(Editor’s Note: We at TTAK are happy to welcome our newest contributor – Tim Stetzer. David and I have known Tim for several years now, in my case first meeting him at Dogwood Dan Eastland’s Saturday night dinner party. He is a respected freelance writer, with work appearing in the former Tactical Knives magazine, Knives Illustrated, Gun World, World of Firepower, Tactical Life, Guns & Weapons for Law Enforcement, Survivor’s Edge,the online outdoors magazine WoodsMonkey, and many others. He is an LEO trainer and lifelong knife and firearm enthusiast. Tim is a great addition to the blog, and will be posting on fairly regular basis. We are thrilled to add him to the team). So without further ado, here is Tim’s take on a Budget Blade Show)
One of the beautiful things about Blade Show, and how big it is, is that there is something there for everyone even marginally interested in the knife industry and its associated businesses. Everyone can walk out with a different perspective of the show, having seen totally different things. I saw Clay and David at the show, and saw their write ups, and while there were some things that we all saw and talked about, we also each found our own individual things of note. While there is plenty of “Unobtanium” at the Blade Show, if someone wants a more “Budget Blade Show” experience, there is plenty to see and actually buy for yourself at the show as well.
I’ve been going to show for over a decade now, and while its its always a fun time, and a great chance to see old friends, it doesn’t necessarily have the “wow” factor to it that it did those first few years. There is absolutely some amazing stuff there, and some incredibly talented makers, and some very innovative products from the industry partners, but I think I’m used to that so it isn’t novel any more. I expect to see cool things when I go there! Don’t take that to mean that the show is boring though, or not worth going to. It absolutely is! But for me, I tend to get excited by more oddball stuff these days. Before we start a tour of what caught my eye, I do want to apologize for some of the pics. These were just ones I snapped to help me remember what I saw. I wasn’t originally planning on doing a write up of the show!
So what did I see that caught my eye at this show? Warhammers and swords mainly. I walked into the show looking for South African bladesmith Neels Van Den Berg’s Black Dragon Forge. Neels is an amazing knifemaker who I’ve followed on Facebook for a good while now. I swung by the booth a couple of times and while I unfortunately missed him, I did get to check out the warhammers that he brought. They looked amazing in the pics I saw prior to the show and they did not disappoint in person. They’re hand forged and exhibit superb craftsmanship. They aren’t medieval replicas, but rather modern production pieces that pay homage to the days when heavy armor was king and the best way through it was to crush it and whoever was inside it. He had a few models to choose from, most with a distinctive double back spike, but the one that stood out to me had a single spike balancing out the four pronged hammer head. My show budget was a little light this year but it was the main thing that I was tempted to to walk away with. That would have involved heavy negotiations with the Finance Ministry back home however and we still had two other summer trips planned that I needed to fund so I had to walk away. I would love to still get one from Neels at a later date though.
Now, warhammers are not a common thing these days, other than some historical replicas sold mainly for collectors. So imagine my surprise when I’m perusing the isles and I ran into yet another maker making modern, functional hammers! McCoun Tomahawks had a great selection of warhammers as well, including a nice long handled, two handed model and some amazing Damascus versions as well. They even had some military picks, which is not something I’ve seen anyone else making modern versions of before.
While not a hammer, the other bludgeoning thing I was looking for at Blade was a chance to check out Hate Sticks. Hate Sticks are the creation of Jeremy Wilson and are essentially modern maces. Think steam punk mixed with Mad Max. Jeremy makes some amazing flanged, ball, and gear head maces with intricate leather wrapped handles and assorted machined pommels. I found Hate Sticks on Facebook and have been avidly following for a while now. Jeremy didn’t have a booth this year but we talked before the show and managed to connect so we could meet and I got to look at an example of his work. I have to say, it was every bit as bad ass in person as the pics made it look. And super solid too. While the Hate Sticks can certainly qualify as an art piece, they’re fully functional and aesthetically brutal and the same time. I definitely plan on getting one, I’m just on the fence between a gear head and a finned model. Jeremy also does some flails and ball and chains as well that look equally brutal but I think I’d hurt myself with a ball and chain. I’m not that coordinated.
After hammers, I was on to swords. The first ones on my “to check out” list were the new APOC swords from CAS Iberia. The APOC line is a series of modern, functional weapons from Dragon King forge, out of Dalian, China. These blades aren’t wall hangers and are designed to be used. The line is still in development but they had a selection of pieces on display at the show and they look good so far. I want to get my hands on something from the line to try out before too long.
Not far from the CAS Iberia booth were the folks from Zombie Tools. If you aren’t familiar with Zombie Tools, you need to check out their website and watch their videos. Anyone with a love of beer and chopping pumpkins as much as those guys is okay in my book. I have a ZT Xiphos that’s an amazing blade. If the zombie apocalypse ever does come, I gotta admit, its probably my first pick of long blades, and I have a bunch to choose from. I eyeballed the Rat Bastard cleaver that I’ve been lusting after for a while now, and checked out a couple of the newer offerings as well like the Apocalax while I was at their booth. They probably had to wipe the drool off of everything after I left.
On a bit more mundane note, I also was interested in the Survival Hatchet and the Super-Naturalist Hatchet’s from Hardcore Hammers. These were great looking, made in USA, tools that looked perfect for around camp, or for leaving in your truck for utility use. Heck, I even liked the hickory Tire Thumpers that they had on the table. I plan on doing some follow up on these as time permits.
A highlight of the show for me was a last minute attendee, David DelaGardelle of Cedarlore Forge. David is an amazingly talented bladesmith and a genuinely good person who I’ve followed for a number of years now on social media. A few years back, for my 20th wedding anniversary, I commissioned David to craft a sword for me. It was a mix of Norse and fantasy Dwarven inspiration that we called the Trollcleaver. Its an outstanding and unique piece and was one of the last commission pieces that David did, and I’m truly thankful that I had it made while he was stilling doing commission work. David still is producing blades, and spears and phenomenal artwork, but these days he makes what inspires him and then posts when he has something ready, or you can get on his mailing list to be notified when he has something available. We talked online a lot during the year or so time we worked on the Trollcleaver, but this was the first chance I had to meet him in person. David is every bit as genuine and humble in person as he comes off as in e-mail, and is a downright nice guy. I was honored to be able to look at some of his other work that he had on display as well. If you’re looking for top art quality sword work, that is still completely functional then definitely checkout David’s work on Facebook, Instagram or Patreon.
So I looked at a lot of cool stuff, but what did I actually pick up at the show? Well, my tastes were a little more pedestrian and budget a bit more frugal than Clay and Davids. I always like seeing what the Blade Show deals are every year and you can generally walk away with some pretty cool stuff, even if you are on a tight budget. I was clued in to all of the deals I got by buddies who had been trolling the show and who did my leg work for me. When I heard about a deal from them, I made sure to swing by the appropriate booth and snag the item in question.
Blade HQ had a deal on the neat little Kershaw Shuffle for a whopping $9.95. Colors were limited by Sunday afternoon but I didn’t really care that much. Its a handy little knife with a bottle opener and a pry end that great for popping up the tab on beer cans if you don’t have any fingernails to speak of. The next cutlery bargain I got was the new KA-BAR Mark 98 flipper. This is a surprisingly sturdy flipper with multi-color G-10 handles and was only $15 at the show. I like having inexpensive, but solid folders for when I travel by air, or to leave in the car. Basically knives that do the job but ones that I won’t be too upset if I lose or something happens to them. The Mark 98 should fit the bill for this nicely.
The next blade I got was just that, a blade. I picked up a Russell Green River Dadley Blade from Jantz Supply for $11.95. I’ve had Dadley’s in the past and I want to do one with some sort of modern G-10 or micarta handle now. For under $12 I couldn’t pass this one up. My last knife of the show is kind of a cheat. I got a Spyderco Shaman as a T&E piece. So that was no $10-$15 show special, but rather a work project for later.
Aside from knives I got a nifty, tiny Olight i1R EOS. It was only $12, is rechargeable via a common Micro-USB cable (included) and has a max output of 130 Lumens. I also snagged a patch from a buddy and fellow LEO, and got a cool Harley Davidson challenge coin from Arizona from another buddy. Total Blade Show expenditure, not counting food and stuff like that: about $49. So just know that you can go to Blade even without a lot of cash in your pocket and still come home with neat stuff.
Other than the show itself, I love reconnecting with friends. The first night in I had dinner with my good friend Glen “Spen” Stelzer of JRE Industries and his wife Wendy, as well as Joe Flowers of Condor Knife and Tool, along with some of the other Condor crew Cesar Alvarez and Walter Matthews. We ate at the Terrapin Brewing pub that’s connected to Sun Trust Park, home of the Atlanta Braves. It was a game night so it was pretty loud but it was still a nice chance to reconnect with old friends and meet some new ones. The beer and BBQ were tasty as well.
The second night a huge crew, including the veritable army of folks from L.T. Wright Knives, went out with Casey Demming and his family and crew from Griffin Pocket Tools. They took us to another great BBQ place, The Crafty Hog. It was excellent and much quieter than the ball park! And yes, I could eat BBQ pretty much every day while in the South. The had a good craft beer selection as well.
Saturday night I actually had dinner with Clay in whats becoming an annual event, dinner with Dan Eastland of Dogwood Custom Knives, and his wife Beth. If you want to know where the best places to eat are, ask Dan. He’s never steered me wrong over the years and has picked some amazing places for dinner. Due to a couple folks falling ill, the crew consisted of Clay, Spen and his wife Wendy, Ethan Becker, Dan and his wife Beth and their friend Melissa. We at at Local 3, a return to a place we ate at a couple years ago and it was well worth it. Service is top notch and everything from appetizers, through the main course, to dessert was excellent. They have a very good beer list and a fantastic whiskey and bourbon selection as well. Or so I’m told anyway. Beer I’m good with, I stay away from the hard stuff but I may have seen Clay partake in a touch of that…
As has been mentioned in these pages before, much of Blade takes place off of the show floor, and in the Pit, the hotel bar at the attached Waverly hotel . While that is certainly very true, and I did spend time in the Pit each night, as I get older I find these quieter, small engagements to be just as productive and a more intimate environment for talk and comradery. Some work certainly gets done in this setting but more importantly, you get to know the people themselves, not just their business persona. And one thing I’ve found working in the industry for the past decade or so is that, by and large, the knife industry really is a tight knit family, full of good folks who will go out of their way for you. The SHOT Show is a working show for me and it can be pretty brutal to cover. Blade I always view as a vacation, and chance to catch up with old friends. I do get work done there, and line up contacts for the rest of the year, but that usually ends up being incidental to just showing up, saying hi to old friends and meeting new ones as I walk around. So there you go. That was Blade 2018 for me in a rather large nutshell. It’s a little different view than Clay and David got, but as I said in the beginning, the Blade Show has a little bit of something for everyone, no matter how eclectic your tastes.