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Archive | Survival

Evolution of a Knife Design

A few years ago Ray Laconico introduced a knife design called the “Explorer” and it was immediately successful. I believe it was one off the first “patterns” that Ray offered consistently. Ray introduced the knife in this BladeForums thread.

This will not be a true review but rather a window in the processes that a knife maker goes through to improve a product. I find it pretty fascinating. The mark of a good knife maker is a continual drive to improve designs based on feedback from users and their own experiences.

Stats
Ray is a true custom maker so the dimensions can vary by customer request. However, his pattern knives like the Explorer tend to be similar from knife to knife. The Explorer features a blade that is 5 1/2″ from tip the scale. Overall length is about 10 1/2″. It is made from 1/4″ thick 5160 steel and wears black micarta slab handles.

The Same but Different

The Explorer’s striking looks come from it’s angular handle and tall, slightly drop point blade (or recurve on the original) with some extreme belly near the tip. This nearly straight spine blade profile and distal taper give the knife a very fine point. None of the recognizable features of the original have changed. All of the usefulness and quality of the original is built right into the newest iteration.

The butt of the knife has been made more perpendicular to the spine. This makes the knife more useful as an improvised hammer.

The slightly thicker handle slabs are now more contoured. This gives the very angular looking grip a more organic feel in the hand. The grip on the original Explorer was excellent but this new one will blow you away. You will also find that the new grip is slightly taller and more hand filling.

Ray also changed the design off the guard to be smaller and less obtrusive. The original guard on my Explorer used to rub my knuckle a bit until I broke its edges with some wet-dry sand paper. The new guard is hardly noticeable while still being very effective. If you like a guard on your knives, you will like this one.

My favorite modification of the design is that Ray moved the edge MUCH closer to the handle. This allows for much more powerful cuts while doing tasks like notching and whittling.

The Laconico Explorer is a fine knife for those who favor a larger and thicker knife. There is not much penalty in cutting performance from the thicker stock thanks to Ray’s tall flat grinds and polished convex edge. This knife will shave hair easily and push cut newsprint. Thanks to its thick spine and differentially tempered 5160 steel and can take a serious beating. I tend to favor thinner knives but I do appreciate having thicker ones at times – especially they cut as well as this one.

Overall, the new Explorer is a worthy successor to the original.

Button Compasses: Use With Caution!

I learned a lesson today. Thankfully it wasn’t a hard lesson.

I have been wearing a Suunto Clipper on my watch band for a while now. It has generally worked well and the luminous bezel has come in handy when I need a quick direction check in the dark. Everything was fineĀ  until today I glanced down at it while at the office and noticed that it was facing the exact opposite direction that it should be. The north marker was pointed south.

At first I thought that it was just the computer on my desk or perhaps my filing cabinet throwing it off. I stepped away from my desk and it was still way off. When I packed up and left for the day, I checked it outside wondering if there could have been something in the building throwing the compass off. No luck, it was still 180 degrees off outside.

I thought about the situation on my drive home and realized that it could have been my wallet throwing it off. My wallet has a magnetic money clip built in. It is great because it keeps the wallet slim. Sure enough, after passing the compass over the magnet on my wallet, the needle suddenly righted itself. Then I flipped the compass over and ran its face over the magnet. It pointed south again. So simply by varying the way in which I passed the compass over the magnet, I could reliably make my compass point south and then make it point north again.

Lessons Learned:

1. Have a plan B (and maybe even a C, D, E, F, etc). If this had been the only way for me to find direction in my “tool box” in a bad situation, I would have been in trouble. At least learn how to tell rough directions without the aid of a compass so that you can verify that your compass is working properly.

2. Keep your compasses away from magnets!

The Laconico HWK+ – the HWK but Bigger!

Below is a review that I wrote a while ago regarding the HWK+. Like the HWK, it was made by Ray Laconico and designed with my input. It is no longer being made but can occasionally be found on the secondary market.

The Laconico HWK+
The HWK+ (bottom) with the original HWK (top).

I could not have been more pleased with how the original Laconico HWK (Hazard Woods Knife) turned out. It is proving to be a great all-round tool that I am more than proud to have my name on. In fact, it went so well that I immediately thought it would make a great larger knife as well.

HWK+ Stats:
3/16″ thick O1 steel
Ray’s typical tall flat grinds with polished convex edge
5″ blade
10″ overall
Green G-10 handle slabs


The HWK+ with Victorinox Farmer and Original HWK for scale.

Getting it Dirty
I removed the HWK+ from the package and, as is my custom, began to cut up the wrapping materials that it came in to test the edge. This knife came from Ray shaving sharp, as usual. There is something satisfying about a knife that can easily push cut the newsprint in which it was packed!


The HWK+ has a thick spine and nicely contoured handle.

The HWK+ has a phenomenal handle. It is very hand filling and has excellent contours. It promotes a very secure grip without forcing the hand into any one grip. The green G-10 handle material has a very cool translucent quality to it that makes this knife very attractive.

The blade shape is designed for versatility, just like its smaller sibling. There is plenty of belly, a large section of straight edge close to the grip for cuts that need leverage, and a point that is dropped to be inline with the handle for drilling. Ray does a great job of creating a tip that is fine enough to cut very well without being prone to breakage.


Fine curls are no problem for HWK+ in spite of its thickness.

The next test for the knife was some fire prep. Shaving “feather sticks” can be a test of a knife’s sharpness and edge geometry. Even though the HWK+ is 3/16″ thick at the spine, Ray’s use of tall flat grinds yield excellent edge geometry. The HWK+ is capable of very fine curls.


Deep, precise notching? No problem!

Another test of geometry is how well a knife performs at notching. This is a difficult task for thick knives but the HWK+ holds its own. It simply can’t bite as deep as thinner knives. However, by using a stop cut and then working the notch deeper one slice at a time, you can achieve very precise notches.

The HWK+ has all of the makings of a versatile and dependable woods companion. It would be at home on the belt of anyone who loves time spent in the outdoors whether they are a hunter or a hiker. The HWK+ would even make a fine knife for a soldier.

Matt Hazard

The Laconico Hazard Woods Knife (HWK)

Below is a previously written review of a knife that I designed with Ray Laconico. It was successful enough that Ray got tired of making it. They can still be found occasionally on the secondary market on places like BladeForums.

The Laconico HWK

This afternoon I received a package from Ray Laconico. Inside was the newly christened “HWK” or (Hawk or Hazard Woods Knife). This is a design modification that I requested from Ray after seeing his Hiker’s Utility Knife. I requested that the point be dropped a bit (closer to a spear point) for drilling. I also requested new handle materials and pins. The intent was to make a “bushcrafter” that still looked, felt, and cut like a Laconico.

Stats
This knife is crafted from 1/8″ thick O1 steel. The blade is 3 3/4″ long from tip to scales and the knife is 8 1/4″ in overall length. The handle slabs are black linen micarta with a slight palm swell at the middle.

The Reveal
As soon as I got home from the office I cut open the box from Ray with my trusty Endura. I found a well packed bundle of newspaper inside. Once I unraveled miles of newspaper I was left with the HWK in its sheath.

The sheath is exactly was I hoped. I asked Ray to make it so that it sat a little lower on the belt so Ray included a drop loop that holds the knife lower and slightly away from the belt. It is very comfortable and out of the way of my pack’s waist belt. Ray molded this sheath from two pieces of kydex. It has generous thumb ramps to aid the user is drawing the knife.

Getting it Dirty
I took the HWK out to the creek on our wooded lot and set about putting it through its paces. The first thing I did was test the spine on a fire steel. I was rewarded with a huge shower of sparks. Ray does a great job of squaring the spines on his knives and the O1 steel can really throw sparks.

Next I set about prepping some tinder. The fine polished convex edge made short work of the jute twine. The belly of the knife made rocking cuts in the balled up twine a cinch. I also tested the spine and edge on fatwood. The HWK’s squared spine made achieving very fine curls of fatwood easy and the acute edge sliced larger curls with ease.

Next I tried my hand at some notching. For notching wood, it is hard to beat a scandi grind. However, with the excellent geometry that Ray graces his knives with notching is no problem at all. Ray typically uses a full height flat grind and a polished convex edge. This gives even his thickest knives keen edges.

After the notching and tinder prep, I wanted to see how the edge was holding up so it was time for a few fuzz sticks. I am happy to report that the HWK is very capable of marginal fuzz sticks (probably had something to do with the user)!

Finally, I went to the wood pile and selected a lovely section of sycamore that has been seasoning for just short of two years. The HWK was able to baton through it, though somewhat slowly. I sectioned the log into 4 smaller sections and then split off some kindling. When I was done, the edge would still scrape hair off my arm.

Clean Up
The sheath was full of dirt, shavings, and other assorted grime after the short workout. I simply rinsed it out with water and set it up to dry. The HWK it self came back to shaving sharp with a few licks on the strop.

Conclusion
The HWK, so far, has shown itself to be up to a variety off tasks. One short afternoon of testing is hardly enough to show this knife’s true colors but so far it has been up to whatever I have asked. I will continue testing and report back. I want to see how this does in the kitchen and I imagine that this design should be pretty handy dressing deer (if I can manage to get one this season). Ray makes a fine knife at a fair price – what more could you ask? Overall, I am very proud to have my name on this one.

Matt Hazard

Update: I have owned this knife now for about 2 years. I am happy to report that it is still going strong though it looks much more used. The best way to contact Ray Laconico is to send him a message on BladeForums.

Tactical Handyman: Tournequit Retention Doohicky

So you need a way to keep your tourniquet at hand? Well the Tactical Handyman has the simple (and cheap) way to build your own Tourniquet Retention Doohicky or TRD (pronounced turd). If you are anything like the Tactical Handyman, you have the stuff to make one laying around already. Why pay $5-12 plus shipping for something you can make on the cheap?

Image

Necessary Materials:
– Short piece of mil-spec shock cord

Optional Materials:
– Cord End
– Cord Lock

Instructions:
This isn’t rocket science. This is simply a loop of shock cord. The cord ends are nice since shock cord will fray readily but a simple knot will do. You will have to experiment with different lengths in until you find a length small enough to really secure your tourniquet. The cord lock allows you to make your TRD a bit more universal. You can cut it a little bit long and use the cord lock to take up the slack.

Simply thread the TRD behind two rows of webbing like so:
Image

Now you can stretch the ends over your tourniquet. I found that the cord stayed out of the way well if I twisted it so the ends were to the side like so:
Image

Or, you can loop the end onto the windlass or other part of the tourniquet:
Image

I found that spanning 2 rows works best because it allows the cord to be placed toward the center of the tourniquet but still have a couple of inches in between straps for stability. If you get the straps toward the center of the tourniquet and make them tight enough the tourniquet is locked down and isn’t going anywhere. This type of design is common to most tourniquet holders. The ability to loop the small tab onto something like the windlass gives a 3rd contact point and even more confidence that you will not lose your life saving gear. If you felt the need, a third strap could easily be added, but I think it is unnecessary.

To remove the tourniquet quickly, simply pull on the cord end (or knot) which will free the top (or bottom depending how you have it positioned). Once one end is free the tourniquet can be tugged to be released from the remaining loop. This can easily be accomplished with one hand.

This sure beats rubber bands. The Tactical Handyman has your back.

I am using the SOF-T Tourniquet in the pics but this should adapt to just about any model.

PS – This works great on the webbing that is sewn on the side of many blow out kit pouches like the HSGI Bleeder Pouch.

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Clean, Fresh, Water

We all need water to survive. A healthy adult can only live about 3 days in ideal conditions without water. Water should be at the center of your preparedness plans.

A site called Monolithic Marketplace is selling a very simple and inexpensive water filter that really works HERE. This filter can be purchased as an entire kit, ready to assemble, or you can purchase just the filter and fit it to your own containers. With proper maintenance a ceramic gravity filter like this will last a long time.

NWA Knives – Customer Service is NOT Dead

Background
Some time ago I completed a trade on BladeForums for a NWA W&SS Forum Knife which is now known as the Sierra Scout. I was quite excited to try my first knife from NWA based on reviews from folks on the W&SS.

I received the knife and quickly found that it was not what the person trading it had described. I immediately noticed that it has several chips in the edge that would seem to indicate this knife had been rode hard. No problem, it can be fixed. I contacted the other party in the trade and found out that he had already used the brand new knife that I traded him. To his credit he offered to pay my shipping to send it to custom knife maker Ray Laconico to have the edge repaired.

The knife arrived and Ray immediately noticed that the knife had a bend in it. It wasn’t terribly bent but it was noticeably bent. It seems this knife had lived a harder life than I thought.

I was frustrated. I loved the look and feel of the knife but now I was somewhat stuck with a knife that I could never hope to get any of my investment back from if I ever did decide to sell it. I wanted to love the knife but the experience had soured my feelings toward it.

I finally decided to contact Nick Allen (the owner/operator of NWA Knives) to see if the knife could be straightened. Nick took the time to answer all my questions and pointed out that this is one of the reasons that he differentially heat treats his knives – so they bend instead of break. He said that he thought he could straighten it and that there would be no charge. What he said next blew my mind. He offered to make me a new one. I resisted at first since it didn’t seem right for him to have to take the hit for another person’s mistake. But Nick emphasized that his main goal was to make sure I was happy with the knife.

That is called customer service. We are blessed with many great makers on BladeForums and Nick is certainly one of the best. I got the replacement knife from Nick yesterday and I haven’t had time to use it much, but I couldn’t wait to get the word out about Nick and NWA knives.

The Good Stuff

The knife that I sent back to Nick had his normal handle on it. It was well shaped with a slight finger groove for the first finger. This is the handle that you will see on most of his knives. Recently he has begun offering a more contoured handle without the finger groove which I believe he calls the bushcraft style handle. This is the handle style that I requested for the replacement. The result is excellent. The handle is comfortable in all grips and fills the hand well.

The fit and finish are excellent. The edge was nicely finished and very sharp. The scales are expertly fit to the tang with no gaps or ridges that I can feel. Nick even took the time to chamfer the lanyard hole. The temper line is visible and very beautiful. All grinds are crisp and even. Speaking of grinds, the cutting geometry is very nice for a knife that is 3/16″ thick. Nick’s use of full height flat grinds really renders an edge that cuts well. It is an impressive knife.

The sheath is one of the finest I have seen. Nick builds sheaths that are made to last. It made from very thick leather. The sheath features a fire steel loop and boasts full welt construction. It is dipped in melted bee’s wax and allowed to dry rendering it very weather proof and extremely stiff (a good thing in this case). The knife actually locks into the sheath with a click similar to kydex. Many makers provide sheaths as an afterthought, but Nick makes them just as tough as his knives.

I tend to be drawn to knife makers who have a unique style. Whether it is the intentionally rustic beauty of ML Knives or North Branch Knives, or the clean simplistic lines and modern design of Ray Laconico – make mine a knife with style. Nick has style and he has it in spades. The lines on this model (and all his knives) really flow. They have a really organic look and feel. They look like they grow on trees or drip from cave roofs over thousands of years. Even his makers mark fits the style of his knives. You know when you are looking at an NWA knife, even from across the room.

So if you are looking for a capable knife from a maker who stands behind his work, check out NWA Knives at their website www.NWAKnives.com or visit the NWA Knives forum where you can talk directly to Nick and actual users of his knives.

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