Knifemaking: surprises, overthinking, and the Persuader, Mark II

“Don’t think of what you have to do, don’t consider how to carry it out!” he exclaimed. “The shot will only go smoothly when it takes the archer himself by surprise.”

Eugen Herrigel- Zen in the Art of Archery

(You can read about the crafting of the original Persuader here)

From the age of about ten to seventeen I went to boy scout camp every summer.  It was there I learned many skills crucial to developing into a balanced and well-rounded man.  Anything deemed flammable was generally set on fire.  Coffee cans were made to be hammered into camp stoves.  The person who showered the least won summer camp.  We put crawly things in each others sleeping bags.  We dealt with wolf spiders the size of small paper plates.  There was a Warhammer race every year.  Think of a track and field baton passing event, but substitute a baton for a 20lb ‘hammer’ built from logs by pubescent boys and humped around the five mile circumference of large lake.  We had a contest to see who could go the longest without using the latrine, which was all fun and games until one of the boys went to the hospital for a bowel obstruction.  Then the contest was to see who could use the latrine the most.

I learned firsthand that the boom of a sailboat mast was named so because when the wind changed direction it would swing around and boom, crack you on the head.

Then there was the summer I got dehydrated and learned that nobody is joking when they tell you to drink lots of water.

I snuck my Walkman with me.  At 12 years old there isn’t a whole lot better than being on your own in the woods with nothing but you, the trees, and your Tears for Fears cassette.

I took a rifle shooting class.  The counselor was one of only two women at camp.  They called her ‘Books’.  Or maybe it was “Boots”.  All the counselors had silly nicknames and any semblance of political correctness was blatantly disregarded.  Books had glasses.  To be fair, there was also a counselor with non-congenital dwarfism that everyone called “Oompa”.  He got fired for sneaking liquor on to camp…

So anyway, rifle shooting class with Books.  Turns out Books was a zen master.  For a class with a bunch of pre-hormonal boys, there weren’t many rules.  The only rule I can remember is never point your gun at anything you don’t intend to completely obliterate.

We were then given rifles.  Books sat us down at the rifle bench and showed us how to load and aim.  She told us to find our target in our sights and then, most importantly, to relax.  Inhale deeply, she said, and on the exhale squeeze the trigger.  This was also very important: squeeze don’t pull.  Slowly.  We were told that when the shot goes off it should surprise us.  If we missed our target, Books told us not to worry about it and just compensate for it on our next shot.

I wasn’t a very good shot and I haven’t shot a gun since then.  But I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately.

For one I am generally not fond of surprises.  I like to know what I’m going to have to do and how to best prepare for it.  Even at the age of 12 I was not fond of any surprises involving a death-dealing boom stick and shooting always made me kind of nervous.  As I’ve gotten older I’ve realized that life can be a death-dealing boom stick, for better or worse.  In trying to anticipate the shot, you are trying to control something outside of your control.  This results in you getting in your own way instead of letting things be what they are.

I think Books was trying to get us to let go and trust ourselves and to let the shot fall where it may.  This is the lesson of this incantation of the Persuader.

I made the original Persuader without thinking too much about it.  The main grind is a sabre grind.  I grind all of my blades freehand and as it turns out it is really difficult to get a uniform, symmetrical grind on a 2in wide piece of steel.  But I didn’t know this the first time round- I just did it.  When I tried to do it again I kept overthinking everything and ruining it.  There were two or three between the first one and this one that got scrapped.

When I think about the times I have been most successful in life I realize that those were the times when I wasn’t overly attached to specific outcomes or trying to manipulate the experience or anticipate every bump or snag.  In those times I was dog-ass tired or I was just enjoying myself.  I squeezed rather than pulled, I was surprised, and the shot ended up where I intended it to be.

1095 spring steel

Ready for the forge:
  Chisel grind up top

I made the handle material out of an old pair of jeans:

After a bit of time, pressure, and fiberglass resin…

 At around 400 grit or so….

This stuff takes about twice as much sandpaper to polish than wood…

The Persuader, Mark II: Etched 1095 spring steel, homebrewed denim Micarta, and steel hardware


Relax.  Squeeze, don’t pull.  And it’s ok to be surprised.

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