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The Regular Guy Sessions: Knifemaker Ray Laconico

This is the first in what I hope will become a series of interviews with those who are making incredible gear for Regular Guys and Regular Guy pursuits. It is important to support these small business and it is important to know who is behind them. If you can trust the gear maker, you can trust the gear.

Ray Laconico is a good friend of mine and an excellent knife maker. He has been featured in Tactical Knives magazine and is getting to be very well known for his straight forward, modern designs. His knives are not exercises in design only; they are meant to be used. I am honored to have him as my first guest on Jerking The Trigger.

 

 

Old and New Model Explorers

 

Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I was born on January 25, 1974 on the island of Cebu in the Philippines.  My family moved to the U.S. in 1982.   I’ve been married to my wife for 11 years and I have a 21 year old stepdaughter.  We live in Visalia, CA along with our dog “Bear”.  I’m a full time knife maker and I work out of my home garage.   I have a very minimal shop with no more than about $3,000 worth in equipment.

What did you do before you started making knives?

I’ve been an artist all my life.  I used to draw and paint landscapes, portraits, people, wildlife and just about everything else. I was always good at it but I could never fit in with the “artist” crowd. My first real job after high school was at a big law firm in downtown Los Angeles.  The job was so “not for me” that we moved to Visalia in 2001 to escape with no real plans and ended up starting a cleaning business.  Meanwhile, I’ve always been interested in making knives so I made them as a hobby in my free time.

Why did you start making knives?

I’ve been interested in knives ever since I can remember as a kid.  When I was old enough to buy knives, I started collecting them.  As we all know, it can get pretty expensive.  Then I thought, why not try to make knives instead?  I’ve always been good at making things.  I made my first knife around 2001.  I made about 3 or 4 knives per year just to give them away.  I continued to get better skills and better equipment and by 2005, I started selling them.  By the summer of 2006, I was a full time maker.

 

 

Lightweight Camper/Hiker (My first knife from Ray)

 

Many knife makers are also knife users. I know you really enjoy the outdoors. What or who are your influences as a knife maker?

I have to admit, as a kid, I got interested in knives after the Rambo movies!  Later it was Crocodile Dundee!   As an adult and in knife making, my first influence is probably seeing the works of some of the ABS makers and their big bowies.  In the last 2 or 3 years, my influences have been the wilderness and survival guys who have turned my style into the simple and practical user knives that I’ve done.  In the past couple of months however, I’ve been really influenced by my first and only real teacher and mentor, ABS Mastersmith Mike Vagnino.  He has turned me yet into another new direction; slipjoint folders and hopefully liner locks next!

How much influence do your customers/users have on your work?

During the last 3 years or so, almost everything I’ve done is because of my customers.  If I’m not doing a custom order, I’m doing what I think my customers would want to buy.  Once in a while, I’ll do a customer’s design that turns out to be a hit and end up doing a whole bunch of orders of that knife.  The HWK was my all time biggest seller.  I made so many of that knife that I got sick of it!   My target crowd was always the outdoorsmen who want a nice usable and practical cutting tool – a tool that will cut well and still look and feel good.  Once in a while, I’ll do something different like a bowie or fighter but it’s not very often.

 

 

HWK and HWK+

 

Your designs are always so crisp and modern. The designs seem so simple, but I know that the simplest designs often take the most work to perfect. Can you talk us through how you design a knife?

I usually just keep in mind what I think will cut well and be nice to hold.  If you get those two things you’ll always end up with a simple, yet good looking design.  I truly believe that simple designs are the ones that work the best as a tool.  Edge geometry is also VERY important.

You are known for your incredible precision, fit, and finish. What drives you to achieve that level of quality and are you actually a knife making robot?

As a former knife collector, I would always look at the fit and finish of the knives that I buy.  I always sought after knives that were well crafted.  Even if it’s just a user I still wanted it to be close to perfect (a perfect knife does not exist).   I guess I just want to make a knife that I would be happy to receive if I was the one buying it.  I also price my knives accordingly.  I ask myself, “Would I be happy if I paid this much for this knife?” As for being a robot, the answer is no.  I am not a robot.  I am actually a cyborg.  I am living and breathing flesh but some parts of me are mechanical where they are needed for precision work.

 

 

Nessmuk

 

Do you take more pride when your knives are used or when they are collected?

Definitely when they are used.  However, many of my customers are collectors who also use their knives.  I don’t think very many of my knives are sitting on display.  Maybe some of my earlier works are but I think most of my knives are going to collectors who use their knives.

You are typically known for your fixed blades. Lately, you have been making several slip joint folding knives. What sort of folders can we expect to see coming from you in the future?

Yes, I’ve been known pretty much solely for my fixed blades but I think I’m going in the direction of folders from this point of my career.  I’m going to be making a liner lock hopefully later this year.  I want to take myself to the next level.  I want to be a better knife maker by gaining more skills and knowledge.

 

 

Compact EDC

 

If you could have a knife from any knife maker throughout history, who would it be?

This is something that I probably have to spend more time thinking about but right now, the knives that come to mind are an original Jimmy Lile “First Blood” knife or maybe the big knife that was carried by Jim Bowie.

What is the best way for someone who is interested in owning one of your knives to get their hands on one?

Because I want to develop my skills in making folders, I’m not taking orders for now but I’m sure I will in the near future.  Meanwhile, I should have some knives for sale every now and then in the for sale forum on Bladeforums.  Also, my knives often pop up for sale second hand on Bladeforums.

 

Bushcrafter

 

 

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Looking for a Titanium Spork

I have been trying to decide on a titanium spork for some time now. I have several of the plastic ones from Light My Fire (LMF) and I have broken a few of them and melted one. I really like the form factor of the LMF sporks because they have a serrated knife edge on the fork side so I have been leaning toward their new Ti version. However, it is almost twice the price of most other Ti sporks on the market.

I have looked around quite a bit and haven’t found anything else with a usable cutting edge like the LMF and that is a big deal to me.

Does anyone out there have a Ti spork recommendation for me?

Good Stuff From Other Blogs

Death Valley Magazine – Stop Preparing for the Apocalypse and Plan For Next Thursday

So you have 12 months of food stored, an urban garden, 28 pistols and rifles and you take 5 tactical courses a year. If the SHTF you can ether grab your BOB and fight on the move or bunker in at home. Basically you are trained-up and stocked-up for just about any apocalyptic situation that could possibly happen…

Woods Monkey – Wenger EvoGrip S18 Pocket Knife

Looking to travel light on the trail and want a knife that meets your needs?  Or, are you looking for a good basic tool supplement to your primary blade?  Today, we’re looking at the Wenger EvoGrip S18 knife, and it just might be the one to fill your needs!  We’ve also included a highlights video to help out with your search as well…

Kyle Defoor – Safariland Secrets

Safariland makes the best tac/drop leg holster there is I think. But, there is room for improvement on the old ones…

Good Stuff From Other Blogs

Death Valley Magazine -Red Zone Bug Out Bag Part 1

Sometimes your Bug Out Bag takes a different direction and morphs into something between a go-bag, an active shooter bag, and a Bug Out Bag (BOB) due to your chosen occupation. Enter the Civilian Contractor Red Zone BOB; this is a heavy-weight’s version of a crisis management bag for places where encounters with ‘Bad Guys’ is a real possibility…

Soldier Systems – New Lightweight Multi-Hit Plate from Velocity Systems

Velocity Systems has just released the latest addition to their Phalanx line or armor plates. It is a new lightweight, multi-hit plate that is going to be a game changer. Take a look at the specs and you’ll see why…

Scrap Yard Knife Works – Regulator and Deregulator Available

Scrap Yard Knife Works (SYKW) offers very affordable hard use knives in limited runs. They post knife for only a few weeks and then it may not be available again for years. They typically only list a handful of designs every year so some people wait religiously for their knives to be posted.

The Regulator and Deregulator are the most recent designs and they are available now. Get them at the SYKW store.

I am going to pass on this one but the price is tough to beat for a knife of this size, durability, and warranty.

A-TACS Camo – Interesting New Camo Pattern

A-TACs camo is a new “universal” camo pattern that was first displayed at SHOT Show 2010. Universal camo patterns are designed to work well across a variety of different environments. A-TACS is essentially designed to perform the same role as patterns like Multicam or UCP.

Click image to visit the A-TACs website.

It brings a few new and unique ideas to the table that make it noteworthy. It seeks to correct the flaws in modern digital camo patterns (like UCP, MARPAT, CADPAT) as perceived by the A-TACS designers. From the A-TACS “About” Page:

  1. Replace un-natural square pixels with organic pixels. Utilizing our patented process, we created a palette of natural colors digitally sampled from real-world elements in carefully controlled lighting. The pattern is then created using a mathematical algorithm that writes “organically-shaped” pixels using the specific color information given. The resulting pattern while still digital, is far more organic in appearance.
  2. Use small patterns to create larger more distinct shapes designed to work at a distance. Small shapes create larger shapes and larger shapes are organized into a distinct pattern with no horizontal or vertical orientation. This unique “pattern within a pattern” concept allows A-TACS® to effectively break the human outline at great distances thereby, minimizing the “blobbing” effect of other patterns when viewed from a distance.
  3. More effective use of color-range produces a better concealment system. A-TACS® is created using a far greater range of inter-mingled natural colors than was previously possible. The overall base color for the cast is a neutral tan which is designed for use in open, rocky or arid environments.

It is noteworthy that so many vendors were supporting the launch of A-TACS at SHOT Show. It seemed to be in every booth on everything from rifles, to clothing, to tactical gear. Some of the vendors include Remington, Blue Force Gear, Danner, Bushmaster, and Emerson Knives. This pattern appears to have a lot of momentum right out of the gate.

I am impressed with the pattern in the pictures that I have seen. However, pictures will not tell the full story since they are usually taken against backgrounds that are hand picked to show case the pattern. One thing that does stand out regardless of the background is how well the larger and smaller shape mix in order to break up the outline of the wearer. It does seem to be quite visually disruptive. The current color scheme seems to favor urban or rocky environments, though the designers say that they can customize the color scheme for any environment.

A-TACS is certainly worth keeping an eye on. Hopefully we will have more real world pictures and data soon.

More info:

A-TACS Gallery

Coverage on Soldier Systems Blog

Coverage on The Firearm Blog

US Palm AK Attack Rack (AKAR) – A New AK-47 Chest Rig

Click for a larger view.

Chest rig choices have been somewhat limited for AK-47 users. Eagle Industries has a couple of dedicated AK rigs and several manufacturers make chest rigs that are somewhat universal. Often these universal rigs don’t work well with the curved shape of the AK mags or hang up on the locking tab located on the back of the mag. US Palm has a new rig that will, at the very least, give AK users another choice.

This chest rig is somewhat spartan (as any good chest rig should be). It is basically just a means to carry 4 primary mags and 4 items like pistol mags, flashlights, or multi-tools. Each of the primary magazine pouches is lined with a high wear material to protect the pouch from the locking tab on the backs of the magazines. They also have a unique shape that is tailor-made for AK mags. The materials used in the construction are all top-notch (500D Cordura, ITW hardware). The shoulder straps look broad and somewhat flat (as they should be). Primary mags are retained via “bungee” loops that offer great retention and speedier access than flaps. It will be available in all the colors that you have come to expect including Multicam.

I only have two potential misgivings. First, I have always preferred AK chest rigs with a 3 mag set up since the size and shape of AK mags make them more difficult to manipulate when you have to reach across your body to the weapon side pouch or to the pouch nearest your support side. With the 4 mag set ups, the middle two pouches always seem to be more usable than the outer two. Second, the rig it appears to favor right handed shooters due to the shape of the pouches. I guess the AK47 isn’t particularly lefty friendly either.

You can find more info here:

US Palm (once their website is updated)

Scottsdale Gun Club

One Source Tactical

NovaTac 120T Review

Why Carry a Light?

If you carry a gun regularly, you should also carry a light. Many shootings happen at night. You may even find yourself in a low-light situation during the day time if you are indoors. Colonel Cooper’s 4th Rule mandates that we are to be sure of our target and what is behind it before we pull the trigger. We must have a light in order to properly identify our target before we shoot.

A bright white light can also give you an advantage by disrupting your attacker’s dark adjusted vision. In some cases this may even temporarily blind your attacker (according to Surefire) – giving you needed fractions of seconds to respond swiftly and violently. Disrupting the night vision of your attacker alone is not a sufficient response to being attacked. You must be ready and willing to follow-up with overwhelming violent response.

Hopefully, we are in agreement that we should all be carrying a light (or two) along with our guns but that is the easy part. The hard part is choosing a light to carry. There are certainly no shortages of manufacturers who would be happy to supply you with a “tactical” light. Many of these manufacturers offer multiple lights. The options can seem limitless and overwhelming.

One of those manufacturers that would be happy to sell you a light is NovaTac. The brand is somewhat new but the people behind it are not new to the tactical light scene. They have used their experience and innovation to bring several lights to market. The one that we will focus on for this review is the 12oT.

NovaTac 120T

The NovaTac 120T is built from the ground up to be a compact tactical light. The specifications, construction materials, and ergonomics leave no question about that. This light is purpose-built.

Specs:

  • 3 Brightness levels (120 lumens, 10 lumens, .3 lumens)
  • Easily accessible disorienting strobe
  • Extended tail cap button and grip ring (allows use of multiple flashlight and handgun control techniques)
  • Momentary or click-on functionality
  • Pocket clip
  • Automatically compensates for weakening battery
  • Runs on a single CR123A battery
  • Waterproof to 66 feet
  • 3.3″ long, 1″ in diameter, 3.1 oz

Materials:

  • Aluminum body
  • Steel bezel ring
  • HAIII hard anodized finish
  • Polycarbonate lens with anti-reflective coatings
  • Steel pocket clip

Runtime:

  • High: 30 Minutes
  • Medium: 14 Hours
  • Low: 240 Hours

More information can be found on the 120T spec sheet(PDF).

How Does it Work?

On paper it sounds somewhat complicated but in use it is actually very simple. The 120T has only one button. The user can access all functions from this button by using a series of clicks and/or presses. It helps if you understand the difference between clicks and presses. The user clicks by quickly depressing and releasing the button – like you would click a mouse button. The user presses by depressing and holding the button.

  1. Momentary – Press the button. The light will stay on high until you release the button. This is very natural and lends itself very well to short bursts of light while moving and “slicing the pie”.
  2. Constant or Click-on – Click the button. The light will stay on high until you click the button again.
  3. Medium – Starting from any high mode, click the button twice quickly. The light will stay on medium until you click the button again.
  4. Low – Starting from high or medium mode, click the button three times quickly. The light will stay on low until you click the button again. Any clicks from this mode will put the light back in high mode.
  5. Strobe – Press the button from any constant mode or click-press from off.

Notice that the light always comes on in high mode. This is good news. It means that no matter how you turn on the light, you will immediately have 120 retina searing lumens on tap. This feature is important in a tactical light versus a general use light that may come on in a more battery conservative low mode. The designers of the 120T correctly assume that tactical users would need the most light available at the very instant they turn on the light.

The medium and low modes make this light useful for general use as well. You probably won’t be holding an attacker at gunpoint every time you fire up your flashlight. You may just be trying to find a key or walking the dog. The medium and low modes are well-chosen and very useful. I especially appreciate that the low mode is truly low. It can be used without destroying your dark adjusted vision. The vast majority of lights miss the mark here because they are too busy chasing the biggest lumen numbers to actually make a useful light.

The light carries very well in a pocket using the included pocket clip. The light rides very deep in the pocket and seems very secure. The checkering on the body of the light is somewhat aggressive and may fray your pockets over time. It does, however, make for a very secure grip. A lanyard can be attached to the pocket clip.

The shape of the light lends itself to several handgun/light combination holds. Many people are familiar with the FBI flashlight technique, Harries technique, and the Surefire/Rogers technique.  NovaTac promotes the Thorpe Technique which is specific to their lights. There is a thick o-ring provided with the 120T to aid in acquiring this grip. It is quite simple to use and indexes the light well. I suggest that you practice this technique before using it as you would any new technique.

Worth a Look

I am quite pleased with this light. I believe it offers an excellent set of features to law enforcement, military, and civilian users alike. If you are in the market for a feature rich but still easy to use light, be sure to check out the NovaTac line of lights.

More Information

Gear Geek’s Review of the 120T

Back Door Programming the 120T

North Branch Knives Soloist

North Branch Knives is a fledgling custom knife company that has been the longtime dream of Ben Wiernusz. Ben and I grew up in north east Pennsylvania, in a small town, right on the North Branch of the Susquehanna River. The river and its surrounding areas not only provide the name of the company, but also the inspiration for the designs of his knives. The river even provides the inspiration for the names of each individual model of knife Ben hopes to offer one day!

Ben and I spent most of our time during high school in the woods or on the river, whether it was small game hunting, camping, or canoeing – if it was outside, we were doing it. Ben’s love of the outdoors and hunting continues to this day and it drives his knife making philosophy. He makes knives that are made to be used as only someone who regularly uses knives can.

The Soloist is his first offering. It was designed from the start to be everything Ben would want in a small, capable, and versatile tool. It must be compact but ready for any task that the soloist canoe camper could throw at it – hence, the Soloist.

Ben is the kind of guy who knows a little about everything and does all things well. He has an eye for the aesthetic and can make just about anything. I have any early prototype of this knife that I still use. It wasn’t everything Ben hoped it would be so he continued to refine it until he arrived at the current design. I know Ben is already working out more ways to further refine this design!

On to the pics!

What does a guy with an eye for the aesthetic and a drive to do things well do when he needs a box for his knives? He makes them himself, by hand!

The boxes are handmade from some kind of attractive waxed cardboard so even the box is tough. You can see the end tag with model name that Ben designed in the previous picture and the logo tag in the next. Ben studied advertising in college so you better believe his knives will be well branded!

Here is what I was greeted with when I opened the box. I was very, very pleased.

Under the knife you can see further evidence of the care that goes into each knife – a certificate explaining more about the model and saying thanks for your purchase. Each knife is also numbered.

The sheath itself is very well made. It is quality full welt construction and hand stitched with the addition of rivets at the stress points. Ben added a simple “N” stamp to the leather for North Branch Knives. The proportions are very nice. It is molded to leave just about half of the handle exposed. The leather has a warm, used feeling that makes it seem like you have already owned this knife forever. The square design of the sheath is not only visually attractive but functional (helps the sheath ride well in a pants pocket). It allows the sheath to be used with either the left or right hand.

Have you ever broken a belt loop on a leather knife sheath? I have. That won’t happen with this sheath. The belt loop is stitched and riveted to the sheath. The loop is large enough for most any belt.

Like I said before, this knife had to be versatile so a spear point blade shape was chosen. The blade is about 3 inches long from tip to scales. It has a convex edge, a long straight area near the handle, a short section with plenty of belly, and still enough of a point to be useful. The point is also positioned in line with the handle to facilitate drilling tasks. This knife would be at home zipping open a white tail or whittling a tent stake.

I provided stabilized Eucalyptus scales for Ben to work with for this project. The knife bares a “1” stamp that corresponds with the number on the certificate that came with the knife. The opposite side bares Ben’s “N” stamp like the sheath.

The biggest clue that you are using a knife that was designed by someone who uses knives comes from the handle. It is shaped well with no guard and a slight finger choil. The choil is not obtrusive enough to force any one grip but serves well to index your hand on the knife. The scales have a relief cut near the blade that allow a pinching kind of grip that is important in some grips like the “chest lever” grip. The handle is long enough for any grip and short enough to keep the knife very compact over all (about 6 3/4″ overall).

I tend to like knives that work and I am generally not willing to pay more for a knife that is beautiful. Ben proves you can have both beauty and function with this knife.

Everything from the handmade box, to the finish on the scales, to the way the white spacers set off the beautiful reddish hues in the Eucalyptus scales, to the warm tones of the leather sheath contribute to feeling that this knife gives you. It is like you have already owned it for years. This knife looks simple and primitive but when you have it in hand, you realize that was all by design. It is all part of the aesthetic as well as the function. You can really see the knife maker’s hand in this knife.

It’s like an old friend.

Specs:

  • Steel: 1095
  • Blade Length: 3″
  • Overall Length: 6 3/4″
  • Sheath: Leather, Belt or Pocket Carry
  • Scales: Stabilized Eucalyptus

Contact North Branch Knives on BladeForums (username Cheekser).

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