Thoughts on blade steels

There are a lot of different types of steels that go into making knife blades. Common carbon steel like 1095 (essentially iron alloyed with 0.95% carbon) or spring steel like 5160 which sometimes referred to as OCS for “old Chevy spring” although vehicle leaf springs these days are unlikely to be 5160. On the other end they could be cheap, stamped stainless like Krupp 4116, which is about as useless a blade steel as I’ve ever come across in terms of edge retention, or something that is a bear to sharpen but holds an edge like 420J2, 440C, ATS-34 or 154CM.

So…what steels are worth it versus which are just marketing? You can make a great blade out of nearly any steel, but the ones I like are 1095, 5160, O1, D2, and 440C. I have blades made from S7 and 52100, but honestly the additional cost that generally comes with them makes them kind of uncommon choices for most people, along with A8. All of these can make a fine blade, so here are my thoughts, for anyone considering making their own knife or purchasing one.

Here are the steels that you can treat at home with a firebrick forge and an oil quench.

1095. This steel will be with us for about forever as a blade steel. It is easy to work with in terms of forging, grinding, and heat treating. It can be phosphate treated like a milspec knife, or mirror polished. Rusts if you don’t care for it, lasts a dang long time if you do. Can be brittle if not properly tempered, but cheap to buy as stock. Everyone should have a 1095 knife at some point in their life.

5160. I like this steel for anything that is going to be more “chopper” than “slicer.” Holds an edge well when properly heat treated, and has slightly better impact resistance over 1095.

O1. This is the original “oil quench, non shrinking” tool steel. I think it is about as easy to work with as 1095 or 5160 with slightly better edge retention for a given Rockwell hardness on final temper. That is just my opinion, and your experience may vary.

52100. This is an industrial bearing steel that has pretty complicated heat treatment tables. Makes a fine knife, but isn’t easy to work with, which is why so many 52100 knives cost so much, but don’t really perform any better than a cheaper 1095 or D2 blade of the same design and geometry.

Here are the steels where you really need a digitally controlled furnace to properly heat treat the steel.

D2. This steel is pretty famous for wear resistance as a die making tool, also surprisingly tough, relatively corrosion resistant due to the chromium content. This steel will hold an edge very well with proper edge geometry for the blade style and when tempered to a reasonable degree for the chore intended. Not a great option for salt water use.

420 and 440 family of steels. These steels get a bad reputation because they are hard to do right. Buck has used 440 and 420 for years, and while I’m not a huge fan of the blade geometry on most Buck brand knives, they do produce a consistent product that holds an edge well. If you have a digital controlled furnace to heat treat these steels, you should be fine, but if not you can send any blade you grind from stock out for heat treatment at a commercial outfit. These are a better choice for use around salt water, but you’ll still want to care for the blade with a good protective oil. These are great options for pocket knives.

ATS-34 and 154CM. These steels are slightly more brittle than 440 series, but hold an edge amazingly well. Can be a beast to sharpen without a diamond stone. If you are around salt water a lot, this steel is a great option. These are great options for folding pocket knives.

The truth about a blade is that a proper heat treat for the blade design, sharpened to a proper edge geometry, will make any decent steel perform well. This isn’t even getting into laminate steel blade designs (a hard core between two softer pieces) or pattern welded “Damascus” steels. Right now I think that there are a lot of really good options for someone who wants to purchase a blade made from almost any steel mentioned here, especially D2 and 1095 options as a lot of domestic makers and importers are using those alloys.

I will say that I’m not a fan of Krupp 4116 steel, it is a stainless steel designed to make stamped blades. If you just want a “throwaway” knife to stash somewhere, this might be a legit use for a cheap “Cold Steel Finn Bear” or other option made from this alloy, but honestly for the price a Morakniv is just as affordable and the Swede stainless steel seems to hold an edge better.

If I didn’t cover an alloy you are interested in, hit me up in comments.

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Interview advice for recent college graduates.

Over the last four months or so I’ve interviewed over a hundred individuals for either initial accessions into the military, or for a branch transfer for those currently serving.

Some general observations.

Honesty really is the best policy, but if you really, REALLY want to get the job don’t tell the interviewer that “this other thing is my #1 choice and passion, this is a fall back.”

The interviewer can take two different routes to conduct the interview, one where you make yourself nervous and they try to calm you down, or one where you are calm and they try to make you a little nervous through the questions. If you are dealing with a teenager, or someone about to graduate college with absolutely no life experience, odds are good they will be nervous, and that’s ok. Older people with a little more life experience are more likely to be at ease with the interview process. Don’t worry about how nervous or not you are, especially if it is for an entry level position (you aren’t being recruited to start out at the top).

Don’t oversell your skills if the interviewer is a subject matter expert. But you won’t know if the interviewer is a subject matter expert or not, so don’t oversell yourself as a general rule. Do be proud of what you have actually accomplished, and be prepared to tell the interviewer about it. Don’t say, “I’m a confident, fast learner who can quickly master the skills you are looking for.” unless you have absolutely nothing else unique to offer them. As an example, one person spent 25 minutes of a 30 minute interview talking about how basketball had shaped his life and leadership style, which is not a good thing when many of the interview questions focus around computers, networking, and information technology. I didn’t rank Mr. Sports Scholarship very high, but possibly he could have connected better with a different interviewer who had a common life experience (I was not a collegiate athlete).

Do ask for clarification if you don’t understand a question. Interviewers are there to find out about you, and whether or not you are a good fit for their branch needs, and the more exchanges (questions and answers back and forth) the better off you are at maximizing your chances at making a good impression.

Be willing to accept “no” or “not at this time” as an outcome with grace and tact, because it isn’t the end of the story. In life, a “no” or “not at this time” is always something that can be re-negotiated in the future.

Practice your interviews with friends and mentors. People who know you well enough to ask the hard questions that feel like a punch in the gut. That will be time well spent before interviewing for a career.

I hope this advice is useful.

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“The Purge” and “The Handmaid’s Tale” are interchangeable Leftist propaganda.

One of the more accurate statements about politics in America is that Conservatives think Liberals are dumb, and Liberals think Conservatives are evil. The movies in “The Purge” series play that out just as accurately as Margaret Atwood’s fictionalized consequence of the Ronald Reagan re-election (back in 1984, for a decent Orwell tie in of all things) in “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

Conservative neo-Christians create this great evil in the name of stability, and plucky moral leftists are left to survive and resist as best they can in a world gone mad. Is that plot synopsis for “The Purge” or for “The Handmaid’s Tale”?

What is really sad about this is the level of projection that is involved in these fictions, as well as the necessary “out grouping” of conservatives in order to make them the very source of the social ills. You get the impression that the only thing standing between society and utopia are conservatives, with their mad lust for supporting the patriarchy or something.

Right now, if accurately look across the history of the United States, you see that the Left has been way more successful at getting away with political violence than the Right. The bombers of the Weather Underground all went on to have fulfilling careers. Tim McVeigh was executed for his crimes. Comrade Bike Lock got three years of probation for violent physical assault.

So why, given all the facts, is there such a Leftist fear of Conservative violence? Well, frankly because the Conservatives are way more effective at it than the Left. That’s why Tim McVeigh was executed, because he succeeded in the largest act of domestic terror in the history of the US, while the Weather Underground didn’t even hit double digits.

Now internationally, the Left is the world record holders in terms of mass death due to starvation, pogroms, ethnic cleansing, and imprisonment. But, so what? It’s only those undesirable “out group” members who are standing between society and utopia. Just like in Venezuela, right? I mean, sure the economy is in the toilet and people are starving, but at least they have a lower Gini coefficient, right?

However, when you think about it, that all the propaganda against conservative, free market solutions is fiction, as opposed to the real world historical horrors of socialism and communism, it’s a bit sad that the Left has to continually invent boogeymen to “hashtag resist.”

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First Round Hits

One of the skills that separates the serious marksman from the casual hobbyist is the importance of a first round hit.

In theory, a first round hit is fairly simple. Just get the distance to target, atmospheric conditions, and consult your ballistic tables, dial in the shot and pull the trigger. In reality, the theory is often hard to translate.

Once at a match I accidentally added ten minutes of elevation above what I should have. At 600 yards, that’s 60 inches, five whole feet high. I wasted that spotting round, and the next, trying to get back down to the “12” mark on my scope rather than the “22” mark on my scope. Embarrassing, but once dialed in I did fairly well that stage, eventually even got a third place medal in the mail from the CMP for that match. After that match, I went home, printed out my come ups for each range, and taped them to the stock of my rifle for my 200/300 load and my 600 yard load.

At a different match, I realized I was having a bit of a struggle with the 200 standing, before I realized that I’d left the magnification on my optic dialed down to 1x, rather than up to the 4x that it should have been. The Crossfire II 1-4×24 with illuminated center dot has just the right size dot to fit well inside the aiming black at any given range when maxed out to 4 power. A quick turn of the power ring up to 4 and everything clicked into place. It was an easy mistake to make as I turn the power down to 1x for dry fire practice, doing my holds against a thumbtack or scaled target indoors, and I hadn’t reset my rifle to “match ready” before the match.

I share these rather embarrassing stories in the hope that someone reading will go, “hey, we all make bonehead mistakes every once in a while!” and be inspired to go out and compete. Because it is competition where your training shines, and your first round hits matter for score.

The other arena where first round hits matter is hunting. I’m not a fan of long range hunting as I believe that you should never risk a bad shot on an animal, but there are those who do it and it’s still mostly a free country. Having known many a gentlemen get a serious case of “buck fever” it is very much like my boneheaded match mistakes. Suffice to say, in the sporting field, first round hits are an ethical obligation.

So…. I don’t always get first round hits. But I will continue to work towards that, so that my shots that don’t land where I want them to get fewer and further between.

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The AR Thumper Calibers

I know I’ve talked about this before, but a friend started talking about really wanting a 458 SOCOM upper, and it came back into my thoughts.

Starting with black powder rifled muskets the human race has constantly had a “big, heavy, slow” rifle option for hunting. With the introduction of black powder cartridge rifles some of these even made quite a name for themselves in Africa and on the American plains hunting big game. Everything from Antelope to Zebra so to speak. Companies like Sharps, Winchester, Remington, and even various Martini rifles in Africa, with their single shot precision, proved perfectly adequate to the task of killing man and beast alike.

However, the engine of progress turned, and the reign of black powder cartridge rifles was short lived by historical time standards, rather rapidly being replaced by smokeless powder offerings. But, even as the wheel of progress moves us forward into the future, the biology of big game animals hasn’t changed, so the advantages of a big, heavy, rifle slug at moderate velocities is still with us, even if the trend has been towards high velocity medium and small bore rifles for the killing of two legged animals.

Now we have an interesting array of cartridges that give us the “volume of fire” capable from a semi-automatic rifle, combined with the ballistics of a 140 year old single shot rifle.

I guess the three most common, for the AR-15 platform are:

50 Beowulf
450 Bushmaster

The 50 Beowulf launches a 300 to 400 grain bullet between 1,800 and 1,900 fps. That puts it within spitting distance of the 50-70 Government cartridge which launched a 400 gr bullet up about 1,850 fps, from a single shot rifle.

The 458 SOCOM launches a 300gr projectile to 1,900 fps, which is faster than the old 45-70 in a “Trapdoor Springfield” load which pushed a 325gr projectile to 1,600 fps.

The 450 Bushmaster also compares favorably to the old 45-70, although its heaviest load, a 260gr bullet at 2,180fps has no direct comparison to the old 45-70 round. But the Bushmaster is rather unique in that it was designed to launch heavy .452″ pistol bullets fast rather than .458″ rifle bullets slow, which makes it the most economical option to handload of the three listed here.

Ironically, none of these thumpers have been a runaway success in the market, after all those who like hunting with big, slow bullets already have lots of options that have already come and gone (and some that experienced a bit of a rebirth like the 45-70). And the places where you might need a heavy “stopper” bullet are generally situations where you don’t need a lot of shots, as the odds of being attacked by a solitary bear are much, much greater than being attacked by a gang of bears. So bolt action rifles in 458 Win Mag, 338 Win Mag, and other “Africa and Alaska” calibers are selling moderately well, as are 45-70 lever action rifles (many in Marlin’s excellent Guide Gun configuration).

So the hunters aren’t flocking to the AR-15 in thumpers, and the tactical crowd isn’t. The 300 Blackout has the market covered for short ranged, harder hitting options, and the 6.8 SPC and 6.5 Grendel rounding out that segment nicely.

So where do these thumpers fit in? Well, I don’t know. Maybe with a bush pilot who needs to keep a rifle for safety, but wants it as small and light as possible to not take up valuable space and weight in the plane. Maybe for someone who is recoil sensitive who needs a serious option in bear country. But it comes down to someone who needs a big bullet to take down a big animal from a handy, lightweight package that doesn’t take up much space.

Which one would I recommend? Personally the 450 Bushmaster, as it seems to be the most economical to shoot as 230gr .452″ pistol bullets for the 45 ACP are universal and cheap, and more premium hunting bullets are available as well. Additionally you get a few more trigger pulls per magazine if you go with the 450 Bushmaster over the 458 SOCOM (2 more in a 20 round mag and 3 more from a 30 round mag). In a situation where you want to save space, holding 26 shots in two 30 round STANAG magazines versus 20 shots in the same space makes a lot of sense to me. A “minimalist” AR build with a 16″ barrel would be light and handy (although recoil would be more than with a heavier build).

But no matter how I slice it, it seems that there is a very, very small niche market for these thumpers.


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Distillery Tour: Boundary Oak

This blog has sat dormant for a bit, which is kinda what happens when life kicks you around. They say that people raising kids are too tired to raise hell, seems to be true at least in my case. But since I find myself back in the land of race horses and Bourbon whiskey, I went on a distillery tour of the smallest distillery I’ve been to yet: Boundary Oak.

Coincidently I spent more money on some “small batch whiskey” than I should have. One bottle of Lincoln Straight Bourbon and a bottle of Blackhorse 1901 which I may give away as a gift to a fellow Cavalryman who served in that regiment (or may not, have no idea if he’s a whiskey man so I’ll make a few discreet inquiries). I served with the 2d Cavalry Regiment, which is the Army’s longest continually serving Regiment. Although I had several friends serve with the Blackhorse, and even have a handful of National Training Center rotations under my belt (even as far back as fighting those wily Kraznovians).

But…on to the tasting notes from the current offerings Boundary Oak.

Moonshine: Tastes like college to me, not a lot of whiskey character as it’s a traditional cane sugar distillate. But if you are into neutral spirits it seems to be a good one.

Patton Diesel: Tastes like good Irish whiskey without the peaty and smokey flavors. Lots of vanilla and a hint of sweet. Less character than a good aged blended whiskey, but quite smooth and drinkable.

Blackhorse 1901: Tastes like decent Scotch minus the peaty and smokey notes, not as strong on the vanilla notes but a bit of a citrus (reminded me of orange peel) in it and a hint of licorice. Not bourbon as it is aged in a used barrel (as is Scotch and Irish whiskey), so it’s quite approachable in terms of not being too harsh on the tongue. Reminds me of Famous Grouse a bit.

Lincoln Straight Bourbon: Has a “both young and old” taste to it. Lots of the spicy, cinnamon notes but also quite a few of the deeper charred oak caramels, vanilla, and some fruity hints (I thought maybe almost ripe cherries). A “straight bourbon” is aged to at least two years before bottling, and there are lots of straight bourbon options on the market, with familiar names like Old Crow, Jim Beam, Evan Williams, Wild Turkey, which are all priced much more modestly than Boundary Oak’s Lincoln Straight Bourbon, but, none of those more affordable options have the same “liveliness” on the tongue which Lincoln’s Straight Bourbon shares with Maker’s 46 (which is also a pretty penny per bottle).

Cinnful 69: A cinnamon whiskey, if you like Fireball, you’ll like this. I think this is where the batches of whiskey go that the distiller doesn’t know what else to do with, the Madagascar cinnamon is such an overpowering note that I couldn’t taste anything else. Reminded me of going to the Liberty Theater as a kid and eating some of my Dad’s “Hot Tamale” candy.

Gin. Not yet offered on their products page, but an American style gin, which was very drinkable as the juniper notes were “fruity” rather than “oily” which you can get with some gins. As I am not a big gin drinker I felt that the taste profile was very mild compared to something like Seagrams.

Boundary Oak’s website:

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Army museum of the Pacific

Today I got to tour the Army Museum at Fort DeRussy in Honolulu. It is interesting as to who makes it into a museum, there were plenty of references to Danny Inouye of course, but also a whole exhibit to Eric Shinseki.

I never served “with” GEN Shinseki, but I did serve under GEN Shinseki, as he became the Chief of Staff of the Army while I was enlisted. But what it interesting is GEN Shinseki’s recollection that GEN MacArthur spoke at GEN Shinseki’s graduation from West Point back in 1961, before Lieutenant and then Captain Shinseki would go fight his own war in Vietnam and lose half of his foot to a land mine. Of course I’ll never make General, very very few do. But along with GEN MacArthur and GEN Shinseki were millions of people like me, who didn’t make it into a museum.

The weapons, from the Spanish American War and forward, were all familiar to me due to my fondness for military history. But I found the exhibit for Vietnam the most emotionally impacting, as that was where the M16 and M14 showed up. The wood stocked plane Jane M14 looked just like the one I handed to my best shot as a PL in Iraq, I didn’t bother to look up the serial number manufacturing date but given when manufacturing ceased on the M14, it’s is overwhelmingly likely that it was a Vietnam era rifle.

On the second floor is the hall of heroes, where the Hawaiian recipients of the Medal of Honor or the Distinguished Service Cross or Navy Cross are honored, reminded me that of the millions who served, only a few live through the experience for which honored remembrance is appropriate. There is a medal display, starting with the Army Achievement Medal and proceeding up in order of precedence to the Medal of Honor. Why some to to war and come back with different medals than others who went to war and did similar things in similar circumstances is just the whims of fate and a bureaucracy that has both written and unwritten standards.

That connection with history, the man who introduced the Black Beret back to the regular Army, inspired by the man who was relieved of command in Korea, after taking back the Philippines and being hailed as a hero in WWII. The stars of history are surrounded by the millions of us who won’t get mentioned in museums, who served in units that won’t become an HBO special, who just woke up every day for years on end and hit the day as hard as we could.

So the millions of use that history has passed by, here’s a toast to what we did, and if memory of that fades as we age and pass on, so be it. Sometimes epic shit just doesn’t get written down.

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