I have written before about the issue of blade availability for Bladesports competitions. Things just got a little easier with Bark River Knives releasing a run of Choppers based off a blade by world-record holder Donovan Phillips. Today though, I have the pleasure of introducing you to a man who didn’t let the lack of available hardware stop him from entering competition. Dwayne Unger, having never built a knife before, successfully made and competed with a knife of his design.
TTAK: What made you want to get into Bladesports?
Dwayne Unger: I was first introduced to Bladesports in January 2017. Chris Warden and William LaRue came to Whiteford, MD to show Scott Gossman of Gossman Knives what Bladesports was about. Scott invited me down for the weekend thinking I might like it. I mean, getting to use a large knife to cut through a variety of items AND compete against others? What’s not to love.
I have always been a competitive person and thought this was a perfect fit for me. Almost a year into it and getting a medal at each of the events I competed in, and getting to meet some incredible competitors and knife makers, who I now call friends, I’m thinking I made the right choice to get involved.
TTAK: What made you choose to make your own knife?
DU: One nice thing about the Bladeports community is that encourage new competitors to come get certified and NOT have their own knife. Having the opportunity to use several different knives gave me the necessary information I needed to design a knife built specifically for my needs. Blade design, handle geometry and drop angle, blade material, etc.
I watched all the videos and analyzed all of the cuts I made with other knives and took that information as well as my personal physical strengths and weaknesses and decided I needed a knife that wasn’t made yet. So I made it myself.
TTAK: How did you manage such an ambitious “first knife” project?
DU: It was quite the undertaking as this was my first knife. I don’t have any fancy software to draw things out and didn’t have the right knife making grinders of my own.
I had to sketch the knife out on graph paper and transfer it to steel. I had a lot of help from a knife maker friend who not only allowed me to use his equipment, but took the time and taught me the steps and techniques needed to make a knife. He mentioned more than once that I decided to make it “easy” and make a 15″ knife, with a drop handle, tapered tang, convexed blade, horse stall mat handle material and out of M4. It took three separate days in his shop to get it all done, but it turned out better than he or I expected.
TTAK: Tell us about the knife you created? (Any special features with your knife/rig that may not be apparent at first glance?)
DU: I’ve dubbed my Bladesports knife the Black Mamba since I have blued out the blade; not a common look on a comp knife. I also rounded over half of the spine, leaving the tip end at full thickness. I did that to change the balance point of the blade and keep it tip heavier than most and at 2 lbs, 3oz it’s the heaviest chopper I’m aware of.
One other unique feature to my knife is the wrist lanyard. I took some inspiration from the archery industry to make a wrist lanyard from webbing and velcro, rather than cordage to prevent it from digging into my wrist. This design is really comfortable and let’s me focus on cutting without discomfort.
TTAK: What was the most difficult part of making your knife?
DU: Definitely tapering the tang on the drop handle. My knife was only the second knife to be done with a drop handle out of my friend’s shop.
Add into that the angle of my handle didn’t allow it to fit on the 2″ belt all at the same time and I had to constantly “walk” the handle back and forth to taper the entire tang. Once I was done it’s within .002″ when measuring the top the bottom with the tang constantly tapered. Very proud of this.
TTAK: How has the knife held up in competition?
DU: Extremely well. The first competition I used it in was held at Gossman Knives and I won the overall event. The next event was held at Peter’s Heat Treating in Meadville, PA where I finished 4th overall (behind the current world champion and a previous 4 time world champioin) in a field of 17 cutters, and first in my division. There is absolutely no edge damage and I feel that all my homework done to create this knife, specifically for me, has paid off.
TTAK: What advice would you have for someone wanting to get involved in Bladesports Competition?
DU: All new competitors must go through a full day’s worth of training and certification to be allowed to compete. The training is focused on safety as well as teaching proper techniques for each of the different cuts that may be in the competition. As I mentioned earlier, a new cutter DOES NOT need to have his/her own knife to come out to get certified and compete. The Bladesports community is very good bout allowing new users to test out their knives so they can do what I did and find out what works, or doesn’t work for them. Check out www.bladesports.org to find out when the next event will be in your area. Find out if they are doing the certification class the day before, or just come out to watch the event and ask questions afterwards to see if it’s something you might want to get involved with.
TTAK: Anything else you would like to add?
DU: Getting involved with Bladesports was a highlight of my 2017. I’ve met some incredible people, and while we’re all competitive, we all want each other to do better. I’ve never been involved in a sport where your competitors come up to you afterwards and give you some advice on how to become better. I hope to see more competitors in 2018. Come out and join in!