December – What’s In Your Pocket?

by Tony Shepley,

Folding pen knives have been around since the 15th century and have served many purposes, including sharpening a lot of quill pens in the years leading up to the 1800’s. Blades became longer and jack knives became so popular throughout the world that in the 1880’s, all soldiers in the Swiss Army were issued pocket knives. Rifles had started to become more complicated and therefore needed more regular maintenance. The Swiss were the first to add a screwdriver to the basic pocket knife to make rifle repair and maintenance just that much easier in the field. Subsequent improvements lead to a so called Officer’s Knife which has a couple of blades, more tools, and an all-important corkscrew, in case a victory toast was in order.

Victorinox was the first producer of Swiss Army knives and was joined by a competitor a few years later. The diplomatic and neutral Swiss split their purchases between the two companies, but Victorinox became the company known for the Swiss Army knife and spawned the evolution of those early combat tools into 100+ different combinations of tools, blades, and accessories. Today they produce close to 10 million Swiss Army knives annually in Porrentruy, Switzerland. The most challenging Swiss Army knife to try to fit in your pocket is a 33-tool, blade and accessory knife appropriately called the Swisschamp.

Swiss Army knives have certainly evolved from early screwdriver/can opener/ knife blade models to include tooth picks, tiny pens, tweezers and more. As a member of a splinter-prone industry, I am never without my Swiss Army knife for all the repair and extraction efforts that go along with my job! It’s interesting to think of the features that may not have made the grade, and that frankly we may never know about. Necessity is the mother of invention, but continued need is what sustains the invention.

Thinking about the development of the pocket knife got me thinking about the fact that throughout our careers, we have listened to pitch after pitch about the next great breakthrough product that will supplant wood as the basic go-to product for residential construction. After 10,000 years of framing, trimming, and finishing with wood, we have learned that it’s not perfect, but nothing else is either and perhaps wood is the product that comes closest to perfect in terms of appearance, workability, strength per pound and its ability to hold a variety of finishes. Wood continues to hold onto its world championship title the way Victorinox dominates the category of red multipurpose pocket tools. Actually let’s make that multicolor, multipurpose tools as Victorniox has evolved its color offering along with its tool chest.

It’s almost amusing that many makers of composite materials these days still include wood fiber as part of the recipe. One of the most interesting evolutions of wood fiber is that a species that started in California is grown in other places round the world, most notably New Zealand and Chile. Radiata pine is the species and it is a very fast growing, open-celled wood that is plantation grown. Trees, just like fine wine producing grapevines, like specific soils and climates and although California is good, New Zealand takes first place with Chile coming in second. Besides having the specific climates that work well for growing Radiata pine, the New Zealanders have led the way in taming Radiata pine to make it a superior building product. Fast growing, open-celled wood is not usually known for its stability, but through the process of proper growing, milling, machining, kiln drying, and pressure treating Radiata pine (with a Light Organic Solvent Based Preservative—LOSP  for short), we have figured out how to make Radiata boards flat, straight, stable, and very resistant to insects and decay. We have a lot of experience with Radiata pine, but one brand has stood our test of time far better than any other.

Bodyguard brand “engineered trim boards” from New Zealand have out-performed every other pine product we have tested in the last 13 years. We import Bodyguard directly from New Zealand and have it made and finished to our specification. Instead of simply priming it, we have it primed and top coated, just the way we would on the most challenging job in the worst part of the year. We give a warranty not only on the wood itself, but on the labor to replace and re-paint any Bodyguard that may have issues. The Bodyguard warranty department and the Victorinox service department are fraternal twins to the Maytag repairman. They both get very little practice.

Our favorite marketing words in America are “new” and “improved”, but sometimes the test of time is the best and fairest test of all. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to salute two products, Swiss Army knives and Bodyguard, that stand head and shoulders above the many who would love to say they’re just as good. Why get a copy, when you can have the original?


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