American Bushman

"If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead, either write things worth reading or do things worth writing." —Benjamin Franklin

Monday, March 24, 2008

TOPS Armageddon

Here's the surprise of the trip. The Trace Rinaldi designed Armageddon by TOPS Knives.

I bought this knife because I also have a full custom from Trace and wanted to compare the blades but, once in-hand, this knife just felt unwieldy and it looked like the handle would cause some trauma to the hand if used for hard chopping as other bird's beak pommels have really sent the shock straight to the bones in my pinky while chopping. TOPS knives are also notorious for shipping with rather obtuse edges that need quite a bit of work to really do the job. That was not the case with this particular knife.

The blades come coated with a black, crinkly epoxy coating which I promptly removed as coatings aid in rust prevention but hinder cutting performance. I used an epoxy stripper readily available at the local home improvement store and in about 10 minutes I had a dull-looking blade that looked ripe for rusting without some treatment. Then I satin finished the flats with a Scotchbrite belt on my grinder and left the bevels as they were when the coating was removed. I didn't sharpen the knife as the 2" wide belt wouldn't work with the recurve on this blade.

Then I stuffed it back into the sheath and didn't give it a second thought until we were loading the car for a trip to the lake.

Once at my parents' lake house I set about pulling all the knives from my duffle bag and took the Armageddon out to the wood pile to see just how the big blade would handle some nice seasoned wood. The first chops felt like someone was hitting me on the outside edge of my hand with a stick. The 1/4" thick steel smacked me right between the second and third knuckle on every chop. After a dozen or so chops I had to pack it in and thought the knife was a waste of perfectly good 1095. Fortunately I'm fairly stubborn...

Later I took it out again to start clearing a path to the lake and it did an admirable job on the saplings and vines that had grown up out back but it was still smashing through them more than it was cutting--easily identified by the heavy splitting of the wood versus clean cuts. I made three or four passes on an EZE-Lap rod sharpener and went back to work.

What a difference a minor effort makes. I think the knife must have had a burr on it that I finally knocked off with the rod because now the knife was cutting like a champ. I could clear 1.5" saplings with a single swing but the weight of the knife had me wishing for a machete after just a few minutes.

Next I took the knife back to the woodpile to split some rounds into tinder and kindling for a fire and to carve some fuzz sticks. It did great with the splitting as would be expected of such a stout knife and it did a surprisingly good job of carving tight little curls for my fuzz sticks. I think the recurve aids this process and the handle allowed me to really choke up on the blade for maximum control.

Firestarting was hard work with the frozen ground as it would thaw just enough to be wet and that would put out my fire just as it was starting. After three or four attempts it finally leapt to life and we had a nice fire burning for a couple of hours. I had to carve a whole mess of fuzz sticks to attempt to start the fire four different times though.

Since it seemed to do an acceptable job at the basic chores I had to go back and see just how to get it to do what it was designed to do--chop (without breaking my hand.) The grip has a sort of sub-hilt and allows you to grab it back at the bird's beak, in a normal forehand grip behind the sub-hilt, index finger in the sub-hilt, and then index finger in the choil with the middle finger in the sub-hilt. A loose grip worked much better at preventing the shock of chopping and, after a few minutes of experimentation, I could regularly send large chips flying from whatever wood I was working. The blade would sink right up to the flat and then stick a bit. This is something I can remedy with a bit more satin finishing I suspect.

To expect so much from a knife, be so horribly disappointed, and then so pleasantly surprised in a two-day window is quite a twist from my normal experience. I like to think I can judge a knife's effectiveness through my experience and my "eye." This knife challenged that perception and then finally showed that it can perform at a high level. Phew!

I attempted to sell this knife not that long ago. I dropped the price and dropped the price until it was listed at about half of what I have in it and still nobody wanted it. That's when I made the decision to just strip it, satin finish it, and use it. It looks like I might've gotten lucky with this one.

Thanks for reading,



At 9:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Firestarting was hard work with the frozen ground as it would thaw just enough to be wet and that would put out my fire just as it was starting."

Try a platform of bark or wood- this has saved me a few times!



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