I was thinking the other day about my old friend and collaborator George…
In The Fall of 2010 I got to work designing a folding pocket knife for Base Camp X… I mean it only makes sense right? A pocket knife is one of those personal items that is included in pretty much every single “Every Day Carry” site out there… and for good reason. The uses for a small blade are endless really – most of us have owned a pocket knife at some point… some people can’t leave home without one.
The BCX “Gentleman’s Folder” design went through a myriad of design stages. I really wanted clean lines, a basic single lock blade – a light body and scales, nothing too flashy. Taking my design ideas to George proved a very enlightening experience for me, I had really no idea what goes into a handmade folding knife. After discussing materials for the body my head was spinning… Cocobolo wood, Mastodon Tusk, Abalone Shell, Mother of Pearl… I mean really? So much exotic stuff, but it just wasn’t what I pictured… I kept seeing it in my mind as – all steel. Weight would be a factor for this and I wanted this to be a light knife… Titanium.
George had done a bunch of work with Titanium and he agreed that it was the way to go in order to achieve what I was looking for.
The image above is of a model that we made out of plastic – this was too establish size, shape and blade fit.
I was very excited once the model came to life and George took me deeper into the world of handmade knives.
A folder is far more expensive and time consuming than I ever would have imagined.
George’s hands tell the story of long days and sharp encounters. The grinding dust that is embedded into his skin, the missing chunks from finger tips… this is a road map to years of hard work. It amazes me that meat hooks like this could create such objects of beauty…
I loved this wall of knife blank templates that he had at the back of the shop. Each piece was a unique design and the selection was dominated by big Bowie’s. The Bowie knives he made where real pieces of art and he had a solid following – He told me James Earl Jones had one… even Darth Vader was wielding one of Georges blades. That’s pretty freaking badass.
Drill presses, grinders, water cutters and a ton of hand tools made by him for use in the manufacturing of knives… I was amazed at just how much goes into making a quality fixed blade. Making a folder seemed to add a new dimension – moving parts.
In Georges, words. ‘After grinding the blade it was heat treated in an inert atmosphere oven , then frozen in a cryogenic chamber with liquid nitrogen and finally tempered to a preferred working hardness (Rc 56-58). The heat treating and cryogenic treatment are carried out to convert the free carbon in the steel to carbide centered crystals, carbides if you will, because these are very hard and wear resistant and greatly increase the edge holding ability of any knife. The tempering is necessary because after the heat treating and cryogenic treatment the blades are very hard (Rc 62-63) but they are also very brittle, the tempering is necessary to reduce this brittleness. A hardness of Rc 56-58 nicely balances the need for good edge holding and almost eliminates the risk of blade breakage.’
I really enjoyed watching George work on his belt grinder. This thing had so many different belts and I won’t even begin to pretend I know anything beyond basic sharpening on one of these. The polishing and buffing wheels that polish mirror finishes on steel ,awesome. The first, Leviathan Titanis, was going to get the treatment to see just how much we could polish it. You have to be careful not to affect the temper in the bit when doing this. High speed polishing creates a fair bit of heat – I could have shaved in it though (not with it cause that makes no sense to me). After almost losing part of his hand on the Titanis (the tip of the bit caught the belt and G was not used to handling axes on the machine) he swore to never handle one again… I felt terrible about the near miss but it sure was a good looking axe.
The Base Camp X “Gentlemans Folder” – A lock blade folder of Titanium and 440C surgical stainless steel – a perfect Legacy gift to pass on down the line when the time comes.
3 weeks after I took this final photo, George passed away. I was devastated by this. My mother would follow him about 6 weeks later.
I decided that instead of having another knife maker take on the task of producing this amazing folder I would keep it as my own. Only one was ever made and ever will be made – I wanted to do that to honour the time that I spent with George in the shop and of course to create an even deeper legacy that will forever be attached to this incredible pocket knife… and my family.