp edge.

The results are astounding! I took the sad little neck knives that I bought for next to nothing out of Sham Shui Po, last seen in the post “You Get What You Pay For…”,  and achieved an unimagined sharpness that upgraded them from classic POSes, to really “OK”. I had them relegated them to survival kits just for batoning fire stock. Now they can shave tinder as well. They were the proof for the Lansky System in general, and the two diamond add-ons as well.

 

Using the Lansky is simple and effective. Combined with further finish honing on stropping compound sticks, you can easily get great results. The action is one that you can do semi-mindlessly while you listen to music or chat around a campfire. At an Amazon price of only $40 , and given the life it can quickly bring back to nearly any knife, in nearly ANY condition, that needs sharpening, it is close to a no-brainer to pick up.

Later, as needed, you can add the diamond stones, arkansas stone hones, a 2000 grit Super Sapphire Polishing Stone, as well as shaped stones that let you work on serrated and curved blades like “karambits”. They also offer two stands and a C-clamp to support the blade clamp.

Look for my upcoming [check the sidebar] Sharpening Tutorial to see some results.

 

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Bark River Knives~ Adventurer

Despite my previously avowed distrust/dislike of neck knives, when I was at our annual Lobsters and Lighthouses hammock hang last month, I saw a “necker” belonging to a friend, and absolutely fell in love with it. It was the original Adventurer from Bark River Knives, out of Escanaba, Michigan, in the UP. BRK produce a wide range of knives, but always in limited runs. When the distributors run out, it’s “Sorry, Cholly”. … and I really liked that knife!

When I got home, I mulled it over for a couple of weeks while drooling at the on-site photos and weighing the options of one kind of handle material over another… BRK also makes their knives with any number of handle materials as well as choices in the rivets that hold the handle scales to the full-length tang, but they only sell through distributors.  Knives Ship Free, where I was looking to buy, shows each knife individually, and that is the knife you will get. So, you can actually choose from variations in burl, woodgrain, etc. and get that very knife. Mine was fairly plain to keep the price down… especially since I was already spree-deep in the realm of both a birthday and Xmas gift to myself.

I ended up getting the simple Green Canvas Micarta scales in Bohler Elmax steel… I like the look, the grip is excellent, and Elmax takes a fine edge and is easy to maintain. It came with the neck sheath included.

While the shadow in this photo makes it look otherwise, the blade flows smoothly into the handle there at the choil… there is no guard

Overall Length:   6.775″
  Blade Length:   3.250″
  Cutting Edge:   2.675″

 

The Adventurer, like the majority [possibly all] of BR knives, has a full convex grind. This means that the blade curves gently from the spine all the way into the edge. There is no perceptible edge grind at all… just that smooth curve. It means that it is simple to maintain a razor edge by “whetting” the blade on a strop rather than “grinding” it on a stone. [There will be a post on knife sharpening techniques coming right up]  The spine has side edges that will throw a great spark off a ferro-rod for fire starting, and the whole knife is beyond sturdy without crossing over into bulky. There is a nice, comfortable finger choil between the blade and grip, and good jimping on the spine for your thumb to get purchase in heavier work. Even though the handle portion is only about 3 1/2″ long, [this is not a BIG knife], the finger choil section at the rear of the blade makes the knife superbly holdable. It effectively lengthens the handle by a 1/2″. The balance point is right at the forward rivet, so, it dangles nearly weightlessly on your middle finger.

There is a great, more fully detailed review of the Adventurer done by Anthony Sculimbrene at “Everyday Commentary” that features his “point system”… he gives it his full 20 out of 20.

I have never been able to see the appeal in buying an expensive knife, wearing it around my neck and taking the risk of it dropping out unbeknownst in the middle of an outting. I like the perceived convenience of a neck carry, but I have always carried my blades in my hip pocket with a tether-toggle looped over my belt. I can’t really “whip it out” to take on a grizzly bear, but I haven’t lost a knife in the wild in 40 years… neither have I been assaulted by ANY kind of wildlife.

However, it seems that Bark River has come up with a simple and secure method of truly minimizing that chance of loss, and it won me over…

They placed a strong, rare earth magnet between layers of the sheath. The knife remains easy to slide out of the sheath, but the snug grip of the leather combined with the grab of the magnet make accidental “drop-out” next to impossible. [It does take two hands to replace the blade… sharp as the Adventurer is you would otherwise risk self-inflicted open heart surgery.] As you can see in the photo below, the magnetic assist really does work well.

I love the included sheath. Premium leather, stacked at the sides, well shaped and formed to the knife, strongly sewn, and with two secure brass rivets to pass a neck cord through, the sheath can also be easily carried upright in your pocket. Mine has taken on a really nice patina in only the several weeks I have had the knife… I wear it everyday, down my shirt, outside a tee if I am wearing one. The only treatment I have given it is regular smears of “body-butter”… I literally wipe the grease from alongside my nose into the surface with a thumb or fingertip. It has darkened and richened the leather slightly, and the sheath has become more supple without loosening the grip on the handle at all. You can see something of the difference between the two photos. The topmost was right after I got the knife, and the “dangle” was taken today. I don’t like using waterproofing boot waxes like SnoSeal and Mink Oil on sheaths. I’d rather my sheaths take on their character from their interaction with me, just like a fine leather saddle takes it’s own from the rider and his horse.

 

In conclusion:

Not ever owning a comparably costly knife before, I have nothing to compare my Bark River Adventurer to. I does prove to me that there is practical, useable quality to be had in the high-end knife offerings. I had written them off as expensive toys, too expensive for actual use, for the collectors to hoard. My Adventurer does not even approach the cost of some other collectable knives. Heck, with it’s less-than-fancy handle, it doesn’t even go far up on BRK’s own price scale.

Of course, this means that it also well out of the range of my 90%/50% “rule”. However, for me it is as close to a perfect knife as I will probably ever get, want, or need. It is a truly a “lifetime buy”.

I love this knife as much each time that I pull it out of its sheath as I did when my friend first handed me his. It is so well executed that you have no real perception that it is not a full-size knife. It is a joy to hold, and to use………

I don’t think you can go wrong with the Bark River Adventurer.

 

“FftzzzzZap!”

 

Everybody Hate’s ‘Em….

Everybody brags about their’s!

 

 

 

 

 

“Who you gonna call….?”

 

 

 

Mini zzzZZapper !

PETA certified [People for the Electrical Termination of Annoyances]

My own personal choice is the MINI ZAPPER Electric Bug Eliminator from Yankee Trader. Yeah… mine comes from down at the Fell-Off-A-Truck Stop, SoSorry. No link. But only $3.99 for the mini & $5.99 for a full sized one.

[Plenty of others out there to choose from…]

The “Mini” is 16 inches long, that’s about four inches shorter than the full-size unit. Both of them run on two AA batteries… Not Included of course. And both of them seem to deliver the same 3200 V of  ‘skeeter blasting, blue light flashing,  ZzzZap!!-ing power.

I had grabbed one of the grey, full-sized units last summer. It does do exactly what it’s advertised to, and when I saw the mini version that would be a little easier to stick into my camping tote, I snatched it up last week. Doesn’t hurt to have an extra unit to pass around the fire circle.

My original was a great hit each time I took it out group camping last summer. Our first hammock hang was in late May, and last year, both the mosquito and the blackfly populations were vicious. Everybody wanted to borrow it…

I do not actually have any particular problem with bugs biting me. They are attracted to certain blood types, and to certain pheromones [Chemical trace scents that are unique to individuals]. My own whiffy package seems to be on the less desirable end of their scale. I get swarmed by the blackflies swirling in my face and crawling under  my collar just as badly as anybody else, but I don’t get bitten or have any sort of allergic reaction.  And the high-pitched buzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz as a mosquito homes in on you as just as annoying to me as to others.

But, regardless of your own desirability to the bugs, these “zappers” are really great to have around the campfire during the worst of bug season. They are not only efficient but there’s a fairly high level of entertainment value as well.  There is just nothing like hearing the hummmm of a mosquito back behind your ear, pushing the button, swinging the racket alongside your head, and hearing the rewarding “fffzzzZAP!” as that particular little bugger bites the dust…. everyone else in the circle gets rewarded by seeing the sparkling flash blue light as the critter goes to meet its maker in a sizzling whiff of burned hair stink. With the blackflies especially, sometimes a single swing can take as many as five or eight to a crackling doom.

Now if we could just come up with something to take care of the ticks….

Laguiole “Picnic” Knife

Last fall I got a wild hair and finally bought a Laguiole style knife. I say “style” because these are one of the most heavily cloned knives out there. “Laguiole is like “Kleenex”… It has passed into common usage for any similar sized, folding pocket knife with a similar sweeping blade. I was under no illusions when I ordered this that it was an actual, handcrafted knife from the village of Laguiole, France, or even the adjoining town of Thiers. For one thing, the Shepherds Cross detail on the handle is upside down, and the rivets are not perfectly aligned. While it actually did ship from France, it is certainly a generic version. And, quite frankly, there is nothing wrong with that.

Here’s a quick link to the Wikipedia entry, and it contains other links at the bottom if you want even more information>>  The Laguiole knife

I have quite a number of what I consider to be decent knives suitable for a variety of purposes, but I lack the money to do any serious collecting of fine blades. This is where my 90%/50% criteria is often used.

The classic Laguiole pocketknife was what you took along to cut up your  fruit and cheese, your baguette and sausage on a picnic in the French countryside. If you had one of the units with the corkscrew, you could open your bottle of cheap vin ordinaire.

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One of the hallmarks of Lagouile knives is the semi three-dimensional bee on the spine of the knife over the ferrule. A second is the engraving along the spine. [the photo at the left is clipped off the Internet, but shows both of these features] Even on the non-handcrafted knifes, the the finer the detailing of these, the better chance of the entire knife being higher-quality. These were two items that I looked for when I started shopping around and comparing the offerings. I was lucky, and the knife I purchased was even more finely detailed than the one shown.

 For my purposes, that is quite enough. This one comes branded “Laguiole L’ Eclair”. It is reportedly made in China of an unknown quality of stainless steel, but takes a very fine, sharp edge with minimum effort. Certainly fine enough for preparing food, and use as a “picnic” knife. The blade opens with a satisfying “snick”, but this is not a locking style knife. However, it does take a firm push up against the back of the blade to disengage the back spring.

The slim blade makes it ideal for slicing. This is why I chose to add one to my camping cutlery. I have big, heavy knives; I have pocket knives and pocket tools. I can dress out a deer carcass, hack up some kindling, and take care of most ordinary camp chores. But none of them have the long, thin blade to finely slice an onion, or to make it a real pleasure to deal with that plate-sized, porterhouse steak that just came off the flaming hardwood coals of your open fire and render it into thin, juicy morsels. The Laguiole does.

It it is also the perfect size to go with my titanium dining set, and carries around perfectly in their mesh bag. Together with the SnowPeak spork, I’m covered. I can prepare and consume in perfect grace, dignity, and high style… while out “roughing it”.

I like using “nice” stuff. That’s how I roll.

Return of the Prodigal Spork

18 months ago I lost my sweet SnowPeak titanium Spork.

I broke camp in the middle of the night because of the appalling nature of the coked-up junkies in the next site. They had returned at 1 AM, started a screaming match, and were being abusive to a three-year-old child. I left to go to the police department and turn in a CHINS report.

When it came time to sort my gear out down cellar after I got home, I discovered I must’ve left my spork behind. I knew it had been sitting out on the picnic table, and I pretty much assumed that I had just overlooked it in my hurry to be gone. I wrote it off as “Oh,well…” and eventually got around to ordering another one off of Amazon when they went on sale.

I was really fond of that little sucker. So fond that I actually used it around the house on a daily basis. [I am on my own since my wife passed away, and using the spork for a lot of things made it easier to just stay caught up on my dishes]. That’s why I sprung for a second one.

For under $10, I highly recommend these. They are available from Snow Peak and several other folks in basically identical form factors. You can even get them heat-anodized into various colors. The prongs are just long enough and sharp enough actually hold food, and the”spoon” is decently sized for scooping up liquids. If your broth is really thin, you are probably better slurping it up over the edge of your cup bowl and using the spork to clean up the chunks. And it’s just long enough cannot leave your fingers completely grotty if you were dipping down into a freeze-dry bag. It’s a great choice if you want to hold your carry down to a single eating utensil. With a good knife to cut things up, It’s really all you need.

Anyway, for all those reasons, I was really delighted when I put on my hunting vest recently and found it tucked in a pocket. I hadn’t “lost” it after all.

All Things Tarp Peg

Enough things have arrived through China Post to go ahead and start a few quick reviews.

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One one of the cheapos-from-China sites had an odd 11-11 sale on November 11th. Just about everything was discounted nearly a third. This made it pretty inviting for me to put together an order for a mixed lot of small camping stuff. My experience has been that the gear that I get almost always passes my 90% of the utility for 50% or less of the price guidelines. This lot certainly seems to qualify.

First up, in the front of the above photo was a package of five “Snow & Sand” stakes… Why five? No clue. It does seem like an odd number.  But was perfectly fine for me, because what I intended to do was to take a hacksaw to one of the snow stakes and make a little cat hole shovel.

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Five minutes work with the blade and a file, a mini’biner and a piece of cord, yielded me exactly what I wanted.   30 grams [or just over 1 oz.], easy to see if dropped, easy to hold, and since the package of five pegs was only just over $5 US, it cost me less than almost any other solution I could’ve found. Together with a pair of mil-spec toilet paper packages, and I’m good to go… a-yuh… pun intended.

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The other pegs are just your standard 7″ Y-stake with a nice annodized coating. They are available in red, black, gold, silver,and can sometimes be found in blue. Most sites give you a random pick, but some allow you to specify a preference. I honestly don’t recall whether I chose or went random, but mine are fine by me in the bright red. Whatever, the price of $.50 apiece for what to all intents and purposes is an MSR Groundhog stake** [and those are usually priced at around $2.00 each] made them a good buy. These claim to made of the same 7001 grade aluminum as the more expensive ones, but since nobody sends their units out for professional metallurgy testing, who knows about either ones claim. All I care about is that at the Chinese price point I can bend quite a few and still have quite a few left… and I could not bend one with bare hands. [** the MSRs are actually 4/10″ longer, but also 6gm heavier each… 19gm vs. 13gm]

The more important part about these pegs is the little plastic dongle shown in the photo above. Earlier in the fall, at one of our NEHHA hammock hangs, my friend Alex showed me this trick. $o.93 cents down at the hardware store got me a T-connector for flexible piping like you use for yard sprinkler systems. I went ahead and put a couple pieces of tape on it for easy visibility, and I will also probably end up putting a piece of cord on it.

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You just shove it over the top of your tarp stake as a handle, and use it to push the peg into the ground with a little wiggle to avoid rocks or roots. When you want to pull the peg out, you simply slip the vertical through the loop and give it a tug. Easy-peasy. The best part is since you are not using a rock or your foot to force the stake into the ground, you have almost completely removed the possibility of damaging it.

I am relatively happy with these purchases. I now have some redundancy in terms of pegs for my multiple setups, so that I don’t have to go pirating for some each time I want to use a different tarp. I also believe that the orange cord on the Y-pegs is going to turn out to be reflective, which is a nice little gimme when you’re stumbling around in the dark. The cat-hole shovel turned out so well that I may just vandalize the rest of the snow stakes to make some more as giveaways for my friends… gawd knows I’ve got tons of the MRE toilet paper packets down cellar to go with them. Since they are in that bright, anodized red color, they might make a really great stocking stuffer for the holiday season…

The Nasty Bid-niz Bucket [or a portable cathole for the woods]

It’s one thing to “surrender” to the call of nature. It’s another to leave leave those white flags scattered around the wild.

I have done things similar to this before, but not with such refinement and versatility. Not much for a backpacking journey, but a great idea for your SHTF prep or canoe camping. And not a bad idea to just have in the bottom of the bathroom closet in case the well/pump/power fails, or the sewer line breaks…

[EDIT: one of our readers pointed out a safety issue that I had not considered, and that was not mentioned in the video…       You need to be certain that the bucket to be used is sound. Apparently white buckets, like those for drywall compound, will deteriorate under sunlight/UV more readily than the darker colors. This could cause them to fracture under the weight of your tuckus. You might want to stay away from those older buckets that’ve been out in the shed for a couple years. It is not as though 5 gallon buckets are difficult to find. I am using a green bucket that originally contained deli pickles that they gave me down at the variety. It seems to be made of a heavier weight material than the white buckets I use for mulch. Better safe than sorry.]