How tough is titanium?
This is a question I asked myself recently. A metal named for its extreme properties after the Titans of Greek mythology. Stronger and lighter than steel, and corrosion resistant on top of that. Asking myself this question made me realize how easy it is for a designer to lose feeling with the materials of the objects we design. I mostly design on the computer these days; a virtual space in which I can cut bars of steel in half with a few mouse clicks. The realization that the only way to truly answer the question is by experiencing it, led to this project. I decided to create a small titanium object, without the use of computers. Just me, my hands and my tools.
For inspiration I studied the ancient Japanese culture of knife and sword making. The Tidashi design is based on the Kiridashi-Kogatana: a traditional Japanese utility knife. It is an elegant and deceptively simple design, with its relatively long handle and short cutting edge. In Japan this tool is still relied upon for making accurate cuts or markings on wood. The Tidashi is a small tool, but its design allows you to exert excellent control over its cutting tip, accurately executing everyday cutting tasks. I find it especially suited for opening boxes, because the short blade design prevents you from penetrating the box too deeply and damaging its content.
Another Japanese knife making technique applied in the Tidashi knife is the fusion of different metals in a single knife, bringing out the best properties of each. Titanium is an extremely tough material and in my exploration of its toughness I have ruined many a saw. However, tough is not the same as hard. A cutting edge needs to be hard, and among the hardest metals known to man is tungsten. I therefore fused a thin layer of this extremely hard metal to the cutting edge of the Tidashi. The result is a knife with the toughness and lightness of Titanium, but with the hardness of tungsten carbide precisely where needed. The tungsten carbide is only embedded on one side of the blade. The reason for this is a principle often applied in self sharpening knives: as the relatively softer titanium wears away through normal use, the thin and sharp edge of the tungsten carbide is exposed more, creating a fresh cutting edge.
Another unusual and rather magical property of titanium is that it naturally develops a hard wearing layer of titanium oxide. By skillfully applying heat, this natural process can be exaggerated and the layer of oxide can be grown to greater thicknesses. The thickness of the layer affects the way light is reflected of the knife, resulting in an amazing array of colors. A consistent thickness is hard to achieve, and so far I have managed to master creating an even gold colored layer. I personally like the rainbow variation of this anodized coating for its unpredictability (it fits the dogma of the project of relinquishing absolute control over the design).
The Tidashi comes in a few variations. The brushed version shows the titanium in its raw and grey appearance, as some people know it. This version has a tough and utilitarian look to it. The polished version is perhaps the most neutral looking. The high polish gives a clean and crisp look to the knife. The polished gold colored version is very classy looking, and in my opinion this variation of the knife could almost pass as a piece of jewelry. The polished rainbow colored version is the most playful of them all. The coloring is slightly unpredictable and differs from knife to knife. The result is a one of a kind finish on each knife, reflecting the spirit of the project and the fact that each knife is hand made by me.
Around your neck or on your keychain
One of the strengths of a good tool has very little to do with the tool itself. A good tool is only useful when you have it with you when you need it. I specifically created the Tidashi to be of a diminutive size, so that you can carry it with you at all times. I also designed a system which allows you to either carry it as a highly functional necklace, or less noticeably as a keychain. The sheath of the knife itself is made of a heat stable silicone material, which means that the knife should not accidently slide out when, for example, left in the sun. It comes in either white or black, to best match your choice of finish on the knife. The cord to which the sheath is attached (and which can be easily replaced by the supplied key ring) is made of a resilient Paracord, able to resist a pulling force of 95 lbs. It comes in various colors to compliment the different finishes of the knives, and the colors of the sheaths.
Handcrafted in America
I expected this project to help me understand what the properties of such a tough material as titanium really feel like when handled. I hoped it would make me more aware of material properties in general and thus make me a more aware and better designer. I can now say that it certainly has fulfilled those expectations, but something else has come from it. Something I had not given much thought before. This project taught me what it means to put love and pride into crafting something by hand. In making these knives I experienced the sensation of transferring more that the knife itself to its future owner. I truly believe that knowing how, where and by whom your Tidashi is made will give you at least some of the pride and satisfaction I felt when creating it.
Risks and challenges
There are not too many risks involved in the successful execution of this project. Unlike my previous projects, there are very few parts to consider. I have already established contacts with the suppliers of the materials and parts. Regardless of how many orders I would need to fulfill, I am sure I would have no problem doing so. However, my time is the bottleneck, and since I will be making every single one by hand, there is a possibility of some delay. I intend to keep everyone up to date on the progression of the project and any windfalls or hick-ups.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (35 days)