The late Chuck Karwan’s article, “Friction Forged Diamond Blades” in the January 2008 issue of Tactical Knives seems to have stirred up many readers. More than once over the last year, I’ve been buttonholed at shows by people wanting to know if this new blade-making process was actually as good as the author had stated? To many, it seemed like Chuck was saying Diamond Blades had made all other knives obsolete overnight.
Well, that could depend on what criteria you use to pick a knife. For some, extreme edge holding is the overriding quality demanded, but for others general blade shape, ease of resharpening, a pleasing appearance, handle ergonomics, or even just the basic cost, may play equally important parts in the selection. In general, I tend to fall into this second category. Of course, that doesn’t mean I wasn’t as curious as everyone else about the company’s claims.
The Next Generation
While the first fixed-blade hunter designs from Diamond Blade were very practical, many of us felt they would be more successful using this same technology on both a modern-style folder and a larger tactical fixed blade. Around June the company gave me a sneak peek at their next generation of knives, both a liner-lock hunter and a combat/survival-style fixed blade. It was a couple more months before I was able to obtain samples and by then I wanted to make sure I had used the knives through at least one hunting season.
The folder is called the “Monarch I” and currently comes in nine variations that include Olive Drab G10, black linen Micarta and Carbon Fiber handle scales. All of these knives are available with or without the steel carry-clip. The spear-point blade is 3.755 inches long and .118 to .120 inch thick. Differential heat treating gives the knife a 65-68 RC cutting edge and a much softer 42 to 45 RC spine. The knife weighs around 5 ounces depending on handle material. Suggested retail prices range from $400 to $450, again depending on the handle material.
A Proven Blade Style
The general shape of the Monarch blade is very close to that of the Blade-Tech Pro Hunter, which in turn was created from one of the late Paul Goertz’s custom designs. My reason for bringing this up is both the fact Paul was a hunting buddy of mine and because I’ve used the Pro Hunter for many years. In my opinion, there are few equals to it in the field as a game-processing blade. Naturally, this gave me an excellent reason to like the Diamond Blade knife from the start.
Evaluating the edge-holding potential of a new alloy by using said knife for everyday carry is a tricky business because few of us ever cut the same thing twice in a row with an EDC. Ideally, I would’ve saved the Diamond Edge Monarch for exclusive use on game, but hunting season was still a week or two off when the knife arrived. Right or wrong, I started my evaluation by using the knife for the normal package opening, low-hanging limb cutting, and garden produce harvesting work, that any knife I carry sees. When deer season finally opened I checked the edge to see if I thought it was still sharp enough for game work. The knife easily shaved hair off my arm so I left well enough alone.
The first few days of deer season were not all that productive for me, but a friend dropped a large doe and, knowing I’m always looking for test animals, called for help. I field dressed the deer with the Monarch, cut a vine maple stick to hold the body cavity open and, because I didn’t have time to skin it right then, dragged the animal under the shade of a tree. Later that day, we hung the deer for skinning but by that time it had cooled off fairly well. Deer are always much easier to skin while they are still warm and much of the work can usually be done by simply pulling the hide off with your hands. Once they cool there tends to be a lot more knife work involved. As I mentioned earlier, I consider the Monarch an ideally shaped blade for this kind of skinning work—it only took a half hour to remove the hide. On the other hand, having one deer down didn’t seem like much of a challenge for this super steel.
First Edge Check
After the first deer, I checked the edge of the knife closely. While it was still very sharp, I did notice a couple of very tiny chips. I suspect that I was a little careless while removing the front shanks and head, with the knife scraping on bone. Neither was enough to affect performance in a major way so I did not attempt to resharpen the edge at this point.
Just when I thought I wasn’t going to have a second chance during deer season, I shot a nice fork horn blacktail on the last day of early buck. Working with a fresh kill made skinning much easier than the first deer and I soon had the hide off the buck, head and shanks removed, and the chest cavity opened.
The edge of the Monarch would probably still have been adequate for another deer at this point but elk season was opening the next day. No way was I going to attempt something that large with a knife that wasn’t honed to its full potential. What did surprise me was how easily the high Rockwell folder resharpened on a diamond-surfaced rod. A few quick passes and I was ready to go again. The only major problem was I went through elk season without seeing anything better than fresh tracks!
While the second deer was still hanging, Diamond Blade’s new tactical fixed blade Model P.D. showed up. This is a straight 6-inch “puukkoish” blade with a choice of either olive drab G-10 or black carbon fiber handle slabs. The knife also offers a choice of a Kydex or black nylon sheath. While the knife I was sent was a prototype and a price hadn’t been agreed on yet, I was told it would probably be in the $450 to $500 range.
Cutting and Wrapping
Every hunter has his own personal methods of processing his kill. Once mine has hung long enough to cool thoroughly, I start at the bottom, removing the neck followed by the front quarters, rib cage, back straps and finally the hindquarters. Next I cut through leg bone joints as I bone and strip each section in turn. Most of this rough joint cutting is done with whatever heavy-duty hunting knife I happen to be evaluating at the time. This year it was the Diamond Blade P.D.
One reason I tend to use a heavy hunting knife rather than a more traditional meat-cutting blade is the blade edge usually gets scraped and twisted between joints. More than once I have damaged lightweight blades doing this. I know some hunters prefer saws and axes for the same task but I can usually get by most of the time without using either. The P.D. did an excellent job of cutting through all of the various joints required and was still very sharp at job’s end.
The one small problem that did arise with both knives was that I found the friction forged D2 alloy was picking up small rust spots even as I worked on the deer. That somewhat surprised me, due to its high chromium content, D2 is often called a “semi-stainless” steel. It also kind of challenges the conventional wisdom of all those self-proclaimed “old timers” that boast “carbon steel will never rust if you take care of it!” I don’t know about you but I’m not stopping in the middle of field dressing a buck to clean and oil my knives. In any case, these spots weren’t really serious, just unexpected.
More P.D. Testing
With only one deer to test the P.D. on, I felt it was time to try the old standby, manila rope. I quickly found that, like most combat/survival-type knives, the P.D. was a little too thick in its edge geometry to slice the rope well. Going back to the Monarch was another story, as it easily sliced most of the way through a section with a single slice. I then proceeded to slice 4 feet of rope into 1/2-inch sections with the folder. At the end of the ordeal the knife was still shaving hair!
Looking for something more “military” to test the P.D. on, I settled on empty white gas fuel cans. Many times in the past I’ve found myself cutting cans apart to use the light sheet metal for field expedient patches on one thing or another. In general, I don’t expect a knife to hold its edge through this kind of abuse but I do hope that the blade won’t chip or break. The P.D. was used to make a total of 22 slices roughly 8.5 inches long in three empty cans. While I wouldn’t call the edge “scalpel” sharp at the end of the test, it was still capable of just barely shaving hair off my arm. There really must be something to this friction forging! This is certainly the kind of performance a soldier in the field needs from his knives.
Is a Diamond Blade the ultimate answer to all of your cutting prayers? I think only you personally will be able to answer that. What I can tell you is their claims aren’t just hype; this really is a great new way to make high performance blades.
The late Chuck Karwan’s article, “Friction Forged Diamond Blades” in the January 2008 issue…
by Leroy Thompson / May 10, 2009