Knifemaking: expansion within limitations and the Operator

“When forced to work within a strict framework the imagination is taxed to its utmost and will produce its richest results.  Given total freedom the work is likely to sprawl.”

T.S. Eliot

I’ve found there are two types of people in the world: the Administrator and the Operator.  The Dispatcher and the Dispatched.  No person is completely one of the other.  Some people intermingle beautifully in both worlds.  Some people are better at delivering orders and others are better at executing them but no one is completely one or the other.

I find myself more in the realm of the Operator.  What needs to be done?  When does it need to be done?  Within these sorts of parameters I find that I laugh a bit easier, creativity is much more present, ideas flow better, and there is a general ease about me that might not be there if I am left totally to my own devices.  Within these sorts of parameters I am most productive.

Expansion within limitations.  We are all limited at some capacity.  Miles Davis was limited by the physical limitations of the trumpet, Mary Lou Retton by gravity, and Socrates by the political constraints of his time.  These limitations didn’t mean that they weren’t going to reach like hell for what they believed in.  No work is totally free because we are all coming from somewhere.  And it’s not about consciously limiting yourself or your potential; it’s about pushing through to find how far you can go with your craft before you hit a barrier that prevents you from going any further.  And honestly I don’t think there are many, if any, people who have hit that point.  The rub is getting through the limitations we put on ourselves.  Sometimes they sound like this:

“I’m not allowed to be this good”

“If I’m this good it might offend someone who has worked harder than I have”

“I don’t deserve to be this good”

“It’s too much work to be this good”

Those are unhealthy limitations.  Healthy limitations push us.  Money constraints, time constraints, resources, naysayers, things of that nature.  Nothing is totally free and this is a very beautiful thing: we are all coming from somewhere.  We have notions, perspectives, opinions, and options.  We all work within mediums.  Even accountants manage to be creative within what I consider to be a dry and sterile set of parameters.  Accountants might disagree and that is part of what makes the world go round.

This is how things get done and was the inspiration for the Operator.

The lesson of the Operator is to do your tasks beautifully and fully, to the best of your abilities, and within whatever parameters have been set for you or that you have set for yourself.  Whatever those tasks may be.

I felt I was limiting myself and wanted to use a different steel.  1095 steel is a tried and true material for knives and many other things.  Lawn mower blades, files, coil springs for suspension systems, and many other things.  It’s easy to work with, hardens up beautifully, and takes a razor’s edge.  It’s super tough.  And cheap.  I like all of these parameters…

FullSizeRender 7The Operator
IMG_2275

I ground this freehand on my cheap little belt grinder.  It’s a process. IMG_2289Here’s where I make the handle material.  I used fabric, fiberglass resin, pressure, time, and patience.  You can buy the stuff commercially (it’s primarily used in industrial electrical insulation practices) but it’s a lot more exciting to make your own.  I’ve done this several times and I’m never entirely sure if it will turn out as expected…This is a quick and interesting read on how this stuff works and why it’s ultimately great for knife handles. IMG_2291I used two of my favorite shirts- shirts I had worn up and down the East Coast and had adventures in.  It was time to retire them and this was a good way to honor their Operator spirit…
IMG_2292the raw material…IMG_2294 cut to shape…IMG_2296

 
I probably spent three hours sanding the stuff…  Sanding is finished.  He goes into phosphoric acid.  This etches the surfaces of the steel and helps protect against rust.  It also makes the blade non-reflective, for those who may wish to operate clandestinely…I wish the blue material would have been more prominent but it turned out wonderfully nonetheless.  

Work within whatever parameters you may have but don’t limit yourself.  The Operator in action:

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