C01 Worker

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The C01 worker is the first pocket knife produced by Spyderco. As it's the first knife, we will dwell a little on all the other firsts this knife features, and its impact on the entire knife industry.

In modern history, certain knife designs represented the solution to the cutting challenges of their time. Up until the late 19th century, the fixed blade knife, perhaps epitomised in the United States by the Bowie knife, was such a paradigm. From then until the late 20th century, the folder gradually came into its own; the Swiss Army models may represent the height of the folder's development in terms of mechanical refinement. In the late 20th century, however, a significant paradigm shift took place wherein the one-hand-opening, serrated-edge folder with clothing clip became the solution. It remains so today.

The first CLIPIT, the Worker Model, was introduced in prototype form at the 1981 SHOT Show in New Orleans, and caused hardly a ripple of interest. It was a prototype made for Sal by Jim Oddo. The first production models were made by a Japanese maker, which would become Spyderco's largest Japanese supplier, and they were sold at the Texas State Fair. Most were sold to fellow exhibitors at the fair. (I saw this model pictured in a knife newspaper a few years later and found it unremarkable, so I can take no credit for having recognized its worth and impending stardom from the first.)

Externally, this new knife looked very different from other folding knives at the time. The Worker had a hump on the blade to accommodate an opening hole, and a spring clip attached to one of the scales, allowing to user to carry the knife clipped to the edge of a pocket. Some people called the knife ugly, but those who used it, appreciated its innovations and soon put the question of looks aside as secondary. In time, people came to love its looks because it represented a knife that fulfilled so many of their needs - needs they hadn't even known they had, because no-one had ever addressed them.

The Original CLIPIT Patent: Key Features

Because the Worker was the vanguard of the entire CLIPIT line, we will focus at some length on its key features, many of which I define by quoting directly from the U.S. Patent.

Front Lock

"Blade-locking mechanism located so as to fall under the user's thumb when holding the knife for use, actuated by a leaf spring that bears against the lock to provide tension and also bias the blade closed...."[1]

The front lock is hardly new. The German knife company Böker has been using a front lock since about 1903, but the lock's origin may be a century or more earlier. The front lock was popularized in the second half of the 20th century by the late custom maker Harvey McBurnette. The concept of the front lock was never patented. McBurnette introduced the front lock to Oregon knife designer Al Mar, who began using it on his knives in the 1970s. Sal obtained permission from Al Mar to use the front lock design and to include it in his patent application for the C01 Worker.

There have been several types of blade locks for folding knives. The back lock has been very popular; representative samples include the Buck Model 110 Folding Hunter and Schrade Uncle Henry folders. Back and front locks differ chiefly in the length of the locking bar, and the location on the handle where one presses to unlock the blade. Here, "front" means closer to part of the handle where the blade pivots, while "back" means farther away from the pivot and blade, and closer to the back-end of the handle. The back lock has two disadvantages:

  • Safety dictates the use of two hands to close it: one to hold the handle and operate the lock, and one to close the blade under control. Although it is possible to design around this two-handed closing operation with a back lock, very few have bothered to do so.
  • The blade must never be pushed into the handle when closed, or allowed to drop closed under the returning force of the lock, because its edge is likely to contact the inside of the handle and sustain damage. This handicap is not a manufacturing defect; it is inherent in all current back-lock designs. A custom maker told me he has seen back-lock folders costing several hundreds of dollars and more that have copper or ivory stops for the blade to hit - awkward gimmickry on otherwise very fine knives.

The McBurnette/Mar front lock completely solves both of these problems. The kick (a downward protrusion of the choil just before the edge begins) contacts the spring at, or behind, the lock pivot which prevents contact between the edge and any part of the inside of the handle. Not only can the thumb easily disengage the lock, but the blade can even be allowed to snap closed into the handle under the force of the lock without any risk of harming the edge. With a little practice, this simple rapid one-hand closing procedure can be executed without having to look at the knife. This will be described in detail later in this section.

The front lock may be somewhat more resistant to unintentional unlocking because in use, the rear part of the lock (which is pressed to unlock it) tends to fall in the gap between the thumb and forefinger. No lock of this type, however - front or back in design - is immune to unintentional unlocking by the pressure of the user's hand, and no designer can completely predict how a user will grip his knife. In addition, given sufficient force, a piece of the locking lug or blade tang could be broken off which defeats the lock. Of course, manufacturers could use massive springs or locking mechanisms to keep the lock engaged - and compromise both portability and usability of being able to easily open and close the knife.

Although the front lock is reliable and easy to operate, the ultimate source of safety is the knife user. With time and sufficient force any lock can wear out and fail.

One-Hand Opening

"...an enlarged portion of the blade providing a depression that can be engaged by the user's thumb to open the blade one-handedly...."[1]

The wording of the patent is meant to include any type of depression in the blade designed to engage the fleshy part of the thumb. A hole is just a special example depressions on each side of the blade that meet in the middle. Whether implemented as a hole or merely depressions, this feature's main advantage is that it provides one-handed operation of the blade. Blades with holes are not new, but prior to the CLIPIT, none of those holes were ever designed or used to lever the knife open with one hand. Holes in blades have traditionally been used for decoration, to reduce weight, or to offer an additional tool feature such as a wrench. For example, the U.S. Army M9 bayonet involves a hole in the blade that mates to a peg in the sheath to create a wire-cutter.

False Edge

"...a second, shortened cutting edge on the top of the blade...."[1]

The secondary edge is also called a "false edge" because it might look like a secondary cutting surface, it doesn't actually feature a sharpened edge. Knife designers sometimes remove metal from the back of the blade near the tip to lighten the blade and alter the balance of the knife, or to enhance penetration. In this case, the Worker's edge is actually sharpened, albeit with a somewhat wider bevel than that of the main edge. When the Worker is closed, this edge drops below the scales, protecting the hands. The user must lift the blade slightly out of the handle to bring it into use. Sal explains:

"I gave it a sharp false edge because that allowed you to open the knife just a little bit and use the sharpened false edge to cut something like a piece of string or a piece of tape. Again, I was trying to produce a very efficient high performance or what we call high speed low drag folder that you could carry anywhere."

The Police, Renegade and Native Models, plus others, have a similar treatment on the backs of their blades, but this is called a swedge rather than a false edge. With regard to the length of this blade, Sal says:

"I was really concerned about legalities, even at that time, and after much thought I came to the conclusion that knife under 3 inches would not be intimidating. And (it) would allow a person to carry a knife legally even though it had certain features, such as opening the knife with one hand or the easy access of the clip."

Clothing Clip

"...a clip mounted on the handle which can be used to support the knife from the edge of a pocket opening, or a belt...."[1]

The clothing clip, explains Sal, is an idea he adapted from another product:

"The clip idea came from a key ring I had, that had a little frog and a chain attached to it. The frog would sit up on the edge of your pocket, with the head and two feet dangling out of the pocket. The key chain would be attached to the frog. It was a great idea because it allowed you to pull the keys out of your pocket without having to reach down into the pocket. I carried that frog for some time and was always impressed with the ease of accessibility. I finally put two and two together and decided to put a clip on the side of a pocket knife to provide the same access."

The clip was mounted so as to carry the knife with its closed blade pointing down, or tip down. The springiness of the clip held the knife securely, ready for deployment with one hand.

An additional advantage of the clip, which is only obvious once one has used the knife, is to provide an extra gripping surface for the hand, both when opening the knife (preventing rotation of the handle in the hand) and when using it.

Solving Real Problems

As stated in the patent, the CLIPIT design solved the following problems:

"...knife creating wear/holes in pocket, with ultimate loss of contents, leading to carrying smaller, lighter knives to minimize or delay the onset need to use two hands to bring knife into use, and the attendant need to visually inspect the knife in order to operate the blade need to use two hands to close the knife and return it to its pre-deployment position having only one cutting edge on the blade having only one cutting edge on the blade..."[1]

The first knives Spyderco produced changed the knife industry as we know it today. The knives with their opening holes, clothing clips and balance between fit and finish, made other long established manufacturers take a long hard look at their own products. It wasn't long before other knife makers adopted Sal's ideas.

For many knife aficionados, the Worker is a special knife. Not only is it the first knife produced by Spyderco, it also presented new practical features that influenced the entire knife industry, but it also was the knife that started many people's interest in Spyderco knives. Many users indicate that the one-handed opening feature has been the most important quality of the Worker. Being able to draw and open you pocket knife with one-hand proved to be practical in everyday life, and lifesaving in emergencies.

(The complete patent can be viewed here: File:Original Worker patent US4347665.pdf)

Appearance in catalogs

Designer

Sal Glesser

First prototype handmade by Jim Oddo[2] and Sal Glesser

History, mentionings from the forums etc.

Some information from Sal Glesser posted on the Spyderco forums:

The C01 "Worker" model was introduced in October of 1981 at the Texas State Fair in Dallas.[3]

Information from the Spyderco catalog on the web

Variations

Some of the variations will be dealt with in a little more in-depth manner here, as opposed to in the table, due to their history or other things which make them stand out.

  • C01 Worker from an early run, with Sakai Markings instead of Spyderco on the blade:

As far as the Sakai CLIPIT Worker goes, Sakai is our main maker in Seki City. When we first started making knives with him we didn't know all of their normal practices. After we had done two or three runs of the CLIPIT model we received by accident, several pieces that came in with our product that was stamped with the Sakai brand. Investigation revealed that it was a normal policy for Japanese makers to recreate customer designs and sell them in the domestic market under their own name. We explained to Mr. Yuhei Sakai that this is not an acceptable practice, that we did have intellectual property on our models and that we would prefer that there were no other variations with no other names out there. He complied and didn't make any more. Since G. Sakai is our Japanese distributor, he also sells Spyderco brand in the domestic Japanese market at this time.[4] [5]

  • Zowada Worker from the evolution edition: this knife was offered in the Spyderco worker evolution set. For many years, it was the only Spyderco with a Damascus blade. The blade was handmade by famous custom knife maker Tim Zowada who also designed the Spyderco C56 Tim Zowada.

From an e-mail by Tim Zowada: I made the steel for the Evolution edition which was sent to Japan for blanking, grinding and heat treating. The steel was a lamination of W2 and ASTM203E.

The Zowada worker also has a special clip with Kraton onlay and Kraton inlays in the handle


Variations of the C01 Worker

SKU Handle Edge Steel From/To MSRP Note Number made Grind Clip Clip positions Collectors club
1001R Stainless Steel PE GIN-1/G-2 1981-1982? $ 39.95 (1982) Original SKU, this is the first knife made by Spyderco. All two-screw clipped Workers were PE, and did not have a Lanyard hole. The handles were unbevelled and the Swedge was sharpened on these. Both LH and RH models were available. Thin handle slabs. 960 Hollow grind 2-screw clip RH TD N/A
1001L Stainless Steel PE GIN-1/G-2 1981-1982? $ 39.95 (1982) Original SKU, this is the first knife made by Spyderco. All two-screw clipped Workers were PE, and did not have a Lanyard hole. The handles were unbevelled and the Swedge was sharpened on these. Both LH and RH models were available. Thin handle slabs. 240 [6] Hollow grind 2-screw clip LH TD N/A
1001 Stainless Steel PE GIN-1/G-2 ? ? SAKAI Worker, with Sakai markings. See text above. One run, 600? Hollow grind 2-screw clip Right hand tip-down N/A
1001 Stainless Steel PE SE GIN-1/G-2 1983-? $44.95 (1986) Next generation worker, thicker handle slab on clip side, beveled edges on handle. Both LH and RH models available. 8000 RH, 2000 LH Hollow grind 3- screw old standard clip Right hand tip-down N/A
C01SBK Stainless Steel SE GIN-1/G-2 1991?-? ? Black titanium carbo-nitride coating ? Hollow grind 3- screw old standard clip Right hand tip-down N/A
C01SATU Tufram coated Aluminum SE GIN-1/G-2 1993?-? Black Tuffram coated Aluminum ? Hollow grind 3- screw old standard clip Right hand tip-down N/A
C01S Stainless Steel SE GIN-1/G-2 1994-1997(?) $99.95 (1994) 3rd generation had thicker scales on both sides Number made Hollow grind 3- screw old standard clip Right hand tip-down N/A
C01S Stainless Steel SE ATS-55 1997-? ? The transition from Gin-1 to ATS-55 happened around '97 or '98 Number made? Hollow grind 3- screw old standard clip Right hand tip-down N/A
Stainless Steel PE GIN-1/G-2 ? ? Number made Hollow grind 2-screw clip Right hand tip-down N/A
Stainless Steel PE GIN-1/G-2 ? ? Number made Hollow grind 2-screw clip Right hand tip-down N/A
Stainless Steel PE GIN-1/G-2 ? ? Number made Hollow grind 2-screw clip Right hand tip-down N/A
Stainless Steel PE GIN-1/G-2 ? ? Number made Hollow grind 2-screw clip Right hand tip-down N/A
Stainless Steel PE GIN-1/G-2 ? ? Number made Hollow grind 2-screw clip Right hand tip-down N/A
C01GPGR Dark green G-10 PE VG-10 2014 $279.95 (2014) Sprintrun 1500 Hollow grind Chrome hourglass 4-way clip LH/RH TD/TU Variant

Most collectible variation

Questions regarding collecting the C01

Technical information

Typical measurements (mm and grams) of the C01 Worker:

SKU Length overall Length closed Hole Ø Blade length Cutting edge Blade thickness Weight
C01 169mm 98mm 72mm 65mm 3.0mm

Typical measurements (Inches and ounces) of the C01 Worker:

SKU Length overall Length closed Hole Ø Blade length Cutting edge Blade thickness Weight
C01 6.67" 3.85" 2.82" 2.55" 0.118"

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 United States Patent 4347665 issued on 7 September 1982 to Spyderco president, Sal Glesser
  2. The Spyderco story
  3. The entire thread containing Mr. Glesser's comment can be found in this post on the Spyderco.com discussion forum.
  4. Explained by Sal Glesser In personal email to author
  5. Also mentioned in this thread on the Spyderco.com discussion forum.
  6. 1st run production quantity of original Workers

Pictures

C01S Worker
C01PCOM Worker

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