The Protectors® Podcast

#451 | Ken Brock | From Law Enforcement to Blade Forging: A Unique Journey

September 16, 2023 Dr. Jason Piccolo Episode 451
The Protectors® Podcast
#451 | Ken Brock | From Law Enforcement to Blade Forging: A Unique Journey
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Ken Brock joined THE PROTECTORS® PODCAST to talk about blades, titanium, his LEO career and a ton more.  We were joined by Ken’s wife Janet as co-host.  

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Make sure to check out Jason on IG @drjasonpiccolo


Speaker 1:

And, by the way, we started recording. Welcome to the Protectors podcast. We really just kind of this like an ad hoc. We're in person here, we're at a very cool university down south and we are doing a different type of podcast because it's like a couples podcast and now the wife gets asked, the husband questions. It's going to be kind of interesting because both have law enforcement background, intense law enforcement background. But one also has an incredible knife company and if anybody knows me, you know my background knives. Somehow I've transitioned from knives to guns and now that I'm looking at these knives now I think I'm going to be transitioning back to buying more knives. Welcome to the show, ken and Janet Brock.

Speaker 3:

Hello, glad to be here. Is this your first?

Speaker 1:

podcast Absolutely your first podcast, and your wife is co hosting. That's fantastic. Welcome, Janet. She's very apprehensive because this is her first podcast. So marketing, marketing, marketing, marketing. Now I've been to your website sold out incredible knives. We're going to get into your background a little while, but it's such a different animal coming from the background of a protector and then trying to put a product on a market and market it. You're not a salesman. I mean, you sell yourself to the public in a way with your mentality and your rhetoric. But putting an incredible product and getting it out there to the masses, that's pretty tough.

Speaker 3:

So originally I got into knife making. I made a few knives in shop in high school and later on, as I was in law enforcement, there was a guy that would he would work courthouse security and then he would go and work a side job as a basketball game, and then he would go and work at Walmart as a side job and then he would go and work something else and he would work so much that he couldn't make it home. He would actually go sleeping to sell at the courthouse and at that point I'm like this dude's living on three hours of sleep a day. He's not ever going home. I'm not going to be the guy that lives in a uniform. I'm going to find something else is going to give me an option to make money, because cop pay is terrible.

Speaker 3:

So I sold a couple of guns and a couple of custom knives and I bought a knife grinder and some steel and I just started working on trying to figure out the business as I could. And as far as marketing, what I didn't want to happen is working full time in law enforcement. I didn't have a ton of time to devote to making knives, so I didn't try to market my presence Because then if it grew too big I wouldn't be able to keep up with demand and I didn't want people to have you know they order something is five years before it gets to them. So I purposely suppressed the marketing to a degree until I retired.

Speaker 1:

You know, social media is a different animal. We'll get into that. But let's talk about your background, both of your backgrounds. Now, janet, you've, you know you work for different police agencies and now you work for a really incredible college down south and transitioning, and you guys are doing all this, all this, and you're doing it together and here and there, but Now you're here and now you're supporting your husband with his. It's not even a side job anymore, it's like a business. So let's talk about like what that's like to you know. Hey, you know I lost you to the job and now I'm like I'm losing you to the grinder. So and I'm not talking about grinder, I'm talking about like the knife grinder.

Speaker 3:

So yeah, thanks for clarifying.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, I had to clarify that.

Speaker 2:

Well, several years and working with the knives. And now that he's retired but still working at the shit at the department that he's working for mainly his his knives that he was making were fixed blades we had been thinking and talking a lot about making a folder for several years and now that he's retired and I'm working and I have a good job, that's where my support comes in trying to get my husband to push himself a little further and developing a folder. So hopefully we'll have a folder here coming soon.

Speaker 3:

Hopefully in a couple of months.

Speaker 1:

I love fixed blades. I love fixed blades and you know one of the things about your website and everything is coming from your background, like SWAT LEO, you know what, how important it is to have something readily available, but the right shape and the right strength. So how do we? How do we? Let's talk about the building of a knife. I mean, is this something you do like in your garage? You got a workshop, you have a shop, and how do you? How do you? Is it like you buy them, buy the steel, and then you do this and do that?

Speaker 3:

Yeah, so essentially I use one of two materials. I use titanium for people that want a super lightweight, non-corrosive blade, and I also use a steel that it's called CPM 3V, which lets me the strength of the steel, lets me use a little bit thinner stock than I normally would for the old type of steels. Up until about 2003, every steel that was out there was adapted from some other industry. So ATS 34 was originally made by Hitachi of Japan for aircraft turbines. Somebody figured it would make a good knife steel, so they pressed it out into sheets and then began to use it for knives. D2 was a common steel. It's a tool in die steel that's used to cut other steel. So about 2003 crucible metals came up with a process where they actually formulated knife steel for specifically for knives, and they worked with some knife makers and essentially what they would do is they would take all the elements that are in the steel, they put it into this crucible and they melt it, and then they shoot it through air nozzles to powder it and then they collect that, melt it again and then form it into bars. So the steel is more homogeneous. In the old days you may have a pit here where there was a lump of chromium, or you may have a piece of carbon that was in a certain place. So anyway, long story, the steel was developed.

Speaker 3:

So I use crucible steel, three V's the formula, and then I have it heat treated by a company. So the only step I don't do is heat treating. I send it to a professional company in Pennsylvania. They harden it in an oxygen free oven, they cryogenically treat it, they test every blade for the hardness that I specify and if any of them work during the process they straighten them. But basically I get bars of the steel.

Speaker 3:

Sometimes I have patterns on my wall that if I'm going to make a, if I'm going to make a scheme, do like the ones on the table. I'll trace out that pattern and then cut it out and grind it. Sometimes I have an idea. So if you say, hey, I'd like to have a four inch fixed blade, and this is kind of the idea, I'll just take a sharpie and kind of roughly sketch what my idea is, and then I just start grinding and and kind of I mean, I hate to sound artsy, but you kind of. You know you're going to be able to do that. You know what you're going to end up with. You just have to play with it.

Speaker 1:

I love that word art because it's craft and that's a lot of us in this community, especially law and force, military. Anybody been in a protector community that you're dealing with everyday stress but then you're dealing with everybody else's everyday stress. You really need a creative outlet, whether that's art and this is like to me, believe it or not. Podcasting and writing is a different. It's my craft, it's my art. But for you, getting into the knife industry, it's your outlet, it's your craft. It was.

Speaker 1:

Maybe it started off as something like yeah, maybe this will be a side hustle, maybe it's something I enjoy, but now it's, it's into the business side, but it's also still your art and still your craft. And I think when you look at small business owners like you, you and when you look at there's so many different, incredible knife makers out there, every one of them is unique. Now, we all know the big manufacturers. They're cutting things out, they're shipping them out. But when you're buying a piece of steel from someone who's putting their energy and their art, their craft, their designs, I think that's a different animal and I think that's where the price points are spot on.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, absolutely. A lot of these places are making so many of the same thing and everything's pictured. I grind everything freehand. I don't own anything to measure certain things. I had an engineer friend of mine came over one day and he was watching me make knives and after about an hour he's like I could tell someone was bugging him. And I'm like, okay, what is it? What's wrong? Get it off your chest. And he says I've been here an hour, you haven't measured a damn thing. And I just don't, because I don't know if I'm smart enough to measure it and have it come out the way I want it. I've just been doing everything because I've been making knives for 21 years. So I have a process and I think if I mess with that process it's going to mess up the final product.

Speaker 1:

Jenny, you've been watching this for a while now.

Speaker 2:

I do have a question to ask my husband Okay, there we go. I've been waiting.

Speaker 1:

Okay.

Speaker 2:

I do want you to talk about because I think it's amazing how you know being a police officer. We have the brotherhood and how we build that. You know our community and the things that we do, but you know being married to you and learning a lot about the knife making world. I have been honored and had a privilege to be part of that community through you when we go to the blade show and how that has influenced also even our children. If you can talk about a little bit about you know that community and you know the people that are the knife makers and you know how that impacts their family.

Speaker 3:

So the knife making community is pretty unique, I think, in that when I started making knives and I would ask some of the guys that already knew in the industry, I'm like, hey, what about this or what about that? And they're like, look, here's some ideas, here's some advice, I'll send you some stuff. I had a couple of guys are like, look, don't try to invent something right out of the gate. It's a common rookie mistake. And knife making you try to come up with something different. It's different because it doesn't work. And so the some of the best advice I was given by other knife makers is hey, I'll send you some of my blanks. You learn grinding first, then work on design.

Speaker 3:

Knife making community is big into helping each other. I can only think of one guy off hand that was resistant to helping anybody. His processes were proprietary and that kind of thing. And for the most part they will help you do anything. And my kids have grown up around that to the point that some of the guys I hang out with treat them like their own children. My daughter works the table with us at the blade show and which I let her sell. She's a lot better salesperson than I am. But even to the point where they would send my daughter started making jewelry out of knife materials and I would just get boxes in the mail of materials like hey, give this to your daughter so she can turn it around and make money.

Speaker 1:

That's, you know, the family aspect of is really cool and you know, one one community, it sounds like, is like the writing community, it's the same thing there's. I've interviewed so many authors and so many creatives that they will help everybody else out in such an incredible community. Because I think with the knife communities, like me, I can't just have one gun, I can't just have one knife, can't just have one book. So if you're having a unique you know unique if you're having a unique product, nobody else is going to have that same product. So when I go to buy a knife, I'm always looking at something like that's me, that fits me, and it's not everyone. Nobody else is going to have it. So when you have this whole community and then you integrate your family, that's, that's an incredible experience.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, and it's very common. If I put a knife up on Instagram, for instance, at least four or five of my friends that are in the business will repost it and Say, hey, go buy this from this guy before it's gone. You're not gonna buy one knife and that's the only knife you're gonna have forever. If you're a knife person, you're gonna buy one from me, you're gonna buy one from Strider knives, you're gonna buy one from less George, you're gonna buy one from Spartan blades. And all these Guys are friends of mine and we will just we will suggest our knives to somebody else, especially when I was working full-time and Somebody would reach out to me and they're like, how, I want to buy something like you should buy one for my buddy less. That's his job. It was just a side thing for me. It didn't matter if I sold knife that month, but maybe he needed to sell Four or five to to make sure that he was gonna get the income that month that he needed. So it really is a close-knit community.

Speaker 2:

I would agree. I think I've seen a lot of amazing things, especially when the knife makers get together, like in Atlanta during the big knife show, and Then you have sometimes within that little community, they know that there's somebody need, how they get together and they will either work on Making this knife to donate it to that family whenever they're in need, which law enforcement we do the same thing. We get together when we see that one of ours is in need. Or, even if it's not in the same agency, when we know that there's somebody that he needs, the community gets together and tries to help out.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, in 2015, a good friend of mine died suddenly. He was a knife maker and it was a month, six weeks, before the blade show in Atlanta, and so his close friend lived near him said hey, I'm gonna send the knives out that he was building and I'm gonna send one to each of his friends. So 20 knives went out to 20 different friends of his. So we all finished his knives for the show. All of his family came to the show, set at his table and they auctioned off all those, those 20 folders, to support his family.

Speaker 1:

I, you know this community and that's what people need. Like, when you're looking for that, don't look for the almighty dollar sign. Yeah, everybody wants to side hustle where they're gonna make a million dollars. If you can make us, if you can make a side hustle into a business, that's actually Not just lucrative but also Emotionally supportive, because it's another mission. You know we all look when we retire, when we move out of these careers. We need another mission to keep us mentally sane. Absolutely, keep our foot in that in that world too.

Speaker 2:

So more power to you and Not only that, but you even have some friends that will do something, especially if somebody was looking for doing a knife and Something happened to them. You'll see knife makers get together and push that project with not asking nothing in return. And the benefit of that person or their families. I think that's incredible. I.

Speaker 1:

Still visualize the knife maker like the blacksmith.

Speaker 1:

Yeah you know, I that's like in my mind because, like with guns and with knives, comes the Western guns in the Western era. And you know, I think a lot of us have the same type of thing where it's like, you know the six-year days, the blacksmith, that you're using your hands, you're building something, you're creating something with you, and that must be a cool experience. When you're out there, you're, you're in your zone, you're like the sharpness that, the design, and then the handles. That's one thing I want to talk about is the handle. So you can, blades are great, but the handles are really that added touch. The real artwork is where it shows out.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, so I Tried to find a balance of having a knife that was Smooth enough that it wouldn't tear your clothing up. So if you carry concealed, I'm sure you're familiar with the way that your gun will knock holes in your shirt.

Speaker 3:

Mm-hmm the same kind of thing for a blade and actually another knife maker friend of mine. We were at the blade show and he was telling me he does a similar handle of mine and I said, martin, how do you, how do you get it smooth but yet textured the same way? And he was a physical Texan and he says I just throw the whole damn thing in a tumbler.

Speaker 1:

Oh yeah, I'm like what?

Speaker 3:

that? Because I'm thinking, having never used a tumbler, I'm thinking was that just eat away your material.

Speaker 3:

No it. You throw it in there for a couple of hours. And now so all these grooves are textured by hand on a small wheel on the grinder, and then, once that's done, I bead blast the whole thing, throw it in the tumbler for a couple hours and pull it out, wash it off, soak it with WD-40 and you have this nice smooth texture with, with, with no hot spots is gonna end up biting into your hand or your, your waistband.

Speaker 1:

Now you may have heard Some shuffling or something in the background during this podcast. What I was doing is I was actually looking I'm looking at three blades right now and one thing that really kind of hit right off the bat was Super light. There's titanium titanium. This is such an incredible blade and I love. I love fixed blades, but I also like it's almost like the dagger type.

Speaker 1:

Mm-hmm and it's. I think that's prellio world and I think and you know a lot of our different worlds when it comes to having something that's solid and something that's straight and something that could fit on at your side or in your kit, I think that's an incredible aspect of it.

Speaker 3:

So titanium is a pretty cool material. The problem is that it doesn't. It's not hardenable Mm-hmm, at least most grades of titanium that are affordable or not hardenable like steel. So Most knives are going to be in the Rockwell hardness of between 55 to 62. Titanium only gets about 42.

Speaker 3:

So what I do and I didn't come up with this, I stole it from somebody else is you weld a layer of tungsten carbide, so this gray layer here is tungsten carbide, and then you sharpen the other side and what happens is that gives you a thin edge of tungsten carbide which I think is in the lower 70s on the hardness scale. So it actually gives you a little more edge retention long term in dealing with cutting. The thing about it is there's a trade off for everything. If you want one of my steel knives in 3V, it's going to hold an edge a long time, it's going to be strong, but it's going to be a little harder to sharpen than, say, a 1095 or an 01 carbon steel because they're softer. Titanium is softer, it's lighter, it's non-corrosive, but it's never going to cut as good as steel. Now, each one of them will shave the hair off my leg before it leaves a shop which my wife gives me a hard time about, but you just have to pick the right tool for the job.

Speaker 1:

I think, being a layman, being someone, it's almost like medical jargon to me. When you're talking about knife hardness, it makes a lot of sense that you're going to have trade off, and my biggest concern ever was always been what if I break the tip off the blade when I'm going to be opening some stupid thing like a safe? It's never going to happen, but it's like me before, when we were talking about guns, I'm like well, you never know, I'm going to run into a bear out in the woods. We were talking about this before. But it's like yeah, you may have a light blade and it may lose its sharpness, but a fixed blade like the Titanium to me would be like hey, you know what? This is kind of cool.

Speaker 1:

It's going to be on my kit. I'm not going to use it every day. I'm not going to be using it to open up the Amazon boxes. I'm not going to be shaving hairs on my legs every day, but it's going to be an excellent utility when the time comes. It's going to be on my kit. It's going to be light enough to work and we all know in the law enforcement world, even in a tactical world, every ounce counts. So when you pick up these blades. They're super lightweight.

Speaker 3:

A lot of the guys on my former team are carrying a Titanium fixed blade. They forget it's there. They tuck it in by signing a magazine pouch and if they need it it's there and it works. And they know if. My warranty is pretty simple if you break it, I'll fix it or replace it. Not that that's ever happened. I think I have. I've had a couple of guys that dropped a steel knife on concrete and shipped about an eight inch eighth of an inch piece off the tip and I just sharpened it out. So it's not a huge problem.

Speaker 1:

So we're getting into a new generation, the folders, and I've you know that's. That's got to be an interesting thing to get into too. With the, to me it's like watchmaking, like you know. You can have, you know, the, the swatches and stuff like that, but then you're going to get into, like the, anything in between up to the Rolexes. But how are you going to? How do you put together a fixed blade?

Speaker 3:

How do you put together a fixed blade or a folder? I mean folder. Yeah, honestly, yeah, you could do it in a similar way as I do with a fixed blade. You can cut out each handle, you can cut out each blade. The problem is there's gonna be a variation that's gonna take a whole lot more hand fitting.

Speaker 3:

So what you do is you find a friend like mine that when we went to visit him at his shop I took one of my fixed blades. He put it in his computer. It can figure out where the pivot needs to be. It will actually fold in the computer and then, once it's where we want it, he prints it out on his 3D printer and sends it to me and then I can play with it and figure out, and then in his computer he can nest all of the, let's say, a two by two sheet of titanium. The computer will program out all the handles, for instance at with the least amount of waste, and then he can send that file to a water jet guy or sea and sea guy and they can cut all that out. So all the parts are the same. So do the same thing for the blades.

Speaker 3:

So then, when it comes to me. There's a lot of cleanup and stuff I'll have to do and I'll grind the blades. They're not gonna be mid-tech, they're not gonna be manufactured in a facility somewhere and then I have to fit them all together and you have to grind the face of the lock and to make sure everything it's a lot of fiddly stuff. You have to put it together. Okay, this didn't quite right. Have to take it apart again, take it back over to the grinder, touch it up, put it back together. So there's a lot of that. That goes on. So I'm gonna go to a folder making school at my buddy's house for a couple of days when we actually get the parts cut out, so he can show me some of the easier ways to do it with less possibility for losing parts and messing something up. And that goes back into what we started talking about initially is he's gonna take a couple of days out of his work to help me.

Speaker 2:

Not only that, but I'm excited about your folder because I have a personal experience with the folders when my children were born because he's a knife maker I had the privilege to have my husband grind the knife and cut my children's ability cord and that was really, really awesome.

Speaker 1:

Now, that's cool.

Speaker 3:

So a friend of mine, mcstryder McStryder Knives, sent me one of their SMF folders and he says it was just a box of parts with a blank blade that he'd already heat treated and he'd written my name on it in Sharpie. So I ground the blade out, put the folder together and I didn't take any of the Sharpie off. I left all the blade out, fluid he'd put on it and I was carrying that knife on our daughter. We went to the hospital for her to have our daughter and Janet says you should cut the cord with your knife.

Speaker 3:

And the obstetrician comes in and I said, hey, I'm gonna cut this cord with this knife. And he's like cool, he was a super, super cool doctor. He actually took me to a CWP class for me years ago and then when our son was born, I said I'm gonna use that same knife and I'm gonna have it and I'll end up having it engraved with both of their names and birthdays. But as a thank you I made the obstetrician a little knife and gave it to him. And the nurse comes back in. She said oh honey, that fool didn't cut himself with that knife out there, acting like an idiot, like some kind of ninja. So they had to patch up the obstetrician before he delivered our son.

Speaker 1:

You know that is an incredible thing. That folders, too, is like. Every folder means something Like to me I'd like to have a folder hand out of my daughter to my son, to other people I've given folders away to like really good friends. Folders are like. They're another thing. That's art when you, because you're carrying, you can carry a folder with you anywhere. I mean, if I rolled up anywhere and I have a fixed blade on my belt, people are gonna be like, huh, is this dude a biker or what's going on here? You watching a little too much Sun's Anarchy or something like that. But a folder, you can carry that around with you. You could. And people, it's like art. I'm like, hey, I'm gonna wear this outfit, I'm gonna wear this one because the I don't know what it is. You know there's something about it too, and everything has a story behind it. Everything has a story behind it.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, and people buy folding knives about 10 to one over fixed blades. I tend to carry a fixed blade everywhere. I rarely carry a folder myself, but that's just me. Most people prefer to carry a folder.

Speaker 1:

You know we've been talking for a bit now and maybe we should probably tell people where to buy your knives.

Speaker 3:

So my website is broughtblazecom or broughtblazenet. It goes to the same place. Don't usually have a ton in stock. A lot of times, as we were talking before you started recording, I can either grind steel or I can spend time all day on the website listing knives. So what I tend to do is get a batch together and send them to one of my dealers. So Monkey Edge is one of my dealers and KnifeCenter is the other big dealer.

Speaker 1:

I love it. I'm looking forward to buying one and I'm looking forward to carrying one and I'm definitely gonna buy a folder when it comes out. But you know, I've kind of hogged up a lot of the air. Does Janet have any questions?

Speaker 2:

I would say, if you're gonna buy anything, you need to buy something that is titanium because, like I said, there is a story behind it. It is amazing as a wife pulling up to your driving and watching your husband catch on fire while he's trying to grind those knives. So there's always a story behind it.

Speaker 3:

So titanium is a terrible material to work with. If I'm grinding a steel blade, so the KnifeGruinder is a two by 72 inch belt that goes over different attachments that you have on a horse and a half or two horsepower motor. And so when I'm grinding, if I'm grinding steel, the steel is heavy enough it just falls down. When you're grinding titanium, the pieces that are coming off are so light, that kind of float in the air and they'll settle. They'll settle wherever, but usually on your hand, and a spark will eventually catch and it's like trying to flick a 3000 degree booger off your hand. And you're doing this kung fu fighting in the shop, an invisible opponent trying to get this off while you're burning.

Speaker 2:

And she finds that humorous for some reason. I don't know why. That's why we have good humongous insurance.

Speaker 1:

You gotta get the camera out for that one next time.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, I need to make a reel of that. It would go viral.

Speaker 1:

Well, I do wanna. It's in the retail areas, though. Thank you so much for coming on a show and talking blades.

Speaker 2:

I could really.

Speaker 1:

I mean, if we had another hour we could really get into it, but you know, the protector is only like 30, 35 minutes, but looking forward to really checking out the blades. Janet, you are a protector and can, you are too, and I do wanna thank you both. I mean, believe me, someone comes to the military and everything, and a lot of people to. My idea is this if you're giving back to the community, if you put on a badge, you put on a uniform, you're giving back, you are serving, and thank you both for your service and thank you for what you're doing for the community, and I really appreciate this.

Speaker 1:

I appreciate your hospitality as well.

Speaker 3:

Absolutely glad to be here.

Speaker 1:

Make sure you go to Instagram too, because we know all about this marketing stuff Brockblades.

Speaker 3:

Brock underscore blades is Instagram.

Speaker 1:

Yep and we'll definitely be pushing these out and thank you both so much, Thank you.

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The Knife Making Community
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Knife Grinding and Blade Protection