I’ve said it before, but the thing that makes BLADE Show amazing is that everyone from company presidents to the folks walking in off the street are all there for the same reason. We are all knife fanatics, and that shared passion makes for fast and easy friendships. Since the people are the best part, that is who I want to write about!
If anything, BLADE ‘16 was even more of a blur than my first time a year ago. It seemed like every time I turned around I saw a familiar face and that definitely kept me on my toes. It is crazy to think of how many friends I ran into that I didn’t even know a year ago. I have to introduce you to them up front so I can keep this narrative running smoothly.
I was already well on my way to being friends with L.T. Wright last year, but since then I have camped with the guys from the shop and members of the Pout House (LTWK’s private, paid-access forum) on several occasions. I treasure all the friends I have made through L.T., but three you might be interested in are leather-bender extraordinaire Spen Stelzer of JRE Industries, Joe Flowers, Bushcraft Global founder and designer for both Condor and TOPS Knives, and fellow scribe Tim Stetzer, who writes for Knives Illustrated and Woodsmonkey.com.
Besides L.T., the other gentleman whose friendship has allowed me to meet numerous others is Ethan Becker. At last year’s show, Ethan had invited me and Clay to come visit him and see his knife collection (his “design reference library” as he calls it). I made sure to take him up on that offer. Like the atmosphere at BLADE Show, my time at his house was exactly the same… we were just two knife nuts sharing our passion!
I also had a great time attending the Beckerhead Gathering this spring. I was looking forward to seeing some of the gents I had met there again, including Dan Eastland of Dogwood Custom Knives, Rick from YouTube channel Foxwalk Primitive, and Todd Hunt, Cory Murphy, and Allen Morrison of T.M. Hunt Custom Knives.
As I posted earlier, my goal this year was to spend my money on my friends. It is an easy decision to make when they are all making such quality stuff! If you just want to see what I picked up, check out my standalone post on the subject.
My first stop was the T.M Hunt table to fondle all the handmade goodness he and his blokes brought with him. It was good to see him and thank him again for his 5 From The Grinder contribution. My time at his table wound up being a mini-Beckerhead reunion, as the Foxwalk Primitive guys strolled up at about the same time.
All of Todd’s knives are made by hand and the attention to detail is spot on. Check out the variety of handles on display. If I had more money in my budget I would have picked up one of his Yuma’s, the shorter bladed knife in this pic. He had knives in my favorite steel, CPM-3V, as well as some CPM-154 and O1. You can’t go wrong with any of them.
Next I checked in with Ethan at the KA-BAR booth. I firmly maintain that he is the most gracious and humble human being in the knife industry… and he hates it when I say that! I got to see the new BK23 while I was there, which was released right before the show. It is a small necker that bridges the size gap between the BK11 and BK13. I should have picked one up while I was there, but alas I did not.
Then it was on to the LTWK folks, who helped us out with VIP passes this year. They had some prototype kitchen knives that I wanted to check out. Only about twenty-thirty minutes had elapsed since the doors opened, but all six that they brought were already sold. Drat! Still, they were not short on nice steel to look at (see the rundown here).
One of the benefits of friendship with L.T., his booth provided a sort of home base for me where I could sit down for a few minutes and catch my breath every now and then. During one such interlude I got to meet Ben Piersma of Ben’s Backwoods and Jason Gustafson of Lester River Bushcraft who have teamed up with LTWK to produce their Lagom (pronounced with a long “o” sound) bush knife.
As you can see, the Lagom clearly has a strong Scandinavian influence. On multiple occasions, both Ben and Jason have taken instructional retreats with bushcraft legend Mors Kochanski, and the Lagom was inspired by Kochanski’s criteria for a good bush blade. In hand it is very comfortable, and the wide handle provides a lot of control over the short, O1 blade. If you are looking to step up from your Morakniv, this should be on your short list.
Right across the aisle from LTWK was the First Edge booth. As you know, we are in the process of testing their 5050 and 5150 knives–both mighty chunks of Elmax steel that were developed at the specific request of U.S. Special Forces. Clay and I got to meet co-founder Rick, and got some firsthand insight on those knives as well as some future models they have in store. Look for our results on our current knives to come out soon.
Whereas First Edge is making a name for their thick blades, my friend Christopher Berry of Big Chris Custom Knives is a proponent for knives occupying the opposite end of the spectrum. While he does make some thick knives too (see our review of the Hiker), he is mostly known for thin blades made from the best supersteels available, such as the Pocket Fighter I reviewed here.
I made sure to bring Ethan by to check out his stuff, and was beyond pleased when Clay purchased the newly named SteelHead boning/fillet knife from him. I really can’t say enough good words about him and his work. If you need further convincing, check out his 5 From The Grinder from earlier this year.
Another fine human being that is a fan of thin blades is Dan Eastland, proprietor of Dogwood Custom Knives. Not only does Dan make cool stuff, (check out his 5 From The Grinder), he also had something very interesting to debut.
This is his new Camp Hawk, with a blade of CPM-154 particle steel. Since you can’t forge particle steels, Dan had to come up with something new to get the performance he wanted, and the result is this lightweight hawk (only 13.5 oz without the leather).
As mentioned, the blade itself is CPM-154, but the welded on collar and poll are a softer stainless steel. The blade piece not only reinforces the hammer poll but it also acts as an integral wedge when Dan fits the head to the haft. I got to play with a prototype at the Gathering and was initially skeptical, but despite the light weight it still bites pretty deeply into the wood we were hacking. Whatever it lacks in ounces is more than made up for with velocity.
Of course, not everything happens inside the hall at BLADE Show. Saturday afternoon saw the Bladesports World Championship take place in the courtyard. Here too I was surrounded by friends. LTWK had sponsored numerous competitors this year, six of whom made it to Worlds. Impressive, considering there were only ten male and five female cutters. This year was the first time there was a dedicated women’s class at Worlds, and it was a thrill when LTWK-sponsored Nicole Warden became the first ever female World Champion! She is a two-time breast cancer survivor and I’ve had the pleasure of camping with her husband, a fellow Pout House member, a handful of times. I’m beyond happy for them both!
LTWK’s sponsorees made a great showing in the men’s competition as well, with Russell Cain (who works for L.T.) taking third, and Pout House member Bill LaRue coming in fourth. And yes, I’ve camped with them too! Congrats guys!
Immediately after the winners were announced, Clay and I jetted over to Local Three, where Dan Eastland did us the favor of treating us to an extravagant meal. We got to share a private room with him and his wife Beth, as well as Ethan Becker and some folks from KA-BAR, and mutual friends Joe Flowers, Tim Stetzer, and Spen Stelzer.
Here you can see we had the
cool rowdy table in the room, and you can just make out Ethan in the background shaking his head and smirking at our shenanigans!
If you’ve never met Joe Flowers before, saying he is a ball of energy is an understatement. He definitely did not ride in Clay’s trunk at any point during the weekend, and he is going to get us some cool stuff for review soon, as well as contribute his own 5 From The Grinder.
Earlier in the day, Joe introduced us to the fine folks at TOPS Knives. We got to spend some time chatting with them about their knives and their backgrounds. Leo Espinoza, their president, has a very cool story. He started at the company sweeping floors and cleaning toilets, and now he designs knives and runs the whole operation! He was extremely gracious to us and we had more than a few good laughs while we visited. I look forward to seeing him again next year!
Of course, spending all this time with friends made it even harder to see all the steel on display, a nigh impossible task to begin with. While we will still be posting on some of the new product we got a chance to see, Clay and I both spent a lot of our time attempting to solicit new contributions for our 5 From The Grinder series. I think in the long run, these will be far more fun to read than new product announcements. The series has been a great success so far and we want to make sure it keeps rolling.
Sunday morning is always the calmest day of the show, but I was in a bit of a daze since I wasn’t feeling well that morning. I barely had the time and wherewithal to bid goodbye to everyone. I didn’t even come close to finishing everything I wanted as Tim Stetzer and I had to leave by noon. We were sharing a car for our return journey and had a solid eleven hours of drive time ahead of us. Of course, when you put two writers in a car for that long, we were bound to come up with interesting things to talk and write about.
BLADE ’16 wound up being a very personal experience. I hope you’ve enjoyed sharing the ride with me, and I hope you are thinking of attending next year. Whether you know it yet or not, you will be among friends!