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Testing a few sawback Hollow Handle knives, and some observations...

Gaston444 Jun 28, 2015

  1. Gaston444

    Gaston444 Little member

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    I tested out some of the saws on my sawback knives on a 4" Maple branch, and did some chopping in the field... The results were interesting, to say the least...

    Randall Model 18: Saw stops at around 1/8" depth (as expected). Not expected was that the wood dust produced, the sole reason the saw option was wanted, is so fine that it blows instantly away in the wind...

    Wall "Lile First Blood style": Saw tops are ground on one plane, reason unknown: The saw won't even strip off the initial layer of bark... The knife is off to Razoredgeknives to have its convex edge ground to a more effective V-Edge, and the sawteeth modified to individually "dip" at the front...

    TOPS Hellion Survivor 20/20, the full size version: Saw is aggressive and gets easily to 1/2", then stops dead. This takes seconds, so it is good enough to go around a 3" diameter branch in a few moments, weaken it in a spot to 2", and then break it. This is a useful sawback, if not spectacular.

    Neeley SA9. The most schocking of all for me. After hearing so much about the SA's saw design, this is the best it could do on a 4" Maple branch: 1/4" or 5/16", with some difficulty and effort. Then it stops dead...

    [​IMG]

    Chopping: The Chris Reeves Jereboam proved the best here (the TOPS Hellion has not been tested for chopping as of yet), by about 20% over the Wall, which was handicapped by its convex edge (I would expect the Wall to match it after improving its edge to a V-Edge). The Reeves handle was far more confortable, bare-handed, than the Becker BK-9's handle, even, or rather especially, while chopping hard... The small diameter Wall handle was even more confortable, but showed more rolling tendency (more on that later). The Model 18 chopped incredibly well, considering its small size (it matched the much bigger Wall), but the handle wrapped with 350 cord was horribly unconfortable, and caused immediate blisters... It is simply too large in diameter, and the cord makes things far worse... It would perform better unwrapped: get a knurled handle and, whatever you do, don't cord wrap it!...

    An interesting feature of hollow handles showed up with the chopping use of all of them: The handle, once in a while, will roll in the hand to follow the wood grain, violently whipping sideways... This is quite dangerous, and mostly unique to hollow handles... It was less pronounced on the Reeves, and while chopping high, versus other hollow handles and while chopping low.

    Chopping low means the knife hits in a "point down" attitude, and this makes the knife "taller" on impact and so less stable, more liable to rolling the handle inside your hand, and then "side whipping" as it tears off a huge chunk of wood... Be very wary of putting you feet and leg anywhere near the chopping area with a hollow handle...

    When hitting in a "level knife" attitude on higher branches, the knife design may still promote rolling, or make it easier to control: This is I think the reason why rolling could be controlled on the Reeves by tightening the grip (note that when it happens, it is always equally violent and dangerous): The "center of rolling" is less high above the edge:

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    (Note the Randall's guard was ground down because it was put on horribly askew at the factory... The blade is also off-center and not straight to the handle to top it off, but that bothered me less)

    Worth noting is that the Wall, despite its flaws, struck me as the most practical hollow handle knife in design: The handle is thin and long, and that alone makes it more confortable... Handle capacity is reduced but still useable (about level with the Reeves in inner diameter, but shallower in depth)... The guard area is narrow, while most such knives are really thick there... The handle is aluminium, which makes it blade heavy by one inch in front of the guard: This does not boost chopping performance so much as it greatly increases hand confort under repeated chops (making the shock of the hit's deceleration largely taken up by the blade)...

    Only the Model 18 can compare to the Wall in edge thinness (both around 0.5 mm or 0.020"), and its V-Edge, and especially the hollow grind above it, did prove superior for every task to the Wall's convex edge, even when that was much sharpened... The Wall will be fully re-ground accordingly. The Randall's large handle diameter, especially its buttcap size, and the very blade-light feel, are all big handicaps to its usefulness for heavy tasks... It is really too small at 3/16" in blade thickness, and the big, long spine grind robs it of even more much needed blade weight (while doing a good job of ruining your eventual baton)... It edge thinness does compensate quite a bit for these deficiencies, and it does bites wood surprisingly well, but the handle is just too inconfortable with thick cord wrappings. Definitely get a knurled version, and above all keep it bare...

    The Reeves edge was acceptable with its 1 mm (0.040") bevel thickness, and its V-edged profile, but it grows much duller at the tip, like many big knives (other than Randalls and most convexed edge models), and this seriously limits its usefulness. For some reason, it feels unpleasantly heavy, but the handle confort is superior if left without any wrappings... This will be re-ground with a much sharper front third...

    The Neeley SA9's edge was ortiginally an absurd 30° per side or more (Like a Boker Apparo, for those who have seen this monstrosity of an edge), and this was somehow reduced to around a (now, after much work) 15-16° bevel with a very tall bevel. I think 12-13° is an absolute minimum for useable sharpness, with 10° per side being better, even for hard tasks like chopping hard woods... The Neeley now has a 1.5 mm bevel top, or 0.060", which puts it out of serious consideration as a knife whose edge will last some time in the field (especially if you try to restore the edge during the outing)... That, combined with the poorly working saw, make it inferior to even the Randall in useability... Despite its blade being 9 5/16" long, it still balances at the guard, which is poor for chopping tasks, especially at such a large size... This is likely due to the steel handle and full steel buttcap with no hollowing out (a mirror surface is offered instead, at a great cost in balance, since the buttcap is then just a solid machined chunk sitting at the very end...).

    The "rolling/sideswiping" of hollow handles while chopping was an eye-opener, and is a potential source of injury if it is not kept in mind...

    I still like Hollow handles and got this rare one recently (RJ Martin Blackbird, 20 made): An amazing piece: 10.5" blade, 30 ounces plus 8 ounces sheath (!), $1500. A superior design in my opinion, and well worth the cost, despite the weight...:

    [​IMG]

    Gaston
     
  2. elusiveweasle

    elusiveweasle Brigade Member Brigade Member

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    Nice review. As a child of the 80's I've always had a love for hollow handle knives.

    Time to go watch First Blood.
     
  3. Guillermo

    Guillermo 7th Man of the 7th son Super Moderator

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    Great post and here is my one and only hollow handled knife. I just got a Marbles pilot survival knife from the 60's and will post a pic.

    [​IMG][/IMG]
     
  4. Gaston444

    Gaston444 Little member

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    So I finally did my "Survival Chopping" contest, over two days with more to come, with some very surprising results... Not an updated line-up...:

    [​IMG]

    The most important thing I found out is really rather weird: It has to do with a phenomenon that is more pronounced on hollow handles, but is to my mind somewhat universal, in different ways, to all 9" class knives (or less) used as chopping implements: The violence to the hand takes an unexpected form I have never heard described: I call it the "Pommel Down Bite", and the fact hollow handles don't taper may make this more pronounced.

    Curiously, now that I am aware of the the "hollow Handle Roll", that phenomenon never occurred once...

    Basically the "Pommel Down Bite" is the reaction any knife has when the blade is abruptly stopped by wood forward of the guard: Within the hand, the pommel is what snaps down with the most violence, no matter how the knife is held... The result is the most affected area is shown where the band aid is on my hand, the knife being in a position to illustrate (and exaggerate) its reaction to hitting the wood...:

    [​IMG]

    This reaction it turns out is crucial to how the knife will perform: It is not the performance itself however: The Randall Model 18 has absolutely terrible "Pommel Down Bite", at least with big cord around it, yet its chopping performance is surprisingly good, thanks to the thin edge and hollow grind...: If you make the mistake of putting any "largeish" cord around its handle, it will injure your hand in seconds, depending on how tightly it is wrapped, and how "hard" the cord surface is...

    This is why, although the Neeley SA9's handle appears to have cord that is too smooth, ultra-fine cord is in fact the way to go for these knives... Rougher cord does feel better for "normal" whittling and general use. It also conveys an impression of greater security and quality. But at the real "emergency" chopping use that the larger size implies, the actual cost of this rougher cord is far, far too great in my opinion... I think even callused hands would get chewed up in the area of my band-aid, because the cylindrical shape simply does not conform to the hand there: "Normal" non-cylindrical knife handles do not bite in the same way, but they are equally deterrent to hard use by imparting shock in that area: This means you don't get blisters, but the chopping performance is actually lower than a hollow handle, because the impact has a reverberation in the hand that is a deterrent to hitting or gripping hard enough...

    Because of its very poor edge geometry (15° per side on a monstrous 1.6 mm edge base), I almost did not include the Neeley SA9, because I felt it would have no chance at all against the thin edge of a Randall Model 12, or the blade-heavy heft of a "Battle-Mistress defeating" San Mai III Trailmaster -see various eye-opening videos-... (In a previous post I speculated the SA9 would rank dead last...). Imagine my utter astonishment to find, on the second day, that the Neeley SA9 was not only the most confortable chopper by far, but that despite its pathetic thick edge that I had applied poorly (the edge had an undetected wire edge that bent over heavily during the test), it outperformed everything by a large margin... Narrow non-chopping-looking blade and all...:

    [​IMG]

    As I expected the Model 12 proved better than the San Mai III Trailmaster, but not by much... I attribute this to 3 factors: 1-The stock is 0.22" (all Randalls are always way under the claimed stock thickness -except maybe for the Clinton dagger!-), while the Trailmaster is a true 5/16". 2-The Model 12's point taper is very long, not carrying full thickness anywhere near the point. 3-The edge is 0.020" thin (wonderful), but has a slight "convexing" that swells just above the V-edge bevel, maybe after some customers complained they couldn't "twist" the blade sideways out of the wood, like every incompetent user has right to do, without "rippling" the edge... Fortunately the Model 14 and 18 don't display this nonsense, but they are not as great choppers. One of the reasons the Al Mar "Special Warfare" chops so far above its size and weight range is it doesn't have this nonsense either... (One thing I noted though, is that the deeper "blade trapping" bites sure scratched up the Aus-6 finish more, despite the edge-holding being quite good)

    So the Neeley SA9 was by some margin the best chopper, and yet narrow-bladed so not tall above the edge: No rolling tendency either (maybe the wood used just didn't have the coarse grain to cause this)... The performance of the smooth smaller diameter handle was key to this I think, combined with the full 1/4" blade thickness being carried quite close to the massively strong point. Other than that, considering the crap wire edge that became instantly dull, I'm quite stumped... With handle heavy balance, due to the undrilled solid steel pommel, and pathetic thick edge in very bad condition, it really defied comprehension, even after a few match-ups...: What will it do with a better more closed-angle edge that is not completely broken off as it folded?!?:

    [​IMG]

    The 3 tops ones, aside from the SA9, were the Randall Model 12, the CS Trailmaster and maybe the TOPS Hellion 3rd, but that seemed to do poorly in a later rematch... The hooked handle end was a bit unconfortable, if not terrible. Where the Hellion scored was in a separate test in which I deliberately used lazy low energy swings: It beat out the two others by quite a lot after 20 strokes:

    [​IMG]

    Lazy strokes are less risky, but definitely seem too unproductive for me...

    One thing I noticed is that all knives struggled to make headway after 20-25 strokes, hitting a flat expanse of wood, because I did not go "around" the log to get at a "peak". This was an attempt to insure consistency, but it may have instead "flattened" the differences...: Any slight difference should be considered larger than it looks I would think... I went per count, mostly 35, and did not count obvious misses... All knives were phonebook paper push-cutting sharp, including the wire-edged SA9... Not much edge loss was noted, except on the much lighter use the first day on the Hellion (no loss on the heavier second day!), and the SA9's crumbling wire edge of course...

    [​IMG]

    The First Blood did poorly, as I expected, given the long thinned-out point and 0.22" blade stock. Its "pommel-down bite" was the most vicious outside the Model 18, but all knives (except the SA9!) felt like they were tackling too much on this fallen wood: I chose it for its rigidity and straightness...

    It seems blade stock thickness, and how far that carries out to the point, are far more important than I had assumed, especially compared to the blade's depth profile, which seems to have little effect if the SA9's narrow profile is any guide... The Hellion is not helped that much by its Tanto point because it is even thinner than the Randall at 0.19-0.20"... Note how heavy-hitting the Al Mar is, for its size, being a full true 0.25" stock...

    A final point I'll quickly make is that the "pommel down Bite" really changed my perception of how chopping worked: To minimize the pain over long stretches of chopping, there was no way to use the "sweet spot" often described as beyond halfway down the blade... This was simply impossible: To minimize "Pommel Down Bite", only the portion of the blade closest to the handle could be used... The only mild exception to that was the Cold Steel Trailmaster, which could be used to hit at mid-blade, because its handle was so different it didn't behave like the others. I found the handle unpleasant in a very different, "surface spiky" if unfocussed way, compared to most of the others. The handle shape seemed to "hide" any "Pommel Down Bite", so the blade could be used to hit further out in front of the guard, but the handle's thinness was so unsecure the blade still "reared up" quite a bit, reducing efficiency...

    I had never heard before that hitting close to the guard was a help to chopping confort, but for me it proved emphatically true for a wide range of 9" sized knives... I suppose the hugely increasing mid-handle "swell" of Busse knives allows moving out the hits away from the handle, somehow, but, on these much lighter 9" knives, I could not imagine the extra pain of the ever increasing "Pommel Down" impact that would happen if you did that... This was by far the most surprising finding for me...

    Come to think of it, how many times have you seen any of these knives, besides the apparently unusual Trailmaster (and similarly blade-heavy BK-9), tested in prolonged chopping cessions? Not often...

    Gaston
     
  5. Gaston444

    Gaston444 Little member

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    Here is a few shots of my testing the Lile "Mission": This was on a fairly thin diameter branch of under 4", 19 strokes for all:

    [​IMG]

    I just cannot get the Trailmaster to perform anymore, yet it keeps its edge as well as the others: I find the convexing is so accentuated, it simply makes the blade cross-section a little fat. I remember the Aus-8 Trailmaster I had in the early 1990s as being a somewhat thinner convex than that... I can't swear to it but... They all push-cut phonebook paper initially, throughout the edge.

    You'll notice the Trailmaster has more widely spaced hits: I find this is a natural tendency, when the hits lack a bit of depth, to spread them laterally, to get chunks out "sideways" to make a broader "lower level" to work on. The thinner the geometry, the easier it seems to make a narrow V and keep progressing within that narrow V. Also, on a blade that feels "fat", you sense you can't afford to hit inside a previous strike, because the blade will then be "grasped" and decelerated gradually, while a thinner blade will sail through a previous cut and still hit the bottom hard inside that previous strike... This encourages a narrower concentration of hits, so the result should not be considered biased because of you can see some have more spread...: It is a result of the performance, not a cause...

    I do think it is possible to go a little harder on the Trailmaster, but the thick abruptly decelerating blade, coupled with the much too thin handle, combines to make it kind of a little scary...

    The "Mission" performed way better than I expected, with its feather light point: That light point was mitigated by hitting fairly close to the guard. It made a peculiar "tink" "tink" noise completely unlike any other chopper I ever tried... It feels like a feather, and must undoubtedly perform by the finesse of its geometry alone (0.028")... It may be the absolute best chopping knife I have seen so far, only the Neeley SA9 being inexplicably close... The SA9 does have something like a four-five times thicker point 1/4" from the tip than the "Mission", but not any extra mass over the wider, thicker bladed and better profiled Trailmaster...: The SA9 geometry is way worse than the Trailmaster, but I think the key issue here is the use of a hollow grind, even if a thick one, combined with my heavily reprofiled 16° or therabouts edge: The hollow grind simply leaves the edge "free" to go deep, while the convexing swells and slows down the Trailmaster...

    That does not explain why the hollow grind Chris Reeves seems to feel hampered in a similar way to the Trailmaster... An interesting note is that on 3 inch diameter or less, the Chris Reeves and Trailmaster seem closer to the Randall Model 12: With less wood to decelerate them, their thick blade mass seems to overcome the wood, but maybe the wobblier branch just evens up all the knives...

    Below is on a thicker log with 35 strokes each, if I'm not misremembering... The grinding flaw on the Mission's plunge line shows up really well here...: Quite pronounced, and it looks like a kind of "machine rig"-related thing (it is caused by the presence of the sawteeth being already cut), so that could have been fixed easily on later blades: I think this is either quite an early unumbered one, or they simply counted on the black paint to hide it...: It doesn't bother me, but it is worth mentionning for the price...: An apparently documented first 25 black blade also has a slight hint of the same thing, but not that bad... $8000 on Ebay... I've never seen this flaw on any of the others... No serial numbers anyway so...

    [​IMG]

    The Trailmaster's cut is tilted, so it looks much deeper than it actually is...

    The "Mission" saw works quite well, hard to say if any better than the Farid's, but it seemed truly effortless until it stopped at about 5/8" or more on this 3" log. On the same log the Neeley saw would stop in less than 1/4", but try a log under 2" in diameter and all of a sudden it goes over 1.25" or maybe even all the way, but by then the weakening wood "pinches" the sawing, and stops things anyway... I didn't test the "Mission" saw on something smaller, as I was pressed for time: The huge clip shortens and impedes the stroke motion, but not overly so.

    [​IMG]

    I wanted to mention the Chris Reeves, as it is a favorite of many, and this time it had been re-profiled by RazorEdgeKnives to under around 15°, so the performance should have been better than before... Initially the edge took a lot of bending damage very easily, but when I re-sharpened it, same angle, and for some reason that did not re-occur... The claim I made of visibly low edge-holding no longer appeared to be obviously correct... I would no longer trust my initial assesment of the Neeley SA9 edge after that either, but this time for the CR it was a professionally applied edge that buckled, and it was my work that solved the "issue", whatever "it" was... A fickle business if you ask me, since that initial CR edge was hand-applied and flawless, while my non-buckling edge edge looks much scratchier and is probably a bit more thinned-down in angle...

    Chopping performance for the CR remained low throughout, and very similar to the Trailmaster in that a narrower 2-3" limb that wobbled, seeming to bring it level to the Model 12: That bigger branch below is truly rigid, and gives a better view of its actual performance...:

    [​IMG]

    So far for chopping I would rank them in categories: Top: Lile Mission, Neeley SA9 (but with a heavy, heavy edge reprofile)

    Just a touch below would be the Randall Model 12: It would do better if there was not some slight "convexing" fattening above the V-edge, something I've never seen on any Model 14 or 18...: It is well done and intentional, and not limited to mine...

    Well below that, but still good, would be the Trailmaster, Chris reeves Jereboam, Re-profiled TOPS Hellion, Wall FB, Al Mar "Special Warfare" and many others.

    At the bottom would be the Randall Model 18 and the Farid "First Blood"... Note the Randall did a little better while chopping than the Farid, owing to a 0.020" edge versus a 0.043" edge on the Farid (which is now 0.030", maybe not to be tested), but they were both equally bad in "pommel down bite", which is actually the main reason they sit in another category to those immediately above...: The balance point is similarly 1/4" behind the guard on both, but note the Farid has a hugely heavy steel buttcap, and so is not quite representative of a Lile... I actually like the Farid buttcap, quite frankly, as Liles have this "feathery" feel to them that is a bit disconcerting... But it certainly doesn't help chopping much...

    Overall chopping performance seems consistent, but hard to predict in advance with theory...: I thought the Neeley would rank among the lowest...

    Gaston

    P.S. I probably won't be testing he RJ Martin as I might have stated previously, as it is just a bit too nice and rare to be used, even for me... I also managed an exceptionally clean and neat edge on it, and I don't feel like it is worth repeating the feat for a knife only 19 other people own... An interesting side note is the the RJ Martin Blackbird is 30 ounces while the Rambo "Mission" is only 16.9 ounces(!). It is hard to say where the extra metal went, since they are both 1/4" stock, and are balanced the same(!)... The RJ Martin still feels very nice, while the Lile feels amost unnaturally light... Another bit of trivia is that the buttcaps are interchangeable between the two, but the "Mission" had a better finish, so its buttcap now sits on the "Blackbird" and vice versa(!)
     
  6. begreen61

    begreen61 Deadicated JDBA Official Member Brigade Member

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    Here's a few sawbacks

    Here' s some old school sawbacks One German butcher bayo and the long one is a Swiss (Smit Ruban rifle).I don't have the German 98 but do and shoot the Swiss .Anyways these crosscut saw bayos will cut a tree down no question asked .
     
    Rhonda likes this.
  7. Gaston444

    Gaston444 Little member

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    I'm sure they do much better: The Offset triangular design is also better in my experience.

    The fundamental problem in many situations, but not all, is when the area being cut bends "inward" and "pinches" the sawing. This can happen even on thin saws, but is a function of a piece being supported at both ends: On free hanging tree limbs it is usually no problem, because gravity spreads the cut area, not pinches it.

    On a vertical tree, the weight of the tree could pinch the saw, so a tree is a problem for any saw, depending on how it "leans".

    I view sawbacks on knives as a way to save on the edge for branches below 2": Cut 1" (or two 1/2" cuts), break the remaining 1", and save your edge...

    Over 2", use the main edge to chop...

    Except for stabbing things and people, I find sawbacks have few downsides: Depending on the sheath, they even don't chew up sheaths that bad... As to breaking the blade, even for batoning I find that concern laughable on 1/4" stock: What people don't realize is that the sawback also bites the baton, and so reduces the likelyhood of breakage, not the other way around...

    Nice Batons can be trouble to find and make, so the saw messing up the baton can be a real concern, but not breaking the blade, unless batoning steel on steel.

    Gaston
     

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