Creative Writing

Thomas R Bender A California Knife Maker

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If you’ve seen action movies in the last 20 years, there’s a very good chance that Tom Bender has had a hand in the explosions and firearms used. He is also an incredibly humble and unassuming individual. I recently had the opportunity to review one of Tom’s creations and jumped at the chance...
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    FOG HORN   2014   Twobirds Flying Publications Thomas R. Bender A California Knife Maker By Sal Palma  FOG HORN    2014   Copyright 2014, Towbirds Flying Publications. All Rights Reserved . Bladesmithing has been in existence for thousands of years as both enterprise and art form. In ancient cultures, bladesmiths often collaborated with the resident alchemist and wizard to infuse a blade with mystical powers. Just look at the works of J.R. Tolkien, Michael Moorock, and the legend of Zulfiqar - a sword sent from the Heavens to the Prophet Muhammad and given to Ali ibn Abi Talib. Throughout the history of man, edged weapons have held a prestigious post in social development; serving as guardians of the weak, enslaving and freeing civilizations. The blade has served honorably as both tool and spectacle of social standing. It is as much a part of humanity as painting, literature, music and theater, a tradition that continues, to this day, fostering artisans across the world. Then, there is Thomas R. Bender…  Tom Bender describes himself, in a pronounced northeastern accent, “I’m not an artsy -fartsy guy, I make knives expecting them to be used as tools.” So, who is Th omas R. Bender? Tom is now 64 years young and has been working with his hands since he was 10. The better part of his professional life has been spent working in the entertainment industry as an explosives technician, armorer and prop maker. He holds a number of active licenses of which I’ve listed only  a few.    Federal Firearms License    Federal Firearms License-Class-Iii (Automatic Weapons)    Federal Firearms License-Class-07 (Manufacturer of Firearms)    State Of California Pyrotechnic Operator-Special Effects- Class-Ii    State Of California-Department of Justice- Permit To Possess And / Or Transport Machine Guns If you’ve seen action movies in the last 20 years, there’s a very good chance that Tom  Bender has had a hand in the explosions and firearms used. He is also an incredibly humble and unassuming individual. I recently had the opportunity to review one of Tom’s creations and jumped at the chance.  At first glance, it was difficult for me to capture the essence of Tom’s knife. There is no single word to adequately describe it and h e doesn’t give his creations catchy names . He’s also  not the type of guy that hangs out in Sherwani at transcendental meditation sessions listening to Ravi Shankar for inspiration, and y ou won’t find him going to the mountains for stimulation. So, I’m at a loss for words, which is a bad thing to be out of when you’re a scribe.   So, I’ll describe the Bender creations as he does, they are tools! Tom’s knives are tools serv ing two masters. First, they meet defensive needs when the shit goes south. Second, they serve the mundane; opening crates, prying, chopping and probing. To ensure that his knives meet those needs, Tom works with 1080+, CruForgeV 01 tool steel and 5160. I had an opportunity to discuss blade metallurgy with him and this is what he had to say: “… I now have a difficult time getting the sizes I like in the 1080+ and CruForgeV. I  FOG HORN    2014   Copyright 2014, Towbirds Flying Publications. All Rights Reserved . always loved working with tool steel. I like to double temper the 1080+ and 01 and triple temper the 5160 and CruForgeV  …”    My T&E sample is made of 1080+ steel. Readers familiar with the anatomical specifics of knives know that 1080+ offers an excellent balance between corrosion resistance and edge hardness due to the slight amounts of chromium and vanadium. A 1080+ blade will hold its edge longer under a more diverse set of conditions than say 1095 steel or even 1080. The 1080+ also has excellent consistency of hardness throughout the length of the blade, and when tempered two and three times at 350° while achieve a hardness of HRC 60 or more. All Bender blades are full tang designs and my sample was no different. However, before jumping into a discussion of the blade pr ofile, which is rather unique, I’ll get some of the numerical data out of the way. My review sample has an overall length of 11.5 in. and a blade length of 6 in. Blade thickness is .25 inches with Rockwell hardness of 60. Without its sheath, the knife weighs 13.8 oz. so, calling it a beast is certainly not out of line, and it’s highly unlikely you’ll ever need to worry about snapping the blade or breaking the tip. So, let’s talk about the blade.  Tom is extremely fond of the wedge and all of his creations use that style of edge in one form or another. He does not grind the edges; instead he cuts them and hones them by hand. Polishing of the blade is also done by hand. Nowhere in the process does he use a buffing wheel. The review sample can be accurately described as a double edge katana, featuring an aggressive Tanto tip. Tom refers to the two cutting edges, along the top and bottom of the blade, as counteracting  FOG HORN    2014   Copyright 2014, Towbirds Flying Publications. All Rights Reserved . edges. They are wedged edges oriented in opposite directions; giving the knife an interesting performance characteristic. The counteracting edges provide a slight rotation of the blade on penetration; thus, creating massive tissue damage with a correspondingly large wound channel. The picture above captures the essence of that design feature. Combining its aggressive Tanto tip with the counteracting edges makes the Bender blade a formidable defensive or offensive tool. A thrust to the rib cage with this knife will do much more than pierce the subject; it will also split the ribcage. Looking along the blade’s profile , I noticed a slight taper extending from the hilt to its tip, and that too is functional serving to assist in piercing and extraction. There’s n othing on this knife that one could call stylistic, everything is 100% function; yet Tom’s creation has a classic character heavily influenced by oriental design that just grows on you. Aiding that affinity is how well this knife sits in your hand. The Bender blade is balanced just aft of the hilt, so there’s considerable heft to the blade , an attribute that proved itself invaluable as I started chopping on a 2x4. As expected, the lumber proved to be no match for the knife and my hand felt well insulated from the impact, which reduced fatigue. So, part two of Tom’s  tool philosophy is evident in his designs. Chipping through interior walls and concrete blocks are certainly within the realm of possibilities for this knife. A good knife must have a great handle and Tom achieves that with full-length G10 scales affixed to the knife’s full tang.  There is a very small amount of texturing on the scales, so to enhance grip Tom hand cuts jimping all along the tang. He also lets the scale screws protrude. Handle length, G10 scales, tang jimping and handle screws collectively work to enhance the grip. While chopping away on the 2x4 I was able to control the knife quite well.
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