If we were practical sorts we’d think on knives as just another tool. Of course, just about any knife works in the wilds if necessity dictates it must be used. After all, our ancestors used rocks and bone to cut their way through everything from skin to wood. Venture to faraway places and you’ll find knives that, from an American or European perspective, appear primitive, almost comical. “Well, that’s not a knife. This is a knife!” But, indeed, those are knives and I’d venture to say that the thin-bladed, stick tanged designs seen in Africa and amongst the aborigines in Australia and the jungle enclaves in New Guinea are used more regularly and with greater proficiency than by any American who has a trunk full of knives, most of them barely used; and when those knives are employed they see nothing much beyond a feather stick or that tortuous practice called batoning. Have you noticed that most of the knives displayed on the various knife forums and YouTube look unused? Ah, but of course modern man (or woman) has other jobs for a knife like slicing tomatoes or cutting open cardboard boxes. We are, however, as obsessed with knives as our brothers and sisters in other lands. Our preoccupations are the product of a deeply seated collective unconscious that selected for those who could make and use knives as opposed to those who failed. As such the knife holds a special place in our minds; a place reserved for those items wedded to our genetics through thousands of years of breeding and surviving.
We discuss steel types and blade designs and tang shapes and spine thickness and handle materials then go looking for the magic that will somehow turn us from novice to expert. All the while the true practitioner takes a blade purchased at some market or even from a local peddler and plies his trade with nary a thought about the finer points of knife construction other than sharpness as it translates to cutting abilities.
This young fellow approached me and asked if I wanted to see the knife he carried. He worked on a small piece of property attending to chores and helping with the garden. The knife looked well used but functional. He said he’d bought it la pulga (the flea market). Stainless steel of what I imagine is 440A with plastic scales. It looked sharpened with a mill file and as such had a burr-ridden edge. But the knife served its purpose of cutting twine and jute rope as well as trimming stems and other odd jobs.
As with a lot of you, knives are an innate passion of mine. I go about making knives and, as of late, buying puukko blades to attach all sorts of woods and antlers. I’ve rescued dozens of machetes that had seen years of service and were but half as wide as they’d originally been. I’d find them dumped into boxes or wooden crates and left to rot in barns or fields. In my opinion the only machete worth saving is a Latin American machete because they’re made of good quality carbon steel usually between 1070 and 1075. Sometimes I’ll reheat treat the steel and bring up the temper and other times I’ll just clean off the blades, reshape them into a smaller knife and go from there. Peruse this blog for photos of my rescued and modified machete blades. Recently, however, I did something I’ve not done before and that was to take a brand new machete and make it into three knives. Made in Colombia, the Gavilan is, like all machetes, thin bladed and flexible. The original blade length was 22 inches. I cut the blade to ten inches leaving me with a 12 inch piece of blade steel that measured from 1.5 mm to 1 mm in thickness. Using an angle grinder I cut out two knife blanks with the remaining 12 inches of steel. It’s important to keep a can of water nearby to immerse the steel in the water in order to keep it cool. Beveling thin blades is quite easy but thin blades heat up quickly. So work for a couple of seconds and then immerse the blade in the water.
Once the blades had been beveled I scrounged around for some pieces of my micarta and found one made from cardstock and another from cloth. I attached the cloth scales to the larger blade and the piece of cardstock micarta to the smaller blade.
I’ve done other similar projects in the last few months. They’re fun to do if not a bit nonsensical. In this case I took a ten dollar Gavilan machete and made three knives with it. I used discarded pieces of micarta and some epoxy and I made some functional knives. Don’t ask me to explain why I did this. It’s not my fault. Blame it on my ancient Celtic ancestors or maybe the people who lived even before them. They passed along this passion for the blade. I’m but an innocent recipient.