Niobium Insanely expensive knife
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3D3DInsanely expensive knife.
This is a really, really nice knife, but honestly, I don't know what I was thinking. I plead temporary insanity. Not that I regret it or anything, this is just too good an, um, element sample to pass up. A bargain at half the price.

Anyway, the blade is the most remarkable thing about it, with the handle running a close second. The blade is patterned Damascus steel: What looks like an etched design on the surface actually goes all the way through the thickness of the blade. You can see other examples of Damascus steel on my site, but notice how they all have random wavy patterns.

Damascus steel is made by taking a sheet of steel, folding it over, heating it in a forge, then hammering it until it's as thin as it was before being folded. Then it's folded again, heated up, hammered out, etc, until it's been folded many times. Because the surface is being oxidized and carbonized from the heat at each stage, you end up with dozens or hundreds of alternating layers of bright steel and hard, dark, carbonized steel. For hundreds of years this was the finest, sharpest, and hardest steel available.

But look at the blade: The pattern is anything but random. In fact, it looks a lot like a 3D plot from Mathematica, which is what first attracted me to the knife. This is Damascus steel where the sequence of folds has been carefully designed to result in a particular pattern, not just a random waves. It's still folded and hammered by hand, but according to a very particular sequence designed, I am told, by computer (thought not with Mathematica, so far as I know).

For the blade it's the pattern that makes it special, but for the handle it's the materials. The handle is also made with a Damascus-style folding technique, but instead of folding steel onto itself, it's made by folding together alternating layers of niobium and copper. Oooo, a niobium-handled knife, now that really gets me going. Looking closely, you can see the reddish copper inclusions clearly within the silver colored niobium metal. (There's also an inlay of black pearl, but this is of no interest to an element collector.)

Adding a further level of interest, among all my dangerous and/or radioactive samples, this is the only one that it might actually be illegal for me to own. It is, you see, a fully spring-loaded switchblade. Push a button and the blade snaps out under its own power. According to my reading of the federal switchblade law there's only one way that I could legally own this knife, and that's by cutting off my arm. Yes really, let me quote from United States Code, Title 15, chapter 29, section 1244 Exceptions:
(4) the possession, and transportation upon his person, of any switchblade knife with a blade three inches or less in length by any individual who has only one arm.
Since the blade is less than 3" long, the solution is simple.

Or maybe not so simple, because though with one arm I would be allowed to possess and carry it according to Federal law, according to Illinois state law I would still be in hot water. In California, where I got the knife, it is legal to possess such a knife even if you have two arms, but not to carry it on your person, regardless of your arm count. So if anyone asks, I keep the knife in California, but so far have resisted the temptation to use it to cut off my arm.

Source: California Knife Store
Contributor: Theodore Gray
Acquired: 4 September, 2007
Text Updated: 6 September, 2007
Price: $3000
Size: 3.5"
Composition: FeNbCu