Monday, December 8, 2014

"Aggression" Primal/Tactical Rig for U.S. Army Sniper

I was recently approached by an Army sniper stationed in Afghanistan to build him a knife that would work equally well at clearing brush and gathering vegetation for building "hides" and for use as a weapon in up-close-and-personal encounters if need be.  He said he already carried garden trimmers and a folding saw, but as he put it, "they're pretty lame and useless as weapons".  :D

The knife on my website that had caught his eye was the latest addition to the Aggression brethren.

I had traced the blade of it prior to wrapping the handle, so I had a pattern to start with.  I made a few suggested changes to make it more practical, which I made in blue Sharpie, to which he agreed.  We also both agreed that retina-searing orange would be a poor choice for a sniper, and settled on a more subdued wrap for his.  :)

I made a posterboard pattern of the altered design, and after a couple of false starts, got the blade forged.  It took several cycles of cutting away excess metal, cleanup grinding, and re-forging to get the desired profile, weight, and balance.

After normalization and an overnight vinegar soak to eat off the scale, it was time for stock removal and heat treatment.

The wrap on this knife is a bit different from what I've done before.  Usually, I use an underlay of paracord with its core intact to build up the bulk around the tang, with a stripped-core paracord overlay.  This time, I laid a foundation of a slab of leather on either side of the tang, the edges heavily beveled to keep from getting square corners on the handle, then wrapped a black stripped-core underlay and tan stripped-core overlay on top, capped off with an intact-core three-strand Turk's head knot.  The whole wrap was then impregnated with marine epoxy, making a solid handle in place on the tang.  The leather foundation helped make one of the most comfortable handle wraps I've done, and I'm very pleased with the outcome.

After establishing the edges, the whole knife was dipped in solution to give it a black oxide finish and the final sharpening done.  The epoxied wrap was impervious to the solution.  I had tested out dipping a wrapped handle in before trying it on his, of course.  :)

As beautiful as the ostrich-hide-inlaid leather sheath was that Luke Swenson made for the previous Aggression is, the sniper and I decided that Kydex was the way to go for his.

This was the most complex Kydex sheath I've built to date because I wanted to give him a lot of carry options.  He wanted to be able to wear it attached to his pack or from his belt, and for it to have an extra retention strap, something I haven't done on a sheath before.  We also both like the concept of using the sheath as a platform for a survival kit, so that factored in as well.

Here's the full rig:

The two sets of MOLLE locks are for attachment on a pack, the straps can be used for such or for the attachment of MOLLE pouches to the outside to carry a survival kit, and the paracord is the same as used on the handle wrap, arranged where a piece is quickly accessible, but won't accidentally come loose from the sheath even if the end comes untucked.

Here's the "prosthetic" piece I built to attach the retention strap.

I wanted a quick way for the sheath to go from pack carry to belt carry, so rigged up a couple of quick-detach belt holders that slip under the MOLLE locks.  The first was the webbing one, which is more flexible.

I decided that he might want it more rigid on his belt, so I built a second one out of Kydex with a TekLok.

Both belt carry setups are height-adjustable and can be swapped out in under a minute.  Never seen another setup like that.  Doesn't mean no one else has done it, just that I haven't seen it.  :)

I'm looking forward to seeing how he ends up setting up the rig for carry.  I sent along what remained of the tan paracord, as well as 10 feet of the strap and some extra buckles and sliders.  He can play around with all kinds of different carry options.

And a couple of shots of the blade in hand to get a feel for scale.  I don't think I took final dimensions before shipping it out (though I can measure the tracing I did of it), but it's about a 12" blade with the top edge fuller sharpened for about 1/3 of the length.

And finally, a video with most of what I just said, but a bit more:

He's pretty happy with it so far.  Said he has to look at it every twenty minutes, which is what a maker likes to hear.  :)

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Customer feedback

I always enjoy getting customer feedback.  Here's some recently from our men in uniform.

The first is a picture taken on some oil rigs that the SEALs use for training off the California coast.  That's one of my Benghazi Warfighters being carried scout-style at the small of the back by my best customer.  :)

Here's the knife before I sent it to him a while back:

His buddy and fellow SEAL back in Hawaii who likes to bow hunt mountain goats got back in touch with me recently about his goat cleaver.

He said, "I have been putting that zombie cleaver to work! and to my amazement it still shaves a little hair after such abuse of chopping bone, trees, bamboo, and whatever else got in its way."  I confirmed with him that it is the edge that I shipped the cleaver with.  He has finally touched it up since then.  :)

And from a soldier who recently got a Benghazi Warfighter: "I took my War fighter to my grandparents house in Alpine, TX I made a fire in their firepit using well seasoned mesquite that has been dead and laying in the sun for years. The mesquite was rock hard, the saw there was very dull and wasn't getting anywhere so I used my Helmforge to chop through an average leg sized log. It would have chopped better if I put on a lanyard but just the light chopping chipping around got me to where I could smash the log against a rock to snap it in two. It dulled a bit but no chips or rolls. This knife continues to impress me."

Thanks guys!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Post anvil rebound test

Tobin just added a quick rebound test video.

 He's going to build a "west Texas tree stump" for it, at which point it should be a real dandy. :)

Heat Treating a 4140 Block Anvil

My buddy Tobin Nieto and I heat treated a 4140 block anvil for him yesterday.

56 pounds of steel at over 1500 degrees.  Much fun.  :)

Monday, November 3, 2014

Tactical tomahawk destructive testing video

I finally got video edited together and uploaded showing my tactical 'hawks' various configurations and then doing some testing with them. 

It's fairly thorough and therefore long.  If you'd like to skip ahead to different sections, here's how it's divided up:

Design and Options - 1:22
Sheaths - 13:52
Cutting Wood - 22:57
Destructive Testing - 28:37

More video later.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Black oxide Benghazi Warfighter

Been playing around with a black oxide finish that I'm really digging and plan to be using more in the future.

These are the first two knives that I've sold with that finish.  Benghazi Warfighters in 5160 with black Tero Tuf handles and flared stainless tube rivets, black Kydex sheaths.  One went to Australia and the other to Canada.

And what the blades looked like without the black oxide.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Tactical Knives article online

If you missed the article by Joe Flowers about my work in the July issue (sadly, the final issue) of Tactical Knives magazine, it is now available online, with color photos.  So you can see the retina-searing neon lemon yellow of the cord wraps that just looked white in the b&w photos of the print issue.  :)

Monday, September 1, 2014

On the road again...

Back in Texas, though not back home yet.  It was interesting in Las Vegas because while it was above 100 degrees like in San Antonio, the much lower humidity meant that it actually felt comfortable in comparison!  We're putting in long days and lots of miles to get back and made our only early stop in Lubbock, my old college stomping grounds, this afternoon.  We saw the extreme of 113 degrees in Needles, California, with $4.89 gas and 77 degrees near the Grand Canyon, with $3.14 gas here in Lubbock.

I did manage to have a respectably full table, even if I did finish up sharpening in the hotel room and putting straps on the tomahawk sheaths at the show.

My loverly bride, Allie, always makes knife shows more fun.  :)  God bless her patience!

Right side of the table, with the bush swords.

Left side, featuring the new 15" tomahawks.

Three lengths of Wrecker 'hawks for comparison.

The 15" hammer poll sold.  I got a picture before it left the table.

And a couple of the Benghazi Warfighters.  I missed getting sheaths built for the black ones.  I'll get those together this week after getting back home.

The 15" 'hawks and the Benghazi Warfighters both feature a new handle material for me: Tero Tuf.  It's a composite material similar in concept to Micarta, but tougher and less toxic to work with, as well as feeling similar to canvas Micarta on the hand but a bit more comfortable.  I'm pretty happy with it, and sure plan to make use of it more in the future.

Had a lot of fun, met new folks, talked with old folks, made good contacts, sold some blades.  Good show!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Further progress

Here are the Benghazi Warfighters between their first and second tempering cycles.

My goal for the day is to grind and heat treat tomahawks.

Friday, August 22, 2014


Made some more progress today.

First got the wraps impregnated with marine epoxy, essentially making a composite material in place on the tangs.  They're solid now.

Then worked on the Benghazi Warfighters.

After cleanup grinding on the profiles, time to cut out the tangs with my fancy-shmancy high-moolah bandsaw.

Some cleanup grinding.

Drilled the rivet and lightening holes, then triple normalized.

And now they're soaking in vinegar overnight to eat the scale off.  All going well, they should have stock removal and heat treatment done tomorrow.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Flogging in the heat

I have the Usual Suspects Network Gathering knife show coming up over Labor Day weekend in Las Vegas.  I had a few pieces left in stock from the Blade Show back at the beginning of June, plus a month to prepare.  Figured I could knock out a few commissions and have plenty of time to build inventory.

Then, I caught a cold/flu-like bug at my niece's first birthday party the last weekend in July that knocked me on my back where I barely left the couch for at least 10 days.  And everything that I had on hand sold.

So now I'm scrambling in 100+ degree south Texas late summer to get some work together so I won't have an empty table.  :)  And I haven't posted work in a while, so I figured I'd do so before getting a shower and crawling into bed.

A batch of Benghazi Warfighters as pre-forms.

And with the blades rough forged, trimmed, final forged, and awaiting final profile cleanup before cutting out the tangs and normalizing.

A few cord-wrapped knives waiting to get trimmed and impregnated with marine epoxy.  The one with the retina-searing yellow is a commission.

A stack of tomahawks waiting to be ground.  Probably not all of these will be done for the show.  Gotta make strategic decisions on where to dedicate time.


And finally a couple of bush swords post-heat treatment.  The blunt-ended one is about a 14" blade and the slender, sinuous one is about 16".

Monday, July 21, 2014

Knives for sale

"Available Work" has been updated to include knives that are on hand and ready to ship:

Available Work

Edit: And updated again to include Aggression.  :)

Friday, July 18, 2014

Blades on hand!

I finally have some knives available for sale!  They are mostly left from the Blade Show and still needed sheaths built.  They now all have sheaths and I will be putting them in the "Available Work" section in the next few days.

Unfortunately, it's too dang late for me to do so tonight.  :)  But be checking back this weekend if you're interested.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

New article in BLADE magazine

If you haven't seen the October issue of BLADE magazine, one of my War Chief tactical tomahawks was reviewed by Kim Breed along with a Battle 'Hawk by Derick Rougeau.  I think Kim did a good series of tests on them and am pleased with the results.

But the full length photo in the article foreshortens it a bit.  If you're visiting my blog because of the article, here's what it looked like before I shipped it to Kim:

And if you are here because of the article, please visit my blog dedicated to my mid-tech line of blades, such as the tomahawks, which is about to expand to include knives and bush swords:  Helm Enterprises, Grinding Division

Monday, July 14, 2014

Throwing 'hawk vs. non-throwing 'hawk, featuring Mike Deibert

This question came up in a forum and it gave me a good opportunity to answer a common question and show off a beautiful tomahawk made by Mike Deibert.

"Are tomahawks designed for throwing made in a different, identifiable fashion? I guess I just have the idea that tomahawk = throwing axe, ahha."

This is a throwing 'hawk made by Mike Deibert, an American Bladesmith Society Journeyman Smith who runs a missionary vocational school in Nicaragua.  They have a blacksmithing and metal fabrication program that is kind of the heart of the school.

I helped point him at Tai Goo's washtub forge back when he was setting up the school and was looking for charcoal forge designs that could be built with materials on hand, and have had the pleasure of getting to meet and visit with him in person several times when he's come to knife shows in the States.  At the 2013 Blade show I gave him a forging hammer I'd made and he gave me this 'hawk, which my 1/64th Choctaw fiancĂ© (now wife) promptly laid claim to.  :)
Here it is next to one of my 18" Wreckers, the one I busted some padlocks with a few months back.  

The overall lengths are similar, but design and construction are very different.  Mike's is a traditional wrapped eye, mild steel with a 5160 cutting bit forge welded in.  You can see the handle is widest at the top and tapers all the way down to the butt end of the handle.  That lets it slip out of the hand easily when thrown.  Mine tapers in the opposite direction and has a swell at the butt, making it not want to slip out of the hand when swung.

The handle cross section and the 'hawk eye are a teardrop shape that keeps the head from rotating around the handle.

The eye is wider at the top than at the bottom, of course, to accommodate the taper of the handle.  The head stays on with friction and centrifugal force, like a pickax or a grubbing hoe.  This is also related to throwing, which puts tremendous stress on a handle.  If it lands wrong when being thrown, the handle will break.  With the head able to pop loose if it lands handle-first, it reduces the shock in the handle and makes it less likely to break.  But pretty much any handle on a 'hawk that is thrown will break eventually.

This 'hawk also has a leather sheath that reminds me a bit of ladies' swimwear or undergarments.  :D

And a look at the back end.  You can see where the eye was hammered true around a drift.

So, there is a traditional throwing 'hawk differentiated with a modern, non-throwing 'hawk.  They're aimed at different purposes and the construction is completely different for that reason.  Many of the modern tactical 'hawks are built with retention in the hand as one of the design considerations, so they have various kinds of appropriate tapers and butt-swells to provide for that need.  The America Tomahawk Company LaGana 'hawk is a notable exception, as it is designed with combat throwing in mind.  Footage of Peter LaGana demonstrating combat tomahawk throwing in simulated contemporary (Vietnam-era) combat situations shows just how well his design and skilled hands allowed his weapon to throw.  Different design considerations, different designs. 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Order status

As fellow knifemaker Ben Tendick says, my books are CLOSED.

I have had some very patient people waiting on me to get their blades forged, while I've stayed busy with tactical 'hawks and working to increase my line of mid-tech stock removal blades, as well as making headway on my list of forged orders.  While I have recently had an article come out in Tactical Knives magazine that has let a lot of folks know about my work who didn't before, I need to take care of the orders that have stacked up rather than take on a bunch more.

As a knifemaker becomes better known and the number of orders increases, he has several avenues he can follow:

1.  Increase prices.
2.  Increase output.
3.  Limit sales.
4.  Get behind, get overwhelmed, ruin his reputation, and go out of business.
5.  Build a multi-year waiting list.

My approach is going to be a little of the first three and avoidance of the fourth one.  That's why I don't take payment until a blade is ready to ship.  :)  And I'd rather not have the multi-year waiting list, either.

I'll make a link on the right hand of the page that lets you check on whether I'm taking orders at the moment or not.  Until I get caught up, I am only accepting new orders for forged work from people who are:

1.  Active duty military, LEO, or first responders.
2.  Customers who have already bought work from me and want something else.

So, if you have already talked with me about an order and haven't heard back in a while, send me an e-mail.  We'll make sure you are written down on my work list and I will get your blade to you as soon as I can.

If you are interested in a tactical tomahawk, or one of the mid-tech knives when they become available, I am still taking orders for them.

Thanks to everyone who has purchased my work!  I am grateful to be able to make blades that serve their owners well, and am pleased with the feedback I've gotten from folks.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Dismembering a mesquite tree with the carcass splitter

I got a chance to put the carcass splitter to the test doing the kind of work I grew up doing and which has informed my thoughts on cutting: dismembering a mesquite tree. I think it's a lot more informative than a water bottle test or trying to cut multiple coconuts (though that may be because I failed to cut multiples due to the blade deflecting).
But see for yourself.  :)

Friday, May 30, 2014

Carcass splitter cutting video

Got a bit of cutting video.  Unfortunately, the button didn't get pushed during the 2" x 4" chop.  :(  But it cut over halfway through with each swing.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Carcass splitter finished

Finished up the carcass splitter.  It'll be on my table at the Blade Show.  17 1/2" blade, 20 1/4" handle, forged from 2" x 1/4" 5160.  The handle is paracord over leather, with a three-strand paracord Turk's head knot, all impregnated with epoxy.

My buddy and fellow knifemaker Tobin Nieto of Stonehaven Knifeworks made the lined rawhide sheath for it.  One of the avenues that led him to making knives was an interest in movie props and replicas of movie props.  He perfectly captured the vibe that I envisioned for the overall project: something that would be carried by a boss character in a zombie video game or the antagonist of a slasher movie.

I had my hand in the sheathwork, though.  Namely, the "blood splatters".

They're actually brick red India ink.  :D

The chain is a shoulder sling.  It originally was part of the mechanism for opening and shutting a heavy door in a huge slaughterhouse that my landlord's father worked in.  I don't know what position he had, but he told me there were 600 men working under him, and he supervised when the slaughterhouse was torn down.  The hooks are forged from a high-carbon farm implement tine.

The blood splatters look pretty authentic, huh?  Like something Leatherface would have hanging above his bed.   :D

Here's one of the ways of wearing it with the sling.

"Forth, minions!"

 One of the things I like about it is that although it is large and has plenty of power, it's still light and lively enough to wield one-handed.

I have some materials gathered for a little cutting demo video later on in the week, weather permitting.

Oh, Tobin plays guitar, too.   :D