Category Archives: Edged Weapons

New Show With Sword/Bladesmiths

First, the good news: there’s a new show showing off the bladesmith’s art.

History Channel Sword

Now, the bad news: it’s a lame-o History Channel low-budget reality show, modeled on chef-competition shows, complete with bogus competition, phony tension, and ten minutes of action tortured into 44 minutes of glacially-paced prolefeed.

Yeah, we’ve watched a couple of History Channel things. So we were not expecting much from Forged in Fire, which we learned about from a breathless promo disguised as a story on Popular Mechanics, which actually was lifted verbatim from its original placement in Esquire(Unless Esquire, too, nicked it from somewhere. Note that we’re nicking at least their idea of writing about this show, although we do have the decency to write our own words).

It’s not even a great deal for the smiths: the winner get $10k but he may see his masterpiece tested to destruction. The losers? Destruction, and no $10k (we said it was low-budget).

Still, it wouldn’t do to be too critical. Real bladesmiths compete on Forged in Fire to forge a weapon in each episode. And we do mean forge.

forging swordsEach episode shows the high points of four smiths’ quest to make the best blade. Some of the challenges: a broadsword; a Viking war-axe; a chakram throwing ring; a katana. But before the smiths get to the Big Deal in each episode, they must pass the first test: a blade that that they must forge in three hours. In fact, the initial knife is the standard, initial qualifier round in every show. It’s judged on form, function and finish. Botch that, and you’re gone.

Next, the three survivors make hilts for their blades. One more gets sent to the showers (presumably not through a gate labeled Work Sets You Free). Then the final two have a week to make the replica of, or perhaps tribute to is a better phrase, some historical edged weapon. There are a variety of tests, some realistic and some fanciful.

To keep it from getting boring — death in today’s 1000-channel entertainment world — there’s often a twist in the tale. For example, the chakram had to be made out of recycled material — yes, scrap.

The hosts and judges include an everyman type who’s supposed to be a former PJ, a martial artist type, and a historian-and-bladesmith guy. The competitors are all real, working bladesmiths, some full-time pros and some part-timers, most of whom are unknown to us.

Here’s a second video clip with the “five things everyone should know about weapons making.”

If you like it, you can see episodes when they come up on the History Channel, or see at least some of them on the show’s website, along with some web exclusives like the two clips here (there’s a great one on the sorts of injuries a bladesmith can expect in the line of duty, and a whole “Bladesmithing 101” on how things work).

Bottom line: we liked it a lot better than we expected. We’ll probably never watch The Iron Chef, but we’re very interested in what these guys can cook up out of raw iron. And if you’re going to spend time looking at a glowing rectangle, you might as well be learning something. We learned a few somethings from the episodes we’ve watched, including: can a katana split a .45 bullet?


(Administrative note: no, this is not Saturday’s overdue Saturday Matinee. That’s actually going to be an old 1950s movie, the very title of which will make you laugh, but events conspire to keep us away from the keyboard. Posting and comment-handling may be slow today -Ed.).

Baltimore Burns for its Gun Control Policies

The Village Voice, of all outlets, calls its attention to an unusual aspect of the present riots in Baltimore: the degree to which they were triggered by an arrest under Maryland’s weapons bans, bans proceeding from the gun control philosophy espoused enthusiastically by figures from Baltimore ‘s pathetically ineffectual Mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, and incompetent police chief, Anthony Batts, to Maryland’s late Governor, Martin O’Malley, to such figures as Jesse Jackson, last seen in the rubble of a burned-out CVS egging rioters on. Maryland’s current Governor, Larry Hogan, is a Republican and only a half-hearted supporter of the gun control regime.

So, how do we get from gun control, to this:

The root of gun control is in the desire to blame the weapon for crime, and so it is closely related to the desire to hold the criminal unaccountable for his actions. Gun control had its roots in vaguely written gun bans in former slave states (Maryland, you may recall from your readings in history, remained in the Union but was a slave state; passage of Union forces through Baltimore was sometimes impeded by the rioters of an earlier age). With youth, especially black youth, enjoined from acquiring firearms by “may issue” permit laws enforced then as now with a racial bias, newsmen in the 1950s imagined they were seeing an outbreak of knife violence. These West Side Story-era bogus reports led to a series of knife control laws.

That’s how the Voice comes into it. They noted long ago that New York enforces a vaguely worded “switchblade ban” in a way that (1) encompasses most modern folding knives, and (2) lets them single out minorities for disparate harassment and prosecution. Do they do that? Here’s the graphic the Voice uses to say that, yes, they do:


That’s for people stopped in New York, with knives covered by the ban; the Voice wonders, as do we, whether Baltimore’s numbers would be an iota better (Baltimore has a majority black police force, a black Chief and black Mayor, but like New York it has a disproportionately black criminal class, so these cross-racial comparisons are always fraught with risk).

And as you’ve probably surmised by know, Freddie Grey, the black suspect whose mysterious but violent death in police custody was the trigger for the rioters, was arrested on one of these bogus knife charges.

But Gray’s initial arrest may not have happened if not for an antiquated provision of Baltimore’s municipal code, which prohibits the possession of a “switchblade” knife. Gray had allegedly been running from the police, for reasons that still aren’t clear, and after a brief chase, officers found the knife clipped to his pocket in a closed position — he was not alleged to have brandished the knife or threatened anyone with it.

The arrest charge recalls an issue we’ve been covering in New York City for months — the NYPD’s enforcement of a half-century old law against so-called “gravity knives.” The law was the subject of a lengthy investigation we published last year which found as many as 60,000 questionable arrests in ten years, making the statute one of the top-ten most-prosecuted crimes in New York City.

Here’s a snap of Grey’s charging instrument, showing what he’d have been charged with if something hadn’t snapped his neck and severed his spinal cord while the cops had him locked up. The Voice is right: it’s a bogus malum prohibitum knife charge.



Many legal experts — from defense attorneys to labor unions to an official body of the New York State Judiciary — say New York’s law is often being applied, incorrectly, to common pocket knives that the legislature never intended to ban. We documented the arrests of construction workers, building supers — even a bible camp counselor — for simply possessing a knife that most people would regard as benign, if somewhat utilitarian. In fact, under the NYPD’s interpretation of the gravity knife statute, virtually every pocket knife on the market can be considered an illegal weapon, regardless of size or criminal intent.

The municipal code under which Gray was arrested resembles New York’s law in several ways, and its peculiar wording is equally ill-suited to modern technology; as we discovered when we looked at gravity knife laws in New York, knife statutes often have not kept up with current knife designs.

We’ll get to the knife in a minute — once again, the Voice is absolutely right about the technicalities here, and so we’ll let them do the explaining — but we’re going to take this where they didn’t, and note that Maryland has a pathological police culture of ignoring violent crime and pursuing malum prohibitum gun and knife violations with Javertian tenacity.

That’s how we get from Freddie Grey being slammed into the back of a Baltimore cruiser for his last ride, to hanging the whole thing on Maryland’s totalitarian gun control regime. The Maryland Port Authority Police (the Harbor Tunnel cops) and Maryland State Police have both taken to running license plate scanners and stopping and hassling out-of-state motorists whose pistol permits come up in the automated license-plate dragnet, in hopes of catching someone transiting Maryland with firearms. (Interstate 95, the direct route between gun-friendly destinations like New Hampshire, Maine, Virginia North Carolina, Georgia and Florida, runs right through Baltimore).

Maryland’s oathbreaking State Troopers do not recognize the pre-emption of Federal law, 18 U.S. Code § 926A, that explicitly allows owners free transit with a secured firearm from any place where they may lawfully possess it to any other such place, regardless of the laws in between. (Maryland is not the only state to reject the law, but it is the only state to use systematic, automated searches to identify persons exercising their rights under § 926A. Likewise, it is one of very few states using a law designed to combat the Sharks and Jets menace to harass and imprison its own citizens).

Some news reports have suggested that Grey was a drug dealer. Perhaps he was; but that is not why the Baltimore PD says that they chased, arrested, beat and killed him. They say they did it over knife technicalities, as the arrest document above shows.

Here is the Village Voice, again, on those technicalities:

While news reports have described the knife Gray was carrying as a “switchblade,” the actual police report (see charging documents …) describes it as a “spring assisted, one hand opening knife,” … the most common on the market in recent years.

Popular models typically feature a “thumb stud” on the blade, designed for one-handed opening. The user starts opening the knife manually, and then a spring takes over, “assisting” in deploying the blade the rest of the way. Switchblades, by comparison, open with a button or switch contained in the handle of the knife.

The Village Voice report is thorough and accurate, albeit infused with the alt-weekly’s viewpoint. (One gets the impression they’ll like Freddie better if he was a dope dealer). Still, we suggest you   Read The Whole Thing™, and don’t neglect any sidebars or links to their back stories on the New York knife ban.

Knife bans are common where gun bans are law. The same impulse leads liberty-loathing legislators to proscribe tasers, mace, BB guns, airsoft toys, and in Massachusetts, even, model rockets. (The state became a national laughingstock when it required a gun license — one the state makes difficult for its subjects to acquire — for model rocket engines). These are always the same few coastal states, whose lawmakers often complain that the seething crime wave that is their urban underclass is somehow caused by your rural duck hunters or suburban MG collectors. Places like, naturally, Maryland, where the two largest sources of family income are working for government or collecting from government.

You might say, “When guns are outlawed… knives are next.”

It seems to us that the Voice is comfortable with the switchblade aspect of the ban; their objection is to extending it to ordinary pocket knives. They shouldn’t be; there are practical reasons to have an automatic, one-hand-opening knife, to wit, a switchblade. (We drew them in jumpmaster school, courtesy of the same taxpayers who bought the inept Baltimore PD all those cop cars that flickered their souls to the city’s overweening carbon footprint over the last few nights). Every jurisdiction from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe already criminalizes anything you can do with a knife that is harmful to others or to society, from assault to homicide to brandishing and threatening. All of those things are all crimes, they are malum in se and they ought to be crimes.

One definition of a crime is, or ought to be, some wrong act that society sufficiently disapproves to authorize the police to use deadly force to stop you doing. Certainly threatening, assault, and homicide are crimes under that definition.

But having a “wrong” knife in your pocket is a crime under Maryland’s definition. Just ask Freddie Carlos Grey.

You might have an eternal wait for his answer, though.

Just maybe, a knife sitting in a pocket or on a belt ought not to be something any Patrolman Palooka can impose the Nickel Ride Death Penalty for.

When Guns are Outlawed… Axes again. Again.

axeHow many times have we had ax murders in this feature position? Five? Ten? Lets search…

Google: guns are outlawed axes

Wow. Only three. Of course, we probably haven’t got them all; we know there’s one, at least, that references hatchets. So at least four. 

But we’ve never had an axe murder-suicide before, even in gun-hating New Jersey.

[I]t’s still not clear what sparked the murder-suicide late Sunday in Elmwood Park.

Bergen County Prosecutor John Molinelli says there was a “history of domestic issues” between Michael Juskin and his 88-year-old wife, Rosalia. But he said a motive for the attack remains under investigation.

Police officers found the couple in their Spruce Street home after relative – who was not in the home – called authorities. The deaths were made public Monday.

via Prosecutor: 100-Year-Old Man Killed Wife with Ax, Then Self – Breitbart.

It was defiitely an axe murder. It missed, though, being an axe-murder-suicide because the murderous centenarian couldn’t swing the axe on himself. So he used a knife for that. 

Prosecutors say a 100-year-old man apparently killed his wife with an ax as she slept in their home, then killed himself in the bathroom with a knife.

And, this reporter has a keen grasp of the obvious:

But it’s still not clear what sparked the murder-suicide late Sunday in Elmwood Park.

Um… anger? See, the thing is, people who commit homicides in gruesome, direct and personal ways usually had some pre-existing issues. But murder-suicides are almost always this kind of mystery. Some suicides leave notes, but very few murder-suicides. Perhaps they think the deed speaks for itself.

But there we are. All these axe murders and we’re still waiting for one good axe murder-suicide. Still, we’re confident. So many axes, so many angry, impulsive people out there, and so many jurisdictions where politicians fight guns, not crime. It’s just a matter of time.

On Sharpening Knives

When we were young pups in Group, sharpening knives seemed like a mystical thing. They were gone she could do it, do it unbelievably well, and enjoy doing it. And then there were guys who seem to make their edges worse by their efforts. Can you guess what category your humble blog post fell into?

It turns out the difference between the ace sharpeners and the a@@ sharpeners is a matter not of skill so much as knowledge. The website Knife Planet asked 55 knife experts for their number one sharpening tip, and distilled it into an info graphic. The experts included custom bladesmiths, professional sharpeners (like those guys on our team back then?), and makers of premium chef’s knives. While the info graphic, posted here, is awesome in its own right, we strongly recommend you go Read The Whole Thing™ because the individual tips are pure gold.


Some of the tips in the graphic are a bit cryptic. They’re clearer if you see the individual tweets at the original source page (yes, they collected this info on Twitter. It is good for something! Who knew?).

We would be remiss if we did not note we saw this initially at John Richardson’s Only Guns and Money blog, so many of you may be experiencing déjà vu. But we thought it worth a repeat fire mission.


The Sword and the Story: “Go to hell!”

The Sword is ordinary enough, in its environment. For centuries US Marine officers have worn a Mameluk-styled sword, and this is one example of a Marine regulation sword, something often presented to distinguished graduates of commissioning programs or officers who distinguish themselves in some way.

Hatfield Marine Sword

It’s a beautiful sword, and the best-made ones (not the cheap Chinese repros you can buy off eBay and from junk-knife retailers) would still serve as a combat weapon, although even the Marines aren’t that traditional, and generally leave them cased or wall-hanging when they go off to cut throats, figuratively speaking that is.

This one, though, is a sword of particular distinction because it belonged to Gilbert D. Hatfield, Lt. Col., retired. What’s Hatfield famous for? Rock Island Auctions, who recently auctioned this sword as part of a lot of two, explains:

Hatfield earned his Navy Cross for his “coolness and military way of handling the situation.” What situation, you ask? He was serving in Nicaragua when Augusto Sandino, a bandit and later namesake of the Sandinista National Liberation Front, launched a pre-dawn raid on his camp with a 5:1 troop advantage. When Sandino sent a messenger to Hatfield requesting his surrender, Hatfield replied, “Marines don’t surrender. Go to hell.” Well put, Marine.

Hatfield’s Navy Cross citation (also here) is considerably more matter-of-fact in its wording:

Captain, U.S. Marine Corps
5th Marine Regiment, 2d Marine Brigade (Nicaragua),
Date of Action: July 16, 1927
The Navy Cross is presented to Gilbert D. Hatfield, Captain, U.S. Marine Corps, for extraordinary heroism above and beyond the call of duty combined with coolness and excellent judgment during an attack by a superior force upon the detachment of which he was in command at Ocotal, Nicaragua, on 16 July 1927, during the progress of an insurrection in that country. Largely due to his heroism, skill and ability, Captain Hatfield’s small command succeeded in holding out against the heaviest odds.
Authority – USMC Communiqué: 0411-1-3 ACE-jfb (21 December 1927)
Born: at Monero, New Mexico
Home Town: Aztec, New Mexico

Bettez notes that Hatfield, 10 Marines, and a number of Nicaraguan Guardia1 were detached from an element that departed the provincial capital of Ocotal to attempt rescue of rumored hostages in Telpaneca. (In retrospect, the hostage rumor, which was false, may have been a Sandino ruse to draw forces out of Ocotal). The Marines had been disarming Nicaraguan regulars of any and all political tendencies in Ocotal, but they clearly didn’t weaken Sandino:

In command at Ocotal, Major Gilbert Hatfield had exchanged notes with Sandino, suggesting that the rebel leader and his followers lay down their arms. Sandino refused. Instead, at around 1:00 AM on July 16, Sandino and his men attacked. Although Hatfield’s forces were outnumbered approximately five to one, they had good defensive positions within the town and managed to hold on throughout the night. In the morning, Sandino called for Hatfield to surrender, but he refused to do so.

At approximately 10:00 AM, two planes on a scouting patrol observed the fighting in Ocotal and return to Managua to report to Major Ross “Rusty” Rowell, commander of the air squadron. Rowell relayed the news to General Feland, who has not been informed because telegraph lines from Ocotal had been cut. Finland believed that the Marines in Otol, who has limited water and ammunition, we’re in a hopeless situation and faced certain destruction. Convinced that the aviation unit represented the Ocotal garrison’s only possible salvation, Feland gave Rowell “a very general directive… to take such steps as would be most effective in succoring the besieged Marines.” In contrast to previous orders which had demanded restraint when flying missions, Feland now gave Rowell carte blanche to launch a bombing attack. Consequently, Rowell lead a five plane squadron to Ocotal to bomb the Sandino forces. Rowell’s squadron flew over Ocotal in mid afternoon and carried out repeated air attacks, using dive-bombing tactics developed by Marine Corps aviator Lawson Sanderson but never before used in war. Feland’s order resulted in what was apparently the first instance of Marine Corps close air bombing support in defense of Corps ground units.

Rowell’s air bombardment broke the back of the Sandino attack. The Marines suffered one man killed and one wounded; three Guardia [Nicaraguan loyalist force operating with the USMC – Ed.] members were wounded. Sandino’s forces experienced considerably more casualties because they had been caught out in the open by Rowell’s planes. In a handwritten letter to Major Hatfield the day after the battle, General Feland expressed regret for the loss of Private Obleski….

And what else he expressed, one needs the book, not the Google Preview, to know, alas.

Some of the political background is explained on pp. 41-42 of Gravatt. The deep reason for the American presence in Nicaragua was a Nicaraguan request that the US supervise the elections of 1928. Sandino’s rebels were attempting to sway the election with terrorism.

On July 2, 1927, Admiral Latimer ordered General Feland to disarm Sandino. Up to this time, the Marines and the Legation had considered Sandino to be only a minor nuisance, characterizing him as an ordinary outlaw (with which the Northern Departments of Nicaragua had always been plagued) or as a slightly demented Bolshevist. The confiscation of the American owned San Aldino Mine evoked the response of July the 2nd, but the belief that the Sandinistas would wither away or would eventually cross the Honduras border with as much plunder as they could carry lingered on until the 16th of July when Sandino struck the Marine Guardia Nacional garrison at Ocotal, Nueva Segovia. From then on, the Marines, the Legation, and the State Department took Sandino seriously.

Three days prior to his attack on Ocotal, Sandino, in a letter to the Marine commander of that garrison, reiterated his conditions for peace—the ouster of Diaz [then Nicaraguan president] and his replacement by a Liberal.

Hatfield was an enlisted man when he received a direct commission in the USMC Reserve (5 July 17) and then in September to the Regular USMC as a 2nd Lieutenant as the Marines expanded during the war. Given his effective combat command, looks like they promoted the right corporal.

Hatfield is buried, as are so many heroes, at Arlington. He was mentor to Naval Academy grad Steve McDonald, of McAlpin, FL, who remembers:

Arlington has Col. Gilbert D. Hatfield USMC, Navy Cross. He was my next-door neighbor as a child when he was the commanding officer of the Marine Corps Air Station, Master’s Field in Miami during the war. He was an early supporter in my going to the Naval Academy.

While at the academy, I was asked to attend his funeral at Arlington, which I did. I rode with the widow “Aunt” Carolyn in the funeral procession.


1. According to Gravatt (p.50), the Guardia’s deployment to Ocotal was its first, in “company” strength of 3 American officers and 50 Nicaraguan enlisted men.


Rock Island Auction Company blog (various)

Bettez, David J.  Kentucky Marine: Major General Logan Feland and the Making of the Modern USMC.

Gravatt, Brent L. The Marines and the Guardia Nacional de Nicaragua 1927-1932. Unpublished(?): 1973. Retrieved from:

Hey, it’s just a Ka-Bar, right? An $11k Ka-Bar?

Hey, it’s just a Ka-Bar (on this day of edged weapons, which we’ve now added as a category). Just a Ka-Bar. Even if this one is a Camillus, these Marine knives are best known by the name of their original maker. They’re good, simple, sturdy, dependable and cheap field knives, much used in SF and other Army units as well as in their birthplace, the Corps. So what makes this one worth, says the auctioneer, $11k? (That’s the opening bid, for an auction opening in a few hours). It doesn’t look real special, does it?

Gagnon USMC Knife L


Well, what about the markings? Perhaps there’s something special there.

Gagnon USMC Knife details L

Nope. And the condition is OK, but not too special. Call it average. Well, then, if the knife is unremarkable, and its condition is just middling, it’s got to be something about the guy whose knife it is or was. 

The guy that wrote this, home from boot camp:

[I]t certainly gives you a funny feeling to know that in my hands I hold two means of killing a person…stabbing him…or shooting him…Those are the things we’re fighting for…when I was a kid I never realized that I one day would actually kill a man, as a matter of fact none of us really like the idea of killing, but if that’s the only language the Axis understand then that’s what it will have to be.

That introspective Marine was this rakish, Hollywood-handsome fellow:

Rene GagnonBut he’s famous not for motion pictures, but for a still. This still:

Mt Suribachi flag raising USMC

Joe Rosenthal’s famous flag-raising picture is a powerful symbol of the Marine Corps to this day. And Rene Gagnon of Manchester, NH, was one of the six men in that picture, raising the flag. (He’s the guy opposite the guy whose helmet is bisected by the libe of the flagpole. Gagnon’s mostly hidden, apart from his hands and one leg, but he was definitely there). He’s one of the three that survived. (His story is told, along with those of the other five, living and dead, in the bestseller Flags of Our Fathers by James Bradley — a descendant of another survivor).

When Rene Gagnon passed away he left the knife to his son. The Manchester, NH Union Leader‘s Amanda Beland interviewed Rene Jr., and reports:

The Marines-issued knife belonged to Gagnon until he died at age 54 in 1979. Since then, it has officially belonged to his son, Rene Gagnon Jr.
But for Gagnon Jr., of Concord, the knife was a part of his life long before his father’s death.

“I used it growing up — in Boy Scouts, cutting things up around the house, playing cowboys and Indians, lots of ways,” he said.
Gagnon Jr. said he always expressed his fondness for the knife — which is how it came into his possession. “When I was younger, the whole time I really liked that knife and I made that clear.”

Gagnon Jr. said he decided to sell the knife now partly for financial reasons, partly because he was unsure of where it was going to end up.
“I have three daughters and a son, and it was never like ‘I like this,’ so there’s the thought of where do I leave it,” he said.

“A lot of my father’s memorabilia is in Wolfeboro (at the Wright Museum of World War II History). If there’s someone there who cares for it, then it’s not going to get lost or something.”
Gagnon Jr. said he’s aware that his father has a public persona that’s been perpetuated by interviews, books and movies. But to him, Rene Gagnon represents something much simpler.

“To the whole world, he was a hero, but to me, he was my father, just my father,” said Gagnon Jr. “I had the knife, yeah, and now someone who cares about that type of thing can have it, but I had and have my father.”

The auction house thinks the knife may bring as much as $20k. In that rarefied air, individual bidders may be competing with museums, although most military museums are much happier trading a paper tax-writeoff for “free” stuff, than laying out actual cash for exhibits.