I have never been a pocket-knife person. One of those guys who, when the car engine stops, whips out a knife and fixes the fouled spark plugs.
Other than opening a soda bottle or punching a hole in my belt, I can't recall ever doing anything constructive with a pocket knife.
Yet recently I have invested a considerable amount of time examining, buying, and repairing pocket knives.
That is because my kids have been struck with a bad case of pocket-knife envy.
It started last summer when two "Swiss Army" knives entered the household.
I use the term Swiss loosely. These knives had the red handles, and the 22,000 folding accessories that like the knives carried by the guys in the Swiss army, who come to think of it are the guys who guard the pope. But these particular knives did not come from Switzerland.
They came from China. No doubt they were made by a Swiss Army battalion vacationing in China, and that is why these knives were so cheap. At least that is what I told the kids.
My kids didn't seem to care much about the origin of the knives. They just wanted to be sure that these knives had more folding gadgets than the ones carried around by their buddies. Early in the going my kids had the lead in the neighborhood pocket-knife-accessories battle, because their knives had tweezers.
Things were going along fine on the knife front until the kids attempted to use rather than count the fold-out knife tools. The scissors would cut, but only very cooperative string. The screwdriver would screw, and the tweezers would tweeze, but neither did either with conviction.
Then the tools began drooping. Instead of crisply folding back into the body of the knife in an East-West position, the Phillips screwdriver attachment developed an uncontrollable longing for the South. No matter how many times I forced the tool into its proper East-West position, it would inevitably slide loose and point toward Dixie.
Part of the problem was that our family was not practicing proper pocket-knife maintenance procedures. I had not, for instance, oiled the hinges of the knife with drops of oil from the bottom of empty containers of 10W-40 motor oil cans. Nor had I used a natural Arkansas stone or a 180-grit emery cloth to sharpen the blades.
There were two reasons this did not happen. First, I want my kids to have dull knife blades, not sharp ones. With sharp blades they end up slicing away parts of themselves. Secondly, I had no idea what proper pocket knife maintenance procedures were until the other day when I read a chapter in the "Home Hardware Handbook" (Fireside, 1989, $11.95) titled "The Care and Feeding of the Swiss Army Knife."
It was there that I picked up the tip about oiling the hinges of the knife. Since the blade of a Swiss Army Knife is stainless steel, the oil doesn't protect it against rust, but does make the knife much easier to open.
The book also gave me a brief lesson in the pros and cons of having your blade made of stainless steel versus carbon steel. Stainless is more difficult to sharpen, but resists rust and holds its edge longer. A carbon blade tarnishes but is easy to sharpen. And finally the book said that that hardness of knife steel is measured on the Rockwell C (Rc) scale and that any knife with a rating between Rc57 and Rc59 has a good blade.
It would have been helpful to have this information with me when I went back to knife store with my older son to buy yet another pocket knife.
Growing up as one of four boys has taught me to ignore most skirmishes between my sons. But this one was unusual. One of the combatants, an 11-year-old, made a plea for reparations. His knife had been damaged, deliberately and irreparably, by his younger brother. The older brother felt he deserved some compensation. The younger brother, who thanks to his generous grandparents and frugal spending habits has more cash on hand than any other member of the family, agreed to cough up a few bucks for damages.
I was amazed that the kids agreed so readily to this solution. And I was worried that this idea of reparations for deliberately damaged possessions could be the first in a never-ending series of claims for damages. Yet everyone seemed pleased.
And so last Saturday, as the 11-year-old accompanied me around town on my chores, we stopped at an outdoors store, H&H Surplus & Campers Haven at Franklin and Eutaw streets, to buy a replacement knife.
With his pooled funds, a few bucks from his younger brother and few bucks from his allowance, the 11-year-old bought a new pocket knife.
It has fewer accessories than its predecessor, but the new knife appears to be sturdier. The man who sold it to us said it was a Scout knife. It was made, no doubt, by Boy Scouts visiting China.