1893 Grand Exhibition. The world's intro to PBR, hot dogs, ice cream cones and the Ferris Wheel.

1893 Grand Exhibition. The world's intro to PBR, hot dogs, ice cream cones and the Ferris Wheel.
A view through the wheel. The black, horizontal line is the axle, the single largest forging to that time.
"I don't make hell for nobody. I'm only the instrument of a laughing providence. Sometimes I don't like it myself, but I couldn't help it if I was born smart."

1st Sgt. Milton Anthony Warden.
"From here to Eternity"

Paul Valery

"You are in love with intelligence, until it frightens you. For your ideas are terrifying and your hearts are faint. Your acts of pity and cruelty are absurd, committed with no calm, as if they were irresistible. Finally, you fear blood more and more. Blood and time."

The Wisdom of the Ages

"When a young man, I read somewhere the following: God the Almighty said, 'All that is too complex is unnecessary, and it is simple that is needed',"

Mikhail Kalashnikov
"Here lies the bravest soldier I've seen since my mirror got grease on it."

Zapp Brannigan

Sunday, October 18, 2009

My White Whale


Now, what in the hell is that thing?
It's the trainer version of one of my, many and fluid, coolest knives ever.
This knife, the (mostly) British-made, official issue, Belgian Trench Knife.

This is where I first saw this knife - almost five years ago.
It's a picture (duh) of one of his many knives from the last century or so, that a customer graciously sent me.
Anyway, I fell in love with the thing.
We'll get to the why of that in a minute - I'm aware my criteria for cool knives isn't universally shared.
The story is that these were being made for the Belgian Army - in Belgium - until Belgium was overrun by the Germans in 1914.
The government-in-exile then contracted with some tool-making firms in Sheffield to supply the Army.

The one above was made by saw-makers, Sanderson Brothers & Newbould.
The steel sheath is nothing more than the bottom ten inches or so from the scabbard of a Belgian 1889 Mauser bayonet.
It's cool knife status stems from cost-cutting measures such as that.
I love the clunky handle - made from beech at that.
This is a wood that I think of as Britain's utility hardwood.
It's used for everything from hand-planes to rifle stocks with a million cutting boards in between.
Hard as nails but not really interesting to look at.
The guard is a dished oval of steel.
The tang is only a few inches long and is fastened through the handle by a steel pin inside a liner of brass or copper.
Notice now, on the earlier picture of the knife, that hole is off-center.
The pin on the next knife is slightly off as well.
Shoddy quality control?
Or expediency. I suspect the hole was drilled where ever it hit the center of the tang with no thought for the aesthetics.
Now, if one tries to drill the tang and handle together, it's a pain being accurate enough with the connection that it doesn't loosen immediately.
Even if you do get it tight, it's bound to work loose over time.
But, the brilliant designer of this solved the problem by draw-boring.
This is a process, used in timber-framing and furniture joinery, wherein the hole in the outer portion of the joint - the handle of the dagger in this case - is drilled slightly farther from the actual joint than the hole in the tenon/tang is.
The result is that when the pin is driven through, it pulls the two pieces more tightly together.
My theory is that the Belgian handle and tang were drilled together, without the guard.
Then, when assembled, the guard and the leather washer between it and the ricasso would add some thickness pulling the tang out slightly.
A tapered pin is driven into the lined hole (less friction and less likely to split the wood) and it's done, but for cutting off the tapered end of the pin.
All done on the cheap. I love it.
Of course since this is, was and ever shall be, all about me - below is my half-assed, banged-together-in-a-day prototype.
I haven't tried the draw-bore experiment yet as I made the handle too "shaped" and slender and I've got to make another..
The blade's a little narrow at the ricasso but I think it's mostly working.
The big hang-up - for the past five years - was figuring out the guard.
I don't have the steam presses that the big boys in Sheffield had so I despaired of ever finding a way to do the dishing with just my primitive means (bit 'o drama there).
Finally I found my brain or whatever and just - sort of beat it out.
I cut an oval out of 18g(?) steel, punched a slot in the center of it and hammered it over a big ball-peen, held in the vise, with a little hammer - held in my hand.
It's rather distressed, shall we say - but it's a work in progress.

Final thought - the trainer at the top - telescoping tube "blade" with a rubber ball at the tip.
And this, from Frederick Stephen's book "Fighting Knives":
It was proof that the Belgians took "the importance of knife fighting seriously and instigated their own training devices."
They may have been called "chocolate soldiers" by the Germans (how Rumsfeldian).
Their beer may taste like you could put it on your waffles - at 9% alcohol - but the Belgians were no one to mess with.
The brilliant Schlieffen Plan assumed that Belgium would be miffed about their neutrality being violated but it'd be all good once the Germans got to Paris and set up the perfect European government.
Instead, Belgium held up the largest army on earth for a month.
Ha, Kaiser!

1 comment:

Andy said...

Looks badass, and practical for a double edged military knife. like me "Ek" better, but... Seems your issue with guards isn't unique, buddy gave me a Camillus repro of a "Raider" knife(looks a lot like a Fairbairn Sykes. I'm sure you can set me straight. ANYWAY, when I took it out of the duffle where it was between my Randall and the PF"Ek", low and behold the guard was bent. All it took was a little kung fu grip to straighten, but still...all goatee and no backbone I guess...

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