Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Fixed Blade Scoring System

After some time with the Ontario Ranger RD-7, doing quite a bit of bush clearing and fire preparation (mainly for our fire pit in our backyard; I am fantastically cheap when it comes to some things, meaning I am never paying for firewood), using a few fixed blades from a buddy, and now carrying the Candiru for a week, I think I have a enough experience to put together a meaningful scoring system for fixed blade knives.

Here are the other scoring systems:

Folding Knives
Addendum to Folding Knife Scoring: "Blade Safety" Update
Packs and Bags

The fixed blade system will work the same way, ten categories with scores of 0-2 in each category for a maximum possible score of 20 points.  A category in which the item fails will result in a score of 0.  A category in which the item performs adequately will result in a score of 1.  A category in which the item performs exceptionally will result in a score of 2. 

Sometime something gets a score of 20 and when it does it is a great piece of gear, but that doesn't necessarily mean it is perfect.  If something gets a 20/20 and is, in my opinion, perfect, it will receive the Everyday Commentary "Perfect" Seal:

So far only a few items have received 20s and even fewer, five to be exact, have received the Perfect Seal.  They are: 1) the Spyderco Dragonfly II in ZDP-189; 2) the Leatherman PS4; 3) BushidoMosquito SAK Rambler; 4) the McGizmo Haiku; and 5) the Muyshondt Aeon (the CRK Sebenza Small 21 got a 20/20 but no perfect as did the TorchLab Moddoolar).  The unscored FDC Hybrid got a Perfect Seal as well.

The fixed blade system is obviously going to have a lot in common with folding knife system, so that is where I will start.  Here are the categories from that system:

Fit and Finish
Blade Shape
Deployment Method
Retention Method

Design, Fit and Finish, Blade Shape, and Grind are all going to look at the same thing and will be scored identically to how they would be in the folding knife category.

The different categories will be as follows.

Steel will be slightly different.  Instead of looking at the steel and nothing else, the Steel category in the fixed blade scoring system will also include an analysis of the coating on the blade, if any.  A lot of these blades use non-stainless steel.  It is a trade off made in light of their hard use roles.  Chips are great in cookies, but terrible on blade edges and so while high hardness stainless steels, like ZDP-189, are great on folding knives, on fixed blades they won't necessarily be the best choice.  These blades are designed to tackle tasks that make even the least cautious knife  user (ahem: Neptune Knives) blush from the abuse.  Batonning wood, a good test of durability even if it is a poor survival skill (though I am not sure about that), is hard on a blade.  Full force swinging hacks into fresh, green wood is hard on a blade.  And the scraping and prying tasks we use these blades for are also hard on the blade.  So many makers decide to go with a low hardness (relatively speaking) non-stainless steel like 1095 or 5160 (see Basics button above and click on Joe Talmadge's steel link for more).  These steels harden to about 56-58 Rc, but they are tough as taffy.  To get around the high carbon content (allowing for good edges) and low chromium (as a trade off for toughness) makers use coatings to ward off rust.  When looking at fixed blade steel, this coating becomes an issue.  Unlike coatings on stainless steel folders, the coatings here are really important and something that deserves explicit analysis.  

Grip will be replaced by Handle Design.  In fixed blades you have the luxury of designing a knife handle to serve one and only one purpose--holding the knife.  In a folding knife the handle serves all sorts of purposes (lock housing, blade cover, pocket clip attachment point), but here the handle is a purpose built shape and design so it needs to considered differently.

Carry and Retention Method will be eliminated and instead the focus will be on Sheath Carry.  Sheathes are essential for fixed blades and a good one can take a merely decent knife and make it awesome.  Distributing weight well and keeping the overall size as slim as possible are all good things.   

Deployment Method will be changed into Sheath Accessibility.  This is part of how the sheath is designed, but it is more--sometimes a knife will be sloppy or hard to get to and it will take too many steps or too much effort to get to.  This category will look at that.

The next two categories are not really modifications of categories from the folding knife system, but categories unique to fixed blades.

The next category is Useability.  It is important for fixed blades to be useable in a workman-type way.  Folding knives are not designed for long term, repeated, hard use.  You are supposed to take them out, cut something, and put them away.  Cut this or that and then close up the knife.  Fixed blades, if designed well, can be used over and over again all day.  How well they do this is something that I will call "Useability".  There are tips and tricks good designers (ahem, Ethan Becker) know and rely on to make a knife more useful and useable over time--cheats that make work easier and less fatiguing.  A swedge to reduce weight, a recurve to help in cutting, and a comfortable and balanced blade all make a difference in terms of Useability. 

The last category is Durability.  Fixed blades exist because they are design to take a severe beating, something that even the stoutest folding knife can't handle.  Lots of folks that can carry them prefer fixed blades because, as the old saying goes, a folding knife is already broken.  Durability will look at the overall build of the knife with an eye towards its intended use.  Things I will consider are: full v. partial tang, handle material, sheath material, blade thickness

There you have it, the fixed blade scoring system. 

Coming very soont: a review of the hot, new ESEE Candiru.  If I was willing to work out a new scoring system, that tells you how much I like this little blade.