Knifemaking: being in the know, Hobart mixers, and the Gunny

“If, then, I were asked for the most important advice I could give, that which I considered to be the most useful to the men of our century, I should simply say: in the name of God, stop a moment, cease your work, look around you.”
Leo Tolstoy 


A few months ago I did a job for my friends who run an auction company.  There was an auction happening at a school out in the country and they needed someone to go out and bid on two gigantic dough mixers.  They weigh a little more than half a ton and are very expensive.

They  look like this:


The only issue was that they didn’t know what voltage they were.  Sometimes these machines have a 460 voltage requirement.  These higher voltages exist to reduce wiring requirements and the need for additional electrical equipment facilities with large power requirements.  The facilities that have these requirements are usually nuclear submarines or large government or corporate campuses.  Most houses only go as high as 220 volts, and that’s only for the washer and dryer hook up.  Unless you are operating a nuclear submarine, anything running on 460 volt power is generally going to be used as a boat anchor or scrapped.

My job was to go out and look at the specs and see what voltage they were.  Anything under 460 voltage would be good to bid on and able to be resold for a profit.

I drove out to the school on an early November morning.  Everything was spread out in front of a storage shed across the street from the school, separated by a two lane highway.  What I saw when I got there was a cornucopia of ancient office equipment, school lockers, floor buffers, and cafeteria equipment from an era gone by.  A lot of the town folk came out to see the festivities and they looked as one would expect the residents of a peanut farming community to look.  I went and looked in the shed and there was even more junk- desks, old computer printers, and large pieces of cafeteria equipment designed to feed the hungry masses.  It was here I found my mixers, alone with no attention from the farming community (they were busy picking over everything outside).  Nobody knew there was a potentially profitable business endeavor here.  Nobody else was in the know.

I went over and found the spec label.  Under power requirements it said 460V.  Son of a bitch.

There were two other gentleman eyeing the mixers as well.  They did not look like members of the peanut farming community.  They arrived in a box truck and a dually pick-up with a trailer attached.  This was the competition and they meant business.  These gentleman were definitely in the know with these mixers.

We said formal hellos.  They asked what the voltage was and I told them, expecting them to pack up and leave.

I called Fred the service tech.  He told me that some of these particular models of mixer were dual voltage and I would need to remove the top cover and look at the motor.  I waited till nobody else was around, and had a peak at the motor.  They were indeed dual voltage- 220v/460V.  So they were worth money.  They were as good as mine.

The other gentlemen did not leave.  We stood off to the side waiting for the auctioneer to make his way to the shed.

When it came time to bid these gentlemen matched every bid I made.  It was just me and them.  We got up to 2000 dollars and the bidding slowed down a bit.  The farming community were both entertained and dumbfounded.  Everything else sold for next to nothing but here were these people who did not belong, wagering thousands of dollars on two hunks of metal.

As per my instructions, I stopped at 3,000 dollars.  The gentleman backed their box truck up and loaded up these two pieces of equipment.  They had been in the know the whole time and they came to win.

With a bit of awareness you can start to see that there is more going on in the world than you ever imagined.  This sort of awareness usually helps me to be a better citizen of the universe.

There is the gentleman you may work with who tries to be everything to everyone.  It is profoundly annoying.  Spend 18 hours with him on a business trip and you find his brother died of a heroin overdose.  All he is doing is trying to keep everyone safe in the only way he knows how.  Being in the know of this helps you to cultivate a bit of compassion toward this man.

Or there is the person who is raising hell in Starbucks.  You know for a fact that that person did not wake up with the sole intention of making an entire coffee shop miserable- possibly because you may have done the same thing at one point or another.  There is probably something else going on that is causing this person to act this way.  Being in the know helps create space for empathy for this person.

There are thousands of situations like the auction or the other two incidents.  Having a bit of knowledge of things can help to create a richer existence or at least help you to know what you are missing out on at a country auction.  Sometimes all this takes is slowing down and having a look around.

This is the lesson of the Gunny.  It gets its name from the Gunnery Sergeant, and NCO in the Marine Corps whose job is to be in the know.  Sometimes just being aware is enough to make a difference.

I started working on this knife as part of a demonstration at a show, and it was at this stage when I got back to the shop.  He is made from O1 tool steel.

After hardening…

After hours of hand sanding…

Three shirts that no longer fit- in black, brown, and green

Cut into strips…

….and then pieces

Fiberglass resin…

….for a stinky salad

Put into a bag and clamped:

It comes out looking like this:


The Gunny: O1 tool steel, homebrewed camo micarta, kydex spacers, and steel hardware.

In finding a bit of awareness there can be a deeper connection to the world around us.  This is the lesson of the Gunny.

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