Modifying gear is a terrific way to spend an afternoon (or several!), and it allows for a person to tailor their mass produced gear specifically to them. It lets them get a custom feel and performance to their kit without the custom price tag. Some of the most common modifications are fairly simple, and include things like sewing extra webbing to packs, stripping extra webbing off, or sharpening a tool differently than it came from the factory. Further modifications can easily become more involved, requiring more time, tools, and skills. It’s always great fun though, and the rewards are terrific.
After carrying my Opinel #7 for a couple of years, I began itching for a large Opinel again. I had a #10 for a short time, but I traded it away. I got online and ordered an Opinel #12 for less than $20 shipped. It arrived several days later, and I put an edge on it. I played around with it for a couple of days, and discovered that for bushcraft (whittling), the edge was too thin! It dove right into the wood and made it incredibly difficult to make feather sticks or any controlled cuts. It cut like a laser in the kitchen, but I already have a traveling kitchen knife. I also decided that the blade was a little wide for my taste, and that for bushcraft the thin, upswept tip might be a little on the fragile side. With these thoughts in mind I approached the grinder with a glass of water (for keeping the edge cool so as not to ruin the blade’s temper) and ground the edge off, nearly even with the front of the Opinel’s locking ring. Then I ground the tip down until the clip point was straight instead of curved. All of the sudden, I had a knife that quite resembled the profile of a Mora! Not entirely by accident, as I am quite fond of the laminated Mora #1 for bushcraft duties.
In order to apply an even bevel to the entire length of the edge, I needed to remove the blade from the handle, because otherwise the ferrule would be hit by the uneven grind stone. I didn’t realize I could simply tap the pivot pin out, so I ground off the domed head on the one side, and removed it. I then ground a nail to fit in its stead, but I intentionally made it slightly looser fitting to allow for easier removal in the event I need to remove the blade in the future (such as for a thorough cleaning). The locking ring keeps the pin trapped when the knife is closed, and the tension between the blade and the locking ring traps the pin when the blade is open. Before I put an edge on the blade, I smoothed out and flattened up the clip on a coarse stone. This also resulted in a very sharp, squared off spine which is terrific for scraping wood and firesteels. Once I had a rough bevel ground in, and after having made the knife into a takedown model, it was time to move on to cleaning up the edge.
To begin with, I hit the coarse side of my cheap two sided carborundum stone. Then I moved to a 1000 grit Japanese waterstone, and then finished on a 4000 grit waterstone. Because I was impatient with wanting to try it out, I didn’t polish out the scratches across the whole bevel. I will get back to it the next time I sharpen it, but after a few strops on Bark River’s green compound, I had a hair popping, convexed edge that was ready for duty, even if it wasn’t the prettiest thing. Testing it out proved that by increasing the edge thickness and making it a less efficient cutter I actually improved it’s cutting ability in controlled carving, just as I was hoping. Naturally, by doing this I have reduced cutting efficiency in other materials, like food, but I was seeking a more specialized tool anyways. I was able to easily make feather sticks and cut notches, and I have no reservations about drilling with the more robust tip.
The work on the blade would have taken half as long or less if I were at home with access to my 1x30 belt sander. As it was, it still only took about 2 hours total, and it was a labor of love. Temporarily living in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans due to being an AmeriCorps NCCC member, I had restricted tooling and abilities. I was staying with an organization that repairs houses, so they had plenty of tools for carpentry. For working on knives though, all they had was a bench grinder and some dull old files. Luckily those combined with the sharpening stones I traveled with, were all that I needed for this project. Sometimes it doesn’t take a lot of time, or material, to customize a piece of field gear to work better for you. All you need is a little ingenuity and the knowledge of what you want your tools to accomplish for you.
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