Thursday, January 9, 2014

...For Special Circumstances: Interview with Custom Knifemaker Ian Wendt

This entry marks the first in a series of interviews I will be conducting with leading-edge thinkers within the private-sector tactical training community.  I have known many of these guys for over ten years and I cannot overstate the impact that their recommendations and advice has had on my own thinking, both in matters related to the fighting arts/MMA and in other areas of my life.  

Knifemaker Ian Wendt is a close friend who originally hails from Denmark but who now calls New Mexico home.  He combines a razor-keen analytical intellect with the unrelenting perfectionism and skill of an artisanal Old World craftsman; Ian's innovative and wickedly efficient knives have won him a devoted following among some ferocious members of the tactical community, and his expertise in design, construction, and materials applications for outdoor technical clothing and gear make him a natural consultant to groups and individuals who are engaged in expeditions and backcountry adventures.

I have jokingly referred to Ian as "The Gear Pimp" because his advice has frequently led to me spending thousands of dollars on equipment.  But he has never steered me wrong and I would come to him before embarking on any type of remote or dangerous travel.  



SEB:  Ian, how did you get into knife- and gear-making business?
IAN: I was indoctrinated at a young age by my father who had been a hobby knifemaker in his own right and a leathersmith since the early 70s. So, the respect for the skill and care that goes into a hand-made piece, no matter what it is, is pretty deeply entrenched at this point. As my 10th birthday gift, my dad gave me a genuine Filipino balisong knife that was entirely hand-made in a small shop in Manila. My mom hated him for it. And for many other things! But that knife was my first introduction to a GOOD knife, versus the cheap, crappy ones I’d seen previously. I also promptly cut the fuck out of myself with it, but that’s how you learn, ain’t it?

Over the years, I made a few kit knives for myself. Buy a blade, put a handle on it, make a sheath, that kind of thing. Probably starting around age 15. In a school shop-class no less. Couldn’t do that today!

Going to the various knife and craft shows with my dad also exposed me to a lot of the Scandinavian knifemakers and there were and are some absolute world-class guys in Scandinavia. So from there, I started using hand-made blades, including those from a blacksmith named Aage Frederiksen and I stuck to using those for years.Mostly doing more traditional art knife type work. Materials like ebony, ivory, horn, etc.

When I came up with a really low-profile handle for the Frederiksen blades, that’s when I started selling my work. Probably 2004-2005.

In 2005-2006 was when I made my first laminate blade. Mostly because I was/am poor and really wanted one of the Warren Thomas knives, which I just couldn’t afford. It turned out… Better than I expected. Good enough to where I could sell it. And I’ve continued to improve greatly since then.

Most of my explorations into making gear comes from necessity and lack of funds. I want something, I can’t afford to buy it, well goddammit, I will make it myself!

SEB:  How would you describe your niche market?  Is there a profile of a typical customer?
Ian:   You know, that’s a good question. I’d say that the overwhelming majority of customers are pretty serious about self-defense and carrying well-designed tools for that kind of application. But there’s been a few people who were rather obviously just collector types. I’m not big on catering to the collectors, mostly because I like the idea of my work being used for its intended purpose. I have knives in the hands of law enforcement, military, Department of State, and a whole bunch of damn dirty civilians, like myself, also carry my knives. So, if anything, the customer base is incredibly diverse!

(review of Ian's "Hobbes" tactical carry knife by professional badass Paul Sharp)

SEB:  The tactical orientation does seem to be a common denominator among your customers.  Given such a constituency, what are your thoughts on tool design and materials.
IAN:  Oh man, that’s a can of worms right there! I love a well-made traditional knife. Carbon steel, forged, bone, wood, ivory, etc, handles. There’s something warm about them.
But the reality of it is that for the kind of use that I make knives for, they’re just not ideal. They rust, the handle materials absorb moisture and warp, etc etc. So for something that needs to be carried close against the body and be exposed to sweat for days on end, you really can’t use those traditional materials. Or well, my opinion is that you shouldn’t!

So, those kinds of consideration have helped shape my work. I chose the carbon fiber-Titanium laminates because they’re highly resistant to environmental damage. Moisture doesn’t matter, basically any environment that won’t kill you, a knife made from the materials I choose, will survive as well. For me, being able to not worry about maintenance is important. 

That you also get much lighter weight out of those materials, that’s another bonus. Most of my knives weigh under 3 ounces with the sheath. That is light enough to where you just don’t notice the weight.

But there are definite drawbacks. What most people don’t realize is that Titanium is extremely soft in comparison to steel. Especially the high-alloy tool steels commonly used in knifemaking today. Most Titanium alloys won’t ever get above 40 Rockwell C, whereas a steel knife is commonly anywhere from 58 to 62 Rockwell C. That’s an enormous difference in edge holding capability. So, I will never recommend one of my knives or any other knife made from similar materials, as a general utility knife. You’re kidding yourself if you think you can do the same tasks with a laminate or straight Titanium blade as you can with a steel knife. And I have told prospective customers exactly that and not gotten their business because of it. But for the explicit uses that I make my knives for? The laminate blades are almost perfect. More than strong enough and will hold an edge for long enough for you to get your work done and then GTFO.

When it comes to design, I’m like the soup Nazi. I’m enormously picky. Designs that I make are pretty much always going to be something that I would carry myself. The emphasis is on good grip retention, and a well-aligned point for thrusting. But what I also tend to focus on are minimal handles. Now, some guys will probably think that sounds like eating your cake and having it too. But that’s part of my persnickety-ness when it comes to designs. I firmly believe and think I have proven at this point, that you don’t need a massive handle to have a secure grip. And since a smaller grip also means that the knife will be easier to conceal, I think it’s an important feature to focus on. You see some knives that are marketed for conceal-carry self-defense and their handles are just enormous. That’s my main point of contention with the TDI knife, actually. 

 My take there is that design is everything. I tend to focus on a pronounced forward finger choil. It helps lock the knife into your hand and prevents you from sliding up onto the blade, just as well as a separate guard will. For smaller knives, like the Maleficus design, you only need to be able to get 2-3 fingers on the handle. That’s plenty if the handle is otherwise well-designed.

Blade design, I admit to having an unhealthy obsession with recurves. They’re just fun! Albeit a pain in the ass to grind the bevels for. They do have some advantages, notably that they tend to “gather” material into them and forces it up against the edge. You can make some naughty cuts with recurves, especially on the withdrawal. Yes, I said “naughty”.

**(both men laugh)**

 Ultimately, though, point alignment for me is more important. Insert pointy-end in bad guy, repeat as necessary until desired result is achieved. That’s kind of my thoughts on knife “fighting” in general. 


SEB:  Did you have any influences?  Work that you particularly liked or admired?
IAN : Lots! When it comes to the materials I use, my biggest influence has been, without a doubt, Warren Thomas. He’s the pioneer of that process. Our work obviously differs in a number of ways, very likely also down to the process used. I have no idea what he uses as far as adhesives, mostly because he’s never been willing to divulge it, which is entirely his prerogative. I spent a considerable amount of time researching the adhesives part of the equation before settling on a 3M product.

As far as design goes… Jesus, there are so many. Neil Blackwood, Trace Rinaldi, Jens Ansø, Warren Thomas, obviously, and dozens more. I couldn’t list all of them if I tried!
And there are more fantastic knifemakers coming out all the time. In recent years, there’s been a huge surge of outstanding knifemakers from Eastern Europe and Russia.


SEB:  How do you see your knives being best employed (in terms of being part of a system)?
IAN:   Hmm. That’s a good question. I really can’t speak for most of my customers. Obviously, since a lot of them do follow the TPI curriculum which I am also a fan of, there’s going to be some overlap. But still, I can only speak for how I use them myself. 

Generally carried near the center-line on the belt. Most commonly, on the outside of the belt. I’m not in a situation where I need to wear business dress so my shirts are rarely tucked in. Center-line carry, so that it requires minimal articulation to draw, and is accessible with either hand, is important in my book. I prefer horizontal carry, because I’m fluffy around the middle and they print a lot if I carry them vertically… It’s also more comfortable to carry horizontally in my experience. Access should be quick and reliable. Center-line carry facilitates this in my experience and that of others. Ideally, carried as an adjunct to a handgun, but not everybody can carry a firearm. For an entangled fight, there is very little better than a well-designed fixed blade to make some space. Space that you can use to either break away and run for it, or go to a firearm. I’m a big fan of pushdaggers for this kind of use. Somebody with boxing and clinch experience with a pushdagger in their hand is a thing of nightmares!

**(Seb's Note:  I will post much more on on the "TPI Paradigm" and related curriculum in forthcoming interviews, when those directly behind it's evolution can comment and explain.  For now, suffice it to say that this is a multi-disciplinary approach to self protection under emergency conditions, built on a mix of several different baseline personal-combat skills---all taken from skill complexes which have track records of high performance under hardcore, full-resistance conditions---that are combined and tested under the pressures of both force-on-force training and real-world deployments, and subjected to an iterative review-and-feedback process that draws strength from a tremendously interesting peer-group of practitioners).**

SEB:   I agree completely about the damage a pushie can do when placed in the hands of good striker.  It's just fucking crazy.   As I have noted before, the push dagger that I personally carry is one of your designs and it has become a fetish object for many of my friends.

(Seb with his beloved Special Circumstances PD.  This photo will hopefully provoke those MMA teammates who covet this fine knife and keep trying to go through my gear bags so that they can locate it and fondle it obscenely)

Clearly your designs, choices in materials, and customer base would give you some professional insights into how knives are actually put to best use in a real-world fight.  What are your general thoughts on the realistic use of a blade in a self-defense or tactical context?
IAN: Ugh. There’s so much garbage material being taught out there about this. Not that I’m an expert, but I have a brain and a fairly well-developed Sense Of the Common. A lot of this stuff is just too goddamn complicated. Too mired in the TMA mindset of working drills with a compliant opponent. 99% of the fancy shit goes right out the door when you’re working against an opponent with opposing will and malignant intent. That’s one of the reasons I have drifted towards the TPI paradigm over the years, it’s actually been pressure tested against actively resisting opponents, unlike the vast majority of things you see out there.

As for the realistic use of the blade… Hrm. Any use of it is likely to happen when you’re at a disadvantage. Somebody caught you unawares and now you’re forced to play catch-up. Staying conscious and upright for the first few seconds is pretty high on the list of priorities. If you manage to pull that off during the first few seconds, you can worry about going to a weapon. Knives are typically easier to access than a firearm, especially with the kind of carry that I advocate for. Less articulation, smaller movements, much harder to foul up. 

And, much better for use in the entangled fight. I’d use a knife to get to a place where I have the time and space to go for the gun. If I’m carrying a gun, that is. If not, well, that’s when you make like a sewing machine until your assailant(s) either stop doing what they’re doing or you get an opening to make like a library and book it. The biggest thing about any of this is that a weapon is not a substitute for training. Best, most accurate, handgun on the planet isn’t going to do shit for you if you can’t weather an assault, shut down your opponents attempts at hurting you, and access the weapon in a way that isn’t going to result in your draw getting fouled, or your opponent beating you to it and taking YOUR weapon before you can draw it. A good, solid base in some no-bullshit hand-to-hand fighting is essential. You should get that base established before you ever really worry about the weapons.

In the tactical environment, IE Law Enforcement and Military, the paradigm is considerably different. But mostly for military. A lot of the same things that applies to civilian encounters will apply to police work. Except your risk for getting into a fight is immensurably higher for police. They should probably focus even more on getting their skillsets squared away than the vast majority of civilians needs to. Seeing how many of them DON’T, is baffling and sad.

Military, whole ‘nother kettle of fish. Barring the occasional high-speed, covert operator, operating tactically in a dynamic, high-threat environment, military will tend to be backed up by a team. That doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t have good hand-to-hand, because entangled fights definitely do happen. Relatively rare, but I think it’s a mistake to not take it into account and prepare for it. Concealment is less critical, but ease of access isn’t. Knowing how to retain your weapon and how to get somebody OFF your weapon is important. The knife can definitely see an effective use there. Interestingly, there are cultural differences there as well. A lot of Middle Eastern cultures have a high level of respect for blades and respond differently to being threatened with a knife than they do with a gun.


SEB:  What do you EDC?   Tell us the thinking behind your choices.

**(Seb's Note:  "EDC" means "Everyday Carry", and refers to items an individually habitually carries with him, on body or in a readily-accessible go bag.)**  
IAN:  Heh, currently I’m EDC-ing a few different things. It changes a lot, mostly because I’ll make something with the intent of carrying it, and then end up selling it.

I like pushdaggers for the fixed blade portion of my “load-out”. Compact, easy to access, nigh impossible to foul the draw, and equally difficult to disarm. Always carried center-line.

Folding knives, I carry strictly folders that have a “wave”. If it doesn’t come with one, I’ll make one for it. I dislike liner locks, prefer Axis Locks, Ball Bearing Locks and frame locks. A strong lock is key. I mostly carry Benchmade. I’ve carried a Benchmade 710 since ‘98 or so. Right under 4 inches, Axis Lock, slim, relatively neutral handle so it works in pretty much any grip.  I also admit to having a thing for the Zero Tolerance frame lock knives like the ZT 0560.

It has to be tip-up carry, and I usually draw into a reverse grip, edge in orientation if I’m using it defensively. But it plays second fiddle to the fixed blade for that purpose. Mostly, it’s used for utility. Opening boxes, trimming fingernails, that sort of thing.

Flashlights, I have a real problem with. Mostly, I like them a lot. I prefer simple interfaces, magnetic selector rings being a favorite. Currently, I’m carrying a Sunwayman V20C that I put a pocket clip on. Fantastic little light. I detest anything that has an interface that isn’t dead-nuts simple. 


SEB: EDC flashlights. Discuss...

IAN: Well, I covered some of my preferences above. But I can expound.
Generally speaking, incandescents are Dodo birds. Extinct. Or should be.
There are some few exceptions but they’re specialty items. For every day carry use, a good flashlight should be an LED.

Now, a lot of people swear by Surefire and they do make a good product. But they’re expensive, the quality of their machining seems to have dropped drastically in recent years and I fucking HATE the interface they put on most of their lights. They’re also generally not rechargeable battery friendly, which is just annoying.

So, things to look for:

-Easy interface. If you have to sacrifice a chicken and stand on your head to get to the level of output that you need, fuggedaboutit.

-I like magnetic selector rings. Preferably the infinitely variable kind, but ones that have preset detents can work too as long as they give you a good range. Lowest output should ideally be no more than 15-20 lumens and often times less is good.

-For a “tactical” flashlight, one that you might conceivably use in a self-defense situation, you want a momentary switch, possibly with a clicky option for constant on. There should be no delay in activation. Hit the button, it should come on. Some manufacturers have an inexplicable delay in the light coming on. That’s no bueno for defensive use.

-The light also should have an option for directly and immediately activating any strobe option. If getting the strobe activated requires any kind of delay like holding in a button for 1 second or so, it’s useless. Either have an option for pre-setting the strobe as being what happens when you hit the button, or a way to directly access the strobe. A double-tap is fine.

=Bright is good. Does it need to be 900 lumens? No. 200 and up is great. I carry one that is 487 lumens. Works.

-I like a nice, wide beam with a defined hotspot. Massive throw in a flashlight is cool, but up-close it’s less useful. Reserve throw monsters for search and rescue, in my opinion.

-And a pocket clip. Lucifer's frilly panties, man! It has to have a pocket clip! I don’t know why manufacturers fuck that up so consistently. I prefer bezel down carry. A lot of people like it with the bezel up, but I don’t like it for a number of reasons. One, if the light is accidentally activated, you now have a beacon shining out of your pocket. Woops. Two, it exposes the glass lens. Don’t like that.

-Battery compatibility, you basically have your pick. Just, don’t fucking buy one of those shitty little lights that use 3xAAA batteries in a little carrier insert. They’re fucking stupid and have shitty battery life. 2xAA is fine. Make sure it’ll work with rechargeable NiMh batteries.

-2xCR123 lithium batteries is also fine, but again, it should work with something like an 18650 Li-Ion battery. I’m not made of money, I can’t afford to buy CR123 batteries all the fucking time.  It’s cheaper to go rechargeable. And with an 18650, you usually get better run-time as well. So, win-win. Buy quality rechargeables and quality chargers. Only buy protected cells.

Do NOT cheap out on these. Avoid any brand that ends in “fire”. Ultrafire, Sunfire, blah blah. They’s crap.

-Color temperature matters to some people. Neutral white is usually good. Better color rendition, cuts through smoke/fog better than the “bluer” light from a cool white. Look up a color temperature chart for more detail.

-Cool white is more disruptive to vision and will leave anybody hit with the beam from a flashlight with ugly purple spots for a while.

-Oh, and the tailcap should ideally be a guarded one. Not recessed, just with “wings” or a raised “wall” around the switch to guard against accidental activation and to sort of funnel your thumb into the switch cavity. 


 SEB:  Thoughts on medical training for prepared individuals, adventurers, etc:.  Core skills?  Where to acquire such training?  How to sustain the skills?
IAN:   I think medical training is essential. Especially if you carry a weapon. But realistically, your odds of having to deal with a GSW are a lot lower than your odds of having to deal with a more mundane accident. I would suggest basic First Responder and CPR training for just about anybody, with more specialized training for dealing with trauma obtained afterwards. a Wilderness First Responder course is a really good thing to have. If you spend a large amount of time hours or days away from Civilization, the requirements for your level of training increases exponentially. As for good places to get the training, there are quite a few.

Lone Star Medics out of Texas is a good one. Dark Angel Medical is another. Greg Ellifritz up in Ohio teaches some good entry-level classes at TDI. Doctor Keith Brown will hopefully be offering up some of his outstanding coursework in the future as well, but most of his material is somewhat higher level, but nevertheless very exciting material. I am hoping to be able to train with him myself in the future. NOLS is kinda the old faithful when it comes to Wilderness Medicine, but I have issues with certain aspects of what they teach. And some of their courses can get a little… Erh… “Woooh!” *waves hands*

SEB.  MINEX (Mine Exploration).  Very exciting.  Tell us about it.
IAN: Hah! Well, I’ve not done much of it lately, as having a kid tends to put a damper on such adventures. It’s something I’d like to get back to though. It’s dirty, it’s dangerous and just a really neat experience. It’s also enormously challenging for your gear. A more destructive environment is hard to find. But going into an abandoned mine and finding the detritus of the miners that worked those tunnels, it’s fascinating. Not something I would recommend people to undertake lightly though. You really need to have good equipment and not be an idiot. It requires an enormous amount of care. I can’t remember where I first heard this, but there’s a saying to illustrate the difference between caving and mine exploration that goes something along the lines of, “The natural state of a cave is to be open. The natural state of a mine is to be closed.”

That’s something to keep in mind, and if that doesn’t give you the slightest bit of pause, maybe you’re an idiot ;)


SEB:  Do you have any recommendations regarding technical clothing for the outdoors?  Things that someone considering a mountain big-game hunt or an expedition should take a serious look at...? Thoughts on materials?
IAN:   Goddamn… This might take a while. There’s a few brands that I consider my old standby’s. I know, everybody gets all aflutter about Arc’Teryx and they do make some good stuff, but I’ve never been blown away by what I’ve seen from them. So they’re not really on my list.

Outdoor Research does good stuff, that I’ve used in a variety of environments. I’ve had one of their “softshells” for several years and it’s held up really well. Love their hoods for the most part, and a good hood is fucking essential. Their pricing is also reasonable and they have a lifetime warranty. Can’t beat that. Awesome gloves too. There’s a reason their military line of gloves is enormously popular, and I can tell you from personal experience that they destroy the Oakley gloves as far as durability goes. Any glove that survives a few years of regular MINEX is about indestructible in my book.

Mountain Hardwear is another one. Again, just bomber gear. They have some issues every now and then with sizing, but try it on first. They’re another company that really stands behind their products, which makes me return to them again and again.

And of course, Triple Aught Design. About the same price range as companies like Arc’Teryx and Mountain Hardwear, but largely made in North America these days. I say North America and not the US, because some of their stuff IS sewn in Canada. They have a few items that are still made in China, but the vast majority of their production is now done in-house. I like that a lot about a company. Their materials are top-of-the-line and they put some serious thought into their designs. I am increasingly a fan of their stuff.

Also, Ibex. Their merino wool is second to none. I’ve had pieces that have survived for years of regular use, with lots of cycles through the washer AND dryer. Just outstanding products.
Materials, that’s another can of worms right there.

For baselayers, there’s really no beating merino wool. I use that for everything I can. It doesn’t stink, it dries fast, keeps you warm even when wet and good merino won’t itch either. It’s also naturally flame-resistant and won’t melt and stick to your skin. There is no synthetic fiber that can compete in my opinion. I like it for both base- and mid-layers for that matter, although for really low temps, finding thick enough merino can be tricky. No matter what though, merino is probably going to be the most comfortable inner layers you will ever fucking wear.

For lower temps, various types of fleece come in handy. The biggest name there is probably Polartec, as far as suppliers go. I like their WindPro fleece a lot as it can double handily as an outerlayer due to being almost entirely windproof. But unlike Windstopper fleece or others like it, WindPro actually breathes. For longer duration exertion, you want to be able to dump that moisture. Windstopper fleece just fucking doesn’t. Feels like you’re wearing a fuzzy plastic bag. Fuck that noise. I have a Triple Aught Design Ranger hoodie in heavy 10oz WindPro that I love in an unhealthy manner.

Non-wind-resistant fleeces, the various long-fiber types like the Thermal Pro is really nice too. Good warmth, traps a lot of air when worn underneath a shell and they’re light. WindPro can be a little heavy because of the density required to block wind. Trade off, yeh?

For really low temps, you start getting into the down and synthetic down alternatives. For weight, warmth, and packability, there is no getting around quality down. It’s a bit of a wonder material. But it has weaknesses. Mostly that it doesn’t deal well with moisture. Get it wet and you’re fucking done. Some of the more expensive pieces will try to remedy that by using water-resistant face fabrics, but if you’re really working hard, putting out a lot of moisture and the ambient humidity is high as well, your down isn’t going to last long. Some of these issues have been remedied at least partially recently with a few manufacturers bringing out treated down products that make them significantly more water-resistant. This is a good thing.

But, nevertheless, down is best reserved for use in cold and dry environments. Particularly good as a belay jacket or similar. Something you can carry easily and break out when you stop and take a breather.

Down alternatives, there’s a few different types, but the most popular one is definitely going to be PrimaLoft. It’s almost as good as down, but it doesn’t suffer from the issues with moisture. Or rather, it needs to get a LOT wetter before it becomes a problem for it. And it doesn’t retain the moisture much either. More durable than down in my experience and less picky about the care.  Not quite as warm for the weight, but again, boils down to trade offs.

For outer layers, I’m not a fan of Gore-Tex. Yeah, it has a place. But that place is best served by being a piece that you bust out when it gets really nasty and wet for long periods of time. And preferably, quite cold as well. Works best that way.

There’s a lot of different waterproof/breathable products out there, but Gore-Tex is probably the most recognizable name. MOST of them, regardless of name, is essentially the same fucking thing. If it says “expanded PTFE membrane” it’s basically Gore-Tex. Some minor differences in performance, but it’s minimal. eVent is one such product, that seems to perform slightly better than some varieties of Gore-Tex. Others use polyurethane as the membrane material. But most of them suffer from the same problems with high exertion. You tend to get pretty wet underneath and conditions really have to be ideal for moisture transport to occur.

Now there are some interesting materials out there, like the Schoeller C_Change membrane. That one is a slightly different animal, and by all accounts, is more breathable than just about anything else on the market. I don’t have any personal experience with it, but I’ve been impressed by pretty much all the fabrics that Schoeller makes. TAD Gear uses it in their Stealth hoodies.  Certainly worth taking a look if you need a waterproof shell.

Now, I’m going to touch on a pet peeve of mine and that is the ridiculously loose definition of what makes a “softshell”:

You see the term applied to anything that has a bit of stretch to it, or has a fuzzy lining. But that’s a perversion of the term. A softshell, originally, was meant to be something non-waterproof but water-repellent, highly breathable, wind-resistant/proof, that dried quickly. Then companies started adding membranes to them and in my opinion that takes away one of the key elements and benefits of the softshell, that of being highly breathable. When you’re really exerting yourself, a softshell is fantastic. You never get that wet and soaked feeling that you get when wearing a WPB shell. And since they shed most rain by virtue of a DWR coating, softshells can be used for 90 percent of the time, unless you’re in the fucking PNW or something. So, in my opinion a softshell should never have a membrane and it shouldn’t be waterproof. Needs to be breathable, folks!

Socks, basically just go with wool. Some relatively high percentage blend of merino wool and other fabrics like nylon, acrylic, and spandex. Fuck cotton. If you wear cotton socks, you are wrong. The synthetics usually work too, but you don’t get the antimicrobial properties that you get with wool. Silk blends are good too.

My usual approach is to go with something like a softshell as my outerlayer, but carry a lightweight waterproof shell in my pack. The lightweight ones pack down small and aren’t a great weight penalty. If it really starts pouring, I’ll put the shell on over my other layers. Same goes for pants. Although I’ll often times wear a softshell pant and just deal with the bit of soaking through I get. Snow, it’s pretty much the same thing. If it’s cold enough, the snow won’t melt on you either and I generally don’t have issues with bleed-through.

So, to sum up, my recommendations for materials and layers go something like this:
Baselayer: Merino, merino, merino. Varying weights as appropriate for seasons and geographical location.

Midlayer: Merino and/or fleece, my preference for fleece is WindPro. Weights as appropriate for environment. For low temps, consider synthetic down/down layers.  
Outerlayer: A true softshell for 90 percent of the time in most environments, can be fleece-lined, can just be tricot. Personal preference rules there. Carry a lightweight waterproof shell for serious downpours. Get stretch fabrics if you can afford it. Ideally, should be abrasion resistant.

Variations on that combination of materials should get you through almost anything.  

SEB:   This is really great info.  I don't have a lot of familiarity with some of these brands and need to check them out.  If I had to make a list, I'd say that I currently prefer TAD for softshells and fleece garments, TAD and Crye for cargo pants, Arc'Teryx for hard shells and softshell pants and some of their long-sleeve crewnecks.  SORD and Beyond and a few others would be in there with some nice individual pieces, too.

I really need to look at Ibex wool.  I tried using Icebreaker for an Andean trek and got the sizing off---the shirts were really tight, like rashguard tops or some kind of Fire Island costume.  
SEB:  Can you give us some tactical trainers that you would highly recommend?
IAN: Well, I can’t say I’ve done many “tactical classes” but for self-defense, there’s a few I’d happily recommend.

Craig Douglas with Shivworks is pretty much a must.

Paul Sharp with Sharp Defense is an outstanding instructor.

Cecil Burch, with his IAJJ program.

Greg Ellifritz teaches some really good stuff at TDI.

Caleb Causey with Lone Star Medical, he has some really interesting courses for people who carry a gun, especially professionally.

Tom Givens with Rangemaster.

Nathan Wagar at Rio Rancho Crazy Monkey Defense.

Hell, I could go on and on here. 

SEB:  Oh yes.  What a great group of guys---in fact, I plan on interviewing several of them for the blog!

I think that a benefit of training with instructors of that level of distinction is that they can also easily recommend other instructors who offer highly synergistic courses of instruction.  You end up becoming part of a really cool community. 


SEB:  What are your thoughts on MMA and combative knife use?
IAN: I think MMA has a TON of merit as a great way to build a strong foundation for hand-to-hand. Very little in the way of fighting has seen more pressure testing. And pretty much all the assholes that bitch about how MMA is for the ring and not the street, are TMA douchenozzles who’s never trained without a compliant opponent. Yes, Aikido/Systema/Hapkido/Wing Tsun, et al, I’m looking at you.

I’d strongly recommend branching out from there though and get some instruction from some of the people I mentioned above. Adding in weapons is an entirely new dimension and does require some slightly different approaches. Training with people like Craig Douglas, Paul Sharp, Cecil Burch, etc, will vastly improve your ability to deal with a weapon in the fight. 

SEB: CAD and 3-D printing---in terms of custom knifemaking, do you see a strong role for these technologies in the future?
IAN:  CAD, absolutely. I mean, it’s already a huge part of almost any field of manufacturing. 3D printing is just going to be more so as time passes and the technology improves. We’ve already seen huge leaps and bounds in the ability of 3D printing to create almost finished parts. Everything from polymers to glass and metal is now being 3D printed, and that’s not even getting into the medical applications! On a number of levels, 3D printing is not an evolutionary technology, it is quite literally revolutionary. 

SEB:    The future of combatives skills training---where do you see it going, how is it evolving?
IAN:   Oh man, I’d like to see the field expand! I mean, ideally, more people would be interested in getting solid training, especially with how many people are now carrying a firearm. I’d like to see less of the victim mentality than has been perpetuated by so many agencies. More badguys coming into ERs with BIC pens stuck in their necks, you know, that kind of thing. But whether or not that will actually happen is a really good question. I’d love to see the more nonsensical stuff go away… But you know… Not likely. I am REALLY pleased to see how the approaches developed by the TPI brain trust are shaping the field though. Even if sometimes it’s by plagiarism… 

SEB:  Jesus, yes, man, so much material just gets ripped off by the copy-cats, usually without even proper attribution.


SEB:  On a more positive note:  tell us about your collaborative projects with TAD Gear...
IAN:   Hah! Hopefully, there will be more! I don’t have any solid data on that yet, but we’ll see! The first one I did was definitely pretty awesome. The TAD crew are a great bunch of guys and the CEO is a good friend and customer of mine. Very squared away guys that make some increasingly better gear. Not cheap, but worth it, in my opinion. I know you have had some experiences with their gear as well… *cough*

I am definitely looking forward to doing more collaborations with them in the future.

SEB:  I think TAD makes some legitimately great gear.  I actually prefer the fit and construction of a lot of their technical garments to those made by other esteemed outdoors companies, including Arc'Teryx.

SEB:   How do you see a more offensive capability---assault rifle, paramilitary skills, etc.---fitting into the concept of the prepared man?
IAN: It kinda has a bad rep in the sense that a lot of people immediately start thinking about the militias and some of those guys are just wackjobs. But, I think it has value. I’d personally like to add more of that to my own skillset. Although I harbor no illusions about becoming an “operator”, for me it’s just part of the continual process of improvement. I’m a firm believer in the Renaissance Man concept, so yeah. Get training. Be as ready as you can be for whatever might happen. Learn how to start a fire, build a shelter, use a rifle, clear a building, in a team or alone. Just never stop learning and improving. 

SEB:  Can you walk us through some of the major knife steels used in the industry and their pros and cons?
IAN:   Ah god, I think I hate you… There’s a million of them.  Basically, if you stick to a few basic rules, it doesn’t matter all that fucking much.

Don’t buy a knife made from 420 steel. They just suck. Even with good heat treatment, they’re below average. 440C is fine. AUS8, also fine. S30V is a premium steel that does great. D2, a fine-grained toolsteel, also works well. Some of the Chinese steels are kinda… Eh. Basically like 420-series steel. So, crap.

There’s about a million different high-carbon steels that work great but require care. Fine for a camp knife or axe. I wouldn’t use it for a daily carry.

Buy knives from reputable manufacturers. Be careful about shit made in China. Some of it is good, a lot of it is crap.

Do you need the latest and greatest super-steel? Nah. But if you’re a nerd, go for it. There’s something of a point of diminishing returns. When you get into the really crazy steels like ZDP-189, you start hitting 64-65 Rockwell, that stuff becomes difficult to sharpen. You pretty much HAVE to use a diamond hone for that. The ceramics will still work, but much slower.

Seb:  A lot of guys will probably default to just carrying a pocket folder as an everyday knife.  What features should we be looking for, do you think?  Any particular models at different price points that you would recommend for the person who is just starting out?

Ian:   Again, so much of this is personal preference, but I can outline a few things to look for. Solid locking mechanism is key. I don’t care for liner locks because they tend to be very finicky and wear out much faster than the others. Frame locks are nice, Axis Lock, Spyderco Ball Bearing Lock, button locks, those are all fine. Tip up carry in my book is a must. Having a wave on the folder is also a must. Comfortable grip, easy to carry, secure clip. No goddamn serrations unless you’re a fucking sailor. And even then, only grudgingly. Sharpen a knife properly and you won’t need serrations. Partial serrations are a waste of edge length and makes some tasks difficult to do. Full length serrations are also kinda useless and severely limit the applications of a knife. They’re an enormous pain in the ass to sharpen and in some cases, like Cold Steel, effectively can’t be sharpened. So, stay away from that.

Personal likes for me:

-Benchmade 710. As I mentioned previously, that’s been a long-time favorite and it has served me extremely well.

-Benchmade 810 Contego, another Axis Lock, that’s a really nice folder too, a little more expensive than the 710. Get the plain-edged grey blade, as the coating holds up MUCH better on the grey than on the black. It will probably need some modification to the uber-aggressive jimping on the handle to be truly comfortable.

-Zero Tolerance 0300, 0560, and others of their frame locks. Pricey, but really high quality and the Hinderer models are surprisingly lightweight.

-Spyderco has a number of nice folders, including the Craig Douglas designed P’kal. Hard to go wrong with those, but they’re not cheap. Those are probably the three companies I’d stick to for the most part. There are some exceptions but they’re few and far between. 

SEB:  Those are all really nice tools.  I have a BM 630 and a ZT that you recommended to me and they are both terrific.


SEB: Multitools.  Favorites?
IAN:  Hmm. The single best multi-tool I have ever laid my grubby little mitts on was a Multitasker Series2x. They’re made in China, but the quality of construction blows away all the other tools on the market. Billet machined pliers, melonite finish, bearings, I mean across the board the Multitaskers just monkey stomp the offerings from companies like Leatherman, particularly the Leatherman MUT. And yes, the Series2x (current model is the 3x) IS a weapons-specific multitool. Try one, I don’t think you’ll regret it!

For more general use, I’ve used the piss out of a Gerber Multiplier 600 series. Also had a SOG ParaTool for years that served me well. I cannot speak for their current quality though. I have in the past broken the pliers on a Gerber Multiplier… So… You know, your mileage may vary.


SEB:  I am convinced that Bruce Wayne is one of your customers.  If someone wanted to order one of your blades, how would you recommend that they proceed in terms of specs and design considerations?  What's the estimated wait time on a new knife?  
IAN: I can neither confirm nor deny that I may or may not have possibly, although not definitively , maybe have made a few things for Mr. Wayne.

Contact me via email at or via facebook. I’m always open to discussing an entirely new design or modifying an existing one to the customer’s needs.

Specs will vary depending on said requirements, of course.

Current wait time right now is about 6 months. I’d like it to be less, but you know… Wish in one hand and shit in the other, see which one fills up first...

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