To many, there can be something rather impersonal about a laser cutter carving dozens of raw blade shapes out of large metal sheets. But somewhere along the subsequent production process that feeling changes dramatically, and by the time a Gerber knife arrives at its final hand sharpening station, you can see how someone could develop a personal attachment to cold steel. “Our products have a lifetime guarantee,” mentioned Andrew Gritzbaugh, Senior Marketing Specialist at Gerber Knives in Portland, Oregon. “And the hardest part about that is that some people want to be present when their knife comes in for repair. Unfortunately we can’t do that. But some of these guys actually carried those knives in Vietnam and they don’t want to let them out of their sight.”

Laser Cutting

Back at the laser cutter, Production Supervisor Dale Camp explained that all of the steel arrives from Ohio and New York, and consists of four primary raw products: 420HC Stainless; 440C Stainless; S30V Steel; and 154 CM Steel.

“We used to have everything fine-blanked out, but now with the laser cutter we bring it all in as sheets and cut it all out ourselves,” he said. “We use a 4-kilowatt machine that has a lot of power,” echoed Kaveh Asgharian, Senior Manufacturing Engineer at Gerber. “You can really cut some of the thinner knives with maybe 2,000 Watts (2 kilowatts), but at 4,000 Watts it lets us cut up to ¼-inch and maybe even a little bit higher.”

Walking along the production process, Camp explained, “Once the blades have been laser cut out of the sheets, many of the folding blades get the axles reamed, because the cutout might not be as precise as it needs to be. So we ream the axles and polish the tang to make sure that it has a nice smooth transition when it’s opened and closed.”

Rough Cut Machines

The next step involves surface grinding the blades to the correct thickness and beveling. Camp pointed to one of the representative “rough cut” machines, a double disc grinder with 30-inch grinding wheels on each side of the blade carrier. Different products are then sent off to either flat grinders or hollow grinders for additional sculpting and final cut. “Our popular Tanto Prodigy knife, for example, is all flat ground,” Camp observed, adding that a subsequent “cut down” process eliminates all grinding lines prior to the Tanto Prodigy knives being sent out for blackening, one of the few activities not performed at the Portland facility. Blades not required to be blackened are “blast beaded” at the Gerber plant.

In the case of the Tanto Prodigy, once the blackened knives return to Portland they are edged, serrated, sharpened, with the handle assembly then molded on. Hollow grinders are used for the company’s line of multi-plier blades as well as some of the smaller folding knife designs. Once the beveling process has been completed on those grinders the blades are spun in drums with a ceramic media to cut down grind lines and then either blast-beaded or sent out for blackening before the establishment of a cutting edge and serrations in the blades.

Tumble Polish

Camp said that the drum process requires three 45-minute cycles to complete anywhere from 600 to 800 blades. Gritzbaugh pointed to one of the company’s new military products in a nearby production area. “This is a new knife based on the Yari II blade that we have had around for close to a decade,” he explained. “We call it the CFB [Combat Fixed Blade]. We’ve replaced the aluminum handles with a rubberized grip to make it a little bit more lightweight. It’s extremely low profile. We’re got a contract with the Army and we are selling a lot of them.” Camp noted that the CFB features 154 CM steel, which is a harder product than 420 stainless that will test on the Rockwell hardness scale anywhere from 60 to 62.

For more on this pick up the May 2013 Issue of Tactical Knives

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