Ontario Knife Review

Discussion in 'Gear Talk!' started by TuhonBill, Dec 3, 2008.

  1. TuhonBill

    TuhonBill New Member

    KNIFE REVIEWS

    ONTARIO KNIVES
    SPEC PLUS GEN II
    By Bill McGrath


    I’ve known custom knifemaker Dan Maragni for nearly twenty years. He is one of the most knowledgeable people in the industry (Dan’s the guy who got Cold Steel to bring out their Carbon V line when most cutlery companies were promoting stainless steel blades). Recently Dan has moved from his former job at Cold Steel to a position at Ontario Knives. His first project is a complete upgrading of Ontario’s Spec Plus line. This is an affordable line of using knives with carbon steel blades and Kraton rubber grips.
    Dan showed me some samples of the improved knives at the last New England Bladesmiths Guild seminar, where he and I are regular lecturers
    ( http://www.cashenblades.com/Ashokan.html )
    He recently sent me some of these knives for testing. Well, having now tested these knives I am quite impressed. Ontario will be offering large blades in this line with two different grinds. The flat grinds reviewed here (for maximum cutting ability) and longer camp blades with a saber grind for strength.

    Here are the knives I tested:
    The steel in all the blades is 5160, hardened to 54-55 on the Rockwell C scale. The handles are made from Kraton, a hard rubber-like polymer.


    [​IMG]

    Top Left: SP-40 “Alpine” style blade (slight drop point) with aluminum butt cap (threaded on tang for strength).Overall length 8 ⅛”, blade length 3 ¾”, thickness 0.165”

    Bottom Left: SP-41 “Skene Dhu” style blade (elongated spear point) with steel butt cap (threaded on tang for strength).Overall length 8 ⅛”, blade length 3 ¾”, thickness 0.165”

    Top Right: SP-43 “Dirk” style blade. Overall length 13”, blade length 8”, blade thickness 3/16”

    Bottom Right: SP-42 “Dirk” style blade. Overall length 12”, blade length 7”, thickness 3/16”

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    General impressions:

    All blades are ground to a distal taper, which helps to lighten the blade and adds to its flexibility under stress. The knives come sharp enough to cleanly cut paper, but not quite shaving sharp. While the knives are of excellent quality for the price, the sheaths leave a lot to be desired. The larger sheaths are nylon with a plastic liner to keep the blade tip from poking through. However, the knives fit much too loosely in their quasi-military sheaths (they actually rattle audibly). As for the smaller knives, their sheaths are built from sheet metal in the back that wraps around the bottom of the nylon front. This should keep the tip from poking through on the 5” blades the sheaths were made for, but fall short on the 3 ¾” Gen II blades (but at least they don’t rattle). I think the smaller knives would do better in an entirely different type of sheath—perhaps a pouch type as one finds on Finnish punkos. Dan tells me he is planning a total revamp of the sheaths next year. In the meantime, those of you who know how easy it is to make a kydex sheath (like those who attended my knife making camp in 2007), can make a better version for your knife in about half an hour.

    [​IMG]

    The handles on the larger knives fill the hand nicely. This helps in connecting the knife to your hand, making one unit of the knife, your hand and your arm. This is important on lightweight knives since they don’t have the weight to carry through the target. However, with a good grip on these hand filling handles, you can transfer some of the weight of your arm into the target and make cuts as if you had a much heavier knife.


    The Tests:

    I wanted to put these knives through realistic tests appropriate for their intended use, construction and price with an eye towards the needs of Pekiti-Tirsia practitioners. Here is what I came up with.

    [​IMG]

    Test 1. Cutting through clothing in a defensive situation is more difficult than cutting through skin or muscle. Therefore I took an old pair of jeans, stuffed them with a roll of newspaper, hung the jeans up, so that they could swing freely and hacked away. I tested both of the longer knives in this test and both easily made deep cuts nearly the full length of their blades.
    Test 2. Here I used the small knives to repeated stab the sidewalls on the top tire of my tire stack. This is a common PT knife training technique to develop the grip. It also tests the knife’s tip geometry and handle design. Both the SP-40 and SP-41 penetrated the tire easily without the handle slipping in my grip. One major thing I like about these knives is the length of the handle. Most knife makers seem to feel that a knife with a small blade looks better with a small handle. Well, my hand does not change in size when I use a small knife. I want a handle that fits my hand and even the handles on the smaller knives from Ontario do.

    Test 3. To test tip strength I stabbed all four knives into a seasoned 6” diameter oak log and then pried the tip out (oak is of similar density to bone).
    I tried this test on both the end and side grain and none of the blades broke or bent on this test.


    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    Test 4. The test medium here was a 4” diameter x ¼” thick cardboard tube from a carpet shop. I saw these tubes used in the class of Bando master Dr. Mung Gyi and liked the idea (and most carpet stores will give them to you for the asking). For this test I stood a cardboard tube up so that it was free standing and made a quick cut with each of the larger knives. Both bit deeply and held rather than sending the tube flying, as a blade with poor edge geometry would. I also stabbed each knife into the tube, with the same good penetration with the thin, pointed blades. Again, I wanted to see good penetration without sending the medium flying away and both knives did their job well.

    [​IMG]
    Test 5. Here I cut hardwood branches with the long knives. Each knife made deep cuts and held an edge well. The Kraton handles are well designed, the combination of grooves, the smooth area between them and the hook at the end of the handle make for a grip that you can hold onto without developing hot spots (as you can with the more aggressive diamond patterned Kraton that Cold Steel uses on its large carbon steel knives).

    [​IMG]

    Test 6. About 25 years ago, I managed a Cultery World store in Houston, TX. Several times a month, customers would come in with folding knives they had purchased from us that had the tip broken off from dropping it on concrete (they often brought the broken tip in and you could see that the knife had shattered from using a poor heat treat on a brittle stainless steel—not from using the knife as a screw driver). These knives were from a large, well recognized knife company and that particular model of folder was probably the most popular folder of its day. Therefore, my test here is to drop the largest of the knives tip first onto a concrete sidewalk: first from 3” and then from 6”. In the photo below the bottom blade has passed the test with only the barest dulling of the tip. The top blade is there for comparison. You can just about make out the difference in the photo.

    Test 7. Sharpening. I used three sharpening methods, a diamond dust coated rod, a ceramic rod and flat Norton stones-using a different method for each knife. As I expected with these carbon steel knives, the blades sharpened right up quickly and easily.

    If you liked knives such as Cold Steel’s Recon Scout, but feel that it’s too heavy to actually carry, you will appreciate the larger two knives from Ontario.
    And if you are looking for a good knife for pakal use, then the 3 ¾” bladed SP-41 would make a great choice.

    Finally, here’s the email Dan sent me regarding the design and construction of these knives. As you can see, he has put a great deal of thought and experience into them.

    Hi Bill,

    Here is some information about the Gen II Sec Plus line that are being made at Ontario. I was given complete control over the material, heat treatment and manufacturing process, so I took my 18 years of factory experience and, remembering all the failures I had seen in knives over that period, eliminated any processes that might damage the knife.

    1. Material- American made 5160 and not some unknown import of indifferent quality supplied by a large steel retailer. This stuff is made by WCI in the US and I had micros done so I could examine the material and it is very nice. I like 5160 because it is quite a bit tougher than the higher carbon steels (such as 1095) and is much more compatible to industrial style heat treatment. I also found the cutting ability comparable to higher carbon steels in my physical testing, contrary to what one might read in the literature.

    2. Water Jet Cutting- the blade blanks were cut out of the plate using a water jet cutter rather than a laser because I have seen many blades ruined by laser cutting. The laser leaves a heat effected zone around the perimeter of the blank which has a combination of melted steel, hardened steel and hardened and tempered steel which can cause cracking while the blanks are being cut and when heat treated.

    3. Stress Relief- I introduced a vacuum stress relief operation after cutting to eliminate any residual stress that might cause straightening or other problems due mainly to coil memory.

    4. Surface Grind- I had about 0.030" per side ground off to eliminate any possibility of problems from the hot rolled surface. I once had blades made of 5160 from a large steel retailer crack due to cracks in the surface of the material from the hot rolling process."

    5. Heat Treatment- I set the hardening temperatures, soak times, quench, snap temper and temper procedures based on my research/experimentation with this material. I heat treated blades in my shop, tested them and then had metallurgical analysis done of each procedure to document them. I also added the snap temper step to the factory heat treatment. This is an operation that I have never seen done in any other knife factory but one that I have always used in my own knife making and is common in commercial heat treatment plants. What it does is relieves some of the stresses of hardening before the clamp and temper operation and prevents any cracking of the blades while tempering. I also introduced heavy duty tempering racks which results in straighter blades which results in more consistent grinds.

    6. Grind- I supervise the grinding set ups and specify dimensions for the taper and edge thickness which results in functional blade geometries which can be repeated throughout the production.

    7. Laser Imprint- I have seen many blades damaged or destroyed by stamped imprints. When blades are powder coated they must be imprinted deeply and I have seen blades cracked by the imprint or weakened to the point that they crack in heat treatment. These blades are laser engraved which only really effects the powder coat.

    8. Sharpening- I trained the sharpeners at Ontario and they sharpen with two abrasive belts of different grits to refine the edge (the usual factory procedure uses one belt) and then a buff to remove the burr and further refine the edge.

    9. Designs- I tried to design these blades from a strictly functional perspective. The blades are fairly wide and flat ground to maximize cutting ability and are based on traditional designs with various functional aspects exaggerated. The SP-40 blade is based on the European "Alpine" knife, the SP-41 on the Skene Dhu and the SP 42 and 43 based on a variety of dirks.

    Regards,
    Dan

    Here are some retail links that carry the new Ontario Gen II knives:

    http://www.knifeoutlet.com/shop/10Expand.asp?ProductCode=ON8543

    http://www.knifecenter.com/kc_new/s...pec Plus Combat Knives&srch=bwSKUdatarq=on854

    http://www.knivesplus.com/ONTARIO-KNIVES-SPEC-PLUS.HTML
     
  2. TuhonBill

    TuhonBill New Member

    Knife photos

    I need to get this photo thing figured out. I'll try posting this again as a whole html file as see if that helps.

    Thanks,
    Tuhon Bill McGrath
     
  3. Looks like you might need to host them somewhere TuhonBill?

    Have you got a photobucket account? It's free and automatically generates the code you need. To post the pic you then hit the yellow icon that looks like an envelope with a mountain on and paste the "direct link" code from photobucket into there. (EDIT - or the .html file may work. Right now it's pointing to the images on your computer I think)

    I'm sure an admin can be of more help to you.

    Best of luck!

    Simon.
     
  4. arnisador

    arnisador Active Member

    You're authorized as a Supporting member to upload them...try using the Browse facility after storing them as .jpg files somewhere?
     
  5. Carol

    Carol <font color = blue><b>Technical Administrator</b><

    Please PM me if you need a hand with uploading the photos, Tuhon. I can walk you through it on Instant Messenger if you like.
     
  6. TuhonBill

    TuhonBill New Member

    Ontario Review w/ photos

    KNIFE REVIEWS

    ONTARIO KNIVES
    SPEC PLUS GEN II
    By Bill McGrath


    I’ve known custom knifemaker Dan Maragni for nearly twenty years. He is one of the most knowledgeable people in the industry (Dan’s the guy who got Cold Steel to bring out their Carbon V line when most cutlery companies were promoting stainless steel blades). Recently Dan has moved from his former job at Cold Steel to a position at Ontario Knives. His first project is a complete upgrading of Ontario’s Spec Plus line. This is an affordable line of using knives with carbon steel blades and Kraton rubber grips.
    Dan showed me some samples of the improved knives at the last New England Bladesmiths Guild seminar, where he and I are regular lecturers
    ( http://www.cashenblades.com/Ashokan.html )
    He recently sent me some of these knives for testing. Well, having now tested these knives I am quite impressed. Ontario will be offering large blades in this line with two different grinds. The flat grinds reviewed here (for maximum cutting ability) and longer camp blades with a saber grind for strength.

    Here are the knives I tested:
    The steel in all the blades is 5160, hardened to 54-55 on the Rockwell C scale. The handles are made from Kraton, a hard rubber-like polymer.

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]



    Top Left: SP-40 “Alpine” style blade (slight drop point) with aluminum butt cap (threaded on tang for strength).Overall length 8 ⅛”, blade length 3 ¾”, thickness 0.165”

    Bottom Left: SP-41 “Skene Dhu” style blade (elongated spear point) with aluminum butt cap (threaded on tang for strength).Overall length 8 ⅛”, blade length 3 ¾”, thickness 0.165”

    Top Right: SP-43 “Dirk” style blade. Overall length 13”, blade length 8”, blade thickness 3/16”

    Bottom Right: SP-42 “Dirk” style blade. Overall length 12”, blade length 7”, thickness 3/16”

    Here are some closeups of the blades.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
    General impressions:

    All blades are ground to a distal taper, which helps to lighten the blade and adds to its flexibility under stress. The knives come sharp enough to cleanly cut paper, but not quite shaving sharp. While the knives are of excellent quality for the price, the sheaths leave a lot to be desired. The larger sheaths are nylon with a plastic liner to keep the blade tip from poking through. However, the knives fit much too loosely in their quasi-military sheaths (they actually rattle audibly). As for the smaller knives, their sheaths are built from sheet metal in the back that wraps around the bottom of the nylon front. This should keep the tip from poking through on the 5” blades the sheaths were made for, but fall short on the 3 ¾” Gen II blades (but at least they don’t rattle). I think the smaller knives would do better in an entirely different type of sheath—perhaps a pouch type as one finds on Finnish punkos. Dan tells me he is planning a total revamp of the sheaths next year. In the meantime, those of you who know how easy it is to make a kydex sheath (like those who attended my knife making camp in 2007), can make a better version for your knife in about half an hour.

    [​IMG]

    The handles on the larger knives fill the hand nicely. This helps in connecting the knife to your hand, making one unit of the knife, your hand and your arm. This is important on lightweight knives since they don’t have the weight to carry through the target. However, with a good grip on these hand filling handles, you can transfer some of the weight of your arm into the target and make cuts as if you had a much heavier knife. I also liked the handles on the smaller knives, since they are long enough to fit even my wide paws.


    The Tests:

    I wanted to put these knives through realistic tests appropriate for their intended use, construction and price with an eye towards the needs of Pekiti-Tirsia practitioners. Here is what I came up with.

    [​IMG]

    Test 1. Cutting through clothing in a defensive situation is more difficult than cutting through skin or muscle. Therefore I took an old pair of jeans, stuffed them with a roll of newspaper, hung the jeans up, so that they could swing freely and hacked away. I tested both of the longer knives in this test and both easily made deep cuts nearly the full length of their blades.
    Test 2. Here I used the small knives to repeated stab the sidewalls on the top tire of my tire stack. This is a common PT knife training technique to develop the grip. It also tests the knife’s tip geometry and handle design. Both the SP-40 and SP-41 penetrated the tire easily without the handle slipping in my grip. One major thing I like about these knives is the length of the handle. Most knife makers seem to feel that a knife with a small blade looks better with a small handle. Well, my hand does not change in size when I use a small knife. I want a handle that fits my hand and even the handles on the smaller knives from Ontario do.

    Test 3. To test tip strength I stabbed all four knives into a seasoned 6” diameter oak log and then pried the tip out (oak is of similar density to bone).
    I tried this test on both the end and side grain and none of the blades broke or bent on this test.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    Test 4. The test medium here was a 4” diameter x ¼” thick cardboard tube from a carpet shop. I saw these tubes used in the class of Bando master Dr. Mung Gyi and liked the idea (and most carpet stores will give them to you for the asking). For this test I stood a cardboard tube up so that it was free standing and made a quick cut with each of the larger knives. Both bit deeply and held rather than sending the tube flying, as a blade with poor edge geometry would. I also stabbed each knife into the tube, with the same good penetration with the thin, pointed blades. Again, I wanted to see good penetration without sending the medium flying away and both knives did their job well.

    [​IMG]

    Test 5. Here I cut hardwood branches with the long knives. Each knife made deep cuts and held an edge well. The Kraton handles are well designed, the combination of grooves, the smooth area between them and the hook at the end of the handle make for a grip that you can hold onto without developing hot spots (as you can with the more aggressive diamond patterned Kraton that Cold Steel uses on its large carbon steel knives).

    [​IMG]

    Test 6. About 25 years ago, I managed a Cultery World store in Houston, TX. Several times a month, customers would come in with folding knives they had purchased from us that had the tip broken off from dropping it on concrete (they often brought the broken tip in and you could see that the knife had shattered from using a poor heat treat on a brittle stainless steel—not from using the knife as a screw driver). These knives were from a large, well recognized knife company and that particular model of folder was probably the most popular folder of its day. Therefore, my test here is to drop the largest of the knives tip first onto a concrete sidewalk: first from 3” and then from 6”. In the photo below the bottom blade has passed the test with only the barest dulling of the tip. The top blade is there for comparison. You can just about make out the difference in the photo.

    Test 7. Sharpening. I used three sharpening methods, a diamond dust coated rod, a ceramic rod and flat Norton stones-using a different method for each knife. As I expected with these carbon steel knives, the blades sharpened right up quickly and easily.

    If you liked knives such as Cold Steel’s Recon Scout, but feel that it’s too heavy to actually carry, you will appreciate the larger two knives from Ontario.
    And if you are looking for a good knife for pakal use, then the 3 ¾” bladed SP-41 would make a great choice.

    Finally, here’s the email Dan sent me regarding the design and construction of these knives. As you can see, he has put a great deal of thought and experience into them.

    Hi Bill,

    Here is some information about the Gen II Sec Plus line that are being made at Ontario. I was given complete control over the material, heat treatment and manufacturing process, so I took my 18 years of factory experience and, remembering all the failures I had seen in knives over that period, eliminated any processes that might damage the knife.

    1. Material- American made 5160 and not some unknown import of indifferent quality supplied by a large steel retailer. This stuff is made by WCI in the US and I had micros done so I could examine the material and it is very nice. I like 5160 because it is quite a bit tougher than the higher carbon steels (such as 1095) and is much more compatible to industrial style heat treatment. I also found the cutting ability comparable to higher carbon steels in my physical testing, contrary to what one might read in the literature.

    2. Water Jet Cutting- the blade blanks were cut out of the plate using a water jet cutter rather than a laser because I have seen many blades ruined by laser cutting. The laser leaves a heat effected zone around the perimeter of the blank which has a combination of melted steel, hardened steel and hardened and tempered steel which can cause cracking while the blanks are being cut and when heat treated.

    3. Stress Relief- I introduced a vacuum stress relief operation after cutting to eliminate any residual stress that might cause straightening or other problems due mainly to coil memory.

    4. Surface Grind- I had about 0.030" per side ground off to eliminate any possibility of problems from the hot rolled surface. I once had blades made of 5160 from a large steel retailer crack due to cracks in the surface of the material from the hot rolling process."

    5. Heat Treatment- I set the hardening temperatures, soak times, quench, snap temper and temper procedures based on my research/experimentation with this material. I heat treated blades in my shop, tested them and then had metallurgical analysis done of each procedure to document them. I also added the snap temper step to the factory heat treatment. This is an operation that I have never seen done in any other knife factory but one that I have always used in my own knife making and is common in commercial heat treatment plants. What it does is relieves some of the stresses of hardening before the clamp and temper operation and prevents any cracking of the blades while tempering. I also introduced heavy duty tempering racks which results in straighter blades which results in more consistent grinds.

    6. Grind- I supervise the grinding set ups and specify dimensions for the taper and edge thickness which results in functional blade geometries which can be repeated throughout the production.

    7. Laser Imprint- I have seen many blades damaged or destroyed by stamped imprints. When blades are powder coated they must be imprinted deeply and I have seen blades cracked by the imprint or weakened to the point that they crack in heat treatment. These blades are laser engraved which only really effects the powder coat.

    8. Sharpening- I trained the sharpeners at Ontario and they sharpen with two abrasive belts of different grits to refine the edge (the usual factory procedure uses one belt) and then a buff to remove the burr and further refine the edge.

    9. Designs- I tried to design these blades from a strictly functional perspective. The blades are fairly wide and flat ground to maximize cutting ability and are based on traditional designs with various functional aspects exaggerated. The SP-40 blade is based on the European "Alpine" knife, the SP-41 on the Skene Dhu and the SP 42 and 43 based on a variety of dirks.

    Regards,
    Dan

    Here are some retail links that carry the new Ontario Gen II knives:

    http://www.knifeoutlet.com/shop/10Ex...uctCode=ON8543

    http://www.knifecenter.com/kc_new/st...datarq%3Don854

    http://www.knivesplus.com/ONTARIO-KNIVES-SPEC-PLUS.HTML

    Regards,
    Tuhon Bill McGrath
     
  7. TuhonBill

    TuhonBill New Member

    Gen II Correction

    The distances used in the drop test were 3 feet and 6 feet, not inches (") as I had it in the article.

    Thanks,
    Tuhon Bill McGrath
     
  8. Carol

    Carol <font color = blue><b>Technical Administrator</b><

    Outstanding review!!
     
  9. Brian R. VanCise

    Brian R. VanCise Senior Member Supporting Member

    Yes, thanks for the review! [​IMG]
     
  10. Carol

    Carol <font color = blue><b>Technical Administrator</b><

    I never thought about cutting a cardboard tube (for cutting practice). That is a very interesting idea.

    I have to admit, I've been poking around some of the sites that sell Ontario Knives, and I've just been drooling! :D :D
     
  11. Shaun

    Shaun New Member

    Superb info.

    Many thanks Tuhon Bill for the in depth post and shared knowledge.
    I am already a fan of Ontario blades,but greatly appreciate you sharing the results of the testing that you have done.
     

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