Chapter Four – Never Trust Your Suppliers

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The choppers actually made it to George’s workshop in the end, but we had a hard time making that happen

Product management is a bitch. You gotta provide everything for the development team, motivate your people, report to your boss, meet deadlines and then pay attention to things you could never imagine go wrong. Like, the steel sheet that you ordered is not flat.
But we’re just three dudes from Budapest and we know nothing about product management, so we made a lot of beginners’ mistakes – and paid the price. But let’s start at the beginning.

The material
We had to choose a material for the blades.  As we mentioned earlier, we wanted to make no compromises, so our material of choice would have excellent toughness and edge holding capacity, not to mention at least moderate corrosion resistance. This narrowed the list to one choice: Uddeholm Sleipner. The Sleipner is popular among custom knifemakers throughout Europe for its toughness and good wear resistance and the experience that it needs little care in the wild. We hit the phone and the Hungarian distributor told us that it had 4.2mm thick Sleipner sheet, so we made an order for a piece. Things couldn’t go any smoother.

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Is “weathering” the Sleipner stock a common practice at Uddeholm? No idea, but this is gonna take some time to grind out

A few weeks later, our order arrived and was put in a temporary storage place. There was nothing to do when later we saw that it was heavily corroded and badly bent. We could have requested a replacement, but that would have taken several more weeks to arrive and we wanted to send the sheet to the cutter as soon as possible. We straightened the sheet as good as we could and cut it up so everyone had their own piece to work with.

Why water cut?

When the craftsman doesn’t want to cut sheet metal himself, he basically has two options. He can have his pieces laser cut, or if that doesn’t work, find a water jet cutter and place his order there. These two methods are different in nearly all aspects.

Water jet cutting utilizes the impulse of a high pressure water jet to drive abrasive powder to the sheet metal. This jet easily abrades the material, making about a millimeter wide gap wherever it goes. It cuts nearly anything from plexiglass to hard ceramics. Since there is no heat buildup, this is the safe way to go when working with hardenable or previously heat treated materials, like hardened aluminum. Its drawbacks compared to laser cutting are wider tolerances, higher price and the fact that a decent water jet cutter is hard to come by these days.

Laser cutting (with a few exceptions) can be applied only for metals, except aluminum and copper. It is cheaper and easier to find compared to water jet cutting, but a huge drawback of the technology is that the laser beam leaves a heat affected zone, not to mention a thin hardened layer on tool steels. Although this can be ground off, a glass-like surface is far from a safe bet. We only had one shot, so we didn’t want to experiment here – we found a water jet cutter and went with that.

The Cut

After arranging everything, we delivered the sheets along with the plans for water jet cutting to Woldem Ltd. Since George and Peter were in a slight delay, the crew decided to send Matt’s plan first and use it to fine tune the planning process. We only realized how good idea that was when Matt took a closer look at his blade upon its arriving – it was shorter by at least ten per cent. What the hell – now this is a rare phenomenon.

As it turned out, something went wrong with the .svg to .dxf conversion at Woldem and a random scaling feature was introduced in the process that everyone would have been better off without. George had a rather lowering phone call with the company’s engineer but in the end, they accepted to re-cut Matt’s stuff at their own cost, material included (anyway, did we mention that Sleipner costs about 10 times as much as 440C?).

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Matt’s stuff along with some widgets

Although Woldem did a good job in the past, this recent experience pretty much discouraged us. We set out to find a better supplier, and it didn’t take much time to find a place nearby, Tellus Ltd. The beat up old factory establishment on the edge of the city, the constant humming of industrial fans, the smell of coffee, the IKEA furniture, the occasional turn up of a dirt covered worker make one believe that all the production firms are the same in Hungary. Still, Tellus surprised us with its excellent customer service, fast delivery and reasonable cost. When George arrived to pick up his piece, the engineer told him that it had been cut with their brand new 5D jet cutter with almost no draft (draft is inevitable with classic water jet cutting technology). Peter is still fiddling with his design, but we expect the same results. Hell yeah.

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George’s chopper, freshly cut and ready for grinding

All of the above could have been done in half the time, but we simply had no experience in this depth. At least now it seems that we found a good water jet cutter, so things seem to get easier in the future.

And the moral of the story? Maybe it could be that trust is an expensive capital. Make one bad move and it’s gone, then things are going to get tough. The crew at Cerberus understands that companies do a heroic fight to keep down their prices, but that can easily backfire if they let go of quality as well. That’s one of the reasons that we decided to make knives after all. We make no compromises and accept none.

In the meantime, George is working hard to finish the almighty belt grinder so the blade blanks can be machined properly. More of that later.

Before we finish, let’s speak about the feedback that we got about our projects. Apart from some random trolling, we got a lot of useful critique about the design, and it seems that some things need to be clarified. We don’t do this project to make ordinary stuff for ordinary work, and we’re aware that the results may not necessarily end up on the practical side. We’re fine with this. After all, we wanted a chopper/machete/cleaver/however you want to call it device for a theoretical combat/survival situation.

For all the people who watch the project unfold, please continue to send your feedback, because you make this worth doing. And for all the trolls, please never give up. It would be so much less fun without you. See you next time!

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