Big Bertha

Big Bertha
Circa 1940, on the streets of Rochester New York, Bertha does her work.
"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

Monday, August 29, 2011

The KISS Concept Revisited

Meet Otzi, AKA "The Iceman".
I'm afraid that he's not looking his best right now since... well, he was wounded and, struggling to elude his pursuers, climbed up to a pass in the Alps which now is now on the Austro-Italian border.
He was resting in a small hollow, out of the wind, when his luck suddenly took a turn for the worse.
He took an arrow in his back, right near his left shoulder blade.
It nicked an artery and he bled out there in the snow at 10,500' elevation.
5300 years ago.
Sucked to be him.
What's cool though is this: He's the only copper-age body ever found with complete, everyday kit (As opposed to grave-goods, the crap people are buried with).
He had some cool stuff with him: A copper axe, insulated clothing, a pack-frame, a quiver full of arrows and an unfinished yew bow.
But what we're concerned with is his shank.





















There it is. A double-edged flint blade driven into an ash handle and tied with sinew. Also please note the sheath, plaited from "bast" which is: The inner bark of the lime tree (No! Not that kind of lime. Limes don't grow that far north. This is the name given to a flavor of alder).
It, along with sheath appears a bit shop-worn because the old fellow was wildly misinterpreted when he was initially discovered.
All sorts of yahoos, including climbing god, Reinhold Messner, thinking Otzi was of more recent vintage were less than careful in hacking him from the ice.
No matter.
A pedantic description of said knife... 'cause I'm lazy:

"The Iceman's knife was only 5 inches long. Its flint blade resembles an arrowhead; it was driven into the wooden handle. Since the handle split when the blade was attached, someone had tied the handle securely together with sinew (or animal tendon). The sheath was woven from lime bast (that is, cords made from the inner bark of a lime tree)." 


Okay, we've established ourselves on the time line. All kinds of crusty old stew-burners like to call the knife "man's first tool" when anyone knows the first tool was the hammer. AKA the BFR; the big-fucking-rock.
But I digress. Back to first principles as we are - and to blow more shit at the modern "knife culture" if there is one - we're looking at minimalism.
Otzi, Joe Six-pack of the copper age, carried the above - and was glad to have it, I'm sure.
Which brings us to: The penny knife.
And I don't mean this:

And here I find driving to a building to simply get on a machine where one can simulate walking to be an unproductive use of energy.
It is a cool thing though.
No, what we're talking about is rather the "peasant's knife".
Joe "Tankard 'o Ale's" or Pierre "Mug of le Pinard's" EDC blade - to fall into the stupid jargon now in vogue.
I was clued up to this a few years back by my friend, Kevin (Who will, I hope, forgive my butchering of his language above) who, in his compulsive gift-giving (you could all learn something from Kevin) sent me the two following:
An Opinel #9.

These things are idiotically cheap (not to cast aspersions on Kevin's generosity).
They're the French "If you don't have one you must be paralyzed knife" and the one I have runs fourteen bucks!
And they're knives, useable knives... a sharp bit of (very nice) steel on a comfortable, wooden handle. And the blade fucking locks.
It would be my EDC knife but for my loyalty to the venerable Camillus TL-29 ($12.50).
Next is one that's runs a bit more 'spensive - for reasons that escape me. It is Japanese.

This is the Japanese equivalent, the Higonokami.
This thing makes the Opinel look positively complex. It's a 'friction folder' with no back spring and... other than a handle (folded brass) and a blade, it's nothing but a knife - one with a laminated blade at that. It would clean a fish, sharpen a pencil, trim your fingernails. I'd hesitate to open a can of beans with it. One of the larger Opinels would be better for that.
It was developed in the late 19th century and, up 'till the '60's was considered part of every Japanese student's school supplies.
Apparently there is only one remaining guild member that can sell them as Higonkami. He's seventy years old. If you can read Japanese, you can order direct.
But, as you can see, these are both knives - simple, functional, just like the Iceman's.
Oh wait, gotta address the one issue that the congenitally fearful always raise: You could even defend yourself with them!
All that having been said - ranted - you be the judge; what is the point of buying all these virtually identical "tactical folders" when all they are is a sharp piece of steel with a handle?
Before the (sweaty under) armed schoolteacher gave me up as a bad habit, he spoke lovingly of Spyderco and all their patents.
Last I checked they had eighty-six and they helpfully listed the numbers of same.
Thanks to the wonders of Google, they can be researched.
Some were legitimate "innovations" such as new (although the same in lots of ways) locking systems but others were for blade shapes. Holes in the blades!
I love it. "Know what would be way cool... put a hole in the blade! Bet nobody's ever thought of that before."
Then there's Cold Steel.
First off, the name's a blatant ripoff of John Styers (USMC) book of the same name - available at Amazon here.
Then there's the fantasy alter-ego of one Lynn Thompson, founder.
This would be one, pudgy, overcompensating poser.
Talk to me when you can produce a DD-214, Mr. "Warrior Lifestyle"... fat boy.
So kids, in closing. Keep it simple. A knife is a tool - nothing more. You're every bit as likely to go toe-to-toe with some bad hombre when you're armed with nothing more than a framing hammer... or an umbrella or your own knock-out good looks.
Get over yourselves. You're not going to find yourself in any knife fights and, if you did, you'd find it over almost before it started with one or both of you bleeding and wishing you'd stayed the fuck home.

3 comments:

Andy said...

Good post Dan, Otzi like examples of smaller shanks are pretty prevalent across the board.
A similar inexpensive practical pocket knife from foreign lands are the Duk-Duk and the Okapi(?) I believe...Froggy Fred Perrin plugs them, and though he weighs a third of what Thompson does he CAN produce an albeit French 214. (Like the way I spelled 214 in French?)

Anonymous said...

http://www.swedishknives.com/

Care to post your opinion on these
knives? I'm looking to order one of the bushcraft models. A trapper I know swears these are the best knives for the money he's ever used.. he uses the clipper style. I know he skins a lot every winter..

Kevin said...

Late to the game, but :

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2011/02/pictures/110225-otzi-iceman-new-face-science-mummy-oetzi/

http://oetzi20.it/category/newoetzi-en/?lang=en

Locations of visitors to this page