View Full Version : High Performance Blades

07-04-2003, 08:21 AM
It being July fourth and I'm feeling very independent this morning, I thought I'd start this thread. I've been toying with the idea for a couple of weeks and the latest threads are just leading me right to it so here goes.

I want to talk about HIGH PERFORMANCE BLADES. Pure and simple. What are they? What makes them so? Hunters, Bird and Trout, Martial Blades (My personal Favorite) Camp Knives, Survival. What makes any of these...and others....High Performance rigs? (Don't forget Swords!!!)

Is it design? Materials? Execution? Edge Geometry???? The equation has many variables and the combinations are endless, at least theorhetically ( I spelled it like that on purpose)

We are experiencing the High Rennaisance of knifemaking. When I look at the advancements since I started in '96, and I'm thinkin' aesthetics here, its amazing how far we've come. Yet with new materials, forward thinking and reviving some rather "lost" concepts of design, we've seen a tremendous increase in overall performance in blades as well.

This is COOL stuff guys, there's alot going on. We're lucky to be a part of all this right now.

So lets here whats on your minds. If you make, own, or know of a piece that you consider a High Performance Blade, lets hear about it. (Lets keep this limited to fixed blades for now.)

Happy Independence Day!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!:D Be Safe


Jerry Hossom
07-04-2003, 10:00 AM
No doubt about it! If we consider we have the most advanced tools and the most sophistocated and controllable metallurgical methods ever available, it seems pretty logical that we have the capacity to advance the art and science of the blade beyond anything yet achieved.

I think the greatest challenge facing us is to bring all the pieces together in the absence of the kind of practical testing methods available in the past. Our means of testing are sometimes pretty irrelvant. Shaving arm hair or slicing paper are just not highly predictive of how a blade will perform in real use. In the past, "tactical" didn't necessarily equate to testosterone deficiency. Let's face it, real swords, used by real people, in real battles often experienced hard edge to edge impacts. How many swordmakers today do such a test? Even a solid "I'll replace it if it ever breaks, period" warranty is not quite the same motivation as death if the king's sword breaks in battle.

Chopping through 2 x 4's is OK, but the very edge that works well on pine might be utterly wrong for other purposes. A relatively static test of how far you can bend a blade before it breaks is not the same as the impact of two cavalry sabers meeting edge to edge, swung simultaeously by two opposing cavalrymen approaching each other at a closing speed of maybe 40 mph on horseback. They #### sure weren't made from the best steels ever, yet many survived just that very thing. Why? How?

I think we need to read very carefully between the lines of historical texts and apply what we can glean from there to the more advanced technical resources available to us today.

Frankly, this is precisely what I had hoped would be the focus of this forum when I first proposed it be started here. It's a HUGE topic, and worth a whole lot of talking before we can even scratch the surface.

From my own work and testing, and the testing of many of my customers, I've learned just enough to know there's a whole lot I don't know. Everyday, I learn I don't know more than I did the day before... :)

Thanks for starting this topic Rob. Now, let have some fun!

Jason Cutter
07-07-2003, 03:46 AM
As a newbie, this topic fascinates me. At this stage, I cannot hope to achieve the results of the many masters before and in front of me. It doesn't hurt to try though. And perhaps, just perhaps, more important than the achievement of the "perfect" or "high-performance blade" is the road that we take as we search hard for that "Excalibur" as Ed Fowler puts it.

I think that as a cutler, the "high performance" begins when you have first of all achieved what is "good enough" and then want more ... This is a very strong and valid psychological concept I use in my day job, it applies equally well to blades. Let me explain.

"Good enough" is a point of personal achievement where you can start taking stock of the path you have already travelled and experienced. It forms the basis of what else is to come. Without it you cannot move on. Ie.- counting your blessings. "Good enough" is the fall back standard. Everybody's "good enough" forms at different points. Eg.- I am good enough now to sell a knife, forge to shape or good enough to do the HT myself, or perhaps send it to Paul Bos for HT (That too might be "good enough" or even more) and so forth and so forth. Or that point might be decided by a governing body, eg.- ABS JS/MS testing criteria. Nonetheless, I still think that the best criteria are the ones that come from within ourselves.

Performance means so many different things to different people. It might not simply be about edge holding, wear resistance, absolute hardness or shock resistance. So "high performance " can also be about having a more comfortable handle or doing a better job with the fit and finish. Some will also argue that performance can be about looks - if it looks better it is obviously already performing better in the visual department. I had a maker tell me that if he reduced the price on one of his knives, it had just become more high-performance as it had just become better value for money !!!

"Performance" is a relative term. The starting point (ie.- the "good enough" point) is up to you to decide. You might say, "I will build a knife that works better, cuts better, longer, is easier to sharpen, and feels better in the hand than that $%#@ factory hunting knife..." Or " I will build a knife that makes X-cuts in hemp rope and no less."

The end point ("high") has no ceiling, it is infinity. And this is where the journey becomes as important or more important than the destination. And when you think you've reached that destination, you will undoubtedly begin another journey ...

Sorry if this makes no sense to anyone, and for it being so long. Its a concept quite dear to me and its one of the reasons I make knives. Cheers. Jason.

george tichbour
07-07-2003, 07:24 AM
Once upon a long time ago there was a hunter out in the bush on a late Octobers evening sitting on a log sharpening a knife for the 4th or 5th time while dressing out a moose dreaming about a high performance knife that would dress, skin, and quarter an entire moose without having to be resharpened...a real high performance knife.

High performance is simply what the individul needs at the moment...that hunter didn't care one little bit about whether the knife was stainless or whether it would stand up in a cavalry charge... he was freezing his .... off and just wanted to get back to camp.

Every job has it's own special requirements so the blade shape and material vary widely, as knifemakers we have to understand those special requirements and tailor our knives to the job at hand.

Jerry Hossom
07-07-2003, 09:28 AM
Good (great) points.

I agree completely, this is a lot about relevancy. The guy sitting in the dark, trying to get the moose quartered is probably thinking as much about wishing he'd pushed that moose a little closer to the road before he shot, and not much about whether the ####ed knife rusts.

What drew me to making knives was a passion for hunting, and wanting a better knife than I could buy. What has kept me in knifemaking is the unique challenge of tactical and combat knives, where the list of must have features places some things like sharpening further down the list than something like being able to cut wire or even incidental contact with a rifle barrel.

Did that Japanese sword cut through a .50cal barrel? Well, I heard it was an M1 barrel, and whether it cut through, cut mostly through, cut enough to render it inoperable, or just cut it deeper than anyone there at the time thought possible are maybe those lines we need to read between. These things tend to be improved on in the telling. Just in my lifetime it's gone from M1 to .50cal., but since most .50cals were/are vehicle mounted, I think I'll stick with the M1 for shaping my attitude on the subject. Do I think a fine Japanese sword, wielded by a master swordsman, pumped full of adreniline in the heat of battle, can cut substantially through an M1 barrel? Yes.

Even so, in an actual documented test of another Japanese sword during WWII, an acknowledged swordmaster serving in China, using a sword made by one of the great smiths, was unable to behead a cow in a single stroke, and the sword was damaged (bent as I recall) in the test. What do I read from that? Maybe he was having a bad day, maybe the cow was too tall, maybe he was too short, maybe... Dunno.

What I do know, or at least think I know, is that some blades in the past have performed well beyond our understanding, given the technology that was generally available to the makers, or that we know was available. It's taken a lot of people a lot of years to reproduce wootz reliably. The technolology used to make it was either not recorded or was lost in time. The role of alloying elements in steel is only recently fully undertood ("recently" being the last hundred years), and some is just being discover/rediscovered as we type. The role of temperature cycling is maybe being understood only now, though it was certainly used many hundreds of years ago to produce wootz. Was Damascus first made because it was pretty, or because it performed better than homogenous steel, or because it produced a more uniform blade from less uniform component steels, or because it was easier than refining the steel further, or because it required less time to make good steel on the anvil than in the crucible? We'll never really know the answer, but we might argue that it was all of the above, maybe none of the above.

In my mind the real definition of performance is not in the 3, 4 or even 10 things you might list in your hierarchy of wants. It's the totality of everything for which a blade might be used or abused.

We might be inclined to place too much weight on steel and not enough emphasis on other aspects of a blade's physical being, and I guess I'd have to heap the handle on a given blade into the same pile, along with overall weight, and balance, and point of impact, and leverage and all the other physical characteristics that make a blade do what a blade is designed to do. And since few knives are used by people who really know how to use them, I'd have to include the capacity to deal with that as well as a little stupidity from time to time.

And we have to place it in the context of the time and use for which it is intended. The only hemp rope I've seen in the past 20 years was used for knife testing. If you really want to shave arm hair, buy Gillette. And if cutting tatami is your thing, stick a cow femur in the middle of it so you really know what it takes to cut through human flesh. Hell, stick an M1 barrel in the middle of it and take a swipe at immortality! :)

I have a lot of my testing done by others. There are maybe three reasons for that. The most obvious reason is they are going to do it anyway, and I could never have anticipated that one of my 154CM machetes might be used on a fire plug, or a small fighter might be asked to carve slices out of a steel support post in some guy's basement because he only wrapped it with a couple turns of carpeting. The second reason is that I am physically unable to generate the stresses achievable by experts in the use of a knife or sword. I simply don't have the power or hand speed that can generate the stresses they can achieve. I'm trying to determine the limitation of the blade, not the person wielding it, so I use the best I can find to do that for me. They also have a much better idea of whether or not the knife has achieved all of its design objectives, not all of which are measured by the edge. Thirdly, I don't control the testing, and therefore it's more likely to be representative of the intended use (or unintended abuse) than my incomplete understanding of that use.

I do a lot of testing of my own, and correspond regularly with other makers on how, what and why. Rob Simonich and I talk about this a lot. He's come up with some of the most creative ways to abuse knife blades of anyone I know. I mean how else would I know that most fully hardened knife steels won't tolerate the impact of a .45cal slug? I've now dropped that off my list of performance expectations.

In the final analysis though, some of the best tests are often those you hear about from people who actually paid for the knife. Maybe it was that moose hunter who called you after he got home and thawed out, telling you that "your ####ed knife" isn't worth crap! Maybe it's some young guy who walks up to you at a show and says, I was in Kandahar and want you to know that your knife works, then walks away without another word. Maybe it's the guy who just bought his 20th from you. Or an email I got last month from a guy in Nicaragua for whom I edged an Ontario machete about a year ago. He's used it regularly since then without sharpening it. The note was about the fact that he loaned it to a native fellow who was doing some work for him. After about 15 minutes, the guy brought it back to him and said he didn't want to use it. It was too sharp. Or maybe it's that blade that just shouldn't have chipped doing what it did, or at least doing what the guy said it did.

But all that said, it is my firm belief that we are just now scratching the surface of knife performance. After thousands of years of trying, we still haven't got it right, and that's what makes this so #### much fun.

07-10-2003, 08:38 PM
here is what they made believe me:
If you got the right steel, HT,edge geometrie,blade geometrie for a specific task then only the performer can do wrong. Which type of material will be cut soft hard or wearing? Stainless or Heat resistant, nonmagnetic? Which typ of cut is prefered like push, pull of hit? Which leads you to the right steel. Set the edge geometrie, bladegeometrie and the HT. The manufactur of the steel can provide you with the HT manual, that must be adjusted to thinner diameters. If you continue with a computer controlled, super modern HT-Oven and follow the manual you will have a high performance knife for a task. And the closer you were able to define your task the better the blade will perform.
Of course the knife maker have to do it with out any faults from beginning to the end like not heat the edge while sharpening.
For example will you cut fish, hardwood or cardboard? Would you like to be able to push it throug something or use it like a saw?
Choose low carbon steels for a shock resistant edge, medium for clean cut with moderate shock resistance and high for very clean cuts and very little shock-resistance.
If you need a steel that you want drive through a wearing material no matter how and without resharpening you will want carbids like in high alloyed steels or alloyed tool steels.
I would suggest that the elk hunter if he has a thin 0,9%-1% carbon blade at 60HRC should avoid cutting into bones and sand and that he takes a different tool for the bones. No blade will perform at the highest level on both materials.
Thats what a highperformance blade is just IMHO.

07-15-2003, 05:55 PM
good stuff, here. being relatively ignorant of the many uses to which a knife might subected, i have come to depend on customer feedback and, like jerry, communication with other knife people on the matter of performance. one thing i do believe is that there is no tool that will be all things to all users, nor up to every task. that said, i try my best to combine known features together in order to best perform certain tasks. maybe that is why there are so many makers building so many different knives?

07-15-2003, 10:21 PM
hi major newbie here! i have been reading these boards for a few weeks and im hooked. this will be my first post the subject just grabbed me. while i have not finished a knike as of yet i do a lot of testing on blades i buy( my friends call me breako). i recently purchased a few production folders ( recon 1's by cold steel) all the same as far as i knew. i ordered 3 spear points with half seration. well when i got them one of them was different. it was made in japan while the other two were made in taiwan. so i sold one of the taiwan versions and kept the other two. so i decided to do some testing on them. mostly on the tiawan version becaus its easyer to replace. but i did do a test with both of them and thay held up well. the taiwan version held up better then the japan it had small break at the tip. i basicly just stabbed them through some coins. first a penny then a dime then a nickel then finally a quarter. i dont know if any body does this but i just thaught of it a few weeks ago i call it the 41 cent test. i also did some nasty gate intwined vine ridden garden weed cuting(yes with a folder). hacking at the chain link fence to cut the vines and sawing the thicker vines and small trees like thay were paper! then trying to cut through the steel posts that suport the fence. after all that i had broke some teeth on the serations. but other then that it still shaved (not as clean as befor ) and not a bit of lock play or losening of screws. i also like to do some prying test like sticking it underneath an airconditioner thats in place and sitting on a 2x4. i wedgeit right there and see if it can lift the weight with out any problems .also stabbing/ hammering the tip in some wood and breaking it out is a comon test.
"HIGH PERFORMANCE" to me is 1)how much easyer the given tool makes your life 2) still in your price range 3) long lasting life 4) easy to maintain 5)multiple function's help alot even if its only a skull crushing pomell 6) and the above all else the ability to withstand any thing you or nature can dish out and keep stabbing, crushing ,cutting ,chopping, killing and anythikng else you need it to do