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Ed Caffrey's Workshop Talk to Ed Caffrey ... The Montana Bladesmith! Tips, tricks and more from an ABS Mastersmith.

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Old 05-29-2014, 09:38 AM
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Ed Caffrey Ed Caffrey is offline
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Some thoughts on folders and "flippers"

Recently I've had several emails and calls from folks who are building their first folders and/or "flippers". This got me to thinking, and I thought I would share some of my experiences and views....

-First and foremost, If you're used to building "straight" knives, folders require you to rethink your mindset about accuracy. By that I mean when we build straight knives, we generally are dealing with fractions of an inch.....when building folders, we are dealing with THOUSANDTHS of an inch (or less). It takes a bit of time and experince to change the way your brain thinks versus building straight knives.....but when it happens, you will find that the level of precison in your straight knives will increase too!

-True and Flat: Folders present a unique set of circumstances in that they again will require you to re-evaluate your interpretation of "True" and "Flat". In my experience, being out of "true" or "flat" by as little as a 1/2 thousandth means the difference between a folder that operates smoothly, and one that doesn't. I use the term "true" to also describe holes and counterbores. Holes MUST be at dead on 90 degrees. Any counterbores MUST be the same way....including the bottom of any counterbore, especially if you are using bearings in the pivot.

What does all that mean? From my perspective, it means that you can't be afraid to spend the money on "good" tooling if you want to make a good folder. Drill bits, reamers, counterbores, and end mills all need to be top quality.....I used to always buy the "import" cobalt drill bits, simply because they were more economical.....what I found is that many of them do not drill a perfectly round hole! It took me a long time to realize what was going on......even drilling with an import bit, then reaming with an import reamer was not producing "round" holes.....when I finally decided to buy only "Made in USA" bits and reamers, that problem, and others associated with it, disappeared!

Now, let's talk about hardware for folders....pivots, screws, standoffs, and any other thing you use to hold it all together.

For years I would serach out an buy what I thought was the best quality to price ratio of hardware for folders. What I did not realize at the time, was how badly I was handicapping myself. Why? Most of the folder hardware that's available from the knife supply outfits is made in China, or somewhere else overseas.....and generally has a +/- tolerance. Not thinking that it makes much difference, I used that stuff for years. Then, a couple of years ago my friend Steve Kelly, started producing folder hardware, mostly of titanium. Of course, I balked at the prices, because I was used to getting what I need for less. I finally broke down, and purchase some hardware from Steve (who strives for zero +/- tolerances) and for a lack of a better way to say it, my folders just started "falling" together! Before using Steve's hardware, I would have to "fiddle" with ever single folder to make it work "right"...always having to change a screw here, or buff down a pivot there....but suffice to say I had to work a lot harder then necessary to make a folder work the way it should. It's not that Steve is a's that he provides the BEST folder hardware available. Using his hardware has been the single biggest improvement in my folder making...period.

The thing I'm trying to ge across here is to help everyone understand that EVERYTHING used in the production of a folder must be the very best you can get (that means tightest tolerances)....from the base materials, to the tooling you use, to the hardware used to assemble.

Now let's talk about "folders" versus "flippers"...... more precisely, the pivot systems for each. A folder pivot system is one that can be made using wahsers....these washers can be made of various materials, each with their advantages and drawbacks. I could write a book on just washers for folder applications, but suffice here to say that my preference for washer material is bronze. It requires that you're tolerances be tighter then with other washer materials, but it does not "squash", "wallow out", nor "give" least not nearly to the degree or in the time frame that the "plastic" washer materials will.

If you're thinking of buidling "flippers", I strongly suggest dumping washers, and using some type of bearing system for pivots. Washer simply produce too much drag for a flipper to ever achieve a "smooth" action. Personally, I use "caged" bearings.....these are a "plastic" carrier, with 1/16" bearings. The can be had is various sizes. I have also tried using "loose" bearings, generally referred to as IKBS.....but out of the 1000 1/16" bearings I purchased, about 900 of them ended up rolling around on the shop floor!

I think folders are a natural evolution of a Knifemaker.....after making many straight knives, the "challenge" isn't there anymore....what I found with folders is a new challenge with each one I make. It can be disheartening at first....when you receive your fist "tooling" order, and it comes in a 3x5 padded envelope, that costs a weeks pay, but it's what's kept knifemaking fresh and new for me. Of course there are new learning experiences, and challenges, but isn't that why we do what we do?

One final thought.....I've been making knives for many years, and can remember thinking and saying "Tactical knives are a passing fad"...but what I did not realize at the time is that it's not a fad, it's an evolution of knife buyers. Buyers these days do not want a knife that goes in a disply case that can be viewed when company comes.....they want something they can stick in their pocket, go to the local coffee shop or internet cafe, and show off to their buddies. The moral here is......If you're a knifemaker, and you are not producing folders or flippers, you're effectivley cutting yourself out of a major market segment.

"Nobody cares what you know.....until they know you care."
See me at table 2Q at the Blade Show!
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Old 05-29-2014, 11:27 AM
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SVanderkolff SVanderkolff is offline
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Now you have gone and done it. You have forced me to once again think about making folders and how to go about doing so.
Thanks......... I think


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Old 05-31-2014, 02:46 PM
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Jeff Higgins Jeff Higgins is offline
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Whats worse than a sloppy, poorly-finished fixed blade? ANSWER: A sloppy, poorly-finished folder.

I like what you say about folders, Ed. I feel the same way. I also like your viewpoint on tacticals. and if'n I may, I think that market is way more demanding. If you don't offer a folding tactical that is near-perfect in every way, its just another face in the crowd... and its crowded out there!

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Old 05-31-2014, 03:26 PM
Jeremy Jeremy is offline
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Thanks for putting up this information, Ed. Great thoughts and very helpful.

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Old 05-31-2014, 08:21 PM
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MLAZYB MLAZYB is offline
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All good stuff here Ed.


Bruce Bingenheimer
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Old 06-18-2014, 09:18 AM
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Steven Kelly Steven Kelly is offline
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Great thread Ed.

Steven Kelly
A.B.S. J.S.

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Bigfork, Mt. 59911
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Old 06-18-2014, 11:20 AM
Lourival Lourival is offline
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This is my first post here so excuse me if put in the wrong place.
I'm from Brazil and my native language is Portuguese. In Portuguese we have a single word for "folders". We call CANIVETE.
In English I have a doubt ... I saw already being called folders, split join, flippers etc .
I would like to know what is differences, if any, for these names.
Thanks in advance and excuse my poor english!
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Old 06-18-2014, 04:36 PM
Jeremy Jeremy is offline
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Welcome . All the different names you hear for folder names in English are all just more specific terms for different types of folders. A slip joint folder is one that is typically thought of as more "traditional". It doesn't lock open and has a spring for tension on the tang of the blade, both open and closed. Then there are lock backs (the spring on these have a notch that lock the blade open), liner locks (the thin liner is bent so it "springs" into place against the tang, locking the blade when open) and frame locks (just like a liner lock, but thicker-one side of the knife, the frame, is cut and bent to do the same thing as the liner).

But there are also many different methods to open the knife: a nail nick (common on slip joints), thumb studs to push against with the thumb, holes of various shapes and sizes to place the thumb in/on to push the blade open, etc. One different method is the "flipper". It has a...not sure what the right name would be..."tail"? When closed, it sticks out of the spine side between the scales or frame, near the pivot. It's part of the blade that was left and shaped resembling a finger guard when open. When holding the knife and it's closed, a quick push down on the tail towards the frame with your index finger causes the blade to quickly "flip" open, thus caused a flipper. This is commonly used on liner and frame locks. If you google the term flipper folding knife, you'll see lots of examples.

Hope that clears things up at least a bit? I know it's pretty general in terms of definitions. Feel free to ask any clarification points. When guys who are way smarter than me see, they'll steer you straight .

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Old 06-18-2014, 05:47 PM
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Gary Mulkey Gary Mulkey is offline
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Excellent thread, Ed. I too had my period of making folders. For me I decided to make lock backs after studying Ron Lakes' book. From my experience there are three rules to making folders: straight, straight & straight.

I have finally decided to stop making them for two reasons. One they take me longer to make and sell for the same price as fixed blades. And two, I have really gotten into Damascus knives and the pattern just shows better on a large knife.

Everyone must find what they enjoy making the most and for me it wasn't folders. I guess that I'm just an "old school" hammer swinger and love making Damascus Bowies.


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Old 06-23-2014, 07:29 AM
Lourival Lourival is offline
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Thanks a lot, Jeremy!
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