Custom Schempp Bowie

August 31, 2017

I finally did what plenty of knife collectors have done before me; I ordered a custom knife. Mind you, not a ready-made custom knife from a webshop. No, I’m talking about a custom folding knife tailored to my personal preferences. After deciding on what I wanted, I approached the knifemaker to see if he was interested and able to make it. He was, and right away I tried putting the entire project out of my mind to ease the waiting period. The result is in, and it has surpassed all my expectations. I present you, a left-handed 100% custom made Schempp Bowie folding knife, made by Ed Schempp!

Background
The Spyderco Amsterdam Meets are not just great gatherings with fellow knifeknuts that offer an exclusive first look on new and upcoming Spyderco designs. They are also very enjoyable lectures on knife design. Ed Schempp has joined a few meets in the past. I felt his design philosophy and kind demeanor, was an awesome addition to an already great meet. He is very generous with his time and knowledge to educate and entertain everyone with tales of knife design, performance and metallurgy. I thought I knew a thing or two about knives. After meeting Ed, I knew I was wrong ;-). Ed’s work seems like a perfect fit with Spyderco, it’s focused on performance, with good steel and excellent ergonomics. The fit seems mutual, considering his long relationship with Spyderco as a knife designer for most of Spyderco’s ‘Ethnic Series’ of knives, which celebrates iconic knife designs from all over the world.

Schempp Bowie
I’ve enjoyed all of Ed’s designs with Spyderco and marveled at the custom made concept models that passed in front of my camera at the Amsterdam Meet. I knew I wanted him to be the maker of my first custom folder, and I chose the Schempp Bowie as the basis for my custom knife. The design really grabbed me when I first laid my eyes and hands on it. During the 2013 Meet, the design was still a full custom made concept model called the Frontier, and it was shown in several sizes. Spyderco ended up making the middle-sized one. In 2014, the design had evolved to the production prototype stage and it was my personal favorite of the show. For my custom folder project, I wanted the knife primarily to be ready for everyday carry and use, but I also wanted a little eye-candy.

Blade
I’m familiar with Ed’s amazing work in Damascus, such as the bolster on the 25th Anniversary Delica. However, Damascus is usually not stainless, except for Devin Thomas stainless Damascus – which Ed has used to customize a spydie or two. For EDC, I simply prefer stainless steel. Still, I wanted the blade to have some cool factor. Then it clicked. I remembered reading on the forums about a cladded powdered blade steel, combining a CPM S90V core and outside layers of CPM154 steel.

Moreover, Ed Schempp had something to do with the development of this steel, as he explained on the Spyderco forums a few years ago:

Many years ago I was bothering Dick Barber from Crucible Steel to make a USA laminate for the cutlery market. Dick and I exchanged many emails on the topic. … As a result of the emails that Dick created a file, a couple of years ago at blade I gave a recommendation for a clad steel using S90V and cpm 154 cm as an example. … Crucible made a test billet and I played with some …. Theoretically you should get a blade that is polishable and scratch resistant that is tougher than S90V. This material should be considerably less expensive to grind than solid S90 V. To ensure accuracy of placement of the core, smaller billets will be hipped, raising the price of the material. I like that this is an American made product and the first commercial laminate made in the USA.

If you’re wondering about the practical performance considerations of this cladded steel, Ed added this to the discussion:

Many of the Spyderco ELU have complained that their 420 J2 laminated blades were getting scratched in use, the clad was too soft. This is not a function problem but a cosmetic problem. The S90V CPM 154 CM recommendation was for folder blades and kitchen use. A lower Carbon clad would be desirable to gain a synergy of the two steels.

It polishes very well, better than most stainless knife steels. This laminate should outperform many of its steel competitors for their given applications. This stuff is cool and it is pretty. When you look at Halle Berry do you wonder how fast she runs a 100 yards? It is not always about performance, it is nice to have a high performance piece of steel in your pocket that you are intrigued and amazed by.

This steel would tick off all my boxes for the blade; stainless, high performance, cool factor, and extra resonance because of Ed’s involvement in the development of the steel! In addition, Spyderco has used this cladded steel on sprint runs of the Manix 2 and the Paramilitary 2. On my knife, Ed added a high polished finish to the blade and he delivered it –very- sharp. The blade is around 1 mm thicker than Spyderco’s production version. And the spine of the custom blade is slightly radiused. It’s not completely rounded like on a Sebenza, my custom Bowie still has a serviceable corner on the spine for scraping chores for example.

Handle
Spyderco describe the handle features of the Schempp Bowie folder as follows: “The classic “coffin-shaped” handle has a slightly “dropped” angle to allow a natural wrist angle during use. This subtle detail shortens the blade’s opening arc, increases cutting power, reduces fatigue, and instinctively orients the point with the axis of the forearm.” All these characteristics apply to my custom folder, but I got a few extras.

Since I wanted the blade to be mainly focused on being a practical EDC blade, the handle is where I wanted to add some ‘bling’. The concept models of the Schempp Bowie, handmade by Ed for Spyderco in 2013, featured lightning strike carbon fiber. This was actually my first introduction to the material and needless to say, I found it …striking. Spyderco’s production version features a much plainer, and more affordable, carbon fiber/g10 laminate. Contrary to the flat handle of the production knife, the scales and bolsters on my custom version are gently radiused across their entire width. This absolutely enhances the knife’s ergonomics.

Please note the colored screws in the handle. Ed purposely anodized the screws in the presentation side into a gold color matching the bolster. The screws on the clip side were anodized black matching the clip. As I recall, the screws are from the same material and the color difference was achieved by different heating levels.

I really liked the looks and function of the brass bolster on the Spyderco Schempp Bowie, but also because it echoes the traditional brass S-guard on fixed blade bowie knives. To up the ante, I asked Ed if he could make a Mokume Bolster, which was not a problem. I feel it turned out stunning!

In addition, my custom folder features slightly thicker liners and a full length spacer. To achieve the tip-down clip carry I wanted, Ed used a wireclip straight from the Spyderco factory version which was just fine by me.

Lock
Like many of Ed’s designs this custom Schempp Bowie features a solid linerlock. Mine was so solid, that the lock would sometimes stick. I lightly polished the ramp on the tang with some Flitz, and the stick was gone. Or rather, the lock-up is still rock solid but now also easy to disengage. I trust the knife for hard use, no problem. Since this knife was going to be a daily carry utility folder, and I’m a lefty, I asked for a left-handed knife. I can perfectly manage almost any right-handed knife design, but since we’re creating a custom knife why not do it ‘right’? It’s a rare treat for a lefty like myself to get a left-handed linerlock. You won’t believe how good it feels to me to operate this lock after every cutting chore.

Use
I’ve used the knife for regular EDC-type chores that one encounters in the suburbs. The most frequent cutting ‘challenges’ included opening the mail, some yard work pruning bushes, breaking down cardboard boxes for recycling, and food prep. It hardly gave the cladded steel a workout, but it is the kind of cutting I encounter. Needless to say, the edge is still very sharp. I did touch the edge up once, but that was more about me trying to see how easy it was than an absolute necessity. The knife is a bit heavier than Spyderco’s production version, but it carries like a regular Spydie in a pair of jeans. If you’re looking for a folder to wear in sweat shorts, go for any linerless FRN handled Spyderco.

Ed warned me that with carry and use some of the copper wires in the handle would work their way from the surface. He buffed/sanded the surface multiple times in different directions to alleviate this quirk, but it could still happen. He was right. Over the past six months I’ve noticed this happening three times. I carefully removed the loose wire and continued enjoying the knife. The handle still looks like new to me.

Overall
To me, my custom Schempp Bowie brings together many factors that are important ingredients in my knife hobby: a knifemaker I admire, Spyderco, American history, performance, cool features and good looks. It’s been a wonderful journey to think up this knife and Ed was a great guy to work with, although he did most of the work ;-). As you can tell, I’m more than happy with this knife. It has surpassed all my expectations and is a regular companion in my EDC rotation.

Every knifecollector probably has this dream to get a bespoke folder made completely to their wishes. I realize that my custom folder might not be a wholly original design, as it is strongly linked to an existing production knife. But that’s exactly what I wanted, and that might be just what getting a custom knife is all about; getting the knife you like. I was fortunate to actually make this dream a reality. If you ever get a chance to pursue a custom knife, I’d encourage you to go for it. My custom Schempp Bowie truly is the crowning jewel in my collection.

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Ultimate Grail Knife – 22 Years in the Making!

November 30, 2014

Among knife aficionados, you’ll often hear the term ‘grail knife’. This usually refers to a knife the ‘afi’ in question has a hard time to hunt down and that’s number 1 on his wish list. I’ve been careful not to throw the term around too much myself. However, the knife I’m posting here is certainly worthy of the moniker. This fall, I scored a vintage Al Mar model 4009 Commemorative Presidential Bowie knife. I had been pining for this knife since I first got into knives in the early 90s. Now, this very same knife is mine!

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My main EDC and collection interest is Spyderco and I cannot imagine that to change. Before I arrived at the Golden brand, however, I went through all major factory brands and some custom makers. I carried, used and collected a little bit of everything. Al Mar was a brand that appealed to me very early on. Not so much for use, but for the pure enjoyment of collecting. The wood, leather and brass parts, combined with very powerful blade profiles, are still an irresistible combination to me. Later on, I was delighted to learn that Al Mar played an instrumental role in the founding of Spyderco. On a vacation trip to Switzerland around 1992, I visited a knife shop that featured this massive Al Mar bowie knife in its own red velvet lined lacquered box. It was love at first sight, but the price was astronomical.

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Swiss knife shop
During my first trip to Switzerland I was pleasantly surprised. Every town seemed to feature knife shops! As you’d expect, they were all stocked to the ceiling with traditional Swiss army knives. But you’d also find plenty of cool ‘real’ knives. In one of these towns, close to our camping site in the Swiss canton of Graubünden, I found the shop that carried this Al Mar Presidential Bowie. My dad taught some courses there, and we would often combine our family vacation with these courses. This way, I would visit the shop every couple of years and I’d always be heartbroken to see this awesome knife still sitting there. But it was simply too expensive for me.

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Mission
Since my dad passed a few years ago, we still like to occasionally visit the area for family vacations. This year was different as I had a mission. I’d been saving up and this time, I was determined to take the knife home with me. Despite my growing worries about the knife being sold, I was relieved to find the knife still sitting there in a dark corner of the basement-level in the shop! The store had been slowly transforming from a real knife shop into a shop focusing on souvenirs and culinary items. In the basement were some of the last ‘real’ knives. I had to play it cool, as I wanted to negotiate a lower price. I noticed the handle color had faded a bit, there didn’t seem to be a certificate and the wooden case’s lid had warped just a tiny bit. And don’t forget, this knife hadn’t sold for over 20 years. There should be some room for negotiation right?

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Negotiation
It turned out that the Swiss aren’t accustomed to haggling. I had to speak to the manager who wouldn’t be in for a few days. That was OK, after all those years I could wait another day or two. It turned out that the manager worked for the previous owner, who passed away a few years earlier. He was a collector and he loved this knife as well. It was actually the only knife still left in the shop that he had acquired. The conversation didn’t go very easy at first, but once she noticed that I was a real collector things got better and we struck a deal. She finally said that she only agreed to negotiate, because she figured it would be going to a proper home.

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My knife
The knife itself is still in excellent condition. It just needed a little bit of cleaning up (I know I hurt the collector value, but this is MY knife now!). After polishing the brass guard with a mild brass cleaner, I noticed a number in the guard. According to an old Al Mar catalog, this commemorative Bowie was released in a 100 piece run. It turns out that I got number 16! I also cleaned and carefully polished the green pakkawood handle with some renaissance wax. This significantly improved the color fading I noticed earlier. The handle is actually a one-piece design that exposes the tang only on the spine of the handle. The massive blade is about 12 inches long, 2 inches wide and 0.196 inches thick. It certainly held up well all those years. Although it shows no signs of resharpening etc.., the edge was still screaming sharp. The etching is also in excellent condition. I did notice a few imperfections in the blade’s polish from the manufacturer, through my magnifying glass. It doesn’t show up in regular handling and display though.

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Boxes
The lid on the box shows some slight warping, but it is not dinged or scratched. The box is a shiny lacquered wooden affair. I also noticed a few of the nails from the hinges were loose. I carefully fixed that, again, I know this hurts the market value but I still don’t care ;-). The lock came with one key and the mechanism still works well. I added a drop of oil just to be on the safe side. The velvet lining in the box was not cut, torn or worn in any way. There was just a bit of dust that I carefully brushed off. There was no sheath with this knife. A moot point; as I cannot imagine actually carrying this magnificent blade. After a thorough search of the warehouse area, the shop manager even turned up the original blue cardboard box. The knife did not come with any paperwork and I do kind of miss the certificate, which I’ve seen in both a vintage catalog and several eBay auctions.

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Overall
I’m incredibly happy and satisfied that this knife is now in my collection. I visited this knife many times in the 22 years that I knew it existed, and now I was able to take it home with me. I get a little boost of nostalgia every time I look at this beast of a knife. Although the knife was designed to look the part, the construction is old-fashioned Al Mar. the same construction that was put in the famous field knives, was also used to manufacture this beautiful Bowie. The knife handles surprisingly light and the grip is quite ergonomic. I might offer my daughters to use this knife to cut their wedding cakes. I can’t think of any other use that I would risk scratching the finish of this great looking knife. Thank you Al Mar for creating such an awesome design, and of course for helping Sal to produce his first Spyderco knife!


Spyderco 2014 Production Prototype – Ed Schempp Frontier

March 4, 2014

The Frontier will become the next addition to the Ethnic Series of Spyderco folding knives. This design is based on the classic American bowie knife designs. Last year, Spyderco showed four sizes of the Frontier. My personal favorite was the largest one, which had something like a 5 inch blade I think. Eric Glesser favored the smallest one that had a 3 inch blade IIRC. This prototype us a medium sized design, from that original series of beautiful custom folders by Ed Schempp.

The Frontier features a Bowie shape blade and brass bolsters that mimic the classic S-shaped guard from classic bowie knives. The handle on this ethnic folder is inspired by the classic coffin shaped bowie handles.

This prototype was probably my personal favorite from this edition of the Amsterdam Meet. That is not much of a surprise, as the Frontier concept models were my favorites from last year’s meet. I’m a sucker for bowie knife designs, and I’m happy that Spyderco is taking up this pattern again after the excellent Chinook designs by James Keating.

I appreciate the choice for this medium size. It makes the knife easier to carry, also from a legal point of view. Visually however, the blade still seems the right (big) size that a bowie ‘should’ have. The handle was very ergonomic, as is the par for Ed Schempp designs, and it seemed comfortable to hold in a variety of grips. The blade was thin and light, and should be a great slicer. I can’t wait to get my hands on a production model for use and carry.

The approximate specifications of the Frontier prototype are:
Overall Length:  21,3 cm / 8.39 inches
Edge Length: 9 cm / 3.54 inches
Blade Length: 9,3 cm / 3.66 inches
Blade Thickness: 0,2 cm / 0.08 inches

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