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Thread: Knives of the Pioneers/Colonists and Modern Knives

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    Spyderco Forum Registered User SpyderEdgeForever's Avatar
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    Knives of the Pioneers/Colonists and Modern Knives

    I was looking at some pictures of remains of the various types of knives used by the various American and other colonists and pioneers, and generally most were fixed blade single edged blades and daggers, but there were some folders thrown in there, too. What do you all think the early pioneers and others would have thought of our current knives, such as handles made of FRN and locking blades made of VG-10 and other modern steels and alloys? Do you think they would have regarded most of them more like novelty items, or many would have appreciated some of our designs?

    I can imagine the guys and gals on the Wagon Trains would have found Spyderco Knives very much appreciated.

    Interesting side note: Supposedly many of the men and women who had to use knives for daily chores preferred the butcher-type knives over the big Bowies. The Bowies and Arkansas Tooth Picks, such as the daggers, came in handy, but were not considered as practical as the Green River Russell Butcher knives and the Sheffield England made butcher sheath knives.


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    An ocean of differences in tools of the past versus now

    First of all I think any pioneer from the 1700s or 1800s for that matter would have been in a state of shock had they tried out a modern piece of cutlery like a Spyderco or Benchmade knife. Tools of any variety have undergone a huge process of evolution over the years in many aspects of progression. It would be almost like showing someone 100 years ago a cell phone or a PC computer. It would probably be a lot more than they could possibly comprehend.

    It would also be quite amusing to see what people from that era would react to modern fishing equipment or modern rifles or handguns for that matter. We are currently worlds away from what they had during the 1700s & 1800s or even the early 1900s for that matter.

    It truly blows my mind what I've seen change in the cutlery field since I took on the hobby in the late 70s. It also blows my mind the changes I've seen not only with tools but with technology in general in the past 20 years much less what we've undergone in the past 100 years or so.

    Good Thread and a lot of interesting comparisons to think about for sure.
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    Spyderco Forum Registered User Doc Dan's Avatar
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    I am glad you brought this up. I have noted, as well, the different blade types preferred by those people who actually needed knives to survive on a daily basis versus those today who do not need a knife to survive. I have lived for months at a time in far away places (think above the artic circle and slightly below) and this affected my knife choices dramatically as I needed them to do things no bushcrafter ever did. I learned a lot by reading the old timers.

    I would like to add that my go to knife was most often a Buck 103 Skinner. It has the same shape as the old time butcher knives and was indestructable. I beat that knife up and it never failed. It had a 4 inch blade that was not too big and not too short. The only issue was that at that time Buck was using 425 and the steel was so hard it was difficult to sharpen. But once it was sharp it stayed that way for a long while. It was a tough knife.
    Last edited by Doc Dan; 12-27-2013 at 06:24 AM.
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    Spyderco Forum Registered User SpyderEdgeForever's Avatar
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    Very cool, thank you for the replies, very informative. The Buck Skinner seems to be an excellent knife.


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    Spyderco Forum Registered User chuck_roxas45's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Doc Dan View Post
    I am glad you brought this up. I have noted, as well, the different blade types preferred by those people who actually needed knives to survive on a daily basis versus those today who do not need a knife to survive. I have lived for months at a time in far away places (think above the artic circle and slightly below) and this affected my knife choices dramatically as I needed them to do things no bushcrafter ever did. I learned a lot by reading the old timers.

    I would like to add that my go to knife was most often a Buck 103 Skinner. It has the same shape as the old time butcher knives and was indestructable. I beat that knife up and it never failed. It had a 4 inch blade that was not too big and not too short. The only issue was that at that time Buck was using 425 and the steel was so hard it was difficult to sharpen. But once it was sharp it stayed that way for a long while. It was a tough knife.
    I'd like to hear the story someday.
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    Spyderco Forum Registered User Evil D's Avatar
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    Yeah, I think the first thing would be a complete mind blown effect from the edge retention vs. what they had then.

    Second, I think most people back then who carried fixed blades actually used them throughout their day, much like we would use a cell phone as an everyday tool. Back then you could carry a large Bowie on your hip and nobody would give it a second glance, because nobody looked at it as a weapon unless YOU were the type to use it as one. If you were a farmer and came into town to pick up feed and supplies, and you had a big knife on your hip, you were obviously doing something that day that required a tool like that. If you were an outlaw strolling into the local saloon for a few shots, then people might look at that knife differently.

    We live in a different world. If you want fried chicken for dinner, you stroll down to KFC and order a bucket. 200 years ago if you wanted fried chicken, you went out to the coop and chased down a chicken and chopped its head off and cleaned it. If you wanted a salad, you didn't head for the nearest grocery store produce section, you went out to the garden and picked it from the ground. People were much more self sufficient back then, and so they required tools to get things done. These days someone can only own kitchen knives and go through their entire life and never miss not having a knife on their person.

    I think the reason most of us can get by just fine with folders is that we're part of a consumer world where most of the work is already done for us. Instead of slaughtering the animal for dinner, we buy it by the pound and use our knives to cut open the packages. If you go out to those off-the-grid areas even here in America, where people are living in the mountains and have to deal with being more self sufficient and living more off the land than out of the package, I think you would see much more people at least using fixed blades, if not carrying them.

    Then again, there is something to be said about the convenience of a folding knife, since folders date all the way back to the very dawn of the iron age, when carrying a sword was just as common as wearing shoes. Still, someone got the idea of a folding knife that could be carrying in a pocket, and like the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention, so it was designed out of need and has endured for 1500 or so years now. You can probably blame the industrial age and the growth of consumerism for the rise in pocket knife popularity, but where people live off the land and are more self sufficient, there will always be fixed blades.

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    Spyderco Forum Registered User kbuzbee's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Doc Dan View Post
    my go to knife was most often a Buck 103 Skinner.
    I have one of those. IIRC mine is 440C. I haven't sharpened (or carried ) it in 30 years. I remember it being a pain to sharpen. I wonder if I'd feel the same today. I should dig it out and see.

    What kind of edge (angle) did you keep on yours?

    Ken
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    Spyderco Forum Registered User Doc Dan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kbuzbee View Post
    I have one of those. IIRC mine is 440C. I haven't sharpened (or carried ) it in 30 years. I remember it being a pain to sharpen. I wonder if I'd feel the same today. I should dig it out and see.

    What kind of edge (angle) did you keep on yours?

    Ken
    Well, it has been too long ago to remember, but I do remember I had to keep a balance of durability and skinning. It was probably 20 or 25 degrees because it held up and stayed sharp. That old steel would not take the acute angles possible with some of the super steels today and still hold up.
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    Spyderco Forum Registered User The Deacon's Avatar
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    The reaction to modern knives may been different at different times and places. At one time, in New England, having one might have gotten you burned as a witch.

    Quote Originally Posted by kbuzbee View Post
    I have one of those. IIRC mine is 440C. I haven't sharpened (or carried ) it in 30 years. I remember it being a pain to sharpen.

    Ken
    I have a couple of those, from about 45 years ago and I'd agree, they're not the easiest knives to sharpen. Apparently, stamping the steel name on the tang hadn't yet come into vogue. One is simply stamped BUCK, the other BUCK USA, so I have no idea what steel they're made from.
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    Due to present day knife laws, it's hard for most people to carry fixed blade knives. I think most American pioneers would be abhorred by our knife laws.

    They'd probably be rack aged by various innovations though.

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    Spyderco Forum Registered User Doc Dan's Avatar
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    [QUOTE=

    I have a couple of those, from about 45 years ago and I'd agree, they're not the easiest knives to sharpen. Apparently, stamping the steel name on the tang hadn't yet come into vogue. One is simply stamped BUCK, the other BUCK USA, so I have no idea what steel they're made from.[/QUOTE]

    The one stamped simply BUCK is probably 440C. Knives prior to 1981 were normally made of this steel and this is the steel, heat treated very hard, that gave Buck the reputation. The other one may be 440C, as well. They changed to 425 in 1982 or so. If there is no model number on the other side, then definitely 440C. Are there any other marks? ^ V X > < + etc.?
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    Spyderco Forum Registered User kbuzbee's Avatar
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    I had a 440C 120 (General) as well. I don't recall if I sold that or traded it or what, but I kinda miss it. That was one great knife

    Ken
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    Spyderco Forum Registered User phillipsted's Avatar
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    If I had been alive then, a knife such as the Phil Wilson would have been a real Godsend. Keeping an edge on it, however, would have challenged even the best sharpening equipment of the day...

    TedP

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    Spyderco Forum Registered User JNewell's Avatar
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    Just for the record, you all should be aware that slipjoint folders were not at all uncommon in the second half of the 18th century. There is a lot of documentation, and a lot of surviving examples, from that period.

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