(photos are of some of the TOPS knives Karen and I use)
I first became aware of TOPS knives in 1998, just before we pushed off on our first month long expedition into the Peruvian Amazon to meet with the Chapra-Candoshi Indians . If you have our award winning Volume 7- Jungle living Skills you’ve already seen the awesome TOPS blades we took with us. If not, you are in for a treat.
When we returned from our expedition I contacted Mike Fuller, the owner (along with his wonderful wife Helen) and spirit behind TOPS knives. I wanted more information about his company. I already knew that all TOPS knives are handmade in America and I knew that each TOPS blade is carefully constructed from the finest, most time tested materials in order to offer the user unbeatable quality at an affordable price.
The Magnum Folder
When I spoke with Mike I learned that though they could send their blades out for heat treating like some other makers, they didn’t. Mike wanted control over every aspect of the process. Mike could have his blades made overseas, but didn’t. Mike wanted AMERICAN madequality built into every piece. He could have had computer driven milling machines cut and shape each of his TOPS quality linen Micarta handles… but he didn’t. Heck, he wouldn’t even use the cheaper canvas Micarta used by many excellent knifemakers.
When Mike started TOPS he had some tough choices to make. Should he go with some new barely tested “Miracle steel” or should he work with steels that have stood the test of time and whose behavior under all conditions is well known. Mike chose to go with a High Carbon tool steel known commonly as “1095”.
The Night Hunter
1095 has been used for many years by the best knife and toolmakers. 1095 is actually used to cut steel and is frequently used to cut the new "Miracle Steels". Mike also knew that to get the best performance from 1095 it should be zone tempered and cryogenically treated.
The Skinat (Karen’s favorite)
What is zone tempering? For a knife to be able to hold an edge, the cutting portion of the blade should be very hard. If the entire blade were as hard as the edge the knife would break like glass. In order to add resiliency to the knife, the spine, or back of the blade should be softer than the edge. With his special tempering process Mike actually creates three zones; The hard edge, a middle, slightly softer zone, and a “spring steel tempered” spine. Then Mike adds the cryogenic step to force the steel molecules into permanent alignment. The result is a blade that is easy to sharpen, holds a superior edge and can stand up to enormous shock…. ready for when it’s time to play for keeps.
The Smoke Jumper (Karen’s other favorite… her chopper)
After the blade has been finished it is coated with TOPS proprietary Black Traction Coating Epoxy Polyester formulation and baked. This coating assures that the blade will be protected, even for those who go beyond the edge. I know, the blade I used in the jungle 4 years ago is still going strong and still carries it’s coating proudly. I also carried a blade with a so called "Ceramic coating"… that blade is in a drawer someplace as the coating has long since flaked away…
Though steel and good design are elemental in blade production, it is the interface, the handle, that makes a good knife, great. I’ve seen some fine steel blades messed up with a handle that made it difficult if not impossible to use the blade for extended periods. Some handles sent shock waves into my hand, others fit poorly or gave poor blade control. Some were designed as if for some gnomes hand. Some handles even made the blade dangerous to the user! Some were good. Mike’s are the BEST. I remember hacking with a $350 knife on the 1st jungle trip and wondering why my hand hurt… I was getting blisters from the handle. When I put that blade down and picked up the $250 TOPS blade it was as if I was in a new world. Even with blisters the TOPS handle was comfortable and because of that comfort, out-performed every knife on the expedition.
It isn’t only the comfort of the handle that is important, it is the strength of the handle. Mike uses full-tang construction exclusively. That means that the steel that makes the blade… goes clear through the handle to the rear of the knife. When you hold a TOPS knife you hold a solid billet of hardened steel encased in the best, most efficient handle available for that design. In some cases you can even PICK the handle style you want.
After the 2nd jungle expedition I finally got to meet Mike and Helen in person. For over a year I had been "meeting" and "visiting" with them over the phone. When we finally met I immediately asked Mike if he would manufacture the "Anaconda" knife for me on a limited basis. I had tried another knifemaker before but the quality of that knife was less than the perfection I needed. Mike was able to produce the knife at better than even my rigid specifications. Since then we have sold hundreds of the blades.
As the Anaconda sales continued to climb I learned something important about Mike and TOPS… they are not afraid of change, if it is for the best. over the years we have changed several elements of the Anaconda design to meet the increasing challenges the blade was being put to and the end result is a blade that literally has a thousand user years of field application!
Sure I have a lot of knives. I have a lot of GOOD knives but one thing you can be sure of… when I go to the woods alone or with my family, it is a TOPS I carry….
in the words of Mike Fuller…
"One Life…One Knife"® That’s our motto, simply because in the real world of tactical extremes, we are issued only one life. And since your life may realistically depend on your knife, you owe it to yourself to get the very best.
Over the last couple of years TOPS KNIVES have been requested and deployed in many parts of the world. Numerous individuals who are currently active FIELD OPERATORS are using our knives and have been reporting top performance and reliability from their TOPS KNIVES. TOPS knives are made to last a lifetime and then some!"
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!