I’m a gun guy. Like most “gun guys”, I tend to focus mostly on guns, with mild amusement found in other forms of self-defense tools. Most “other than guns” items I have come across barely get me to raise an eyebrow, let alone warrant spreading the word among my friends, let alone spreading the word via the internet. However, a few months ago, I came across a custom knife maker who was enough different than others that not only did it catch my eye, intrigue my curiosity, and help lighten my wallet; but it has also proven to be quite functional in my layered protection program. At last count, I had somewhere around 30-40 high end folding knives, another 10-15 fixed blade field knives, and at least 5-10 small fixed blades for concealed carry. Of those, no less than 5 are full custom knives by some of the bigger names in knife making today. Still, none were really so unique as to urge me to spread the word about them.
Special Circumstances, Inc., like many custom shops today, is a one man custom knife shop. Owned and operated by Ian Wendt, SCI is a true solo operation. Ian takes great pride in his work, and his “100% hand-made” approach to building his unique line of knives and related gear. When he says “hand-made”, he means it. No power tools in this shop! While he has plenty of templates to work from, due to his meticulous insistence on “hand-made”, no two knives will be exactly alike. Of course, being a “custom” shop, your imagination will also ensure no two knives will be exactly alike.
I was introduced to SCI knives by a friend who had just received his SCI custom version of the newly designed and released “Maleficus”. One look and I saw the knife was a little out of the ordinary (granted, I am not the best authority about “out of the ordinary” knives) Regardless, I was hooked, and with a few e-mails and a phone call to Ian Wendt, my build was off and running.
Back to the beginning: Special Circumstances, Inc., the brainchild of Ian Wendt, began circa 2005-2006 while Ian was “lusting” after the Warren Thomas blades, which were the first he had seen made out of a carbon fiber/Titanium laminate. Necessity being the mother of invention; Ian realized that the only way he would be able to afford such an exotic piece would be to build one himself. Ian’s love of knives and fine cutlery began at age ten when he received his first “Butterfly” knife as a birthday gift from his father, with which he openly admits “I promptly cut myself with.” He built his first kit knife at age 15, and continued to build a variety of knives over the years, a love that would eventually turn into Special Circumstances, Inc. It was somewhat of an afterthought to turn his love of knives and knife making into a business building knives for others, but one that has proven to fill a gap in the knife world, demonstrated by his wait/build time which is currently 4-6 months. It has been my experience that custom products with a wait time are usually worth the wait! SCI knives are no exception.
After building his first CF/Ti knife for himself, he was determined to make the strongest knife he could out of those materials. Spending an inordinate amount of time testing and researching the various bonding methods, he finally settled on a 3M product which allows his knives to remain lightweight, yet maintaining the strength for which Ti and carbon fiber are known. Knowing that many of his end users are armed professionals, compromise on strength and construction methods was not an option.
When I asked Ian “Why the composite and unique materials? What are the advantages? Are there any disadvantages?” His answer was such that I figured I had better quote his response in order to do him justice, and not let me butcher his response with my uneducated paraphrasing.
“To be perfectly honest, I’m a nerd. I have always loved Sci-Fi and there’s little more Sci-Fi than carbon fiber and Titanium when it comes to knives. The Warren Thomas knives fascinated me because they were unique and when I started researching the actual properties of the materials, they became even more attractive from the perspective of a daily-carry knife meant primarily for defensive purposes. That being said, I’ve taken the concept even a little further and I have made a ceramic and carbon fiber laminate knife. Completely non-metallic and able to keep an edge for a long time. Perfect for a non-permissive environment. And that’s really what my design philosophy revolves around. A defensive tool that conceals easily, carries easily and is largely maintenance free. No need to worry about corrosion and they’re so light that you just don’t notice them, even after carrying them for an entire day. The low-signature materials even make electronic detection trickier, which again, for use in an NPE, that’s pretty important.
Now, the disadvantages are definitely something to keep in mind. Contrary to most people’s thinking, Titanium is quite soft. A decent steel blade will get up in the high 50s, low 60s of Rockwell C hardness. Titanium, even the best, most exotic Titanium rarely gets higher than the low 40s. What that means for the end user is that the edge will tend to not last very long at all. Titanium is just too damn soft. Now, I alleviate that issue somewhat by embedding Tungsten Carbide into the edge. Similar to the way it works on steel blades, the softer Titanium gets worn away by use and exposes the Tungsten Carbide crystals, so you get a kind of micro-serrated edge. Now, I’m kind of anal-retentive, so most of my knives will end up with an edge that will still take the hairs off your arm, but even so, I’d still never recommend one of my knives for general utility purposes. Light duty cutting of cord, paper, meat, etc., absolutely. They do naughty things to flesh and that’s what they’re really meant for. But if the customer is looking for something to dig, chop, or pry with, I tell them to go buy something steel.
I elected for a custom spin on Ian’s Xerxes design, with a full blade on the bottom portion, and the blade running about ½ up on the top portion. Fit, finish, and sharpness were perfect, as one would expect from a higher end knife. The knife also comes with a custom built kydex sheath, with some unique and useful features. The first being the mounting method; using two double strand bungee cords, the knife can be mounted to a variety of belts, equipment, and in a variety of carry directions. The second useful feature on the sheath is a small piece of rubber attached, to ensure the knife stays put where you want it. Being made to fit the exact knife it is built for, the sheath fits and functions perfectly. A G10 handle, aggressively textured provides a non-slip gripping surface. I was a little apprehensive about the bungee mounting system, but after daily carry in some pretty rugged conditions, I am sold. The package is lightweight, easily concealable, easily accessible, and most of all comfortable. “You’ll almost forget it is there” is a phrase I have heard used to describe lots of carry items, guns, and holsters. This is one where the end result certainly lives up to the hype!
I have had my Special Circumstances, Inc. knife for about six weeks now, and normally I would not consider that to be enough time to really wring out an item for evaluation purposes. However, all but 2 days of the evaluation period have been spent putting the knife to the test while subjecting it to some of the harshest terrain and conditions available. And while I promised Ian I would not use it as a GP knife for the reasons he mentions above, I have found myself using it for everything from dressing/preparing meals, to light cutting tasks such as 550 cord, tape, nylon straps, and heavy cloth. Given that the SCI knife has endured more use in the six weeks I have used it than most daily carry knives will see in a year, I feel confident it has seen enough use for me to make an educated assessment.
Prices on SCI knives start from $100-150 and it goes up from there. “Sky’s the limit!” as Ian says. My specimen ran $400, and while it started from a template knife he builds on a regular basis, there was enough customization to run a few extra dollars. Typical wait time is currently 4-6 months, depending on the knife, availability of materials, and Ian’s work load. Like many one man shops, his is not a full time job, so patience is necessary. Still, his passion for building top quality knives is apparent, as many of the updates he provided me via email came in at hours most “normal” people wouldn’t dream of keeping.
My SCI Xerxes has become my “go to” carry knife for defensive purposes. No, it is not a GP knife, though it can handle some light GP chores. It’s not cheap, but quality rarely is. Still, given the wide variety of options I have sitting in the safe, to have a relative newcomer steal the place for the knife on my belt says a lot about SCI and Ian Wendt’s knives.
For more info check out Ian’s Facebook page (Special Circumstances Inc.) or his website at http://specialcircumstancesinc.blogspot.com . For specific questions not answered on Facebook or his blog, or to place an order, Ian can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.